Best Practice

What does pedagogy mean to you and why is this discussion important in schools?

Pedagogy has become a word that we use every day, with an assumption that we share a view on what we mean by it – but what does ‘pedagogy’ mean to you? Fiona Aubrey-Smith offers some advice to help drive CPD discussions


Every decision made in or about a school is ultimately a pedagogical decision. As Professor Neil Selwyn famously set out, we all act as pedagogical gatekeepers by opening up or locking down the choices that can be made within everyday classroom practices.

Some of these are explicit decisions – a feedback and marking policy, an approach to behaviour, lesson planning or how we organise boards and tables in our classrooms. These all directly influence relationships and interactions between teachers and students (Aubrey-Smith, 2020).

But many decisions contain implicit pedagogy – timetabling of laptop trolleys, whether to use exercise books, or the way our admin systems organise data (Twining et al, 2017).

These also influence the choices that teachers and students can make within everyday classroom practice. For example, timetabling any equipment means that its consequent use is dependent on a gatekeeper’s decision about when it may be relevant.

Such decisions are often tied to specific subjects or year groups and thus can remove the direct link between the tool and its potential to support responsive and adaptive teaching. Furthermore these decisions about children’s learning are made by someone other than the classroom teacher.

So with this in mind, we all ought to be asking – at every point of decision-making: “What aspects of pedagogy is this decision encouraging or preventing?”

Furthermore, we ought to be ensuring that everyone in our schools who makes decisions (including admin and IT support staff) have an awareness of what different forms of pedagogy look like and what effective pedagogy really means.

However, it is helpful to be aware of a common issue when doing this. New research from the Technology, Pedagogy and Education Association (TPEA) has found there to be significant variances within individual schools when defining effective pedagogy (Aubrey-Smith, 2022).

Take some common views of pedagogy (see below for more details on these approaches):

  • Traditional/behaviourist: Where learning involves acquiring information. Learners are extrinsically motivated and potential for learning is innately determined.
  • Individual constructivist: Where learning involves the individual construction of a mental model of reality guided by the teacher. Learners are intrinsically motivated and learning is limited by age or stage.
  • Social constructivist: Where learning involves the co-construction of social reality through interactions with “more knowledgeable others”. Learners are intrinsically motivated, and learning is not limited by age or stage.
  • Socio-cultural: Where learning involves becoming a member of a community who have shared purposes and valued ways of working. Learners are intrinsically motivated and are not limited by age or stage.

In one of the schools cited in the above study, there was a wide range of views on pedagogy, with roughly 25% aligning with a behaviourist view, roughly 60% aligning with a constructivist view, and roughly 15% aligning with a socio-cultural view.

Furthermore, “classroom teachers were more likely to align with behaviourist views on pedagogy when talking about knowledge (with leaders more likely to align with socio-cultural views on knowledge), and leaders more likely to align with behaviourism when talking about the purpose of schooling (with teachers more likely to align with constructivism)”.

There is plenty of further research which highlights how teacher and leader views on pedagogy change depending on subject specialism, age of students, and a myriad of other influences (e.g. Aubrey-Smith, 2021; Webster et al, 2012; Moore Johnson, 2003).

So as the TPEA research concluded: “A school must choose whether to invest in seeking consistency at the surface level of pedagogical practice, or whether to invest in (staff) becoming more aware of their own pedagogical intentions and their impact on students’ experiences.”

The report highlights that for many schools, pedagogy has become a word that we use every day, with an assumption that we share a view on what we mean by it.

But we are invited to reflect and ask ourselves about the last time that teaching staff in our school had a detailed conversation about individual views on what we really mean by “pedagogy”?

As Twining et al (2017) set out in their pedagogy framework, ultimately, pedagogy is about surfacing what we mean across four distinct themes.

  • What it means to be a learner, and what it means “to learn”.
  • What it means to be a teacher, and what it means “to teach”.
  • How knowledge comes to exist.
  • The role of schooling within education.

One of the challenges for us in schools however is that the word pedagogy has become a ubiquitous term to include a great many things. For example,

  • Pedagogical approaches or methods (teaching and learning strategies).
  • Pedagogical practices (classroom actions).
  • Pedagogical beliefs (individual values and philosophical beliefs)
  • Politicised pedagogy (strategies that we are implementing due to politics or accountability systems).

Furthermore, for each of the points above (and this is not an exhaustive list) there are many different theories of pedagogy (e.g. information processing, behaviourism, constructivism, social or radical constructivism, socio-cultural, feminist and post-feminist, experiential, modernist and post-modernist, traditional, radical – the list goes on).

In addition, discussions of pedagogy in professional contexts often pivot around individual teachers, subjects, phases or organisations (e.g. progress or attainment across cohorts or subjects, improvement targets or retention rates). Or, where pedagogy is discussed by focusing on learners, the role of pedagogy still tends to frame that learner in context of their class or school (e.g. interventions, acceleration, engagement). Conversation about pedagogy at the level of teacher-to-student relationships and interactions is surprisingly rare, yet this is where discussion can be most impactful.

So, what do we each really mean when we use the word pedagogy? Below I describe a practical activity that you may wish to try with your team that takes all of these complexities and creates a conversation focused explicitly on individual teachers and learners in their classrooms.


Activity: What is my pedagogical stance?

Click the button at the foot of this article to download the grid shown here or alternatively download it via the One Life Learning website (see further information). The grid shows the three contrasting views about pedagogical beliefs that I touched upon above.


Try this sequence of thinking yourself, and then engage staff in discussion over the coming weeks with the three activities below (ideally 15 to 30 minutes per activity, but with a week or so between each step to allow for reflection).

Activity 1: Provide each member of staff time to read the grid and reflect on its contents. Invite colleagues to highlight the statements that most resonate with their personal views. It is important to make sure that all those present are aware that there is not a “right” answer to this, and that there will be variance across colleagues (and that this is normal). You may wish to refer to the research findings above to contextualise this.

Activity 2: Invite colleagues to identify what practical actions they have taken that week which exemplify the statements that they have highlighted. Discuss these in supportive pairs – focusing on what it reveals about teacher-student relationships, intentions and interactions. This activity usually creates discussion about the hidden curriculum and the hidden messages we subconsciously convey to students within our everyday practice. As such, this activity can be a very powerful prompt for wider coaching or discussions.

Activity 3: Invite colleagues to consider their identified pedagogical alignment and what this means for making future learning:

  • More responsive (e.g. formative assessment, responsive and adaptive teaching).
  • More autonomous (e.g. students able to access relevant support/resources).
  • More inclusive for all students (e.g. accessibility including and beyond SEND).
  • More sensitive to cognitive load (e.g. individualised pacing, bitesize resourcing).
  • More creative (e.g. use of audio, video, image, animation, collaborative outcomes).
  • More interactive, more collaborative, more social, more precise, more community minded – the list goes on!



This process will give staff the stimulus for reflecting upon their own personally held pedagogical beliefs, and how those beliefs begin to impact classroom practice. You may wish to consider during these reflective discussions whether conversations are largely about:

  • Pedagogical beliefs (individual values and philosophical beliefs).
  • Politicised pedagogy (strategies that we are implementing due to politics or accountability systems).
  • Pedagogical approaches or methods (teaching and learning strategies).
  • Pedagogical practices (classroom actions).

This will give you forensic precision and fresh insights about existing strengths in practice across your school, as well as stimulus for where future professional learning may have the greatest impact on student’s lived experiences.

  • Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith is director of One Life Learning, an associate lecturer at the Open University and a founding fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via and follow her @FionaAS



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