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Steplab Specialist Steps and Study Modules
News • 11 Sep '23
Ania Townsend

There are aspects of teaching which are shared by almost every teacher. But there are also aspects which are highly specific to the subject or phase.

We've been working hard at Steplab to get this balance right within instructional coaching.

Core vs. subject specific

First up, the argument for specific approaches: effective teaching cannot be isolated from the thing or people we are teaching. Specific explanations and models are more actionable. They are also more relatable; teachers are able to learn more easily from models and techniques that are very similar to their context, especially their phase or subject.

And the argument for using core approaches: some ideas or approaches have been shown to be useful regardless of teaching specialism. Indeed, our ‘core' goals and steps have strategies and insights which are relevant to almost every teacher—things like, designing well sequenced scaffolds and models, using questioning to generate thought, or planning, managing and monitoring independent practice. The coaching conversation then grounds these strategies in the context they are being taught - whether the context of the subject, phase, teacher, or students. Focusing on this stuff can help a LOT of teachers. There are also spillover benefits to teachers across a school (or MAT) having shared language and practice.

Using our core steps...

A common misconception about instructional coaching is that it is all based on performative techniques, and that it is only useful when it comes to classroom management, e.g. running the room. A view persists that any teaching goals and steps that require a greater level of subject knowledge, such as questioning, cannot be developed by focusing on 'core' steps.

At Steplab we know that instructional techniques cannot be severed from the content that is being taught. That is why all of our core steps are grounded in subject and phase …because coaches select steps that help to solve problems for a specific teacher, coaches contextualise their models and all planning and rehearsal tasks start by identifying a specific class and lesson.

...with our NEW specialist steps...

We also recognise, however, that some aspects of teaching substantive and disciplinary knowledge are unique to the subject and phase. Challenges such as…

  • managing child-initiated learning in a reception classroom;
  • teaching students to handle sources and evidence in history,
  • explaining geographical systems
  • using worked examples in mathematics

…cannot be easily solved, even with careful contextualisation, using core teaching approaches and steps. Our users are also familiar with these challenges, and ask us for more specialist content.

With that in mind, we’re really excited to be expanding our support for subject and phase. We’re moving from having just our EYFS and KS1 steps, to having a whole series of subject specific goals and steps. We also have a set of steps for teaching assistants and for pastoral leadership and support!

We’re very much in an exploratory phase. We’re starting with a small number of subjects and, within those subjects, focusing on one or two teaching goals. We’ve picked what we think are some of the highest leverage teaching goals. These goals are focused on aspects of subject specific teaching that are unique and challenging to that subject, e.g. using worked examples to deepen scientific understanding; planning and leading successful instrumental practice or teaching evidential thinking in history. They’re grounded in research and guidance, especially from subject associations, which you can find in our insights modules.

One important caveat to note, however, is that even subject or phase specific instructional coaching is only one piece of the puzzle. For example, it should not be a replacement for 'collaborative planning' (which is essential for developing content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge). The core steps and specialist steps build on a foundation of careful curriculum design and subject discourse in schools. Instructional coaching is an important vehicle in ensuring that the rubber hits the road and that a rigorous curriculum is implemented effectively.

...offers a 'best of both'

So, this package of our core steps, combined with careful use of specialist steps, offers a 'best of both'. It provides teachers and coaches the flexibility to focus on the 'next most important' step for improvement… which might be a core strategy ….OR something more specific, depending on need.

We’re very excited to hear about how you use our specialist steps in your schools and very much welcome feedback from our users!

Find out more

To learn more about our specialist steps, along with other exciting developments, watch our 'What's New at Steplab?' webinar below.


  • Head to Library > Step library to explore all our teaching goal and steps, including our specialist steps.
  • Head to Library > Course library to explore all our courses, including the specialist study modules.

And if you have any questions or suggestions, just drop us a line at [email protected]


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