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.

TopTipsforTopTips

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.

 

Pressure Poll

It is really no stress at all to find an image to feature in a blog on ‘teacher stress’. Many of them are clearly posed (why the need?), images of people who probably aren’t teachers at all because, if they were, their skin would not look this good.

Reducing-teacher-stress-and-burnout[1]

I recently conducted a Twitter poll asking the question,

“If you think that stress at school is too much, what’s causing it?”

I did it mainly because I had never conducted a Twitter poll before and I wanted to work out how to do it. I did it also because, as of Easter, I am no longer working at school (apart from popping in on Wednesdays to tide my A level students over until their exams): I am suddenly a lot less stressed than I used to be, so have the time to witter on twitter.

Here is the poll:

For all my researchy friends, I self-defensively point out some of the caveats to this sort of enquiry:

  • The question ‘leads’, by the very mention of stress. (Although, I did give an opt out.)
  • Only those teachers browsing Twitter could come across it.
  • Only those who follow me on Twitter, or following the 25 who retweeted it, could come across it.
  • I didn’t offer an explanation of ‘boss’ in the first option, and in the second what did I mean by ‘etc.’?

But, setting all those reservations aside, I was quite interested in what it threw up. (And 593 responses over one weekend was a lot more than I anticipated.)

If this had been a general election, we would have had a hung parliament with ‘Cuts’ being given the first opportunity to form a government. No single option was a clear winner; indeed, as the weekend unfolded, each option spent some time in the lead. If I had allowed four days, and not three, ‘I’m not stressed’ might easily have topped the poll. In my question, I tried to allow for the fact that stress is bound to exist – what I was interested in was too much of it. Nonetheless, over a quarter of my self-selecting sample aren’t feeling the burn.

Many were kind enough to add their comments. Several of these may have opted for number one or two, given that they cited the many and various pressures of the job. Here are a selection:

 

The ever-shifting demands, the fact that sometimes these run counter to our own values, or are imposed upon us by external forces such as inspectorates or the media: these are familiar themes and intractable so long as teacher agency is compromised.

Although cuts leading to additional burdens was the commonest answer, it drew fewer comments.

Thanks to everyone who took the time, despite their stress, to respond. I do wonder whether, for some of us, Twitter is a pressure valve allowing us to relieve a little stress in the evening. Perhaps I will conduct another poll…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I said Goodbye

This day last week, I had one week to go. I pondered on my reasons for leaving teaching, after 22 years, on what I had learned, and on what I should say to my colleagues as I left. I wanted them to still feel fired up about teaching, despite the pressures there are and despite the signal I could not avoid giving off by my own resignation. I wrote my speech out, knowing that I could turn a better phrase on paper than I could ‘live’, but in the event I was hijacked. I read my speech out OK, but barely: I kept expecting someone to ask me to speak up. As my words expanded, my voice lost volume.

I should call it the ‘humble-mumble’: the things they said about me before I got a chance to stand up left me feeling unworthy of the moment… I didn’t deserve it, and the words I had ready would not rise to the occasion either.

Please Stand Up

Because this (above) is what they said. Each stood up on behalf of the group mentioned on the left, leaving me sitting nearly alone. Orchestrated by Barbara Terziyski, it was a roll call of some of the most fabulous people I know; to have been associated with them was my luck and my privilege. It would take a much better person than I to deserve their applause.

So this was the speech I mumbled. I have adjusted it slightly, to better suit a public rather than the original private audience.

26 years ago I made a decision. I’d graduated from Queen’s in Belfast, had spent a year in the Students’ Union and I had a range of great postgrads I could do, or apply to join the trainee journalism programme I had been promising myself. I had choices. 

Instead I did a crazy thing: I bought a rucksack and a sailor’s trunk, packed them and got on a bus to Poland. There I became a teacher and I have been one ever since. 

In February I did another crazy thing: I applied for a job at the IOE and today, one way or another, I stop being a teacher. 

‘Teacher’ is a great word: everyone knows what it means; everyone has a favourite, one whom they hated or who inspired them. We hold teachers to higher standards than normal people. Teachers have a vocation, we are trusted in loco parentis, under certain circumstances we can give a child a paracetamol. We can tell right from wrong, trainers from school shoes; we can read any child’s handwriting,  and when we can’t we can deep mark it anyway. We can take the origins of the universe and explain it in 50 minutes to a room full of 30 kids, each with their own special need.  We solve simultaneous equations while simultaneously taking a register on Progresso … with one leg in the corridor and one in the classroom, minding both. On a Tuesday evening we sit in teams to work out what types of questions will help students think more deeply in history, or geography or art. Teachers walk down corridors at break time without turning a blind eye or a deaf ear. We stop <insert child’s name> from doing stuff, or we try to, or we beat ourselves up when we can’t. We help kids who don’t have friends to make friends, and separate others from their friends so they might get some work done. We mark, plan, teach. We think, pair, share. We speak in triplets because that’s more persuasive. We perform a highly complex task in front of a hundred or more sometimes sceptical schoolchildren every single day, without getting stage fright. We bend young people to our will, making them work sometimes in spite of themselves, then we send them home after putting extra stuff on Show My Homework. Because of us they learn to design, experiment, differentiate and integrate, to compose, summarise, decline and conjugate, to overhead clear, gain a perspective and arrive at a conclusion. Many learn a lot, a lot learn less, and some learn at a pace different from the one we set.

Teachers – we … you … are the best a society produces; and we… you are the best hope for it.

 

Perhaps it takes tough times to really find out how good a person is, or how good a team is. This is a tough time for the education system, it’s tough being a teacher nowadays and certainly we have had hard days here. Over the last few years, when I have been doing my work outside Chace, I have been to schools and worked with staff and school leaders there. I meet some impressive people, hard working clever people. But I don’t meet better people than the ones I see here. I can’t thank now all those who deserve my thanks – I have tried to do that during this week. But I have to thank the people in the 3 teams that every day make my job a joy. The SLT continue to protect us from many of the worst excesses of government policy, and I want you to appreciate that that is a daily battle. Our headteacher does the toughest job in the world, he does it with a grace and humour I could never find, and I am genuinely proud to have served him. The Humanities crowd are loyal to each other and generous to others. My 2 heads of department – Dalga and Hugh – mean much more to me than their titles suggest. They give me credit where none is due. I wish I could have been better for you, but please know not all your efforts were in vain.

This year has been hard, but getting to spend it in the office with the CLT team (and Phil) has been extraordinary. Louise, Dan, Ethan: you have blown me away with your commitment and skill. We are a more confident, research-informed, better bunch of teachers because of you. And Barbara. As Hof and CLT, I have line-managed her every day of the 9 years I have been here. Frankly for most of that time it has been trying to get out of her way, so that the force that is Terziyski can get on with it.

Then they gave me gifts of alcohol and books, chocolates and pickled vegetables. And a cherry blossom tree. Similar to the one that stood for years at the front of the school, from today it stands at the front of my house.

Planting cherry blossom

22 Years on the Clock

22 on the clock

With one term gratis for good behaviour, I have 22 years on my teaching clock. That’s about 880 weeks. I have not counted the number of students I have taught, or teachers I have trained, or NQTs I have inducted. I struggle to recall the numerous A level and GCSE specs I have ploughed through; parents’ evenings I reckon I have endured about a hundred of. The only other significant number I have left is 1. I have one week left as a teacher.

I haven’t written my speech yet. I have penned cards to some of my closest colleagues, utterly failing to convey the quantity and quality of my admiration for them. I’ve signed them off ‘Love, Mark.’ When, with another person, you go through difficult times, you share a tough job but you smile your way through it because there is mutual support and trust – then, there is a sort of love. We have achieved things together none of us could have achieved alone: we have made teachers, we have made some great teachers, and those teachers have achieved even greater things with their own students. Maybe I will make a speech out of that.

What do I know now that I didn’t know when I started? Have I made 22 years’ progress? I’m a lot less certain than I used to be. Now I realise that learning is slow, possibly invisible, and unlikely ever to be accurately captured in a lesson or a test. Now I know that I don’t truly understand what I am looking at when I sit at the back of someone else’s classroom, or skim through their exercise books, even though I will be asked to make a judgement or offer feedback: if learning is intangible, then the processes involved in teaching are mind-blowingly complex, conditional upon an unknowable balance between what we call ‘relationships’ and what we call ‘subject knowledge’. I think I mark work better now, and that I give better guidance about how students can improve their writing, and that some students whose behaviour would have given me trouble before no longer does. That’s my progress. I might get a speech out of that.

I’ve got some funny stories – that always goes down well in a speech. There is the time when I left my passport at home on a trip abroad, and the other when my colleague left the kids’ passports in the hotel safe. Colleagues will remember the open evening when, after a fire alarm we left some of the parents at the bottom of the field in the dark. But I’m not a comedian and stories are only funny to those people who already know them.

There is the option to make the speech that many other teachers across the country will be making this Easter, or summer: the one about why they are leaving. Students, and their parents, don’t have the respect for teachers that they used to. Workload is impossible because we have to cater for every learning need, stretching the highly able, supporting the lower starters while somehow narrowing the gaps between the two. ‘Those who can’t’ seem to have decided that among the things they cannot do is teach, because the job does not pay well enough for the stress you have to endure. DIRTy green pens! I won’t be making that speech, cocking my snook at all the poor sods still sitting in the staffroom. I don’t buy it anyway: I’m leaving a great profession, not a terrible one. If the golden age of high teacher regard occurred at any point within the past 22 years, if the job used to be a breeze, if we were ever well-remunerated for sitting on our arses – if any of that happened, it didn’t happen in the schools I ploughed my furrow. Schools were always skint, respect always had to be earned, and piles of marking always resembled the New York skyline. Sure, I’m tired but I ain’t moaning.

Place me in a cube with 30 kids and I can still be transported. Training H to stay in his seat, when really he wants to run the corridors; responding to R’s quizzical look, as he politely expresses some doubt about my latest pearl; getting everyone to hang on J’s stumbling, unconfident word; realising that there is no history homework that S will do that cannot be improved with a teabag stain; watching R master English and my subject within two years of entering the country; building W’s self-esteem so that he edges his way from an F, to an E to a C. These are my victories. These are the wins that allow me to live with the fact that S cuts my worksheet into confetti, that R thinks I don’t like her, and that K has bust his knee again so will miss weeks more of school. The gains do outweigh the losses, for me they always have. There is a speech in that. But the speech could darken: just because I have given a convincing display as a competent teacher for the past 22 years is no guarantee that I could keep it up. It takes a lot of personality to keep going – by that, I mean that I have to dig deep into my inner resources to stay good at what I do, to achieve more gains on my ledger than losses. If teaching has changed in my time, I might note that being good has got harder – harder for schools, their headteachers, their classroom staff. The bar went up on being OK, and it’s going up on being good. That’s a bit scary for a young fogey like me.

The speech-that-gives-thanks is both the safe and the right one to give. It’s a pity somehow that I can only thank those in the school I am at now, and not also those from the other schools that made me the teacher I will soon no longer be. My primary school teacher, who kept me reading when I wanted to run away. My A level German teacher, who was the one who suggested I might give this game a go in Poland. Chris Husbands who trained me at UEA, and Andy Buck who was one of my first headteachers. Simon, my first head of department; Shirley the Head of 6th form I was assistant to, and Jen who was assistant to me in the same role. The role call of gratitude is just too long: teachers are the best people in the world and I have been surrounded by some of the best of them. (That’s definitely in the speech.)

By the way, I still have some mileage left in me, or hours on my clock – or whatever the metaphor was that I began with all those years ago. There will be another blog for that, ready for the summer term. By then, I will have adjusted my standfirst, my little self-description – those few words in which I proudly pronounce myself a teacher.

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

chace-teach-meet

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

chace-teachmeet

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.

nqt-lesson-study-jpg-large

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.

 

 

It’s good to talk: improving teaching through dialogue

dialogue

This week our senior leaders and heads of faculty met to thrash out a new Protocol for hosting a Development Dialogue. This follows work we have done recently to achieve a common understanding of great teaching at Chace, described here. Since being badged RI by Ofsted last summer, we have endeavoured to both improve and prove our practice.We are determined to be both research-informed and grounded in the current needs of our school.

Underlying principles

The business of the school is to improve the outcomes for students. We know that high quality teaching is the best way to improve these outcomes. And we know that investment in teacher development is the surest way to improve the quality of teaching. It follows therefore that the underlying purpose of lesson observation and work scrutiny must be to support teachers to become even better teachers.

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.” Dylan Wiliam.

 

What we mean by Dialogue and Development

At Chace, we no longer grade or judge individual lessons. That is because research tells us that about 70 % of the time, two different observers would give two different ratings. More importantly, grading lessons does not improve the quality of teaching. But, when two or more colleagues watch a lesson, discuss what happened in it and commit to implementing some small change: that can seriously improve the long-term performance of all involved. Our ChacePD website has advice on what to do during an observation, and what to say afterwards: slide2

The same applies to work scrutiny. We can all look in a colleague’s books and count the number of times they have given written feedback: it is easy to judge. But our purpose should be greater than that: when two or more teachers meet to discuss work in students’ books, all can learn and develop from the process. ChacePD has prompts for work scrutiny feedback:

book-checking-prompts

 

What to do

Timing

  • Hold the discussion, if possible, within 48 hours of the observation/scrutiny.
  • Allow enough time for meaningful dialogue.
  • When booking the lesson observation, also book the time for the dialogue.
  • Encourage the teacher to write their evaluation of the lesson before the dialogue takes place.

Courtesies

  • Scrutiny and observation is stressful and tends to add to the burden of already overloaded staff. Be mindful of this. Try not to add to the burden.
  • Thank the teacher (and the students) when you have observed them: even if you are their manager, it is still a privilege to see inside someone else’s classroom.
  • Conduct the dialogue in a private space.
  • Share the gems. When you have witnessed something wonderful, get the teacher’s permission to spread the word.
  • Be clear about who else will see the paperwork. The headteacher, the Head of Faculty, the assistant headteacher for staff development: they all need to have an informed view of the overall quality of teaching.
  • If there are serious concerns, make this clear to the teacher and tell them that further action will be taken.

Paperwork

  • The observer will write a narrative and questions as they watch a lesson; and they will comment in the boxes as they scrutinise the books.
  • However, the spaces for recording dialogue should be completed with the teacher, and should properly reflect what was discussed and agreed.
  • Never just fill in the form and put it in their pigeon hole.
  • Plain English is best. The other people who view the paperwork need to understand clearly what it says.
  • The teacher involved should keep a copy of their feedback in their CPDP.

Development

  • Remember that – even with a book scrutiny – you have only seen a snapshot of their practice. Do not judge or generalise. Avoid Ofsted numbers and adjectives.
  • Ask coaching questions first, to see if the teacher can identify their own needs: this will often reveal more than you thought you saw.
  • Sometimes a more direct mentoring approach is required, where a teacher is unable to see their own need. But avoid focussing only on the weaknesses.
  • Link the discussion to their personal professional development. What have they been working on?
  • Two areas of development are plenty: no teacher can work on more than that at one time.
  • These must be within the teacher’s capacity to develop. Think ‘next steps’ they can take, not ‘giant leaps’.
  • Guide them to further support.
    • Encourage them to peer observe another colleague and use one of the planning and observation templates.
    • Urge them to speak to a member of the Chace Lead Teacher team, or other colleague in the school with recognised expertise. This colleague might be teaching in the next room.
    • Perhaps they should sign up for one of the Twilight PD courses?
    • Be observed again, by you or by a peer. Develop an ‘open door’ policy for their classroom.
  • Great teachers also have the right (and responsibility) to get even better. Discuss with them how they can support others by:
    • Planning collaboratively.
    • Modelling a part of their practice at a Faculty Development Time meeting.
    • Inviting a colleague to peer observe.
    • Observing a colleague and hosting a Development Dialogue with them.
    • Referring to the Portrait of Great Teaching portrait-of-great-teaching-and-learning-at-chace

 

 

 

 

RI means ‘Improving’, not just proving

ri

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.

slide1

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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.