Review by Zoe Enser

Specialist adviser, The Education People

27 Mar 2022, 5:00


More than a book about professional development, this is a book about empowerment

The Teaching Life by Kate Jones and Robin Macpherson

By Kate Jones and Robin Macpherson


John Catt Educational




10 Dec 2021

In 2017, Helen Timperley, Fiona Ell and Deidre Le Fevre argued that to be successful in the ever-changing environment of our schools, teachers and leaders need to develop something called “adaptive expertise”. This comes from “a deep understanding of the complexity of the interactions between learners and their learning environments” and their “capability to draw on a rich and deep knowledge base” (rather than generic standards or practices) to address specific challenges.

They go on to say that teachers with adaptive expertise are “committed to using this knowledge to make a difference for every learner, particularly those at risk of failure and dropping out”. This is what all teachers aim for, and The Teaching Life is focused precisely on how they can develop their own learning and take charge of their development and careers to achieve it. Throughout, Jones and Macpherson seek to help teachers to navigate their way through the complexities of building knowledge, looking at everything from conferences to books and social media, and how they can develop the expertise and flexibility required to be successful today.

The book is divided into two sections. The first is dedicated to professional learning and covers everything from the importance of evidence-informed professional development, through advice for early-career teachers, to suggestions about advanced professional qualifications. There is a wealth of knowledge collated here, drawing on the authors’ experience and supported by an “evidence-informed teaching and learning glossary” at the end, which provides a quick summary of areas readers may wish to explore in greater detail.

The second section explores career progression and covers reflective practice, leadership, non-leadership and progression, as well as interview processes and how to succeed in applying for different roles. It even includes a chapter on international teaching too – an often-neglected subject in discussions around teacher development.

The focus is on supporting teachers to see teaching as a lifelong career choice. The Teaching Life offers a wealth of opportunities to examine nuances and variety while building your understanding of teaching and learning and of your own development. The challenge questions at the end of each chapter encourage reflection on how the ideas relate to their wider context.

The focus is on teaching as a lifelong career choice

More than a book about professional development, this is a book about empowerment. The authors remind us regularly that wellbeing resides in being and feeling successful whatever our career path. They urge us to seek out opportunities to grow and to be challenged, and to create the time and space to reflect.

It is a wide-reaching book, so if you’re keen for quick solutions this is not the place to look. Teachers at either end of their careers might also find they are left either overwhelmed with choice or under-served for greater depth.

However, the authors are consistent in their message that teaching is a long-term endeavour, and in the context of our perennial recruitment and retention problems that feels particularly poignant.

Approach this book in the same vein – as a long-term endeavour – and you are bound to return to its  ideas again and again, reframing and recontextualising, In fact, it specifically provides the support to do so. Whether you are just starting to explore the profession, have been in it for five years, or are working as a senior leader, you will find something new to take away and reconsider each time you read it.

To relate this back to adaptive expertise, Timperley, Ell and Le Fevre argue that it “goes beyond a mindset or a set of skills and comes to form the essence of teachers’ professional identities”. What Jones and Macpherson have created is a resource to help every practitioner do that.

Becoming the best possible teacher or leader takes time. It involves a change in the way we think according to the paths we choose to take. A career in education is a journey.

By guiding its readers to consider their professional identities as they navigate these choices and changes, The Teaching Life is an important contribution towards keeping more professionals on those journeys, successfully and happily making a difference for young people.

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