ANSWERING – AND NOT ANSWERING QUESTIONS.

In my CPD role, this must be the most common question I get: Mark, you say what I did here was OK – what would have made it better?

Oh boy! Having to have the answer to this – and similar – questions can be quite a strain. To compound the point, it’s a position I put others in too: those colleagues who mentor student teachers or NQTs on my behalf have to deal with the frontline, the barrage of unanswerable questions. Of course, these mentors then also come to me with: Mark, what should I say if X asks me how to sort out her Year 10 class?

Naturally, I’ve gone down the coaching route. If you believe the teacher is a good colleague, who recognises problems and wants to sort them out, then somewhere deep inside they already know the answer to their own problems. The mentor’s job is then to coach, or tease, it out of them. (What does the problem look like? What options do you have? What are you going to try first? etc…) By the way, I DO believe in this. I think most reflective colleagues can find the answer inside, and if they do they are more likely to learn from it. It’s just, sometimes they just want the bloody answer!

What do I do? Frankly, if I think I have an answer, I give it. I have been teaching 18 years now, and my experience has caught up with me: I have learned some stuff that is worth knowing. But, even if I do have something in mind, my usual internal reaction is: If that were me, it would not have happened that way. The fact is, although there have been a thousand Alis and Alices misbehaving/ failing to hand in homework/ refusing to engage, etc. every time it happens it is unique. So, what I would have done becomes irrelevant. The answer (sorry!) has to come from the teacher it is happening to.

What has improved my own teaching, particularly over the past 5 years, has been watching others. It’s what I am paid to do. I could sit there and go through the motions – sometimes I do. But oftentimes I find myself marveling at what my colleagues are capable of. It would be no exaggeration to say that every behaviour management strategy, every assessment for learning trick, every funky starter or whizzy plenary I know and use myself – all of this I have learned by watching other people doing it first and then trying it out myself.

So, when asked the next tricky question, perhaps I’ll reply: find someone to watch, find out what they do, do it, and ask: did that work?

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THE HOLY GRAIL: EVALUATING CPD IN SCHOOLS

Some time ago I was shocked to discover (from a survey of colleagues) that they did not feel that the money I was spending on their Continuing Professional Development was money well spent. There I was, reporting proudly to Governors that CPD in my school was providing value for money, and me colleagues were telling me different.

My MA in Education reading took me to Thomas Guskey. Whereas the influences of Maslow and Kirkpatrick are plain to see, Guskey’s research applied much better to school settings. His ‘Five Levels of Professional Development Evaluation’ are:
  •  
    1. Participants’ Reactions. Did they like it? Was the food good? This information is easy to gather, and we should as “you deal with some basic human needs and those need to be addressed.” 
    2. Participants’ Learning. What do they know now that they did not know before, or can they do things now that they could not before?
    3. Organisation Support and Change. Guskey finds that, “often we do everything right from a professional development or training perspective but then send people back into organisations that are not set up to support them to do the things we have asked them to do.” He argues that these support structures have “critical influence on the implementation of new policies and practices.”
    4. Participants’ use of New Knowledge and Skills. 
    5. Student Learning Outcomes. As a result of the professional development, is there evidence that more students are accomplishing more of the things that they are meant to accomplish?

 

 

Guskey acknowledges that evaluation of levels three to five are problematic as “getting information at those levels must be delayed”. The delay is to allow for the desired development to take place. The need therefore arises to insert milestones, so evaluation can occur at specified intervals.

Karen Spence and Carol Taylor at the IOE’s London Centre for Leadership in Learning took Guskey a stage further. They were interested in how to apply his evaluative model at the level of the individual teacher, or the individual CPD event. They noticed that, when planning CPD, it was useful to invert Guskey’s 5-point pyramid. In short, they posed three questions: Where are you now? What is your impact picture of where you would like to be? Therefore, what CPD input do you need? In their model, the CPD must be devised only after deep questioning of a participant’s starting- and desired end-points had taken place.

With this in mind, I devised these questions for anyone in my school considering CPD for themselves or those they line manage. (The levels are Guskey’s)

Questions to ask when planning professional development

Start with Level 5. Start with the end in mind.

 

  • Baseline: What are your students saying/doing/feeling now? (All of them?)
  • Expected impact: What will your students be saying /doing/feeling? (All of them?) What evidence will there be of any change?
  • Timeline: By when should the expected outcomes be measurable?

 

Levels 4 to 1.  Questions that can be used with the participant to help plan their professional learning.

4:

  • When will you expect to be using your new learning?
  • With which students?
  • With which members of staff will you be sharing your new learning?
  • What will you be doing better then that you are not doing now?

3:

  • Which other members of staff will you need to work with?
  • How will you make any time/resources available to implement change?
  • Is the planned learning consistent with the development needs of the school or your area?
  • What further support will you need?

2:

  • Is the planned learning consistent with your own professional development needs?
  • What is the level of your knowledge/skill now?
  • What will you do now, to get the most out of the opportunity?
  • What do you expect to learn? What should you be able to do better?

1:

  • Where is the training taking place? How will you get there?
  • Is it all day? What refreshments will there be?
  • What is its structure? Are there options?
  • Will the delivery methods suit your preferred learning styles? Can you plan for this?

Questions to ask when evaluating professional development

Start with Level 1. The participant’s reactions to their training (positive or negative) can determine the extent to which any professional learning or development takes place. The line manager, during the evaluation discussion, may help the participant to think more positively about their training, and therefore help the professional learning and development to take place.

  • Was the event well organised?
  • Was it well delivered?
  • Was it worth while?
  • Would you recommend it to others?

 

Levels 2 to 5. These questions can be useful immediately after the training, or should be revisited at intervals and towards the end of the expected timeline. The line manager will guide the participant, but the individual will also take personal responsibility for assuring, and self-evaluating the impact of, their professional development.

2:

  • Was the training consistent with your professional development needs?
  • Did you learn what you expected to? What is the level of your knowledge now?
  • What are your main professional learning points?

3:

  • What needs to happen now, to make sure you can apply your new learning?
  • Can you use the time/resources you planned to ensure you develop your learning?
  • How, when and with whom will you share your new learning? How will you assure this has impact?
  • What further support do you need?

 4:

  • How are you developing your learning?
  • How are you helping your colleagues develop their learning?
  • What are you doing better now that you were not before?

5:

  • What evidence do you have of impact on student outcomes?
  • What are your students now saying/doing/feeling?
  • What unexpected outcomes have there been?
  • Can impact on student outcomes be measured now, or will more time need to elapse? (When?)

My hope was that these questions would enrich the professional dialogue between colleagues. In reality, teachers in my school have rarely found the time to engage at this level. The main exception has been within the framework of performance management. It has long been accepted in my school that PM was largely about CPD. Even before it became my responsibility, performance management was taken seriously by most. But I saw an opportunity to influence the conversations taking place by adapting the formal documentation that supported it. I insisted that every colleague (including support staff) completed a preparation form before their PM meeting, in which they reviewed the impact of their own CPD that year; mapped out how they saw their career developing; and made suggestions about how to improve the school and how the school could support them in their own progression. In the PM meeting itself, when setting objectives for the year ahead, everyone is first asked to detail their ‘baselines’; then the ‘expected outcomes’; and only then do they describe the ‘professional learning’ they intend to undergo. 

Staff at first struggled with the newness of the language. Expunged were references to ‘targets’ and ‘training’. Instead I found a way of smuggling in Guskey/LCLL. Now, when we review PM, colleagues can comment on how far they achieved their ‘expected impact’. This, I hope, is a much more meaningful evaluation of CPD.

Sadly, our Performance Management practices are coming under threat. Already we have had to tighten procedures to satisfy Ofsted’s 2012 framework; now we learn that PM must be directly linked to pay progression. Other professions struggle with our reluctance to tie performance to pay, because other professionals are encouraged to see themselves as individual achievers. Teachers, who know a thing or two about motivation and progress in learning, realise that they come about best through group effort. If you are paying me for my performance, you will find it distributed across all the teams I work in. That will require a different rubrik to measure it than the one I have detailed above.

5 THINGS I DO… OR WOULD LIKE TO DO

My staff development role has certain fixed points: professional studies for student teachers, NQT induction, appraisal, inset, line management of ASTs. But, embedded within the job description, are other more challenging statements, such as creating a ‘learning community’ for the school and what my Head terms ‘Getting staff to read about education’.  I have blogged here before about the innovative NQT programme I run, and how the ASTs lead a team of Development Coordinators to feed into the whole-school initiatives we drive through our Development Time. We do some good stuff. But below are 5 more CPD ideas, some of which we and other schools do, and some which – by announcing them here first – I hope to make happen in the near future. I would be grateful to anyone who posts a comment.

 

  1.      1. Department Buddy Reviews. Just as in any school that takes the monitoring of the quality of teaching and learning seriously, our SLT (and I am one of them) conducts regular reviews of faculties and key stages, by observing lessons, interviewing students, scrutinising work or doing learning walks. We occasionally manage to draft other colleagues – such as the ASTs – into this business. What if, instead of SLT doing the monitoring, we paired up departments to ‘do it’ to each other? We might have Geography reviewing Art, or Music inspecting Media Studies. It would be easy to establish some basic rules:
  2. SLT would compile the calendar and set up the pairings
  3. The review would focus on some aspect of the department’s development plan
  4. Both the departments reviewing and being reviewed would be expected to learn and implement something from the process
  5. The departments together would agree the methodology, but it would likely retain the observation of lessons
  6. There would be formal feedback from lessons, but this would not be graded. Grading changes the dynamic of the lesson taught, and for the observer it focuses their mind too much on ‘How do I explain why this is not outstanding?’, rather than ‘What can I and the teacher learn from this?’
  7. The reviewing department would write a report, which would be presented also to SLT and go in the big Ofsted file.
  8.     2.  Masters of Teaching. My school has been an enthusiastic participant in the school-based MA programme run by Middlesex University through their Midwheb partnership with north London local authorities. We began in January 2010, and to date 9 teachers (including myself) have completed their MAs in Education; we have another 4 or 5 in the pipeline. As associate tutor, I lead about 20 sessions after school on needs analysis, literature review, action research methodology, ethics and evaluating data. The research projects are school-based, usually relating to the teacher’s personal job description. Inevitably, as the school has made a big push on certain aspects of pedagogy, the MA studies have reflected these, so we now have a substantial evidence base for the impact of our in-house CPD. The main areas have covered creativity, student independence, homework, strategies to improve literacy, promoting resilience and the management of CPD itself. And we now have a considerable corpus of staff who have become skilled researchers.
  9.     3.  ChEd Talks. One of our main challenges following on from all of this research has been how to get others to notice it. Few colleagues are going to read someone else’s 20,000 words (apart from me, as I have to mark them). Standing up at briefing and announcing the main results also does the thing little justice: somehow we need a way of explaining the method as well as the findings, and then making evidence-based proposals. Vivian Porritt at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning, at the IOE, has spoken of the creation of ‘secret gardens’: where expertise develops in one place, but is hidden from view from everyone else. This is the recurring challenge for every CPD leader. What if we gave these secret gardeners their own flower show? My plan, aping the TED talks, is to launch a summer series of after-school lectures, where, for 15-20 minutes, a colleague speaks knowledgeably and entertainingly on a subject they have researched. It may be their MA, or just their personal passion. We will call them ChEds (derived from the name of our school). I will post again on the outcome of this.
  10.      4. Teacher-Researchers. What happens to all that research skill that my MA colleagues have latterly acquired? They have gained their academic qualification, but they have caught the action research bug. There have been teacher-researcher models in the past (eg TLA), but I fancy devising my own. Teachers spend an awful lot of time identifying gaps in knowledge, devising methods to tackle these and assessing the efficacy of their methods. They also often do this collaboratively. If we conceive this for a moment as research, then the evidence that is collected on a daily basis is huge. What we need to do is to find the time to analyse that data, to make ‘new knowledge’. All I mean is – get teachers talking together about what they have discovered, so the study can become a meta-study. But this must not become just another ‘secret garden’, so our teacher researchers would need to find a platform to share their new knowledge with others. A ChEd talk? Certainly. But I have just begun tentative talks with friends at London Metropolitan University to find ways of publishing our work, and possibly link up with like-minded colleagues in other schools across London.
  11.      5. 5 hours to do what you like. Planning the inset programme is what of my chores. In reality, much of it is taken up with regular fixtures (such as Moderation in Spring), and I have an incredible team of ASTs who understand it as their role to do most of the actual doing of inset. But a couple of years ago I was stuck with a problem: what should I do with the inset day in December? My solution was to give it back to the staff. They could use the day itself as they wished. They could go Christmas shopping; or, more profitably, they could visit another school, or museum, or theatre or library. Alternatively, they could take the 5 hours of the inset day, and ‘spend’ them in school across the year: in their frees, they could observe colleagues, carry out a mini-project, do an appreciative enquiry. The whole thing would be accounted for through appraisal: they would set their plan in October, and review their learning from it the following October. Some few colleagues perhaps did not use up their full allocation. Most, however, in the event spent much more than the 5 hours they were given, and were happy also to lend their time to other colleagues for their5 hours. They were much more creative than I could possibly have been in planning a day for all, and of course it was by definition differentiated to the needs of the individual. Inset has never been more popular!

An anti-tribute to Thatcher

I would not usually use this space for this type of political comment. However, with the double demise (of Thacher yesterday and Posterous at the end of the month), I thought Why not?

OK, here is a list of Thatcher blunders. (And she does not have the excuse that we didn’t know at the time that this stuff was bad; plenty said so then.) Some of these are routinely listed among her successes, so they should be debunked.

 

 
Northern Ireland:
  • Shoot to Kill policy, and collusion between security forces and loyalist terrorists. The republican community could not  forgive her this.
  • handling of the IRA hungerstrikes of 1980 and 1981. She was given the solution to this in 1980 but preferred a showdown which left 10 men dead and handed an enduring propaganda victory to the terrorists.
Unions and manufacturing. It is said that, by taking on the unions and winning, she rescued the ‘sick man of Europe’. What is sometimes forgotten is:
  • the Winter of Discontent of 1978-9 was a series of legitimate protests, on behalf of workers whose pay and conditions were being trounced.
  • Yes, it was the Labour Govt who went cap in hand to the IMF (having inaccurately calculated UK GDP), but the resulting slash and burn demands were implemented by her
  • Thatcher believed that the unions were holding the country to ransom; instead she placed the bull whip in the hands of banks and corporations – with consequences we can all see today
  • By removing from unions rights to organise in some sectors, and restricting their striking tactics, she made them less relevant and effective – so we need our unions today, but they are incapable of standing up to government.
  • It was her strategy to shift Britain from an economy which built (cars, ships, coal, engineering), to one which ‘served’ (banks, insurance, hospitality, consumerism). This destroyed entire towns, and she did it with a glee (‘This lady is not for turning’).
Social Division:
  • Section 28.
  • ‘There is no such thing as society’.
  • Tebbit’s cricket test.
  • Riots in Bristol, Brixton, Toxteth, Tottenham caused by a toxic mix of sudden economic misery, inter-racial tension and a collapse of community policing – all stirred up by her polecats.
  • denigration of single-parent families.
  • Loadsamoney, shoulder-pads and Yuppies.
  • Sale of council houses unmatched by a council housing building programme – this led to a house price bubble which caused at least 2 recessions.
  • selling the ‘family silver’ (MacMillan’s phrase) – privatisation did NOT lead to a ‘share-owning democracy’ as is often claimed – the utilities were bought up by multinationals, insurance companies and banks.
  • handing the media to Murdoch.
  • The Poll Tax, which charged the rich the same as the poor, which was a levy on the right to vote.
Foreign policy:
  • I remember her trip to Poland in 1980s, where she lectured the Communist govt (from whom she had bought coal during the miners’ strike) on the contribution of free trade unions to democracy!
  • Support for Suharto in Indonesia, Zia in Pakistan, Botha in South Africa, Pinochet in Chile, the House of Saud.
  • She campaigned FOR the yes vote in the 1975 EEC referendum, and she signed the Single European Act (on free movement of goods, capital, labour and services), but then did everything she could to undermine the project.
  • Having identified Gorbachev as a Russian she could do business with, she then supported a raft of Reagan Cold War ventures (Contras, Star Wars) that ensured the Cold War endured.
Stuff she is responsible for, which she (probably) never wanted:
  • Her hand in the end to the Cold War, led to the reunification of Germany – which she actively argued against.
  • A beggar-thy-neighbour individualism.
  • A consumer credit-card boom, which had nothing to do with sound housekeeping.
  • A dis-uniting of the kingdom, with Scotland closer than ever to voting for independence.
  • Some pretty great films (Boys from the Blackstuff, Full Monty, Educating Rita, Billy Elliot) and music (The Specials, Pet Shop Boys, The Jam, Billy Bragg), commenting on the damage she was doing.
  • A boom in left-wing satire and alternative comedy.
 
I’ll take a breath there.

Getting your interview observation right

Whether you are a student teacher applying for your first job, or an experienced teacher looking for a promotion, there are plenty of places to go for advice. The TES recently posted a set of short videos – you probably saw them. http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Top-Tips-for-Trainee-Teachers-Job-Hunting-6046756/

The problem with any of this advice is that it misses one important aspect of the process: the person observing on behalf of the school has an idea of what they are looking for, and you don’t know what that is. Do they want a strict disciplinarian (because behaviour at their place is challenging, or because it is a very traditional setting) or a friendly, engaging type (because the ethos is that students learn better when they enjoy what they are doing)? Do they expect you to discuss levels (‘If you add an opinion in the future tense, you get Level 5′), or would they rather you didn’t? Would they taken agin’ you if you had the students working in silence, or would this warm the heart of the headteacher? You might suppose you should plan a starter, a plenary or two, plenty of assessment for learning and at least a nod to differentiation – but will you do this in 20 minutes, 30 or 60?

This week I have watched a total of 9 interview lessons, from candidates vying for a HoF job and an NQT post. I offer the following suggestions:

  • Whatever you do, don’t make out like you don’t like our kids. In a couple of instances, the candidates decided to challenge what they thought of as low-level disruption. In one case, she tackled stuff which would have been much better ignored; in the other, some students were getting restless, so she needed to address it. Where they both went wrong was that they allowed these exchanges to stick in my mind – the overall impression left was that they worried more about perfect behaviour than exciting learning. 
  • Sometimes there are kids in the room who are a little short of self-starting geniuses. They need to be encouraged  too. A smile helps – show you know this stuff can be hard, and that getting things wrong is also part of eventually getting things right.
  • Whatever kind of teacher they might be looking for, you need to show them the kind of teacher you are (at your best). If you are passionate about VAK learning, getting kids out of their seats and getting them to talk to each other, then you need to be working in a school that welcomes it. Show them who you are: if they want that, then they will want you.
  • All the lessons I observed this week were billed as 20 minutes. People may object, but 20 mins is long enough for an experienced observer to work out what they are looking at. If there are several candidates for a post, then it is not uncommon for two of them to go in, one after the other, to the same class. If you are the second of these, you can assume that the class has already rehearsed the material you are about to do. Check this, and when they get it right, heap praise on them and then endeavour to stretch them further: you will come across as the candidate who had the higher expectations. On the down side, the second teacher in might well be ‘inheriting’ a class that, by then, has had enough of that topic. You will need to get them quickly and keep the pace up.
  • Being the observer, it was my job to call time on the candidates. The stress of this is that I had to ensure one candidate got out of the room (having cleared away all their kit) to allow the next one in, in time for them to set up and have their 20 before the class would have to move on to their next lesson. Candidates who insisted on stretching out their plenary, or who claimed their 20 minutes but did not allow for clear-up: these did not impress me. Remember, schools want to appoint team players, not people who insist on having their slice of time at the expense of others.
  • Whatever length of lesson you have been told to plan for, plan for it. There really is no point setting a beautifully constructed lesson plan before the observer, full of peer observation and self-reflection, blah, blah, if you don’t get around to teaching it in your allotted time. This is not a good plan: this is a very poor plan.
  • When you have the students doing some independent or pair work, there is always the dilemma: do you spend the intervening period setting up the next task, or do you circulate the classroom, listening in, assessing and praising as you go? Yeah, no prizes for working out which.

You might be a great teacher, and you might have planned a wonderful lesson, but things can still go wrong, especially if you are nervous. Read the self-help books if you have a real problem with this. But, if you really are a good teacher, this will be because you know how to engage quickly with young people: that’s your greatest skill. So, just do that: allow yourself to enjoy their company, and maybe some of those nerves will dissipate.