How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff?

26 May

Dylan Wiliam quote

CPD is a funny old thing. For some, it means being talked at for an hour accompanied by a dull PowerPoint; for others, it means logging onto Twitter and tweeting fellow teachers. The thing that most teachers agree on is that CPD delivered from the top with no input from staff contributes little to anyone’s development. Nobody wants something done to them. We want to be part of something we can believe in. The question is: how do you create a learning culture where there are myriad opportunities for staff to – in the words of Dylan Wiliam –  ‘improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better?’


Ofsted: the kiss of death for high-quality CPD



I don’t know about you but I am ridiculously bored of hearing about Ofsted. In my eyes, this word should hold the same status as ‘Voldemort’. I don’t want to hear it. It doesn’t make me want to be a better teacher; it makes me think about planning lessons for someone I don’t know rather than the students in my class. Should I stop a perfectly good activity to demonstrate progress? Should I spend 10 minutes banging out about my learning outcomes so the inspector knows I’ve thought about them? Shall I get them to do this activity as a group so they can show cooperative behaviour, even though I think they probably would do just as well working by themselves?

A couple of years ago, Mel and I ran a ‘Good to Outstanding’ programme to help staff chase the elusive grade. We received a lot of positive feedback from staff and a year later the school did receive an Outstanding. In retrospect, SLT were keen to market them in a very ‘Ofsted’ way’ but what we delivered should have been called ‘Great teaching’. There were three aspects of the programme: stretch and challenge; marking and feedback; and independent learning. What made the sessions worthwhile wasn’t making teachers understand what Ofsted were looking for but rather that we ran each session many times in order to have small group sizes. What made these sessions better than anything else we’d delivered up until that point was that a group of approximately 10 teachers got to sit down and talk about their teaching and think about what was working for them and what needed tweaking. However, I must admit, there was sugar paper in one session – I know that for some of you out there, that’s a complete no-no!

So it’s talking that makes teachers better?

The lesson to be learnt from that programme was that teachers are crying out for opportunities to talk to each other about pedagogy. If only we could replace the endless cycle of meetings with more time for coaching, sharing best practice and collaborative projects. At the recent #SLTeachMeet, @headguruteacher gave a presentation on Rainforest Thinking. One of his ideas is to scrap some meetings and replace the time with departments collaborating. Imagine spending time after school developing innovative pedagogy rather than being read to from a PowerPoint – radical!

To listen to @headguruteacher, this is his presentation: (his is the opening #SLTeachMeet presentation).

If we are agreed that the best chance we have of developing a strong learning culture is devising opportunities centred on staff talking and reflecting on their pedagogy, what steps should SLT take to make this happen? My assistant head teacher responsibility is to lead on teaching and learning and I want to get it right. Considering I can be a right old bossy-boots and known for never shutting up, I have to reign myself in and remind myself that it’s not all about me me me!

Luckily, there have been some great opportunities recently for me to listen to many teachers’ views on how to best create a learning culture. Two things in particular have made me stop and think about the direction I was taking. Initially, when I started my new job in January, I had too many ideas about what I was going to do (that’s even before I’d met the staff!) Now I realise that I need to slow down and listen to what they want and need. Recently, I had a great Skype conversation with @TeamTait – yes, he is just a brilliant in the real world! My plan had been to share all of my ideas for September to create this great learning culture. He said he was going to be doing a drip-feed over time, with lots of different ideas that staff could get involved in. This seems like a much better approach. Over the next half term, I’ll be sharing my drip-feed of ideas with staff and ask them which ones they think will be most useful in helping us to become a more curious and reflective group of pedagogues.

Finally, my headteacher shared with me research from The London Challenge entitled Butterflies for school improvement. The idea in this document is forget the big gestures: it’s the culmination of small changes that make a real difference.

In the spirit of seeking high leverage both in the important things in school life and in reinforcing how the important things are done, we believe that small interventions can have a disproportionate effect. We call them ‘butterflies’ after the chaos or complexity theorist’s story that if sufficient butterflies were to beat their wings in the Amazonian forest they could trigger a hurricane thousands of miles away. High leverage indeed – but sometimes, if you were to put yourself in the position of the butterfly, quite a lot of effort. Perhaps, too, an unintended consequence.

Tim Brighouse and David Woods, Butterflies for school improvement (p.9)

To read the whole document, you can download it here:

So that’s the way I’m going to try and develop a strong learning culture. Small changes over time that, when looked at as a whole, have shaped us into better teachers. Well, after all, our Twitter handle is @TeacherTweaks. We’re all for making a big difference through small changes.

4 Responses to “How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff?”

  1. merryem May 27, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Mike Hughes’s book Tweak to Transform operates the same principle. I used to publish tweak of the week on the bulletin. I would rather that they had the time to sit and discuss though as we all know what happens to something read in isolation (if read at all!)

  2. Embedding Differentiation and Challenge May 27, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    Reblogged this on Embedding Differentiation and Challenge and commented:
    This blog post makes a kit of sense

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