TWTWTW in #ChacePD

 That Was The Week That Was

Everyone experiences professional development through their own prism. Mine, principally, is as a ‘producer’ rather than ‘consumer’, as I am PD leader for my school. This week, much like any other, I led professional studies for our teacher-trainees and an induction session for our NQTs. But this week I was allowed also to be a participant, sitting back as my wonderful colleagues took the PD reins.

MONDAY…was the calm before the storm. We had our customary meeting in the morning, the Chace Lead Teachers and I, planning for the days ahead. We have staff training on DIRT coming up, we are getting exercised by growth mindset, and there is the nagging business of Lesson Study.

TUESDAY…was the real ‘Start the Week’. This year our team of volunteer PD leaders (our Development Coordinators) have been delivering Mixed Development Time – 5 sessions across the year, centred on the theme of Differentiation. This week we were focusing on differentiating for students working below (old) Level 3. The DCs led 8 Teacher Learning Communities, mixed by faculty, sharing best practice and remembering that the best differentiation is through knowing our students well.

WEDNESDAY…the Midweek slot was occupied by our ‘Pedagogy Marketplace’. The peerless Darren Glyde, recently appointed a Chace Lead Teacher assumed control of this professional learning day back in October, and the day bore the stamp of his meticulous preparation. The original plan was to provide a showcase for the disparate action research projects that several colleagues have been working into MAs over the past few years. Being their tutor (as an associate for Middlesex) I have long been frustrated by the fact that, whereas they have learned tonnes, we have not managed to learn from them. A marketplace was hardly the most original idea, but it at least offered all classroom staff the opportunity to opt into two or three sessions, which might coincide with their appraisal objectives.

@HughHalford reminding us of our ZPD

There was a choice of about a dozen. @BTerziyski promised to save us time marking, by designing tasks more smartly. We had sessions on literacy, underachieving boys, behaviour management, independent learning, using drama, reading strategies, and more. Each session leader was asked to present their theory, what their own research and practice and taught them about what works. We are still collating the feedback but we already know it was a great success. Our next challenge is to ensure there is a next step.

THURSDAY…is ‘Bookend’ day: begins with professional studies for ITTs, ends with induction for NQTs. Setting Targets was the title for the teacher-trainees. I cannot be alone as a Professional Coordinating Mentor in London, tearing my hair out as the various universities we work with (London Met, Middlesex, IOE and Kings) insist on not talking to each other about the start and finish dates of their school experience placements. So, we have trainees who have begun SE2, while others are yet to complete SE1. So this session was designed as a bridge between the two. We discussed first how to set an achievable target; they they wrote each on a post-it note, then plotted them on an X-Y axis to determine where the quick wins could be, and where they could expect to put in the extra effort.

My NQTs usually don’t get any sessions for free: they expect, for any input from me or an expert colleague, to be sent away for the next 3-4 weeks to enquire further before posting a blog on their reflections. At the moment, they are engaged in What is Appreciative Inquiry while also finding ways of introducing the Teaching and Learning Cycle (a device for extending students’ writing) into their classrooms. So today’s session was deliberately lighter-touch. Inspired by

This Sporting Life

…my session, This Teaching Life, asks the question, Is this a job, a career, a profession, a calling, or a life?

FRIDAY…should be Stop the Week. For me, it’s my day at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at UCL Institute of Education. I have been putting courses together for school leaders and, when numbers allow, delivering them at the IOE and around London. This week, the pressure was off so I set my mind to a half day course I am leading in March, Performance Management: Making it work for you No previews, I’m afraid.

WEEKEND… without end! Those MAs that my colleagues spent their year on had to be marked some time. What did I read? An impact analysis of mentoring for underachieving boys. A look at the correlation (if not the causal link) between early morning football and academic achievement. The difference between an open-door Art club policy and one which is tailored for individual needs. The effect of green pen marking in year 8 science. The impact of Chris Watkins’ active reading cycle on a year 8 reading class.

Sitting here, I realise that – but for putting the bins out – I haven’t stepped foot outdoors since this weekend. I could have done, but I’ve decided to reflect on my #ChacePD week instead. That WAS The Week That Was.


Those we advise not to teach

Mr McCotter’s gown rippled a bit, as he stifled a laugh. My 16 year old self had just told the careers master that ‘teaching was an option’, not my top option, mind, but a possibility nonetheless. His reaction told me that I should not even be considering it. This was the mid-80s. Perhaps morale was low in the profession then; I do vaguely recall industrial action over pay and conditions. Perhaps no self-respecting careers master (and McCotter was certainly that) would allow one of his star pupils (and I was certainly that) to don the gown.

I imagine everyone in teaching today had conversations like that. It was always other teachers seeking to dissuade. No colleague in the staffroom can complain that they weren’t warned about the marking workload, disrespectful teenagers and unsupportive parents. And yet, like the miracle of the sperm that makes it, we swam against the tide and made it into the classroom. Now we are the teachers, and some of us are advising on careers, and that bright boy or ambitious girl is telling us that they too wish to teach.

Do we put them off? Do we tell dark, Govean tales of Ofsted dementors and progress trackers? Are we edu-Kafkas, who warn them of teacher K, who was once satisfactory but who has woken this morning requiring improvement? Or do we nurture the naive spirit, the one that says ‘I know all that, but all I want to do is to teach children’? In them, do we see the 16 year olds who were once ourselves, and do our hearts leap a little at the thought that, despite all the bad stuff, this is still a profession that the best people want to be part of?

I’ve always tried to be an encourager. Yet, I have spent a good part of the morning in Whatsapp conversation with two brothers – one a teacher, the other having just quit his sales job. Niall teaches Maths in a Catholic girls school; he has found a way to be both good at his job and to lead a full life beyond the school gate. He thinks Barry, the other brother, would also make a great teacher. Barry left his job on Friday, seeking to set up a trophy business like our Dad. He may need another job, to make sure ends meet for him, his wife and two kids. So Niall sent him the link to the UCAS teacher training website. Which is where I stepped in.

Barry is a great person. He has stacks of personality, is bright and would be a wonderful motivator for young people. Several years ago, I tried to push him in the direction of teaching. But this morning, I have my doubts. I don’t think this is a job that can be combined with setting up a business: that just plays to the myth that our evenings, weekends and holidays are all our own. And I don’t think that teacher-training should be entered into lightly, fitted around other interests. On top of all of this, I am suspicious of those who believe that great teaching is somehow synonymous with sparkling personality. Many trainees start pretty modestly but, through their hard work make it to become good teachers. These are the ones I would encourage. They are the ones who will not be demented by the soul-sucking Ofsted ghouls, who – when they are told that they require improvement – will likely say ‘ Don’t we all?’ So I say to Barry: Are you willing to put yourself in the place of the learner, realising that there is much you do not yet know about teaching? Are you ready to battle hard on school placements, in settings you did not select, with pupils who do not yet trust you? Are you prepared to get out the school books yourself, to learn the stuff you need to get others to learn? Are you aware that you will be planning lessons, having them ripped apart by mentors, and marking work by kids who did not quite get the thing you thought you had told them? Are you ready to do that, while at the same time writing assignments for university tutors? Are you prepared for the shock that all of that is just the beginning, that the job itself is more arduous still? And, through all of that, are you confident that you will still believe – because it is true – that this is the best job in the world?


Don’t waste time observing!

There were only about 8 in the class, including normally very rowdy boys and a couple of near-mute girls. Ruth, the Senco, was teaching them PSE, or something similar. I had been having problems controlling behaviour, and it had been gently suggested to me that I might observe Ruth. I was in my first year of teaching, but this was after the days of ‘probation’ and before the days of ‘NQT induction’, so whatever programme I had was ad hoc at best.

I sat at the back of Ruth’s classroom. A couple of the boys were insulting each other, and the girls shared a make-up mirror, but the atmosphere was relaxed and cooperative. Ruth introduced the topic and the kids were immediately engaged. I can’t remember the topic, and I couldn’t see what in particular she did to hook them. I knew enough already to realise that she was working hard and making it look easy: she made sure she addressed comments to each child, especially if she spotted them wavering. But I couldn’t locate whatever magic she had that I didn’t. I concluded that these kids were just ‘good for Ruth’, in a way they were not with me.

It really isn’t easy learning from watching someone else. It strikes me that there are essentially two types of observations going on in schools. The first is where the observer is assessing the teacher. I do a lot of this with PGCE students, NQTs, for appraisal. With younger teachers I won’t usually be putting a grade on the lesson, but they will still demand an evaluative adjective from me, and will still expect me to prescribe a dose of something to make them better. Where the lesson is graded, this can come down to, So how could I have made this outstanding?  The observer in these cases is not really trying to learn anything; they are simply looking for evidence to grade, and a form of words to let their colleague down gently. I exaggerate, but there is no escaping the simple truth: the observer is not the learner.

The second common type of observation is that undertaken by student teachers or NQTs as part of their development programme. There are PGCEs students in schools this week following a schedule of observations, perhaps doing very little else. There are NQTs, instructed by their mentors to use some of their 10% timetable reduction to ‘watch and learn.’ Sometimes they come and observe me. Oftentimes I direct them to someone on a ‘peer observation’ list I keep for the purpose. In they go; out they come. Somewhere a target will have been ‘met’ or a standard ‘addressed’. Everyone is happy, but what ‘learning’, if any, has occurred? I wonder: do we even ask?

Again, I exaggerate: the process is surely never as ho-hum as that. But I still think the question persists: What about the learning?

If we take a step back, and consider what we already know about learning, maybe we can make observation a little more productive. The learners we usually deal with – our students – would not take in very much if we merely expected them to observe us. Very little of our teaching is about being watched, instructing, performing in front of someone sitting anonymously at the back of the room. Rather, we expect learning to be active, and inter-active, with learners usually moving through a taxonomy of applying, analysing and creating in the space of one lesson. Learning also involves a degree of reiteration, practice and gradual perfection. Importantly, we presume learning is best when its objectives are clear and explicit. In sum, learning happens when it is purposeful and progressive.

Now ask: does this kind of learning have a chance of occurring when we put teachers in the back of rooms to watch other teachers? My guess is, not often.

But we do spend an awful lot of time doing it. Oh, the hours! I would be grateful for any replies to this from people who think they have secured good learning from teacher observation. But here I will record a few of the things we do some of the time, but should do more often than we do.

  • Our ‘peer observation’ card lists staff who are willing to be observed. Crucially, they are grouped by area of pedagogical expertise. So, some are happy to be seen doing groupwork, others are whizzes in behaviour management.
  • The same card also lists the staff who are willing to observe others. We realised a little while ago that many teachers stop observing others once they get past induction; likewise, outside of the pressures of appraisal and review, few staff get to try out a teaching strategy and get feedback on it from a sympathetic colleague.
  • Aside from the formal lesson observation forms we use for grading purposes, we have developed half a dozen others which each has a specific focus, e.g. independent learning, literacy, student engagement, behaviour management. Each is structured as a sort of checklist of features that might be seen in a lesson, with space for notes by the observer. The reverse asks the observer to compile 5 learning points; then recompile them after discussing them with a colleague.
  • An integral feature of induction at my school now is NQT Blogging. They have a session where they are introduced to some teaching strategies – two weeks ago our AST and others shared some AfL ideas with them. They then have two to three weeks to observe a colleague, focusing on those strategies, then apply some of this in their own lessons. The NQTs then reconvene as a group to blog their reflections, making sure they each follow each other and post constructive comments.

In these ways, I hope to ensure that observation has a ‘learning objective’ or focus. There is also the chance that it will take the observer-learner through the understanding-applying-analysing-creating phases that we know assist learning. None of this is yet embedded or widespread, and I’m still developing my thinking on it. But, with a little bit of this, I might have made a lot more of my time watching Ruth all those years ago, and those kids might have been ‘good for me’ too.

5 Things NQTs can be.

Twitter is bouncing with advice to NQTs right now. If you have found your way to this blog, then you probably already know that. I’d say: read it all. The advice comes from good people, with sensible, practical things to say. But you cannot follow it all. I offer these 5 items as things you can be, not just things you can do.

  1. Don’t be afraid to say No, but learn to say Yes. Many of the most exciting things that will happen to you in teaching will have been suggested by others. Would you like to go on this science trip? How about joining the staff choir? The Year 7 footballers would love you to coach them once a week. If you can agree to do at least some of these things, your working life will be all the more fulfilling. On the other hand, you cannot do everything, and it pays to learn how to turn people down without shutting the door in their face.
  2. Build alliances. This could be counsel from Machiavelli, but you don’t have to be a prince to benefit from this advice. Everyone who works in your school (perhaps even some of your fellow NQTs) has more experience in that setting than you do. You have to assume (and hope) that it matters a great deal to them: in some cases, this is their life’s work. So, don’t criticise another teacher (‘they don’t seem to be able to manage 7A3); don’t diss the displays; don’t complain about the reception in the reception. If you need to vent, you should be mindful of who you let your guard down in front of.
  3. Be constructive – or have a ‘growth’ mindset. This should apply to all your dealings, including the above. Actually, you too have experience, and you have a valid point of view: find the forum where it can be expressed, and offer your ongoing help too. More broadly, this is the attitude you should adopt with all of your students. Those who say they ‘cannot’ do something, get excited on their behalf: you are about to show them that they can! Those who say something is too easy for them, discuss with them how you can differentiate for them too.
  4. Be on time. As with many walks of life (what would I know?) others are depending on you to get your bit done before they can do their bit. Obviously this relates to prompt marking and feedback: your students will learn better if they can attach what you say with what they have done. But it can also govern your relations with office and technical staff. You need to get your requisitions in for your lab technician; if you want your colour copies back, reprographics need your original in three days in advance; if your reports aren’t done on time, you are putting pressure on people further up the chain – those who proof-read, or countersign, or post the things.
  5. Be prepared to work extremely hard. Some well-meaning colleagues will urge you to hold on to your work-life balance. In the main, these are people who have found the shortcuts they can live with, or who have built up a fund of resources they can call upon in a tight planning spot. Look to them, and realise that one day, you too will be able to tell others to spend a little time with yourself. But, in the meantime, this teaching lark is tough: it does take time to get it right, and you should be prepared to put that time in.

From NQT to QT, and fun all the way

I last posted on the leadership of NQTs’ professional development here ‘Training NQTs the Woodhouse way…not’.

The particular cohort of NQTs I had in mind then are now making their final approaches to the landing strip titled… well, what do we call teachers who are no longer newly qualified? Are they QTs?

Their final task, after all their mini action enquiries, their blogging and their coaching was to produce a ‘CPD Review’. Reluctant as I was to predetermine what they would in the end produce, I set out the merest success criteria: it should describe their learning journey, it should be prepared and presented collaboratively, it should be substantial and it should be fun. I created an audience for them too: their mentors, ASTs, members of SLT, the professional tutor who had seen many of them through their PGCE year and – perhaps most significantly – the succeeding generation of NQTs whose first day at school this would be. Not trusting my own catering acumen, I got the school chef to lay on some fruit and cold drinks. I hope I managed to create something of an occasion for them. Perhaps I should have videoed it – but then again, one of the new NQTs seemed to have his cameraphone out, so I reckon most of it was captured for their grandchildren anyway.

What did their Review consist of? They produced a booklet containing snapshots of post-its their students had written about them: ‘Some up my lessons in one word’, ‘What’s my catchphrase?’, ‘Which was my most memorable lesson?’ They talked about the blogging they had been engaged in all year, how several were reluctant at first but had then been thrilled as their posts got shared with other teachers in the school and even further afield via twitter. They spoke of their Appreciative Enquiries, where they had focused on an area of strength rather than a weakness, and investigated how they could get more out of it. They reflected on their other enquiries, how they had observed colleagues for literacy, AfL and independent learning strategies, and applied these to their own practice. And, hilariously, they reenacted what not to do on your first parents’ evening. (N.B. It’s always a good idea to use that squirty hygienic lotion for your hands, but not such a good idea to display it prominently on the table in front of you!)

Ultimately it is not possible to summarise all you have learned in one evening, but undoubtedly they did convey the effort they had put into their year’s development and, resoundingly, the tremendous fun they had along the way.