PD: The Final Frontier

Having recently taken up a full-time post at UCL IOE London Centre for Leadership in Learning I spent much of the past month visiting schools and meeting the people doing the job I have just stopped doing. Professional Development Leads are uber-geeks of the staffroom. They are intensely interested in teaching and learning, and in PD that leads to better teaching and learning. They boldly go where no PD lead has gone before, expanding the frontiers within their school and across their partnerships.

The LCLL’s Professional Development Quality Mark initially provides a framework for schools to self-evaluate themselves against four Aspects and four Strands, as shown here:

 

A school will assess itself as ‘Gold’ if they feel that they have embedded their vision, culture, policy and best value principles within each aspect. The verifier’s role then – during a half-day visit – is to find the evidence to support that assessment. We want to know if the leadership of PD is present and understood at all levels, and does not just stop with the person with that in their job title. We are looking for examples of staff development practices which are innovative, research-informed and which reach the whole staff and make a difference to them and to the children they are there for. And we want the PDQM to encourage and reward ever stronger partnerships between schools.

Two Golden Examples (and one Platinum)

Kaizen Primary school, Newham

Kaizen is a small primary school with a big imagination. It is a lead school for the Trust and the Teaching School Alliance it sits within; several of its leaders are seconded to work with its partnership schools. It is hard to do justice here to the breadth and depth of their development activity, so I will limit myself to just a few examples.

Kaizen grow leaders, for themselves and for other schools. Colleagues join the leadership team as ‘trainee headteachers’. The Head of School for Teaching and Learning said: ‘It’s an opportunity to cut their teeth. It’s all part of our succession plan to grow leaders for the school and the trust.’ Three have left in the past 5 years to head other schools. ‘That’s part of our success,’ she says.

Performance Management operates in most schools as a review/target-setting meeting near the beginning of the year, perhaps with an interim assessment thrown in at the middle of the year, with lesson observations and pupil progress used to measure the achievement of objectives and standards. Not so at Kaizen. Eight to twelve times a year they use their Professional Improvement Planning (PIP) Exploration Book. The Head of School said: ‘It is self-directed as much as possible. The Exploration book advertises opportunities and expectations. We want to explore practice, not assess it.’ PIP – applying also to support staff – additionally embraces bi-weekly PIP meetings, and weekly professional dialogues, which means there is a constant conversation about professional learning. In addition, they have access to a Professional Development Reflection Interview and benefit from leadership coaching provided by an external professional coach.

All teachers – from School Direct trainees upwards – work towards ‘Teaching Plans’, which are focused targets around quality first teaching to meet the needs of pupils, prompts for how to achieve them and identification of where support can be expected. The Teaching Plans fit within the scope of the Kaizen Directory, a ‘help guide for self-development.’ It includes action plan frames and ‘how to’ guides. These ‘Teaching Plans’ ensure that every classroom is engaged in the business of improving the quality of teaching all of the time.

Kaizen brings its school improvement plan to life through internal research enquiry. All classroom staff, working in Teacher/support staff teams, contribute through the year to the Learning Bulletin, which captures the mini action research and practice of colleagues around an area of pedagogy.

 

Enfield County School, Enfield

The PD programme is characterised by research-informed approaches to pedagogy and professional development leadership. One of their inset days is divided across 5 Teaching and Learning Breakfasts (TLBs). The PD lead had recruited four ‘expert teachers’ to run 5 workshop groups (each focussing on an aspect of outstanding learning, such as flipped learning, growth mindset, pupil-led learning), which meet for 2 sessions. ‘Bridging tasks’ between sessions ensure that professional learning translates into professional development. The workshops are repeated once in the year, and again twice the next year, so that every teacher will experience every workshop. The 5th TLB each year brings everyone to the hall, and tries to draw together the strands of the workshops. This year they realised that oracy was the theme that overarched the others. The PD Lead insured the event was research-informed, sharing insights from the work of Professor Neil MercerJames Mannion and School 21.

The PD lead summed up his philosophy for PD leadership: ‘We must be contextual, without being inward-looking. We must be current, new and fresh, but building on what we have learned over the years.’

 Enfield County School teachers, enjoying their Teaching and Learning Breakfast.

 

Burntwood School, Wandsworth

Burntwood is one of the first to achieve Quality Mark Platinum, and it is no wonder. Its policy states: ‘Burntwood is committed to providing the best educational experience possible within its means for all of its students. This is only likely to be achieved if staff – teachers and support staff – are given planned opportunities for personal and professional development.’

And they do mean all their staff. The headteacher told us: ‘We want a learning community where everyone has access to professional development. Not just the senior team, or the teachers, or even just our own employees. For example, we insist that our catering contractor must offer training for their own staff.’

All teaching and learning staff are involved in action research. The CPD Leadership folder states: ‘All staff are required to use up to one lesson a week of their non-contact time to take part in educational research leading to school improvement.’

In 2015-16 this took the form of book groups; in 2016-17 it was Lesson Study. They began in the first half-term in cross-curricular groups studying a Professional Development text/ principles of Lesson Study. Thereafter they moved to faculty groupings for deeper investigation. The PD lead told us: ‘The Head of the Maths department organised action research in the department which was one factor leading to improved results. The PE staff found they got much improved homework after studying options in their book group.’

All of the staff interviewed spoke highly of the Book Club/ Lesson Study action research they have done, and could point to impact. E.g. one head of year worked with a group of difficult year 10 girls to write and deliver a CPD plan for how to deal with behaviour like theirs. ‘This is the sort of micro-level, fine-grained feedback which there is time for in this school,’ he said.

 

One expectation of PDQM is that professional development leads from Gold schools receive their own training to become verifiers for the quality mark. Visiting other schools – ‘exploring new worlds’ – should be built into the annual performance management of every PD lead. There is so much to learn from others doing similar work elsewhere.

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CPD: the case for

In Mark Enser’s blog on the subject part one and part two, he argues that the current funding crisis in England’s schools might have the unintended consequence of forcing teachers back on to their own resources and, as he suggests, start doing their CPD for themselves. I make a point of trying never to disagree with Mark. He urges the profession to engage with the Chartered College of Teaching, and to get reading the books from the chalkface, from the likes of Summer TurnerShaun Allison and Andy Tharby. Mark is fond of a Teach Meet, and he wants more in-school professional development to be collaborative and opt-in. He’s not wrong. He is not alone in often finding external professional development – the kind we call ‘training’ or ‘courses’ – dull, pointless and even (sometimes) dangerous. And internal inset can often be no better, as Fish64 reminds us here.

I have recently left the classroom to take up a programme leader position at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning, at the UCL Institute of Education. I set up this Twitter poll to find out what people still looked for when, for whatever reason, they found themselves being ‘facilitated’ by an external pd provider. (And in the sincere hope that I might be able to meet some of their expectations.)

You can read comments on the poll here. One particularly interesting strand in the conversation was the suggestion that teachers at different points in their careers might be looking for different things from their pd. It’s not surprising that those newer to the profession like hoovering up tips: they’ve got many cats and are looking for as many ways of skinning them as possible. Some of these tips are what other teachers (the longer-serving or the precocious parvenus) call fads, or snake oil: there is no evidence to support their efficacy and what links them is their sciencey plausibility. Oddly, however, some colleagues still like them, they persist in using them and weirdly they seem to work for them. The research base for Learning Styles is non-existent, apart from all those professionals still deploying them and getting good stuff out of their pupils out of sight of researchers. This is not a blog in defence of the pursuance of nonsense, but a plea not to disdain colleagues who have found ways that work for them. I suspect many young teachers look to Twitter for inspiration and for collegial support, and the occasional tip.

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Given I’ve filed a few teacher planners in my time, I can feel for those for whom another tip would take them over the tipping point. Many of us aren’t looking for ‘another way’; actually, we wouldn’t mind if you told us it was OK to stop doing some of the things we have felt for a while might be pointless. External pd, for us, is a chance to meet up with others of similar bent. You can do a lot of talking and listening, even thinking, on a day out of school with others enjoying the same release. Collaboration is what professionals do, combining experience with wisdom to arrive at new insights. At best, this goes way beyond the confirmation that ‘we are doing it right already’. Competent facilitation disturbs, discomforts, disrupts: it provokes you until either you have shifted your position, or you understand better why you hold the positions you do. And (my Twitter poll suggests) an exploration of the evidence base matters a great deal too. Here are some of the theories, this is the evidence and … it might work for you too.

This 2015 report for the NCTL by the UCL Institute of Education and Sheffield Hallam is the most authoritative account we have of ‘professional development that leads to great pedagogy’. It reminds us that pd must be grounded in the real context of the school, start with the end in mind, and is best when collaborative and informed by expert external input. It was referenced by The Teachers’ Professional Development Standard in 2016, which argued that effective pd was a ‘partnership’ of teachers, school leaders and pd providers. The prerequisites for this partnership to be successful are:

1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.

2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.

3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.

4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.

And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:

5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

None of this contradicts my poll. Respondents still want externally-supported pd (only 6% avoid it), they want it to be research-informed and collaborative. And, sometimes, they want to be told stuff.

 

Two Great Days at the Office

It has been a great couple of days – days where you remember why you love being a leader of teacher professional development.

Yesterday was our professional learning day. I call it that, others hear me call it that, but they still call it ‘inset’. Oh, well. I can’t have it all my own way. I and my  great team of lead teachers decided early on that we wanted the focus for the day to be subject knowledge: what we teach, and how we teach it. That should be no revolution, but the truth is that, in common with much of the country (as testified by repeated Ofsted reports on PD) subject knowledge development has probably been our weak link in the chain. So, without quite knowing how it would turn out, we decided on a three-part structure to the day:

Teach Meet – where volunteers would share a teaching strategy that was working for them.

Masterclass – where heads of subject were given an hour to deliver some pure knowledge from their subject to their teams, followed by ways of applying it to their lessons.

Faculty Development Time – in which faculty teams worked on an element of their development plan, and focused on standardisation activities.

Though I blush to admit it, I have never attended a teach meet. I have pretended to be at several (through what I call ‘invader tweeting’), and I have close colleagues who have made it their habit to go. So, with blindfold on, we put ours together. We issued minimal instructions to would-be presenters. They had three minutes and one slide in which to be enlightening and entertaining. Sixteen colleagues stepped forward, with only minor cajoling. the-great-chace-teach-meet

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Lead Teacher, Louise Legg, talking about clever ways of interleaving the curriculum.

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IOE Student Teacher, Jordan Bonner, shows how he uses Kahoot to inspire his A Level Sociologists.

No hour of professional development at our school has been as well received. The school buzzed all day yesterday, and the shine did not even tarnish today (when the students returned).

The Masterclasses which followed were just as good, with the only regret that we could only attend our own. Every subject lead was told that they had to put together a high quality ‘lesson’ for their own colleagues. The topic was of their own choosing; they could lecture, or they could attempt something more interactive; it could – but it did not have to be – related to a scheme of learning. My history head regaled us with stories of historic Whitechapel. Drama teachers worked on key language. English spent an hour on biblical allusions. The PE department fired shuttlecocks at balloons suspended from a high jump bar.

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It’s easy to enjoy your professional learning when there are no kids about; it’s what happens the next day that really matters. Several colleagues made a point of telling me what they were doing today that they had learned yesterday. This is the moment when a piece of professional learning starts to become professional development, and it’s great to witness it in colleagues who have been with us one week (new trainees) as well as others who have been in the job a lifetime.

My Day Two was every bit as uplifting as Day One. This was my diary entry for Thursday 26 January:

Lesson 1: peer observation of a History colleague. She is a much-loved senior colleague but, after many years, this is the first time I had actually observed her. I wish I had earlier!

Lesson 2: meeting of the lead teacher team: reflecting on the inset day, planning for the afternoon’s NQT induction.

Break Duty: in the freezing queue to the diner.

Lesson Three: interviewing Katie Wood for the post of Head of Graphics. Katie was an NQT only last year (self-proclaimed the youngest in the country), so it was an especial pleasure to confer this position on her. Read her blog if in any doubt about how good she is.

Lesson Four: teaching my Year 7s about the Domesday Book, while being observed by three visitors on the School Experience Programme. (The SEP, which allows proto-candidates for ITE programmes to spend some time in school, has harvested many trainees for us.) Being science and maths candidates, they were happily wowed by my lesson.

Lunch: I did no work.

Lesson Five: teaching my Year 11s about the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike.

Lesson Six: on-call, escorting reluctant learners into spaces where they could allow others to get on with learning.

After school: NQT induction.

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Here, lead teachers Barbara Terziyski and Dan Saunders are helping some of our NQTs to plan round two of their Lesson Studies. We are running four Lesson Study groups to help model good lesson planning, while their focus is engaging some of our recalcitrant boys.

So: a teach meet, a masterclass, a marking standardisation, an observation of a colleague with feedback, a PD planning meeting, two lessons of my own, one of which observed by putative teachers, an internal interview and appointment, and four lesson studies.

Two great days at the office.

 

 

RI means ‘Improving’, not just proving

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We are now a year on from our full-throated retreat from graded lesson observations, described in this blog Better than Outstanding. If the title of that post was meant to presage the outcome of last year’s Ofsted inspection, I’m afraid I mistyped. We are now RI. We also have a new headteacher (although this is unconnected to our inspection result.) So we are now in the tricky position of having to improve the quality of teaching, while at the same time proving it.

It was always our mission to get better at what we do, and I always understood that – without grades – there was an increased onus upon us to benchmark what we meant by high quality teaching. To that end, and with the input from our middle leaders, we produced this: The Portrait of Great Teaching and Learning at Chace.

portrait-of-great-teaching-and-learning-at-chace

This was the invention of many mothers, an accumulation of the wisdom of ASTs and lead teachers and what we call ‘Development Coordinators’ over the past five years. It was designed not as a checklist, but as a prompt to ‘further greatness’: any teacher, however good, could be even better and this portrait might suggest ways they could get there.

However clever we were, Ofsted’s judgement suggested that not all areas of the school had absorbed our message. So this year, we have sought to underline some fundamentals. We have articulated our ‘Commitment to Great Teaching and Learning’, basing our September professional learning day on the non-negotiables displayed here.

commitment-to-high-quality-teaching-at-chace

These would not be the priorities of every school: they do respond to criticisms from our inspection team. But nor are they a departure from what we think we know about good teaching, and the leadership of good teaching. For note the and of this Commitment. Underscoring everything is ‘Knowing the Students’. This is how we offer differential challenge, pose questions, plan with high expectations. We assess so we can know so we can plan so we can teach.

Over-arching the fundamentals is our ‘Shared responsibility for high quality teaching’. Where a teacher is struggling, it is incumbent on us all to support. We can help through our rebooted peer observations. The head has asked for this to appear in every area’s improvement plans, and it will surely feature also in performance development (appraisal). Our development coordinators are this week engaged in a bit of ‘deliberate practice’, using our peer observation templates to plan, teach and peer observe on an aspect of differentiation. All of our middle leaders have been trained in developmental approaches to formal lesson observation.

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They are to eschew all references to gradings (I would even ban adjectives if I could), and focus instead on key episodes or phases in the lesson. Crucially they must commit to next steps. When we surveyed colleagues last year, there was clearly a preference for this approach, what I called our ‘Soft Landing’.

We know we have to know our students; we are still learning how to know our teachers. Our portraits, our commitments, our shared responsibilities will take us a long way. But we know that, if we are to assist them to become better when they are not being watched, then we need a better understanding of the work their students are doing when the door is closed. That is not meant to sound sinister: we want our book checks to be a real insight into what students do. As one of those senior leaders who frequently peers over the shoulders of students into their books (or worse, flicks through an anonymous selection from a crate), I concede I often don’t really know what I am looking at. To a history teacher, what does ‘progress’ look like in a maths book? Are most of the questions answered correctly? If so, does that mean the teacher is fabulous, or that the work is not challenging enough? What do I think of the teacher who has splashed out in red, compared to the one whose students have located their green pens and aren’t afraid to use them? What does progress look like? Our lead teacher team sought last term to come up with some answers.

progress-indicators

Taken singly, these might simply be indicators of a student’s performance: just because they done it, don’t mean that they got it. But we posit that, together, and over the space of pages, these might be useful proxies for progress. We arranged for each department to translate the above into indicators which made more sense in graphics, geography, etc. It remains to be seen how useful a document it will be.

Our new assessment and feedback policy has helped, but it is obvious to me as I walk past classrooms at 7.30am, spying teachers behind a tower of books, that we have more to do to make marking both effective and manageable. Inevitably, given our RI-ness (in an authority where nearly every other school ranks above us), our teaching and our books are under external scrutiny. But our headteacher recognises that, to make sense of this generous support from the outside, we first have to know what we stand for. Just as we have stated our ‘shared responsibility’ for high quality teaching, this extends too to how we support high quality assessment and feedback. Our developmental approach to lesson feedback must be matched by a similar approach to book checks – what I can’t avoid calling ‘feedback feedback’. Liberally stealing from questions I believe Graham Dring uses in coaching, I have designed this.

book-checking-prompts

It will take a while for our senior and middle leaders to make this their habit, and we may have to do some persuading of our local authority friends, but I am hopeful.

 

Research: Learning by Doing

Learning by Doing

I provoked some minor debate with my Research Home Guard post, suggesting that ‘research ayatollahs’ ought to be more relaxed when more practitioner researchers commandeer their favourite R-word. My point is basic: if I want my colleagues to engage with research, they need to have some experience of also being engaged in it.

What does that mean? Engaging with research is more than just clicking on twitter, or scouting around the EEF site – though I would do nothing to discourage either activity. To be properly engaged with implies that I can read the findings critically, that I can ask questions about validity, that I have an appreciation of methodology. It also means that I don’t let go of my own professional judgement: I may catch some shining new insight escaping out of an academic hole, but I also have long years of my own experience to call upon. In short, if I am to understand what I am reading, I need also to understand how the knowledge was put together. And that is where school-based, action/practitioner enquiry comes in. Done well (and – I owe – it can sometimes be done badly), it can be systematic and rigorous. All I know about evidence-collection, I have learned from doing it and from guiding others to do it. Action researchers learn by doing. In other words, they can read other stuff because they have had to write their own.

Research Social Network at Chace My Social Network analysis (courtesy, Chris Brown.)

This map arose out of a survey conducted among my staff, compiled by David Godfrey at UCL-IOE. It revealed that, although I was at the centre of much of what my colleagues perceived as the school’s research culture, I was not alone: our Lead Teacher team was vital to the wider dissemination of ‘what we know’. I wanted to build upon, and to further democratise, this distribution. So, as my homework for the Leading Evidence Informed Practice in Schools course (led by David and Karen Spence-Thomas at UCL-IOE), I proposed the creation of volunteer Research Co-ordinator posts at my school. With the green light from SLT, I advertised and successfully recruited two colleagues who had recently completed excellent school-based MAs with me. (See here.) They are @louleggo7 (our head of Psychology) and @DSaunders1106 (a PE teacher). With @BTerziyski, we have now completed our first meeting. They have taken on a lot, and I need to reconsider the ‘volunteer’ aspect of their job title. As their work proceeds I, and they, will report further. But, for now, here are our plans:

To increase staff engagement with research ·         DS and LL will start ‘research reading’ groups (name tbd), convening possibly on a monthly basis to share thoughts on a piece of recently published research. This could be something with a controversial edge, or an enquiry conducted by a colleague at Chace.

·         DS and LL to publish a termly ‘research digest’ (name tbd): either synthesised by them, or ‘found’ elsewhere. This will be placed on our ChacePD website, and flagged in the staff bulletin.

·         Either as well as, or instead of, the above DS and LL will compile a booklet of research which will underpin our Development Time focus. E.g. pieces on resilience, growth mindset, collaboration, independence.

·         LL and DS will contribute to short School Briefing slots on research into pedagogy, school leadership and the educational system.

To increase the Research Coordinators personal effectiveness. DS and LL will continue to pursue their own research interests (and through this contribute to School Briefing, as described above.)

Through twitter, blogs and publications they will enhance their skills in data collection, and their appreciation of how best to engage a school in and with research. Among the commentators and academics they will familiarise themselves with: Chris Brown, Louise Stoll, Gary Jones, Alex Quigley, Tom Sherrington.

To support internal research and review ·         RCs will conduct a review of the impacts of MDT. They will design their evidence-gathering methods at the outset and measure progress towards desired outcomes.

·         RCs are keen to work with one or two middle leaders as they write and review their improvement plans. Enquiry questions such as: What do I need to focus on? What might success in this area look like? What evidence can I gather against this? What is my current position? What does research – and my experience – tell me might work? Therefore, what will I do?

·         Assist with the construction of enquiry questions when SLT are conducting reviews and learning walks.

·         To respond to ‘commissions’ from SLT for research findings into areas, on an ad hoc basis.

·         Work with NQTs on one action enquiry across their induction year.

To impact on teaching and learning, and on school culture. LL and DS are keen to implement next steps from their MA enquiries. They will explore opportunities to work further with interested departments.
To create a repository of items of research interest. MQ, CLTs and RCs are increasingly sharing insights and thinkpieces from twitter, blogs and online publications, which we need to store more efficiently.

We will share using the #ChacePD hashtag, so our PD website can maintain items on its timeline.

MQ and BT will create space – and place interesting items – on the ChacePD site, under the Research Enquiry at Chace heading.

To support the RC team. Request that MQ and the RC team have a timetable free together, to meet to plan and review work.

MQ to enquire as to how now to remunerate RCs (via TLR or time), as their input could be substantial.

Soft landing for our leap in the dark

Last week, in Better than Outstanding, I reported on progress we had made in shifting our appraisal practices, and in particular our formal lesson observations. What I hoped for then, but didn’t know, was  that staff would have adjusted to grade-free observations, and that they would already be experiencing the joys of dialogue and development.

Rather nervously, my colleague @Bterziyski and I put together a questionnaire for middle leaders with three challenging questions:

  1. Are you appraising, and are you being appraised by, the right person?
  2. Do you see the new appraisal process as development or merely administrative?
  3. What is your view of the new no-grades lesson observation sheet?

The challenge for us in these questions was that they were somewhat ‘leading’, and the place they might lead to might not be a happy place. If our new approach was a leap in the dark, we might just have landed on the rocks.

Spurred on by @fratribus Dr Vincent Lien’s Dialogic Lesson Observation  we had assembled 28 of our middle leaders (effectively, all our post-holders) for some Advice on No grades Lesson Observation

  1. Twenty-three of the twenty-eight said they were appraising, and being appraised by the right people. They felt held to account by people who knew their work, usually the Head of Faculty. An oyster of an answer, perhaps, but one with at least two bits of grit. Without complaining, some – principally those right at the top of the middle leader pile – pointed out that they rarely if ever get formal observation feedback from a subject specialist. They might value the generic discussion which ensued, but at some level they felt they were missing out on the dialogue with a specialist in their subject’s pedagogy. Another interesting response was from a few who valued the opportunity to be observed by, or to observe in, a pair. When we review faculties, this is often how we do it, but for whole-staff appraisal the coordination of 1 teacher + 2 observers would be beyond my genius. What both of these sets of comments said to me, however, was that there is a continuing thirst for learning from peers.
  2. Nobody thought our appraisal procedures were ‘merely’ administrative. Some thought it was paper-heavy, a ‘faff’. A few more felt that their targets were predetermined by their role. However, twenty approved of our new format.

“It makes you pause and consider your development.”

“This year I believe I actually learned from it.”

“The process encouraged me to become more reflective as a reviewee. There was more open professional dialogue, with colleagues feeling that they could share their weaknesses and ask for support.”

More than one pointed out a consistency between our new approach to performance management and our other development priorities this year: life after levels at Ks3 and developing a Growth Mindset in the way we talk to and feed back to students.

3. One person felt that, as no-grades lesson observations put the onus on developing practice, the process was in danger of becoming too ‘personal’. Three people began their responses, ‘I like it but…’, ‘Good, but…’, ‘Of course I’m in favour, but I would still like to be told…’ I was astonished by the rest.

“I was able to reflect more on how to improve, rather than feeling relieved if it went OK or smug if it went well.”

“Not having the grade made our conversation focus much more on the learning and what to do next.”

“Several staff took risks and were more experimental. The ‘next steps’ box helped…encourage staff to share their best techniques with other staff.”

“It says what you really think about a lesson, rather than trying to shoe-horn your observation into pre-ordained criteria.”

“It removes some pressure from the observer and opens the dialogue.”

“It allows for a much more developmental conversation.”

Risk-taking, openness, dialogue about next steps: these are exactly what was missing when we graded lessons. We have landed in a much happier place.

For What it’s Worth… what is it worth?

I have a headache. Or rather, I have had a headache since Monday, and it’s now Friday. I check off the usual suspects: alcohol (cheap and red and, to be fair, not that much of it); eyesight (I now have three different pairs of glasses, for different focal occasions); sleep deprivation (but I was in bed at 9pm last night, and it was half-term only last week); I am an assistant headteacher for staff development in a busy London comprehensive (Eureka!)

The kids at school have been acting up a little bit more than usual – Guy Fawkes’ unintended explosive legacy – but aside from that the job has been what the job often is. This is not a moan. I am one of the lucky ones. I still get immense enjoyment out of working in the classroom, and in some respects I am still getting better at it. I am surrounded by colleagues I admire. I am backed to the hilt by my Headteachers and fellow SLT members. This is not a moan. But I have a headache that hasn’t gone away in five days.

I have just done a mind-splurge of everything I am working on at the moment. The inter-connections are so convoluted, like neural pathways, this could be a cross-section of my actual brain. Mere words won’t be up to the task of describing it. But I’m thinking: maybe blogging is better than paracetomol. What follows will not be classic prose, unless I reach Joycean heights of internal monologue.

I am Professional Coordinating Mentor for ITT. Across three universities, I have 11 trainees, each of whom comes with a uni tutor and a school mentor. I get invited to steering meetings I cannot attend, but was suckered into delivering a ‘keynote’ at a careers day at Middlesex this coming January. Professional Studies comes every Wednesday – after teaching all morning and before the SLT meeting that touches the night. We are a School Direct lead school, and with @Bterziyski I try to remain disentangled from the sticky UCAS/NCTL web. Our school partners, and main university provider (London Met) lean heavily upon us, adding to the downward pressure of emails from potential candidates. This week I had 6 visitors from the School Experience Programme in my A level History lesson. I had fewer students in the room than adults.

I am Induction Coordinator for NQTs. I had 8, but I lost one at half-term. I hadn’t seen that coming, because I struggle to keep close enough watch on them. They each have a mentor, and I try to support them too. The induction programme per se runs most Thursdays after school. This is a serious business – they are seriously stressed – but we have a laugh too. The programme rests upon a series of mini enquiries (AfL, differentiation, that kind of thing): they get a bit of input from me or someone more expert; trial the ideas in their own classrooms; then come back in week 3 or 4 and blog about it. That stresses them more, but I try to convince them that enquiry is the best form of professional learning, and that blogging is the most fun they can have on the internet without being arrested. I have been dropping into some of their lessons, but haven’t done so formally yet.

Observations. This term we went grade-free. I won the battle of ideas, but I’m wary of a counter-insurgency. I’ve been reading things on our new ‘Dialogue and Development’ forms such as ‘In old money this would have been an Outstanding.’ SLT colleagues are squirming, trying to find ways of not uttering the word ‘good’. I tell them to speak instead about what makes it good, what could make it better. We are getting there. My Headteachers were probably happier with the old system, but they have backed me on this because I’m the Appraisal guy. This is an appraisal-ish time of year: I am thinking of renaming the season. I do my share of appraisees, and therefore my share of appraisal observations. But I also oversee the policy, which in recent years has meant rubbing off the harsher edges of PRP, holding firm to the principle that it should support teacher development and student outcomes. I’ve become good at squaring circles. I’ve had half a dozen colleagues applying for the Upper Pay Range; by custom they run their portfolios by me before they submit them to the Headteachers and the Pay Panel. It’s a part of my job I can’t afford to get wrong.

‘Professional Development’. Two words: the first having no fixed meaning, the second with no fixed ending. So my job is both endless and meaningless? Well, the first maybe. We do allow a few people out of school for courses, but increasingly this has been for exam board training, and increasingly they have been online. I also coach three colleagues on National College leadership programmes. But most of our PD is in-house. Our Development Time work – with all teachers, spread across 5 afternoons – is led by volunteer ‘development coordinators’, and Lead Teachers, from whom I take the glory by line managing them. They also lead our professional learning days. Next week we start our first Twilight PD course – offered to staff over 4 sessions, in 4 different areas (Leadership, Behaviour, Differentiation, Marking and Feedback.) Some teachers gladly fell in, while others were gently pushed. It’s our main response to their development needs as identified by appraisal.

The differentiation course will be run as a Lesson Study by two of the Lead Teachers. I have been trying to develop the school as a ‘research community’. I have signed up for the IOE Leading Evidence Informed Practice in Schools course. I tutor 4 colleagues for their MA in Education through Middlesex University. I host the discussion pages on the IOE Research and Development Network website. http://www.ioe-rdnetwork.com/ The work I do for IOE means I have to read government documents, policy announcements and research summaries, and I do what I can to pass on the love.

My day job is actually a 4-day job. On the 5th day I travel to Bedford Way to develop and faciliate courses for the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at UCL IOE. Aspiring Leaders, PD leaders, Middle leaders, Heads of Year, appraisal, school improvement planning, impact evaluation. I’m meant to be writing a chapter for a book. My name is on a bid for something. I’m teaching Swedish headteachers next week. Who ever said I know anything about any of this?

I know about teaching. Or, rather, I know how to teach. My year 10s will tell you I’m sick. My year 12 History class are less convinced but they liked what I did this week. My year 13 Politics class mainly want to study Politics at university, and that means a great deal to me. And I think I know how to line manage… not in the show-me-your-data kind of way, perhaps, but certainly in the I-know-you-can-do-it fashion.

Anyway, it’s Friday and this headache has been nagging me since Monday. I’ve got a lot on. But, now that I’ve written it all down, it does seem to mean something. And that is something.