Creating a Culture of Professional Improvement, Feedback and Growth

Have you ever talked with committed and effective teachers about why they do what they do? Why they are curious about their work; why they are inquiring and reflective practitioners? A common response is that teachers want to do their best for their students – to get better.

It seems we are wired to do our best (Ryan and Deci, 2000) and as Jim Knight (2013) says:

"When we pursue excellence, we gain a deeper understanding of our purpose, a fuller knowledge of the contribution we make, and the satisfaction that comes from doing work that makes us proud.” (p.2)"

How can we ensure that this is the experience for all of our teachers?

The answer lies in creating a culture of professional improvement, feedback and growth – an intention at the heart of the AITSL Standards for Teachers.

Within that culture ‘learning conversation’ between peers, based on lesson observation or student work samples, is one of the most effective ways of developing classroom practice.

Yet teachers often work in isolation and are often uncomfortable inviting others into their classrooms to observe their teaching. Even if this happens there is uncertainty about how to talk helpfully about what's been observed.

Peer Coaching: Positive Conversations About Teaching Practice is a GCI program offering a coaching process for supporting teachers to reflect on their practice in a respectful relationship, where performance development is contextualized in an authentic learning culture. The teacher is involved as an active learner in partnership with a colleague, taking responsibility for identifying their goals for future development while being supported to achieve them.

Peer Coaching provides teachers with understanding and skill to support collegial conversations that are learning focused where participants:

  • Explore concepts of relationships, conversation, learning and feedback which underpin a process to focus on inquiring about teaching practice.
  • Explore and practice coaching skills including questioning, listening and clarifying.
  • Develop competence and confidence in a coaching process to support a colleague in inquiring and reflecting on their teaching practice.
  • Explore an approach to the use of observational data in a co-coaching feedback process.

Making sense of the complexity of teaching, taking on board new knowledge about learning, and being willing to change your practice accordingly is hard work.

Coaching conversations provide exactly the right approach as they involve respect, challenge and an inquiry habit of mind.

The reflection and awareness that is the essence of a quality coaching conversation challenges thinking and leads to intentional action. To continue to move in this direction:

  • Open up a conversation about relationships. What are relationships that allow rigorous conversation about practice, that can sustain challenge and feedback? Jim Knight’s Unmistakeable Impact (2011) is a wonderful resource here.
  • Observe the way you use language. Do your questions and comments focus on the work or the teacher? Focussing on the work, not the person, diminishes defensiveness.
  • Is there challenge in your conversations with teachers but challenge that engages and doesn’t lead to defensiveness? Try asking questions that clarify, then questions that search for understanding and then questions that challenge reasoning.


  • Knight, J (2011) Unmistakable Impact A partnership Approach to Dramatically Improving Instruction, Corwin Learning Forward, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Ryan, RM, Deci, EL (2000) ‘Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and wellbeing’. The American Psychologist, vol. 55, pp. 68-78.