Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.
It’s the summer term and the sun has finally come out to play. This may seem a very strange way to start a blog but today is the first day I have gone to work bare legged. Now those colleagues who I’ve worked with over the years will tell you that this is a very important date in the teaching calendar; forgot Open Evening and Sports Day: the first day of summer is heralded not by the return from the Easter break but when I’m spotted out and about without tights!
Not wearing tights often coincides with the time when I start reflecting on the year and looking forward to new challenges in September – plus I get asked what colour planner I want for next year, which is always a huge thrill. This year, we have undergone an enormous amount of change, stemming from an unfavourable Ofsted report and a new(ish) head coming in with his own ideas about what constitutes an excellent school. Starting at a new school feels like starting a new relationship. You start feeling all excited, your mind whirling with all of the things that might happen. Fast forward a couple of months and then you have your first argument; you’re feeling unbalanced and hurt. What’s happened? Is this the end? Are we meant to be? Then you establish some sort of routine, a pattern by which you live your lives. This is the stage where there may be fewer highs and lows but you’re still fresh enough into the relationship to feel excited about its possibilities and what the future may bring.
This is the stage I’m at now with my school. I’ve been working here for nearly a year and a half. I’ve replaced my initial boundless enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations for something a little bit more manageable. The teachers know me a bit better and I’ve also got to know them as people – what makes them tick? What are their strengths? What matters to them? What I’ve found in my school is that we have an absolutely fantastic bunch of experienced teachers, with many being at the school for a decade or more. If I’m completely honest, I was unprepared for working with such an experienced staff; in my previous school, many of the teachers had not yet reached the upper pay scale and early promotion for those who worked hard happened frequently (me being one of them!) Where I work now, teachers are confident to question why we are doing things and are open if they think the change is not worth the effort. To begin with, I took this quite personally but the longer I’ve been here, the more I realise that this can only be a positive. Our staff care deeply about teaching but have such little time to plan and deliver high quality lessons on a regular basis that it’s absolutely right that they should be convinced as to why another change is the right thing to do.
Those who follow the blog will know that the teaching and learning developments for this academic year were voted on by staff in the summer term last year. There are a couple of specific highlights of the year, which show that the main change at our school is a cultural one; teachers are developing their practice not because they have to but because they want to. This change in culture is best exemplified by the following two highlights.
This has been a real eye-opener. I never really thought there would be enough take-up to make this happen for the reason mentioned above – why would teachers give up their free time to talk about pedagogy when they already didn’t have enough time to plan the lessons they would like to? Yet, thankfully, I was wrong. We have teachers from across the school, with different responsibilities and levels of experience but we’ve all got one thing in common: we are teacher geeks! I think they’ve found it really refreshing to talk about pedagogy where nobody is going to shoot you a dirty look if you say you don’t like group work or you haven’t done a starter activity all year; it’s about reading the book, questioning our current practice and trying something new. We are very honest in what hasn’t worked but we also feel comfortable to say if something has worked without feeling like we’re somehow showing off. This year, most of the books were more skills focused but the group have been engaging with the Twitter debates and so we’ve decided to seek out books with a different pedagogical focus so that we’ll get a balanced perspective. We’re looking forward to reading and debating Teach Like A Champion, Practice Perfect, Why Don’t Students Like School? and Trivium 21st Century.
Action Research CPD model
This week was the final session of the year for our action research clusters. This was of doing CPD is quite different to what has gone on in the past. Last year, we had twilight sessions on all sorts of topics and staff signed up to the ones that interested them. The feedback was generally positive but nothing really happened afterwards; no one measured impact and before you knew it, the next CPD twilight was upon us and we forgot to try out what we said we would in the last one. Carrying out action research has had a multitude of benefits and these could all be seen clearly in this week’s final session where staff fed back what they’d found out about the impact of their intervention with a chosen group of students. Significantly, feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive so we’ll be continuing with this model next year. There is an area on our network where all staff are uploading their presentations so everyone can see what the other clusters have been researching. In particular, action research has allowed us to:
- Take charge of our own CPD and draw upon the expertise we’ve already got in our school and share it
- Use Lesson Study to explicitly focus on the effect on students rather than making a judgement on teachers (each participant was given a cover token so they would not need to use a free period)
- Give time to staff to talk about their students, share their experiences and plan together.
- Focus on marginal gains; rather than flitting from one thing to the next, staff can focus on developing one aspect of pedagogy and track the effect of these changes.
- Set aside time to read the research that is out there and feel confident that what we’re doing is not just some whimsical notion.
So what’s next?
Both of these new initiatives are rooted in the belief that we have sufficient expertise to make ourselves better; we know our students; we know our subjects; we can make a positive change. What stops us? Time and resources. If teachers are given time and adequate resources, they are ready to get on board. An area we know we need to do something about is how we carry out lesson observations. With so much overwhelming evidence that individual lesson observation gradings are completely pointless, we need to find another way forward. Having converted most of my SLT to the Leverage Leadership model of lesson observation, the head has agreed to staff being visited once a fortnight for part of the lesson with a follow up coaching conversation rather than an official, formal lesson observation. However, this is only for Autumn term; unfortunately, I haven’t convinced him to scrap the formal lesson observation later in the year but I think I might be able to persuade him to give up lesson gradings once he sees how quickly teachers develop using the coaching model. This is my big goal for next year – to get a better balance between accountability and autonomy. Our teachers are great so let’s trust them and watch them soar!