The knowing-doing gap

A barrier to teacher improvement

Hey 👋

Hope June is being nice, and you're keeping an eye out for habit inertia in your work. This week, we’re gonna round off our series on teacher expertise by unpacking the knowing-doing gap

Big idea 🍉

What is it & why it is important?

As we go through our careers, there are times when we learn about and even advocate for an idea or approach, yet we continue to act in a different way, often without even noticing the contradiction.

This is what Kennedy calls ‘the problem of enactment’, or what is talked about more colloquially in PD circles as the knowing-doing gap.

The knowing-doing gap can emerge for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because teachers are exposed to an idea but aren’t helped to understand exactly what to do about it—how to put it into action. Sometimes it’s because teachers know what to do, but haven’t ‘rehearsed’ enough outside the classroom for it to manifest inside the busy context of a lesson. And sometimes it’s simply because old habits die hard—and insufficient attention has been put into establishing the new habit.

For example, when you learn about cognitive load theory and think ‘this is great’ but continue to narrate over students when they are on task (which I did for ages).

“Most of the time what we do is what we do most of the time.”

— Townsend & Bever

The knowing-doing gap is an issue not only because it limits teacher improvement (and in doing so fails to make the most of their precious time), but also because it can end up creating cognitive dissonance—where we think about ourselves as someone who does A, but actually does B—which can be a frustrating and ultimately identity-undermining experience.

How does it arise and what we can do about it?

The knowing-doing gap tends to arise when teachers are exposed to PD experiences which only provide them with insights, but don’t come with all the other ‘essential ingredients’ of effective change. Sadly, much PD often falls into this camp. As well as insights, effective PD must provide:

  • Models Examples of ‘what good looks like’ in action.

  • Practice Opportunities to adapt, rehearse, and get feedback on the target change.

  • Habit building Support for making change stick.

When all of these ingredients are in place (insights, models, practice, habit building), teacher change is much more likely to occur, and the gap between knowing and doing will be bridged.

Challenge → How often does your professional learning include all the ‘essential ingredients’? If any are missing, what could you do to make up for them?


• We sometimes espouse an idea, but for various reasons, don’t enact it.

• PD can often exacerbate this knowing-doing gap by only providing ‘insights’.

• We can bridge the knowing-doing gap by ensuring our PD includes all the essential ingredients of teacher change: insights, models, practice, and habit building.

Little links 🥕

Remember: you’re no good to anyone unless you’re good to yourself.

Peps 👊

PS. If you ever want to share all the previous Evidence Snacks with others, you can simply send them this link: (or use the link below and earn some goodies for your kindness).