Know your stuff – the importance of depth of subject knowledge

Brainy School Kid Reading A Book


Today’s teacher is pulled in many directions – from the focus on teaching the curriculum, to results and endless paperwork.  Where is the time for keeping yourself up to date and developing a true depth of knowledge in your subject area?  And why should you bother?

Here is what some of our presenters think:

1.  Greater teacher confidence

Greater knowledge of your own subject area is generally linked with greater teacher confidence – and job satisfaction.   Dr Karen Lambert, Lecturer in PDHPE at The University of Sydney offers advice to teachers in the early years.  “Master your subject area and get even better at it.  Mastery is very important.  It is important to see you are good at your subject area.  And also to know you will get better and better as you go.”

2.  Better student engagement

“The world has changed.  The quality of what we teach and the way we teach needs to be different if we want to engage all our students,” says Anita Chin, maths teacher and consultant working in schools across Australia and New Zealand.

“What students value has changed…Knowing specialist content for your subject area and knowing your students [will help] to engage your students.”

3.  Improve student outcomes

Student outcomes will always benefit from teachers’ own depth of knowledge.  “In my experience,” notes Ken Webb, History and English HSC teacher and TTA presenter, “kids feel confident if their teacher knows what they are talking about.  There is no short cut – you need to read and research yourself.”

“If teachers don’t know the content in depth, in terms of developmental teaching sequencing, they can’t cater as well to the wide range of needs in any classroom,” says Anita Chin.

In the middle years, for example “…the challenge for high school teachers is that they need to know primary content and be able to go back [if students have gaps]…and ask how do I implement primary content in a high school content.”

How to achieve deeper subject knowledge

  1. Collaborate and draw on the knowledge around you.  There will be a wealth of knowledge in your own staffroom.
  2. Ensure that at least some of your professional development is centred on your own subject area, particularly for those teaching in secondary schools.
  3. Change your focus.  If you are doing too much of the hard classroom work yourself, is the balance right?  Can you work smarter not harder?


“The people who should be working hardest in any classroom are the students,” are Darryn Kruse’s wise words.   Darryn is the Principal of Williamstown High School, history teacher and expert in the area of the Inquiry Classroom.

“As a primary teacher – we don’t specialise but rather work across lots of areas so it is about connectivity.  It is about teaching literacy and numeracy within the context of say history.  So as primary teachers we need a deep understand of how things are connected… of how learning happens…Content is important but the pedagogy should come first,”  argues Jo Blannin, ICT specialist and primary teacher.

And finally, a message for leaders:  teachers need the time and space away from their classroom commitments in order to continually keep their subject knowledge up to date.  How about Ken Webb’s idea? Allow teachers to get out of the classroom for periods of time – perhaps in the form of a sabbatical in another school – so they can add significant value for themselves and other teachers.


To read more about these presenters and the courses they offer, visit their profile page on the TTA website: Darryn Kruse, Anita Chin, Ken Webb, Joanne Blannin, Kery O’Neill, Karen Lambert

TTA offers over 300 fully accredited, high quality practical professional development courses for teachers, delivered by over 200 experienced presenters across Australia via face to face or online.