Archive | October, 2013

Developing a strong learning culture in the face of adversity

12 Oct

There  is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss,  contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the  next time.

Malcom X

challenges ahead

Last year, I blogged about trying to develop a stronger learning culture at my new school. Generally, teachers were keen to develop their practice but – and it’s a big but (no pun intended!) – teaching and learning conversations were all about what Ofsted wanted to see in lessons. Some of the comments I heard from staff in my first year were:

“You must do group work to get an outstanding.”

“You have to demonstrate progress every 20 minutes.”

“You must show the students working independently”

“You mustn’t talk too much.”

“You need to have a really good pace with lots of engaging activities.”

The list could go on…

Apart from the fact that these beliefs are totally made up, I kept thinking to myself: ‘Who are we planning lessons for?!’ Ofsted or our students? My main message to staff that year was focus on what’s right for your students sitting in front of you, not an imaginary inspector sitting in the back of the room with a clipboard.

Around the same time, I began floating around different teaching and learning ideas that staff might want to get involved with next academic year. You can read about them in a previous post Developing a strong learning culture: part 4. The results were really positive; staff were enthusiastic and voted for several of the possible ideas. We were coming to the end of a good year and I was looking forward to starting again in September and implementing these new teaching and learning options.

Then Ofsted came. In the final week of term. And we got a 3.

It was an incredible blow for our staff, who had worked so bloody hard. The thing is, we were fighting a losing battle; results were on a downward trend so, quite rightly, achievement was a 3 and everything else crumbled from there.  Teaching and learning became a 3 because there was not enough evidence of progress over time. Leadership and management became a 3 because of the other gradings. Behaviour was a 2.

How to respond? I’m not going to lie: there was a moment where I went into internal meltdown and thought ‘I’ve been too relaxed, letting everyone teach in their own way. We need consistency. We need more SLT input blah blah blah.’ Thankfully, I went out and got drunk, realised I was thinking absolute rubbish and needed to hold steady. I’ve always believed in a bottom-up approach if real changes are to happen. I received so much support from the Twitter community in the aftermath and there were wise words shared from two inspirational leaders, @kevbartle and @LeadingLearner. Stephen Tierney, a.k.a. @LeadingLearner said what was needed was ‘to fill the reservoir of hope’ – how true this was, since staff were feeling a combination of anger, disbelief, embarrassment and sadness.

A new year: refilling the reservoir

Glass half full

On the first day back, I stood up and told staff what our expectations were for teaching and learning: to be committed to developing your practice. I asked staff to commit to one new teaching and learning option from the staff learning culture vote and that would mean we were on the right path.

Already I can feel a real change and it’s exciting! We have a teaching and learning website up and running. Teachers are sharing their ideas on the homepage noticeboard, writing posts about things they’re trying out in the classroom and emailing me to say how interesting they’ve found some of the recommended blogs.  On 24th October, we’ve got our first book club meeting, discussing Zoe Elder’s Full On Learning.  There will be 18 of us there – more than I ever imagined would find the time to read a book on pedagogy!

The real significant difference this year has been our tremendous Lead Learners. These teachers were approached and asked if they would consider running training throughout the year with a group of 12 teachers and support  them with their action research enquiry. No TLR. Only a small amount of extra time for planning. Would they do it…? All of them said ‘Yes’. I was bowled over by their generosity. How easy it would have been for staff to be disheartened after Ofsted’s judgement and to go back into their own classrooms without sharing and collaborating with others.

Yesterday, we had our first meeting with Lead Learners. After sharing the vision of the benefits of action research (thanks David Weston, a.k.a. @informed_edu for his presentation from #TMCollaborate) staff began reading selected blogs and extracts from core pedagogical texts related to their action research area. Lead Learner pairings could decide how they wanted to run their session and the results were brilliant! Truly bottom-up CPD! Some are having SOLO stations with readings and tasks; some are modelling a great lesson in the session; some are using videos; some are giving minimal information and seeing how teachers respond to getting stuck! How fantastic to see teachers taking control of their own CPD.

On Tuesday, we have our HMI monitoring visit. I challenge them to come in and not be able to see how committed our staff are to developing a learning culture. I’ll finish with a statement I read in Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s excellent book Leverage Leadership.

The continual message should be: nothing is as important as learning.

This is the message that I want all staff to hear, loud and clear, and not be distracted from our core business. We’re starting the journey and I’m looking forward to seeing our staff shape the improvements in teaching and learning. Watch this space…

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