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

1 Jul

So the results are in: the teachers have spoken! In the last post, I was eagerly awaiting teachers’ votes for the different options to develop our learning culture. We have 68 teachers at my school and 52 of them voted. For me, that is an achievement in itself – even though teachers are super busy, they still managed to find the time to make their voice heard. This gives me confidence that the new ideas that we implement next year will make a difference because teachers have decided what they think will help them to develop their practice.

Terrence Deal and Kent Peterson, in Shaping School Culture: the heart of leadership state:

Every organisation has a culture, that history and underlying set of unwritten expectations that shape everything about the school. A school culture influences the way people think, feel and act. Being able to understand and shape the culture is key to a school’s success in promoting staff and student learning.

Presently, it is difficult for me to define our school culture. We have never been graded as anything other than a ‘good’ school. Our school has a reputation as being  friendly and community-focused. We are proud of our Inclusion Quality Mark. However, there has not been a clear and consistent vision for what we are trying to achieve in terms of teaching and learning. If you asked a teacher to describe our teaching and learning vision, they would most probably respond with ‘To get another good or maybe an outstanding grade from Ofsted’. And this, in a nutshell, is our problem. All past  conversations about teaching and learning have been centred around doing well when we’re Ofsteded. That is not a vision: it’s an outcome.

So what kind of teachers do we want to be? The thing is, we’re all different; we’ve got different experiences, subject expertise, philosophies, personality traits – the list goes on. Nonetheless, if we really want to improve our teaching and learning, we can only do this if there is a range of opportunities for professional development and there is enough time for staff to engage with these opportunities.

Making a change: listening to teachers’ concerns

Time

The most common feedback I received from staff when they were viewing the taster videos was: ‘I think that’s a great idea but I don’t know where I’m going to get the time to get involved.’ When you’ve heard a version of that statement from at least twelve teachers of different levels of experience and responsibility, you know something has to change. Our most urgent priority, in my opinion, is that we need to move away from a top-down SLT approach and replace this with a bottom-up approach. Our starting point for this change is the meeting cycle. On average, there are 10 meetings per half term – 10 meetings!!! Now I do think there’s a place for meetings but we must stop holding meetings just because ‘we’ve always had these meetings’. Are they making us better teachers? Are they improving student outcomes? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. The majority of these meetings are giving vast amounts of information to staff – information that could often be given via email.

Time for an anecdote. One of the keynote speeches from the SSAT Achievement Show this year was Kev Bartle and the Pedagogy Leaders at Canons High School. For more information about this fantastic CPD initiative, read about it on the Canons Broadside blog.

http://canonsbroadside.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/are-we-there-yet-pedagogy-leaders-art.html

One of the Pedagogy Leaders was questioned about the amount of time they were given to carry out their role. The reply was that they were not given a reduction in timetable but they could block off time when it was needed. She also said that ‘SLT are good at not giving lots of busy work to teachers’. This struck a chord with me. How many emails do SLT send which ask teachers to do something which we know is going to have zero impact of improving teaching and learning? When teachers are having to complete lots of ‘busy work’ which often involves paper trails and ticking boxes, it’s easy to see how teachers can be loathe to commit to voluntary CPD which requires time and commitment.

After informing SLT about the feedback I’d got from staff, we made the decision to rethink the meeting cycle. From September, we are going to reduce the number of meetings by about half and, equally important: we are changing the format of these meetings. The agenda will be set based on teachers’ needs and concerns; there will be working parties trying to come up with solutions to school issues; and there will be a greater emphasis on training rather than information giving. It is hoped that reducing the amount of time spent in meetings will free up staff to get involved in the new professional development opportunities.

Thomas Guskey, in Professional development in education, identified different factors to consider when planning professional development opportunities.

–          CPD must focus on classroom practice but will only make a lasting impact if the culture of the school recognises teachers’ efforts in engaging with CPD

–          Plan large-scale change but don’t change everything at once

–          Work in teams to create a supportive environment

–          Build in opportunities for staff to give feedback

–          Provide continuing support and challenge for staff

Keeping these factors in mind, I now have to respond to teachers’ wishes and devise a plan of action for next year.

Creating a staff learning culture: the results

Below are the results of the staff learning culture vote.

Option

 

Result

Action   Research CPD

Each teacher to pick a key theme for   the whole year and be led in a small group by a pair of Lead Learners to   carry out a small action research project with a class.

General feedback has been that going   to a twilight model has been positive but there needs to be enough time to   try new things and evaluate their impact.
Staff   Book Club

A group of teachers to meet once a   half term to discuss how their classroom practice might be influenced by the   key ideas from the selected teaching and learning book.

Yes 50%

 

No 50%

Staffroom   Teaching and Learning Board

The board will have a key classroom   theme each half term and staff will add their ideas to it to support each   other in developing this area of practice.

Yes 71%

 

No 29%

Internal   blog

A teacher will write a guest post once   a month sharing the highs and lows of their experiments with a new classroom   strategy.

Yes 54%

 

No 46%

M.O.T.   (More of this) Learning Walks

Teachers decide on their own focus for   the observer to concentrate on during the lesson. The follow-up conversation   focuses on identifying examples of the selected area of classroom practice   and highlights any further opportunities for development.

Yes 56%

 

No 44%

Elthorne   #pedagoofriday Celebration

Every Friday will share their best   teaching moment of the week with the rest of the staff via TodaysMeet   (internal Twitter-like news feed)

Yes 29%

 

No 71%

Pocketbook   Showcase

There will be an annual pocketbook   highlighting the areas of expertise across departments and have case studies   of best practice.

Yes 52%

 

No 48%

Borough   Hook-ups

Departments will have the opportunity   to share, collaborate and visit departments from a school in the borough to   develop practice.

Yes 77%

 

No 23%

Open   Classroom Week

Teachers will open up their classrooms   with particular classes once a week every term to allow other teachers to   come and visit them. A timetable will be published in advance.

Yes 63%

 

No 37%

Hosting   Teach Meet Ealing

Elthorne Park will host the next Teach   Meet Ealing in order to share best practice across the borough and network   with colleagues from different schools.

Yes 81%

 

No 19%

Next steps: implementing the change

Next steps

The new action research model during twilight sessions will make a significant difference to how teachers view CPD. The onus is now on teachers to take responsibility for improving their own practice by carrying out action research. Feedback from this year is that they enjoy twilight sessions but there is not enough time to try out new ideas: it’s a constant carousel of activities with no time to reflect! Consequently, moving to a marginal learning gains approach, each teacher will choose one aspect of their practice to focus on and be part of a small learning group led by a pair of Lead Learners whose job is to encourage, question and challenge their group of teachers.

I’m delighted that hosting Teach Meet Ealing received such a positive response; undoubtedly this is down to the success of our internal teach meet earlier this month. There was a different atmosphere at the teach meet, with staff actively taking part and feeling they were part of something rather than having something done to them. Teach Meets embody a bottom-up approach which is at the heart of all of these new additions. Moreover, the popularity of the borough hook-ups indicates that staff want more opportunities to share and collaborate with other colleagues in the borough. This can only be a good thing.

I was also pleasantly surprised at how many teachers were willing to support Open Classroom Week. As I’ve mentioned previously, the Ofsted cloud hangs over our school and observations tend to feel judgemental rather than developmental. Opening up our classrooms will be a great way of changing the culture of observations. Coupled with this, the showcase pocketbook of best practice garnered some support. Rather than having departmental case studies, we will have individuals volunteer to share best practice and this will be linked to the new teaching and learning blog. I think the idea of a blog scared some members of staff but we could start off small and ask the Lead Learners to write the first posts to show other teachers how invaluable blogging can be in helping us become more reflective.

There are some quick wins here with the staff teaching and learning board. All teachers can get involved with this idea without a huge investment of time. I’m hoping having this in the staffroom will allow teachers to speak more openly about what they do in their classrooms. This point leads me on to the lack of interest for having our own #pedagoofriday. Being completely honest, there are very few teachers who would go into the staffroom and talk about the brilliant lesson they’d just had. Teachers are still fairly secretive about their lesson observations and it’s quite common for teachers in the same department to have no idea about the lesson observations judgements of their colleagues. Perhaps this time next year, when it has become the norm to talk openly about successful teaching and learning, there may be more of an appetite for sharing success stories.

Moving onto the Book Club. Although only half of teachers were interested in having one, that’s still a lot of teachers who are happy to commit to reading five challenging texts over the year. This particular opportunity is for those who are happy to invest extra time in developing their practice. Who knows how many of these Book Club members will end up leading on teaching and learning in the future? It’s all about building capacity.

Sustaining change

John Harland and Kay Kinder explore different CPD outcomes in Teachers’ continuing professional development: framing a model of outcomes. They argue that if there is to be a concrete impact on teaching practice, teachers must learn new skills and knowledge and attach value to them. Without the outcome of value congruence, there is no shift in pedagogical belief.  A teacher may learn more about group work, for example, but unless they believe that it will bring about a positive change in their classroom, the use of it will be short-lived. This message applies to the teaching and learning opportunities above. Teachers need to believe that participating in these new ideas will have a positive impact on their teaching practice. We want to improve our teaching not for any external factors but because we want the best for our students.

During #sltchat tonight, the topic was about what’s the difference between good and outstanding. My response was the following:

This time next year, I hope that my school will be full of outstanding teachers using the definition above: always striving to be better, always keen to learn more. Let’s hope these new opportunities steer us in the right direction.

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

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  1. The Game Changer | Learning Geek Journey - July 3, 2013

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