Part Two: How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff?

2 Jun

In my last post, I compared the word Ofsted to Voldemort since I was sick and tired of hearing the word and wanted it to be banned from conversations SLT have with their staff. I believe categorically that bandying the word Ofsted around a staffroom has no positive effect on a teacher’s performance in their classroom – hence why I alluded to the Voldemort comparison. However, after an exchange with @kevbartle, I’m having a rethink on my previous position.

Perhaps banning the word from staffrooms isn’t the way forward; this could suggest that teachers are frightened of Ofsted. Professor Dumbledore wants Harry to use Voldemort’s name. In the first book of the series, The Philosopher’s Stone, he is adamant that Harry should ‘Call him Voldemort… Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.’


Who would mind having the professor in their classroom?

However, back in the world of teaching, I don’t want conversations about professional development and what makes excellent teaching dominated by what Ofsted claim is ‘Outstanding’. A different tack could be to push Ofsted to the sidelines and concentrate on what is important for the teachers and students in our own schools. When they do come along, we’ll deal with their presence then but, rest assured, we’ll know that what we’ve been focusing our energies on is getting it right for our students and not for an inspector.

So if we agree that Ofsted should not dominate the agenda, then it’s left to us teachers to push forward our own professional development. Last week, I stated that I would be trying to create a culture where teachers would have many different opportunities to develop their practice rather than big showy policies and initiatives. The idea was that lots of small changes can culminate in big changes.

Getting staff on board

Changes ahead

In this final half term, I will be sharing with staff all of the options we could have available to us for next year; crucially, it is up to staff to decide which ones they think will make a positive difference to their professional development. There’s absolutely no point in me promoting an idea if there’s no buy-in from staff. As mentioned in the previous post, I do have to reign myself in from time to time! This week I’ve been pondering on the best way to get staff to contribute to creating a collective learning culture and responding to the ideas truthfully, without fear of any reprisals.

At first, I was going to send a daily email to staff with one of the ideas and get them to vote on whether they thought it would be beneficial to developing our practice. After discussions with several colleagues, the consensus seemed to be that some staff might not feel like they could say ‘No’ if I knew who they were and might think they were ‘mood hoovers’ (to borrow a phrase from @MsFindlater!) So it was back to the drawing board… I thought perhaps using Survey Monkey might be an alternative but I don’t want staff to be given a long list of options without having time to mull them over. I also want staff to have space to include any comments – positive or negative – so that I can get a good feel for what staff are thinking. To choose the right method of communication, I did what I should have done all along and called an expert – step forward @ICTEvangelist! He advised me to still use emails to share ideas but then use Google docs at the end to gather both quantitative and qualitative feedback from staff. He reminded me that asking teachers to vote on an idea daily for the next two weeks might be a tad irritating to some!!!

The first ‘butterfly’: enquiry-led action research

This year, there have been eight twilight sessions spread throughout the academic year. Previously, the school has had an INSET everyone-in-the-hall model so teachers have responded well to moving to a twilight model. Teachers have been able to sign up for sessions that interest them. Afterwards, teachers have duly filled in their CPD evaluation forms which let SLT know whether they thought the session was useful to them. However, as we draw a close to this academic year, some teachers have been questioning what true impact all of these twilight sessions have had on their practice. We all know what it’s like: we have the best intentions in the world to try out that great idea we heard about but fast forward a couple of weeks later and more important things like year 11 controlled assessments have gotten in the way…

The first step to creating a strong learning culture is to move to an enquiry-based CPD model. Five strands have been identified as being important to teachers at the school: improving student collaboration; developing high-quality teacher and student talk; creating high-impact interventions; designing lessons that are challenging for all students; and implementing feedback models that encourage students to respond to targets. A teacher will choose one of these strands and create an enquiry question focusing their action research on one class. There will be four CPD sessions and teachers will work in a small group of around 12-15 teachers for the entire year. The group will be lead by two lead learners. It is hoped that focusing on one aspect of pedagogy for the entire year and sharing ideas with other teachers who are working on the same thing will lead to a more sustained change in classroom practice. In each of the sessions, the group will be set a challenge by their Lead Learners and will have to feedback honestly how it went with their class. The premise of the action research is based upon marginal gains. Do one thing really, really well before moving on. Too often we ask teachers to become better teachers without giving them the time to make changes, see what works in their classes and reflect on why these things have a positive impact on their students. Teachers have seen too many initiatives come and go without having the time to embed any of them.

Deciding on the lead learner pairings has been really tricky. Who do you choose? There are many teachers at school who are recognised in the staffroom as being great at what they do but there are also a number of teachers who have the potential to be brilliant if given the chance to shine. Bearing this in mind, the lead learner pairings have one teacher who has experience of delivering training and one teacher with less experience who perhaps might lack the confidence to lead a group of teachers by themselves. It is hoped that the lead learners will find this a rewarding experience. Furthermore, we know that the best schools are always looking to build capacity and perhaps some of these Lead Learners will one day be leading on much larger projects across the school. Ideally, if this model is a success, I would like to expand the Lead Learner programme where they can undertake research into something that interests them. After reading about @Head_stmarys’s Research and Development communities and @kevbartle’s Pedagogy Leaders, I’m keeping everything crossed that our school can become as innovative as theirs.

Here are the links to the two programmes mentioned above:

So that’s my first little ‘butterfly’ that I hope teachers will think can make a positive difference to their professional development. There are more ideas to come but I started with this one first because it encapsulates what all of the ideas have at their core: developments led by teachers; time given for professional dialogue; and a true spirit of enquiry!

I finish this post by going back to the wise words of Professor Dumbledore. In the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore is charged with the task of keeping staff and students at Hogwarts calm now they are all aware of Voldemort’s return. There is an anxious atmosphere with everyone wondering when Voldemort will land at their door. It is up to Dumbledore to keep spirits high and remind his staff and students just how powerful they can be when united for the common good. It’s business as usual at Hogwarts, despite the looming presence of Voldemort.

We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.

Dumbledore’s message is one that all of us in the profession should be mindful of in these turbulent times. Ofsted aren’t going away anytime soon so let’s concentrate on what really matters in our schools: being the best teachers we can be so that our students experience great lessons every day.

One Response to “Part Two: How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff?”


  1. Lighting the fire for ‘consistently good’ | Learning Geek Journey - June 3, 2013

    […] the enquiry-led action research by @teachertweaks (😉 , are great ideas that personalise CPD to individual interests and should enable passions in all […]

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