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An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Looking at classroom practice

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership

The article is based on extracts from the 2014 guide Looking at Classroom Practice, © Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, used with permission.

How do teachers improve their classroom performance? To help teachers and school leaders answer this question, AITSL has developed the Classroom Practice Continuum, supported by the resource guide Looking at Classroom Practice. The Continuum provides the basis for self-reflection, feedback and direction for improvement in classroom practice. It supports teachers to understand and talk with colleagues about their work and to engage in the kinds of conversations and collaborative work that encourages the sharing of knowledge and expertise.

The Continuum aligns with the Professional Practice Domain of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. The Standards describe what teachers need to know and be able to do; they provide a common understanding and terminology to inform professional learning goals, self-reflection and self-assessment. The Professional Practice Domain of the Standards focuses on those practices that can be directly observed in the classroom, such as delivering instruction, providing feedback to students, undertaking assessment, and creating supportive conditions for student learning.

The Continuum expands on the Professional Practice Domain by describing in substantially greater detail what teachers do in the classroom. The descriptions are constructed in a logical sequence so that the reader can conceptualise what would be unfolding in the classroom over the course of a lesson or sequence of lessons.

As with the Standards, teaching practices are described at progressively greater levels of expertise: the four career stages of the Standards are matched against the six levels of classroom practice in the Continuum.

The purposes of the Continuum

The Continuum is a positive tool to support growth, rather than a punitive tool to identify shortcomings. It assumes that all teachers can learn and develop their expertise over time, given appropriate support.

One of the main purposes of the Continuum is to help teachers assess their current level of proficiency in the classroom, and to give them a sense of what improved teaching practice would look like. It also offers a common measure and a shared language for describing classroom practice, which can be used by teachers and by school leaders when undertaking classroom observations, offering feedback, or discussing performance and development. School leaders may use the Continuum to construct a staff profile of current practice, and identify teachers with the expertise to support, mentor or coach colleagues. The Continuum can also support registration and certification processes.

A major strength of the Continuum is that it provides the basis for developing consistent and accurate interpretations of classroom observations. Section 4 of the guide Looking at Classroom Practice offers advice on classroom observation and how it is used in relation to the Continuum.

Recognising the complexity of teaching

The Continuum is designed to allow for the subtlety and complexity of teaching, and teacher development. It is recognised, for example, that learning is not linear. Progression and regression are typical, and different elements of a teacher’s performance advance at different rates; many teachers will find that their practice spans more than one of the Continuum’s levels. The point is to identify where a teacher’s current practice best sits, given the evidence, so that there is direction for improvement.

On-balance judgements always take into account multiple sources of evidence: a single observation of a teacher’s practice would not provide strong evidence for making decisions, where consequences are attached. Certain professional experiences and supports may accelerate growth in particular areas, whilst a change in context may cause a temporary lapse in skill level. Context does matter. What may be required in terms of teacher knowledge and skill in one context may not be appropriate in another, with a different student cohort, staff profile, school community and range of supports.

Teachers draw on different kinds of knowledge and a range of strategies and tools when interacting with students. The Continuum’s classroom practice level statements are not a list of discrete behaviours to be ticked off: rather, they reflect the integrated nature of teaching.

There is no empirically supported time frame that identifies how long it takes for a teacher to move through levels 1–6 of the Continuum. What is known is that it takes sustained, deliberate practice to develop greater expertise in any domain of learning.

The Continuum and performance and development processes

The Continuum can play a key role in performance and development processes through its links to the Standards. The Standards are being used across Australia in initial teacher education and by educational jurisdictions for registration purposes and voluntary certification of Highly Accomplished and Lead teachers. They are also being used in local performance and development processes. However, performance and development decisions require a holistic and on-balance judgement against all three Domains of the Standards, while the Continuum refers only to the Professional Practice Domain. Furthermore, within the Professional Practice Domain the emphasis is on describing classroom practice, and does not include, for example, the role Highly Accomplished and Lead teachers play in supporting other teachers within their school.

Using the Continuum as a school principal

The Australian Professional Standard for Principals identifies the leadership of teaching and learning as one of the professional practices particular to the role of the principal. It is therefore essential that principals are able to explain what quality teaching practice looks like. The Continuum is designed to help them do so.

School principals may want to use the Continuum in the following ways:

1. Read the resource guide together with the teacher and then jointly unpack the six levels of the Continuum. Questions could be posed around how professional practices change as a teacher moves from one level to the next on the Continuum. This could stimulate further conversation around the type of professional learning required to support staff in their performance and development processes.

2. Ask staff to self-assess their current practice and to locate themselves on the Continuum. This could be shared with a trusted peer, or remain confidential.

3. Provide staff self-assessments to the leadership team to plot a staff profile. This would enable the leadership team to determine how teachers with greater expertise might support less experienced staff in particular areas, or where targeted professional learning or external expertise might support the practice of all teachers.

4. Engage in an audit of existing practice within the school to determine how closely classroom practices align with the level descriptions.

5. Engage in conversations about how classroom observation is being used in different schools to support teachers, and to make practice more consistent across classrooms. These different approaches reflect different school contexts; examining them helps to bring out the role of context in one’s own school. In many schools classrooms are open, and peer observation is integral to the way they work.

Other tools

The Continuum is one of a suite of tools designed to assist teachers and school leaders to engage with and use the Standards in practice. Other tools include Illustrations of Practice (IoPs), which provide examples of teachers demonstrating particular career stage Descriptors across all three Domains of teaching; and the Self-Assessment Tool (SAT), which allows teachers to situate their current practice within the career stages of the three Domains of the Standards.


AITSL is committed to supporting teachers and school leaders to grow their expertise. The Classroom Practice Continuum is a resource that should provide impetus for conversations in schools that include a focus on how teachers improve and develop their expertise in the classroom over time and the type of environments that promote and sustain their learning and growth.


Subject Headings

School leadership
School principals
Classroom management
Professional development
Teacher evaluation
Teaching and learning