Tag Archives: #CPD

Reflections from Teachers’ Book Group

1 Jun

It’s that wonderful time of year again. Exam classes leaving and everyone wants to claim some of your precious gained time. My favourite aspect is that I can take time to reflect on the year and start planning what I’d like to focus on next year and STILL travel to and from work while it’s light!

We tried out a few new things this year and my favourite has been a teaching and learning book group. This has been shared by some fantastic bloggers from @shaun­_allison to @dan_brinton but I’m going to share a few points that you might want to consider if you are thinking of setting up a teaching book group.


Is it worth it?

If in doubt about whether it’s a good idea, stop doubting. It is. A book group is amazing for more reasons that you may have thought.

  1. It makes staff feel valued: They get books of their own, an opportunity to learn something new, to consider different viewpoints and share ideas.
  2. It will set off a buzz: There may be things people strongly agree or disagree with, techniques people have never thought of before or research that completely changes the way they think and teach. This buzz will spread as teachers start discussing things they have read or sharing ideas they have tried out.
  3. It is ongoing CPD: Just how ongoing might depend how book group members read it – do they dip in and out regularly or do a last minute readathon the weekend before the meeting! However, is does mean that throughout the year, each teacher will spend a considerable amount of time reading, trying out something new or reflecting. This is like being an NQT again but hopefully without the constant feeling of exhaustion (I don’t think that was just me!) Our book group has been composed of staff from a range of departments and experiences, including a member of SLT, but all have been in that stage of their career when their impact is apparently at risk of levelling off. (There has been a lot of discussion about this idea and the graph below but this post is not the place for it, see @pedagog_machine’s post  http://bit.ly/1SR3iRC) I think the injection of thought –provoking reading and discussion is a great way to avoid this and get on the dotted line on the graph below.
  4. It is great value for money: Yes, there is a cost implication but when it boils down to it, you are investing in your staff and when you compare the cost of buying a few books to the cost of a day’s external training, factoring in the cost of cover, it is actually pretty cheap.


From David Weston’s (@informed_edu) presentation at Research Ed 2014.

Points to consider

So having run a book group for a year, there are a few points that it would be useful to think about:

  1. Budget: One of the selling points already mentioned is that a book group offers good value for money, but there is still a cost implication. I started by working out the cost per person based on a range of books, including a couple that were more pricey and others that were mid-range. The next question is where the budget will come from – does it come under CPD, or is there a library budget that could cover some of the cost?
  2. Keep or loan: The ideal scenario is for the book group members to be rewarded for their investment of time by being able to keep the books, but if the budget is really tight, perhaps you could buy a smaller number of each book and have a couple of smaller book groups that run on a rotation basis? That way, when they books are finished with they could end up in the library for other interested staff to refer to. Perhaps if this is the model you decide is best for your school, you could allow each book group member to choose their favourite book to keep at the end of the year. An alternative to keep the cost down might be to team up with a couple of local schools and agree to each buy a couple of sets of books that are shared between the three schools.
  3. Rules: This has been a tricky one for me. The idea of setting up the group is that the members are agreeing to commit to reading a book per half term but this has not always been possible. Staff may leave, take on a new responsibility or just not stick with it and this can be quite frustrating for whoever is leading the group. It isn’t possible to avoid this completely, but I have found it better to order the books after each meeting rather than buying them all in at the start of the year. I have also made a point of ensuring that the meetings are arranged and books distributed with a holiday available, for those people who don’t read as much during term time.  I have also found it helpful to send out a reminder email a couple of weeks before the meeting for those last minute crammers!
  4. Book selection: This can be the most fun aspect but it is worth doing a bit of research before choosing your book each time. You may want to take into account the particular development priorities in your school, the areas of interest of your group members or the type of book that you read previously. As mentioned above, you may wish to order the books throughout the year and this can give you a chance to ask your book group to vote on the next book they would like to read. Our books for this year are listed below and some were popular with everyone, while others gave polar opinions.
  5. Sharing: Think about how you can share the findings from the book group. This is a fantastic opportunity to ask book group members to write a short article for a staff bulletin, post resources on a sharing board or even to ask people to run a short CPD session (like the Fifteen Minute Forum discussed by @shaun_allison in his fab book ‘Perfect Teacher-led CPD’ http://www.crownhouse.co.uk/publications/product.php?product=873). Another really effective strategy is setting up a blog for the book group so that staff can share their thoughts on the books with the rest of the school.


Book Selection

Teach like a champion: Doug Lemov

Full on Learning: Zoё Elder

The Hidden Lives of Learners: Graham Nuthall

Embedded Formative Assessment: Dylan Wiliam

Mindset: Carol Dweck

Practice Perfect: Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, Katie Yezzi

The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook: Jim Smith

Trivium 21C: Martin Robinson



How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff (part four)?

16 Jun

This week has been quite an exciting one at school. For the first time since I began my post in January, teachers are getting the chance to shape the vision we want for our school’s learning culture in the forthcoming academic year. On Wednesday, we are abandoning our usual after-school training sessions; instead, we are going to hold an internal mini teach meet and staff are genuinely excited – if not a little nervous – about getting involved and sharing what they’ve been trying out with their classes this year. A couple of weeks ago, I read a great celebratory post from @headguruteacher about the CPD market place they set up at his school for their May INSET to celebrate all the great things that have been happening throughout the year. What a great use of INSET time! You could sense from the piece how excited his staff were for the opportunity to share what they’d been working on with their colleagues.

This is @headguruteacher’s recent post: http://headguruteacher.com/2013/05/28/the-kegs-cpd-market-place/

I know from my own experience that the market place format works well because that is what the local borough use when the lead practioners share their research with other colleagues. It’s a much more active form of CPD as you are able to speak with colleagues and question them on their processes and methodologies. I was interested in my school having the opportunity to listen to a range of colleagues sharing their classroom practice and so the decision was made to hold an internal teach meet. As I said last week, not many teachers at my school are on Twitter (the numbers are slowly increasing) but they have heard about teach meets when a few of us attended our first #TMLondon in May and one of our colleagues fed back to staff during our weekly briefing.

For some of you, having an internal teach meet is not the most revolutionary of CPD ideas, but it is a big step for us and exemplifies the changing culture at school. We have had to put some teachers on the reserve list because we’ve had so many teachers sign up to present! This leads me back to the core aim of all of the teaching and learning butterflies, which is a bottom-up approach to teacher development.  In the past week, I shared with staff some taster videos of the ideas from last week’s post: a staff book club; a marginal learning gains notice board; a teaching and learning staff blog; and an internal #pedagoofriday. Teachers seemed to appreciate these videos with quite a few emailing me or stopping me in the corridor to talk about them – hopefully this bodes well for the staff vote at the end of the week!

Releasing the butterflies: week two

In the coming week, I’ll be sharing more teaching and learning options through the Video Scribe taster videos. At the end of the week, staff will complete a simple Google Docs form where they will decide which options they believe will have the greatest impact on our school’s learning culture next academic year. At the end of the form, there will be space for teachers to share an idea they have which they want to include for September.

M.O.T. Learning Walks

2013-06-05 15.14.58

One of the things I did when I joined the school in January was to go and visit the classrooms of every teacher in the school (about 70)! This was a great way for me to get a feel for teaching and learning at the school. It was decided that the focus of the learning walks would be independent learning and stretch and challenge. After reflecting on these walks, I feel that I missed a trick: there were many brilliant things going on in classrooms which weren’t explicitly commented on because they didn’t meet the specified criteria for these learning walks. I had this niggling feeling that I had limited the usefulness of these walks by deciding in advance the rigid focus. This was confirmed for me when I read @fullonlearning’s post on carrying out observations. She advocated taking the M.O.T. approach – ‘More of This’. This approach works to change the nature of lesson observations and the vital post-observation conversation. Who hasn’t experienced at some point what Zoe outlines below?

“We can employ as much reassurance as we can think of in the form of…

‘It really IS developmental, there are no judgements here’ OR…

‘Remember, I’m not using the criteria to form any judgements in this, so don’t worry’ OR…

‘The lesson observation format I’m using doesn’t allow me to look for evidence that could be used to grade the lesson’

…BUT until a reflective and developmental culture is established (and even after it is), it is worth remembering that it is likely that it may always feel, for the person whose lesson has just been observed, that the ‘grading elephant’ is present in some guise in the room.”

You can read the full post here: http://fullonlearning.com/2013/05/27/even-better-if-we-specifically-focused-on-what-went-well/

So, in light of this, teachers will get a chance to vote on whether they would like to adopt a M.O.T. approach where they set the agenda for what the observer is looking for and it is up to the observer to think where more opportunities could be built in to enhance already-exisiting good practice. I’m hoping that this will lead to a more open culture where staff stop feeling like they are being constantly judged.

Best Practice Pocketbook

Pocketbook Showcase Staff Learning Culture

A few weeks ago in conversation with @TeamTait, he shared that he was trying to produce a glossy termly magazine celebrating all of the wonderful things that were happening at his school. He was keen to promote Woodham Academy as a beacon of good pedagogical practice in his region. Unfortunately, my school is not overflowing with surplus cash at the moment – which school is?! – but when discussing this with the rest of SLT, we thought there might be some merit in producing an annual pocketbook for staff which highlighted the strengths of each department and include some individual case studies of teachers who were trying to embed an element of pedagogy. There have been numerous conversations this year where teachers have approached me asking ‘Who is really good at (insert teaching strategy) that I could go and see?’ This got me thinking: how do we know who is good at what? How do we share this information? At this point, I want to make explicit that this is not about saying ‘this is an outstanding teacher as judged by Ofsted’; rather, this is focusing on helping teachers working on their own marginal learning gains to go and see other teachers who are developing something similar. Fingers crossed there are enough teachers willing to be featured in the pocketbook : if the response to our internal teach meet is anything to go by then this idea might get a ‘Yes’ at the end of the week.

Open Classroom Week

2013-06-05 15.17.04

Following on from the pocketbook idea is Open Classroom week. I saw on TES Resources that @TeacherToolkit has created a sign for classroom doors which indicates to other teachers when visitors are welcome into the classroom.


I really like this idea because I think it will lead to a more open culture. In my last school when I worked with Mel, it took about two years of a relentless focus on CPD to change teachers’ mindsets on ‘being observed’. What’s really good about my old school is that people were always informally popping in and out of other teachers’ classrooms – but it takes time to create this kind of culture. It’s about feeling safe from judgement. For this to work in our school context, I don’t want teachers to feel pressurised to open up their classrooms. Ideally, each term, there might be several teachers who agree to open their classroom with one or two classes for a week. This is much more manageable and realistic; however, I would love to get to a point where we could operate an open classroom policy throughout the whole year. I think this teaching and learning option will only work in combination with the other ideas mentioned on this blog. I really hope teachers go for this idea because there is so much to be learnt from watching our colleagues, particularly when they are teaching the same students as us. It makes us reflect on our own practice and question the reasoning behind why we use certain activities or ask particular questions. Anything that gets us to be more reflective has got to be a good thing!

Borough hook-ups

2013-06-05 15.15.29

Working as an AST with Mel was fantastic and one of the reasons why being an AST is such a great job is because of the opportunities you have to work with other schools. It is easy to forget that classroom teachers with no position of responsibility might never get the chance to see what is going on in other schools. If you’re a head of department, you might attend borough meetings and speak with other teachers to share ideas. However, once you stop being an NQT in my borough, there’s no clear system for arranging to speak with other colleagues in the borough. Since January, I’ve had three members of staff ask me if I can help them get in touch with teachers from other schools. Yes, I can pick up the phone and try and arrange this but I think there needs to be a more structured and fair approach. At the moment, teachers at my school are very concerned  about National Curriculum changes and are understandably worried about planning new SoWs for the whole of key stage three. Oh, and don’t get us started on the new GCSEs! Where is a teacher to start with all of these changes? Yet how much easier might these changes be to put into place if you could work alongside colleagues with the same subject expertise but working in another school across the road. What I’d like to do is try and set up a link for each department to be able to talk, share and collaborate with another department in the borough. This opportunity mustn’t be linked to the TLR you hold: anyone should be able to benefit from a borough hook-up. This could be a vital addition to our learning culture. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the daily mundane tasks that need to be completed; having a fresh pair of eyes that can empathise with what needs to be done could make a real difference to teachers.

Hosting Teach Meet Ealing

2013-06-05 15.05.54

Last month, Featherstone High School hosted the first borough teach meet and it was such a good event. Lots of teachers coming together and forging links. Based on conversations I had at the teach meet, I am welcoming some visitors coming in next week to talk about SOLO taxonomy and I know of other schools who have made follow up visits. We were all in agreement that we much preferred this kind of CPD than the standard borough fare we get (sorry Ealing!). This will be the last idea I share with staff; by then we will have had our internal teach meet and they will have considered the other ideas that could shape our learning culture. If our school hosted Teach Meet Ealing next year, this would be such a symbol to everyone at our school that we had come a long way. I have this idea that this time next year, our staff will be standing up confidently sharing their classroom practice and inspiring others to try something new. I know that we have a great bunch of teachers at my school: all we need is the opportunity to shine and to be given the freedom to take some risks in order to become better teachers.

There’s a fabulous quotation from John Wooden, the American basketball coach:

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”

Our journey starts here: next week I’ll know the direction staff want to go in based on their votes. Let’s put our best foot forward and see where all of this takes us!

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.

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: http://www.l4l.co.uk/?p=6917 (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: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/7719/1/1924-2005PDF-EN-01.pdf

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.

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