I have to admit that in my 35th year of teaching, I actually am becoming far more excited about the discussions and changes constantly occurring in the world of education than in the previous 34. Granted, before my colleagues point it out, that I can’t recall much of what actually use to happen and tend to forget about defining moments in education as easily as I forget the names of colleagues in our morning briefings! I do recall that although I have always read my own subject literature and listened to education programmes on the wireless; I could for many years never find anyone to talk to about them. I foolishly mentioned such a programme that I had listened to on a Sunday evening in a staff briefing some 20 years ago-there was general derision and hooting of abuse! I’m braver now of course but still don’t mention the fact that I enjoy #sltchat on Sunday evenings at 8.00pm-done it!
There is a lot more discussion and interest shown now about pedagogy and leadership and some of the articles, conferences, blogs and tweets attract reasonably sized amounts of followers and participants, heated debates and sadly at times descend into acrimony. Most don’t though and the free flow of shared ideas provides a vibrant community of professionals eager to learn from each other and contribute to the larger debate about the future of teaching. However, the overall numbers of our profession who become involved is small-the overwhelming majority don’t for whatever reason and the different conferences and teachmeets around the country often have the same voices-interesting and insightful as they are-and I guess that it’s human nature to tend to listen to, and follow, those you agree with more than those you don’t. This doesn’t necessarily help us to move on as individual teachers or schools and too often the same scenario of a minority of contributory colleagues is repeated in the school situation.
I really enjoy and approve of the discussions and calls for schools to make all of their staff accountable, to have ‘bottom up’ CPD [or better still lateral CPD-coaching model espoused by Michael Fullan] and to have open collaboration, no graded lesson observations, no NC levels and so on so that teachers can reclaim their profession from Ofsted, the government, SLT and whoever else has claimed it from them! One of the problems is that quite a few of the people who call loudly for these things to happen have never actually made it happen themselves-plenty of advice as to what should happen but not much on the ‘how’ bit or a ‘how’ that will actually work in a real school situation. Some schools do openly share how they are trying to develop this necessary reclamation but often the stumbling block are the teachers themselves who don’t seem to want to be afforded the freedoms of choice that are now on offer.
There are few of us around still teaching who existed quite happily before the straightjacket of the national curriculum, levels, Ofsted and government dictat-my colleagues are so use to following prescribed routes that they sometimes become less confident of themselves and their abilities to think when asked to devise assessment schemes without levels, to observe lessons and comment on them [without referring to grades], to evaluate their own CPD needs, to ask for help and realise that it isn’t a sign of weakness that will be held against them or to air an opinion that is contrary to current school policy. It will take time, patience and supportive, decisive leadership from all levels within our school system to reverse a 20 year trend. I’m convinced the quality is there to make this so; so that teachers aren’t ‘done to’ or ‘at’ but encouraged to be accountable for themselves with a helping hand available at any stage of the transitional road to re-claiming their profession.
How can leaders use their skills to create an in-school environment where this becomes second nature. One of my favourite ‘leadership’ books is Mike Brearley’s ‘The Art of Captaincy’ [Brearley was a successful captain of England’s cricket team but probably their weakest batsman and selected for his captaincy skills] where he makes the point that “a good leader or manager is interested in what makes people tick, particularly when they seem to be difficult or withdrawn or under-achieving” Trying to draw everybody into the conversations about the quality of their teaching, trying to encourage them to take the responsibility to self-evaluate and plan CPD to support their perceived areas of weakness is difficult and needs grit and determination from the likes of myself. I absolutely believe that we will all become better teachers or leaders if this happens in our school. “It is up to the captain, and coach, to help players with self-defeating attitudes that arise individually or collectively as a result of their anxieties. It is also up to them to create an atmosphere in which players feel safe enough to offer their own diagnosis or point of view” Think teachers and not players and think teaching not cricket.
I hope that colleagues feel that we have tried to create an atmosphere where this can happen-we have tried to share so many ideas and opinions over the last couple of years and change so many established practices-BUT is it enough? For visitors to the blog, my email to all teaching staff from the 21st of October may explain a bit of the ‘how’ The background very simply is that I’m trying to encourage individual teachers and faculties to tell me [not the other way round] what they think great teaching should look like in their subject, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own individual and collective teaching and to tell me what specific CPD they need-all very bottom-up and supported laterally by the advice, modelling and challenge of others. This approach has been explained in lots of other blogs and I obviously want to react pro-actively to their needs and concerns and provide time for them to talk about ‘the main thing’
Apologies for the long message but I need to make a few points so I’m open about what my thinking is!
The 11th November Tuesday meeting is down as a FOCAL and I was going to have you sharing ideas/thoughts with colleagues from different faculties re the BSG assessment changes/fast feedback kind of stuff BUT we can give this a bit more time and I just wanted to give faculties more time [albeit only an hour] to talk learning and teaching without any interruptions re Open Eve/Reward’s Eve etc.
Without doubt, most schools [and many still] used lesson observation grades to inform their senior leaders about the quality of teaching and where interventions should occur to support any weak areas. Our portfolio and lesson studies etc. have moved a long way from this but we still need to be able to inform ourselves and anyone else about how we evaluate our teaching, how we share strengths and how we collaboratively support any weaknesses. My belief is that you should all be trusted as professionals to be able to self-evaluate you own performance and take responsibility for your own accountability as a teacher or leader here [and to support and provide opportunities for these analytical skills to be developed in others]. Of course that doesn’t mean that all of this will happen without supportive structures and systems in place, should you want advice, coaching, mentoring and so on. Being honest and self-critical isn’t easy and certainly tricky if you are a NQT 6 weeks into a new career!
There might be better ways to develop teaching and leadership-if you think that there are and have examples from books, blogs, research, other schools or your own ideas-don’t sit on them-let me have them!
I’ve got a wealth of information about the current state of play regarding teaching here-your portfolios, lesson studies, observation notes, exam residuals, learning hubs, surveys, your shared blog stuff, book monitoring-data of all sorts spinning round in my head. Your recent appraisals will have helped you to consider your CPD needs based on a couple of targets but there may be more-go back to the first inset day and your faculty discussions-are you, are your faculty, is the school not reacting quickly enough to individual or group needs. Half-term is here already-please talk again!
I will need responses to these questions from each faculty after the meetings so I can gain an overall view. However the main purpose of the questions is to allow each colleague to share their honest self/faculty/school opinions. If you prefer to talk quietly as an individual, have an idea but want to talk about it before-hand etc. please tell me or anyone who you feel listens best.
Refresh your minds re the subject specific knowledge and skills that you agreed last year should be the criteria for great teaching in your faculty-is there anything you need to change before the round of observations begins? Bear in mind any subject specific information coming from exam boards, your own summer exam evaluation, whole school foci, your lesson study foci etc.
What are individuals [and the faculty] really teaching well at the moment? Could be aspects of knowledge, certain skills, different cohorts-you choose! What is your evidence-impact data is always gratefully received but so are professional judgements and feelings! Asking the kids is always nice too!! Please include marking/feedback.
How have the faculty been working together well over the first half-term? Any great examples of collaboration, support for each other, and barriers to great learning/teaching removed already happened or planned for?
What are individuals [and the faculty] finding a difficult aspect of learning and teaching at the moment? Could be aspects of knowledge, certain skills, different cohorts-you choose! What is your evidence-impact data is always gratefully received but so are professional judgements and feelings! Asking the kids is always nice too!! Please include marking/feedback.
How can help be best offered and given? Quickly is best-you might consider internal support-lesson study, observing faculty colleague [or other subject], coach/colleague to observe area of concern and support, research, external training/visits.
The hardest bit! Don’t be shy or embarrassed [the faculty leader can fill this in privately if they wish!]-quick summary of where I would look and find great practice to share with other colleagues/visiting schools and teaching concerns/and your suggested solutions so I can be pro-active in suggesting support.
|Great teaching practice-general area||Just a sentence to justify your choice|
|Great marking/feedback-type of example||What’s effective about it?|
|Help needed! Specific areas, teachers, cohorts etc. Evidence?||Faculty solutions-tell me what I can do NOW!|
There is a faculty meeting again the week after this one [18th] so the discussion can be continued. We will need to use time to moderate, initially within faculties, your new BSG assessments so that you are in early agreement about the standards. I will direct meeting time after Xmas to do this, although English, maths and science may wish to begin the process at this meeting. Foundation subjects with less lesson time may need to gather more evidence yet. By Easter, I should be able to use FOCALS to cross moderate subjects-and raise key questions-is a Gold for low ability students in year 8 English, similar in challenge to Gold for low ability students in year 8 maths-for example. Get your boxing gloves ready for round 2 of Boxing to Argue folks!
One day I would hope that all of this would just happen without my intervention or direction. Like many leaders I fear that I say too much, that I spoon feed ideas and research, that I guide and coach too specifically and that I mention Ofsted too many times! Every school is in a different approach and sometimes leadership has to intervene and guide far more frequently and forcefully. Our pleasant Ofsted has given us a breathing space, which many schools unfortunately don’t have, to experiment, to trial ideas, to teach without fear and to decide amongst ourselves what is best in learning and teaching for us. However, if all colleagues don’t buy into the responsibilities that such freedom brings and our leaders don’t create the environment where it almost becomes impossible for that not to happen; we will fail to fulfil the promise that we make to students and parents when they choose our school above others. I don’t believe that will happen and trust the professionalism and integrity of my colleagues to ensure it doesn’t.
Andy Buck in ‘What Makes a Great School’ [another book on leadership I heartily recommend-short and sweet-the book not Andy!] shared his findings on the success of London Challenge schools. He writes of a ‘sharing of purpose’ and of the most successful London schools that “these schools had an organic sense of self-improvement fuelled by the genuine and self-motivational desire of all of the individuals to make things better” Whatever grade Ofsted gave us or whatever colours our FFT data shows we are, we have to believe that we can still be better and we have to encourage risk taking, innovation and strong subject knowledge to constantly push our teaching forward. This doesn’t mean that we have to jump on every educational band-wagon going and much of our current sharing of ideas is focused firmly on ‘smarter not harder’ to sustain and improve good teaching.
How do I solve a problem like accountability? I go with Fullan’s notion of creating a school where the staff [teachers, TAs, mentors, support staff-everyone] has a “sense of ownership of learning” Buck found that schools with “self-disciplined staff who want to improve for the sake of learning itself and the institution as a whole; improve faster” Are we such a school and are the right opportunities for this to happen being afforded to you?