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Thinking and Reflecting – Teachers in Great Schools

I am lucky to facilitate on a number of leadership programmes aimed at aspiring senior leaders, senior leaders and heads. Although at times preparation and planning for these sessions adds yet more to my to-do list it also encourages and motivates me to read and keep up to date.

This weekend, while preparing for an NPQSL day, I re-found a document that I read a number of years ago – Essential pieces, The Jigsaw of a Successful School written by Professor Tim Brighouse. Professor Brighouse is one of the UK’s most respected educationalists who played a key role in the ‘London Challenge’.

There are many wonderful nuggets within the document, some real ‘Butterfly’ activities, low energy, high impact, but it was Brighouse’s reference to Judith Little that really got me thinking.

Little is an American researcher who, in the 1980’s identified that schools that were successful had four things happening:

  1. Teachers talk about teaching.
  2. Teachers observe each other teach.
  3. Teachers plan, organise, monitor and evaluate their teaching together.
  4. Teachers teach each other.

How are we addressing this at Darton?

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Teachers talk about teaching:

In all the schools I have led I have always insisted that staff development meetings and professional development days are focused on teaching and learning. They are not the place for business to be discussed. Finding time in busy teachers’ schedules to reflect on practice and talk about teaching and learning is a challenge, we must make space for it. I have blogged before about what I believe the role of Senior and middle leaders’ in this are. Teaching and learning has to be our core business.

I am reflecting on how we encourage everyone into the dialogue, in a large staff like we have at Darton not everyone’s voice and contribution can be heard during a whole staff SDM and there is ample opportunity to opt out. In recent weeks we have given SDM input to CTLs who have then delivered to their departments. This is ok, but how do we encourage and facilitate conversations between departments and support those with a membership of 2? How do we ensure that there remains a consistency across our school so that learners aren’t bombarded with multiple ways of doing thing and confused by differing terminology ?

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Teachers observe each other teach:

I am so privileged to have observed so many teachers teach ! It is a constant source of new ideas and opportunities to imitate and magpie! You learn so much by being in other people’s classrooms; it really supports you to reflect on and improve your own practice.

At Darton, lesson observations are always completed in pairs; for the last 18 months this has usually been members of the Senior team and CTLs. We have started to develop ‘Enquiry walks’ into regular CTL and line manager practice. We have also invested in IRIS connect – this allows teachers to video their lessons, they can then watch them back and share clips with other staff members.

I am reflecting on how we get more teachers into more classrooms over the next few months so we can then engage in authentic conversations about teaching and learning. Possibly timetabling enquiry walks into my timetable would be a start and taking some staff who don’t usually get beyond their own classroom out and about for an hour. Jamie Portman, my Vice Principal, is really good at doing this with young staff, and Andy Woodcock, Vice Principal, and Lesley Orme, Maths CTL, walk the Maths department every week.

I’m also reflecting on IRIS connect and how we make it more accessible and encourage more staff to use it. I have mixed feelings about it myself; I’d rather be in the classroom ‘in the moment’ but I can see the value of staff watching themselves back. However, I think it could have real power when incorporated into things like lesson study.

How do we also get beyond our own school and visit other schools? We have lots to learn from  primary practice, special schools and other secondary schools across the borough.

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Teachers plan, organise, monitor and evaluate their teaching together:

Collaborative planning is incredibly powerful. Great lessons start at the planning phase, they are carefully thought out, sitting within  a clear sequence of learning. It is at this point teachers consider the unique makeup of the class and how they will hook learners in, provide stretch and challenge, elicit feedback and anticipate challenges.

Small tweaks can often have significant impact.

A key difference at Darton compared to my other schools is that teachers don’t have blocked planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time. In all of my previous schools teachers had an allocated morning or afternoon. This lack of blocked time makes purposeful planning a challenge, no sooner have teachers got going then their hour is up and they have to teach a class.  Timetabling collaborative planning is a challenge!

So how do we create opportunities for teachers to plan and design sequences of learning together? How do we ensure that this is purposeful and allows individuals to use their collective expertise to shape a sequence of learning , embedding sound evidence based pedagogy, supporting and encouraging innovation? How do we stop collaborative planning being seen as something that gets schemes of work written that teachers then dispassionately follow?

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Teachers teach each other:

Many of the staff development meetings (SDMs) over the past 18 months have been led by myself and Jamie Portman , VP for teaching and learning. I make no apology for this. Where the school was when I took up post and the quality of teaching and learning across the school, and the speed with which we needed to make improvements dictated this approach. However, doing ‘to’ is rarely effective in maintaining school improvement in the long term.

Our Pedagogy Leaders have played a key role in 1:1 teacher support this year and have delivered some SDMs but we need to do this more.

I’m reflecting on how we start to  develop internal teachmeets, create a teacher library and platform for sharing good practice, ideas and resources and how we encourage staff to  blog about great lessons and their learning from CPD.

Lots as ever to think about; even more to do!

Always unrelentingly curious.

Kate Davies

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