On Saturday 7th June, 16 teachers from Belmont Community School travelled down to Leeds for the inaugural Northern Rocks Education Conference at Leeds Metropolitan University. Of the 500 delegates who attended the day, I’m fairly confident this represented the largest attendance by a single school. A fantastic testament to our teachers’ passion for education and desire to develop their practice further.
Following the initial panel discussion, we moved off into the various different workshops we had chosen. My choices for the day were:
- If we could redesign teacher development from the ground up, what would it look like? (David Weston)
- What do great teachers do? How do we help them to do it? (Tom Sherrington)
- The confident teacher (Alex Quigley)
- It’s the teaching, stupid! (John Tomsett)
Workshop 1: If we could redesign teacher development from the ground up, what would it look like? – David Weston
David began with a simple, yet powerful question: “Why should we improve our teaching?”
As you can see from the Sutton Trust research David shared above, teaching quality impacts directly on student progress. The higher the quality of teaching, the more progress students make. This effect is even greater for disadvantaged learners, who stand to lose or gain the most from teaching quality.
The research of Hanushek and Rivkin shared next, however, shows that teacher development tends to grind to a halt after the first few years in teaching, rather than continue to improve.
One reason for this, David argued, could be the lack of active learning associated with “traditional CPD”. A large-scale survey of common practice conducted for the TDA (Opfer et al 2008) highlighted one-off lectures, presentations and courses as common place, rather than a frequent and sustained focus on fewer things in greater depth.
With 99% of CPD experiences (CUREE research) never really moving beyond scratching the surface and a lack of focus on evaluating how CPD impacts on student learning (NFER 2008), one of the most effective things school leaders could do therefore, was to empower teachers to become learners and improve their own teaching (Robinson 2009).
In order to do this teachers need to know where they are now and where they need to be. We heard how being more diagnostic in our approach: assessing needs, identifying patterns of behaviour, recognising ‘symptoms’ and developing a broad repertoire of approaches would help.
For CPD to be truly transformative, however, will require us to build on our pre-existing knowledge and skills and ensure that deeper learning opportunities are provided such as coaching, micro-enquiry, research and Lesson Study.
By incorporating approaches like Lesson Study in to our CPD programme, we focus more on the diagnosis of student needs and outcomes and are therefore more likely to improve our own practice.
If we want our CPD to be transformative though, we will need to create the conditions in which this can happen. Aspirational, collaborative, relevant, sustained, challenging, fully evaluated CPD requires dedicated time for repeated practice, cover to enable collaboration or the use of video technology to support this.
Workshop 2: What do great teachers do? How do we help them to do it? – Tom Sherrington
Tom’s workshop similarly began with a question: “What makes a great teacher?”
He then went on to share his ideas about what makes great lessons (as opposed to those that have been manufactured using an Ofsted evaluation schedule that was never intended for this purpose) and which might form the habit of our day-to-day teaching:
The tension between progressive and traditional teaching methods was acknowledged, but also the symbiosis between the two, where one might walk a progressive “and” traditional line, rather than “either/or”. The balance between the need to direct and instruct whilst providing the “soul food” to nurture and encourage a love of learning was proposed, with both having a vital role to play in education.
We also heard how perhaps we sometimes get the scale of things wrong, instead of focusing on getting the basics that underpin everything right (e.g. behaviour). We need to keep things in perspective!
Culture (atmosphere, informal conversations in the staff room etc.) and systems (meetings, follow-up, evaluation etc.) were seen as important in realising this too, as were creating the conditions for great teachers to thrive:
- Purpose – align values and goals – why are we here?
- Challenge – high standards, rigour, quality – we can do this better
- Autonomy – give people choice and a chance to input
- Growth – create an outstanding CPD environment
- Recognition – acknowledge and celebrate excellence – not necessarily pay
- Care – look after people and support family circumstances
Shared values and language were significant as was evaluation and intelligent accountability, which can be achieved by knowing our departments and individuals well. Reviews should be sensitive, intelligent, rounded (and complicated!)
The importance of culture on professional development was also reinforced:
- Intelligent Performance Review. Rigour without fear.
- Focus on inputs as well as outcomes; engagement with CPD is a bottom-line
- CPD is tailored and self-directed to greatest extent possible, given a teacher’s context.
- CPD for mastery vs CPD for innovation – we need both
- CPD is individual and collective (i.e. teams)
- CPD includes: behaviour, subject knowledge, assessment knowledge and pedagogy
Finally, we heard how Tom’s school (King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford) prides itself on being “A Research Engaged Learning Community” that engages with research (reading blogs, books, journals, examiners’ reports etc.) as well as in research (Masters programmes, CamSTAR research projects, T+L workshops, Lesson Study etc.)
- Get the basics right – keep the rest in perspective
- Create a culture of intelligent accountability and self-evaluation
- Develop the culture and systems for engagement WITH and IN research
- Make tailored CPD the key driver of improvement at individual and team level
Workshop 3: The confident teacher – Alex Quigley
Alex embraced the conference theme by encouraging us to reclaim pedagogy – by focusing on the small changes we can make to our teaching, rather than worrying about systems and structures. His view was that instead of systemic, top down changes, teachers should be helping themselves by creating human networks in schools. To paraphrase Dylan Wiliam: good teaching makes the biggest difference.
Focusing more on our teaching may well require us to “drop some of our tools” though. Working as a team or as part of a collective would help to lighten the load. Stripping away the unnecessary, would also allow us to concentrate fully on the core elements of our practice – to be more responsive and agile – to do less, but better.
Fear can prevent us from doing this, however. We heard how the culture of Ofsted-obsessiveness in some schools was unhelpful, as were the whispers and rumours of “what Ofsted want” – which are often untrue. Instead we should trust our expertise and develop great teaching ourselves – to teach as if nobody was watching. Getting rid of the misnomers would also help: “talk less teaching”, “progress in 20 minutes” etc. We need to separate “learning” from “performance” – what we teach needs to stick!
Deliberate practice, which is difficult and takes a long time, is required if we are serious about becoming ‘expert’. The small adjustments we make to our practice accumulate, however. Focusing on doing fewer things better – the 20% that gives us 80% of the impact, e.g. better explanations, better questioning, better feedback – will help us to become more confident as we develop, hone, improve our practice and reclaim pedagogy!
Workshop 4: It’s the teaching, stupid! – John Tomsett
John’s presentation weaved together three key components:
- “The Golden Thread”
John felt that when faced with the choice between being the Executive Head or Lead Learner, that Head Teachers should be the Head TEACHER in their schools.
Head teachers, we heard, need to know what they are talking about in terms of practice, as well as understanding some of the barriers teachers face on a day-to-day basis in their classrooms. This requires Heads to spend time connecting with their classrooms and getting engaged with learning. John even went as far as proposing that all SLT are outstanding teachers who deliver in terms of results – otherwise why should anyone listen to them?
Head Teachers are crucial in creating school cultures. One of the key jobs of the Head Teacher, John felt, was in creating the right conditions for teacher growth. Long-term performance should not be risked in order to secure short-term gains.
Some of the key points from “The School for Quality Learning: Managing the School and Classroom the Deming Way” were shared and elaborated on in support of this, i.e.
- Establish the core purpose of your school………and be prepared to be challenged on it!
- Institute leadership – focus on making lessons great, strip out the rubbish, stop weighing the pig and start fattening it
- Drive out the fear – remove lesson grades, ask your teachers “how would you like to be observed to help you best develop your teaching?”, coaching and the use of video have contributed positively to this in John’s school, no PRP
- The joy of work – look after people, treat people unbelievably well and they will work unbelievably hard
- CPD – find time for and invest unerringly in teaching and learning, focus on performance development, work hard on the small improvements e.g. tone, body language, made to measure not one size fits all
- Accomplish the transformation – e.g. change the construction of the School Improvement Plan so that it focuses on teaching and learning, meaning everyone is part of making the school better
Are we great or are we failing? Checking the temperature regularly helps establish where we are on the continuum and allows us to set goals for improvement.
The Golden Thread
Everything must be traceable through to student outcomes, which requires us to get better at evaluating the impact of what we do. Of the 5 leadership dimensions John shared from Vivienne Robinson’s book on “Student Centered Leadership”, leading teacher learning and development had the biggest effect size (d=0.84) on student outcomes.
The importance of developing a culture of growth mindset in school was also shared, e.g. the consistent use of effort-based praise with students.
To finish, John summed up with this message:
“The more leaders focus on their relationships, their work and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the better student outcomes are.”
The emerging messages from the day couldn’t have been clearer to me:
- Great schools recognise that great teaching makes the biggest difference to student outcomes
- Great schools create cultures that nurture teachers and allow them to develop their teaching without fear
- Great teaching requires great CPD that is tailored, personal and transformative
- Great teachers focus relentlessly on developing the core elements of their practice, engaging with and in research
- Great teachers and great schools evaluate the impact of all of their work in relation to improving outcomes for their students
Our revised programme of Personal Practice Development (shown below); engagement with NTEN; participation in the Durham University/EEF RISE project and Bristol University/EEF teacher observation project; investment in IRIS Connect video technology and our commitment to investing the time and resources to allow all of this to happen, should hopefully go a long way towards making this a reality in our own school.
We’ve had an amazing year this year. I know from the numerous conversations I’ve had with colleagues towards the end of last term and during the holiday that I’m not the only one feeling incredibly excited about returning to work next week. I look forward to updating you all on our progress next term!