The making of a MOOC

The scenario of being asked to use a virtual learning environment, a set of laptops or devices, or indeed an interactive whiteboard is likely to be a familiar one to teachers. More familiar still might be the expectation that this technology is used in your teaching and the research evidence supporting its effective use is an afterthought.

On Monday 11 March, a free online course, entitled Using technology in evidence-based teaching and learning launches on FutureLearn with the Chartered College of Teaching and this course will prompt ways of thinking about uses of technology to support evidence-based teaching and learning so that education technology becomes the ‘final piece of the process, not its starting point’ (Neil Selwyn, 2019).

 

What has informed the design of this course?

From previous roles and a number of months working on online learning for the Chartered College of Teaching, I knew the lack of easily accessible research evidence that pointed towards effective uses of technology in schools. Much of what I’d encountered in the past was only really relevant in Higher Education contexts or was presented in a way that aligned to visions of transformation, and innovation, but not to inform the practical application teachers were attempting on a daily basis in the classroom, nor the large decisions being made by school and college leaders every year. This, in the main, drove the vision for the course.

Teacher Online Learning Development group

During my first few months at the Chartered College of Teaching, advertising for and recruiting volunteer members into our Teacher Online Learning Development group took place. From the outset, I’ve been keen that practising teachers and leaders have the opportunity to inform my work and so, with expertise assembled, they set about providing feedback on the various aspects of our online work, including what this course might contain. Once we had a structure in place, it was tested again on the group, before a final draft emerged to be reviewed. I am now as confident as I can be that this first run of our online course will provide a valuable learning experience to its participants.

Research engagement

Engaging with research can be a discomforting experience. We can read something that makes us question our practice; ‘was everything we though correct actually wrong all along?’ We can sometimes dismiss a finding too quickly when it doesn’t align with our own existing bias and perspective. Approaching existing research in a more measured way to decide whether or not it holds answers for our particular context will be encouraged on this course. It was important that the course began with the research evidence so that our exploration of education technologies would be anchored in that, rather than floating beyond grasp in the weightless universe of ‘transformation’ in which education technologies so often find themselves.

I have purposely used language of may and might in the course, not to sit on the fence but to be transparent that not all research has the answer for every eventuality but that it might point towards a possible avenue to explore and experiment with. I’d be glad to hear that a participant who’d been teaching for years had grown more curious about an area of their practice as a result of engaging with research evidence on this course that provoked new thinking.

Impact

If you’ve not accessed any of the articles from the special issue of Impact then you can do so for free online here. Additional articles are available to Chartered College of Teaching members. Many of these articles made their way into the course design because they pointed to the kinds of principles we wanted the course to cover. They were balanced, grounded in effective practice, and made connections between theory and practice. You’ll learn, for instance, about designing better slides and resources that align with learning from cognitive load theory and dual coding, as well as ways in which technology can support metacognition, assessment and feedback in the classroom.

Case studies

One of our biggest jobs, in a short timescale, was to ensure representation across the course from primary, secondary and SEND settings. Whilst I’ll continually work to improve this representation for future iterations, our reviews so far indicate that participants should find something to suit their context throughout the course. Each week, there are a range of video and written case studies to follow the learning from our academic contributors. One of my core aims for the course was for participants to hear directly from academics who would make the research evidence more accessible but for the voice of teachers and leaders to be strongly represented too. I believe that we can only make improvements to practice when we gather all of this influence together. Across the four weeks, I feel as though participants will have heard from voices representing a variety of contexts and perspectives (especially if they also complete the course for leaders once it launches).

What will you learn?

I’m pleased to say that we’ve passed FutureLearn’s quality assurance process and I’m now making the final edits on the course, so what can you expect to learn over the four weeks?

Each week, we begin with a focus on what research evidence tells us about a specific area of practice. Then, through written and video case studies from schools across the country, we explore how technology can be used in a way that aligns with what this research evidence suggests might be effective.

Week 1 – Understanding technology use in educational practice (3 hrs)

This week sets up the learning for future weeks by engaging with the why of technology use; we’ll consider barriers, challenges, and evaluation. You’ll be exposed to your first set of academics and a number of case studies too.

  • Why might we choose to use technology in education?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities in technology use?
  • How can we best evaluate the impact of technology use in our own context?

Week 2 – Building new knowledge and understanding using technology (3 hrs)

This week focuses on research evidence about how we build knowledge and understanding in the classroom. We’ll then see and hear from teachers making use of technology in their variety of contexts to support such practices.

  • How might concepts such as dual coding and cognitive load theory help with presenting learning effectively?
  • What makes effective pupil collaboration in the classroom?
  • How can the presentation of learning and pupil collaboration be enabled with technology?

Week 3 – Technology to support learning that sticks (3 hrs)

This week focuses on aspects of retrieval and elaboration for learning; learning that sticks. Once more, course participants will have the opportunity to select from a range of case studies that demonstrate how technology can be used to support these practices should they wish to use it.

  • How can we support pupils’ long-term retention of content learnt using retrieval practice, elaboration and spacing?
  • How might technology effectively support the retention of learning?
  • In what circumstances might we choose to use (or not use) technology as a tool to support learning that sticks?

Week 4 – Developing technology supported assessment and feedback (3 hrs)

The final week explores assessment and feedback, and the place of technology there. Participants will choose from a range of school case studies to inform possible solutions for their practice.

  • How can assessment and feedback approaches be made most effective?
  • How might technology support effective assessment and feedback approaches?
  • How might technology and research evidence support changes to marking workload?

Whilst FutureLearn’s model is for course content to be completed in each of the designated weeks, you will have access to the content for a little while after it finishes so that you can catch-up on anything missed, which is handy as there’s a school holiday just after the course finishes. There is an upgrade fee to get longer access if you’re not a Chartered College of Teaching member (£52) but the course content will be made freely available after the course run for all members (£45 per year) within your membership platforms.

Learning together

I’m keen that a learning community is established during the course where practice, experience, and reflections are shared openly. We have a number of mentors supporting the programme who will support the discussions taking place. So often, it can feel lonely learning on a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and whilst we’ll be doing what we can on the course, I recommend the following if you can achieve it back in school:

  • Gather together a group of colleagues who will undertake the course at the same time. This could be done by you, a senior leader, or a CPD leader.
  • Arrange a weekly meeting time on a morning, lunchtime, or evening best suited to you all where there will be sustenance of some kind (tea, coffee, breakfast, biscuits, cake…)
  • Discuss the learning from the week. Use some of the discussion points from the course or the reflective questions posed at the end of each week.
  • At the end of the 4 weeks, each select something you’ll try in the term ahead and maintain the group to discuss progress (except perhaps reduce the frequency of the meetings).
  • At the end of that term, get together to share your findings, preferably inviting wider colleagues along to learn from your use of technology in evidence-based teaching and learning.

If you do this, I’d love to hear from you. If the above isn’t possible in your setting then take to Twitter or a blog to reflect for yourself and connect with other course learners at the hashtag #FLEducationTech

I hope to be learning with you over on FutureLearn soon!

 

Selwyn N (2019) Teachers and technology: time to get serious. Impact (Special Issue 1). Available at: https://impact.chartered.college/article/editorial-education-technology/

Working with ‘Novice’ and ‘Expert’ Teachers – David Weston

This is a rather delayed write-up of my notes and reflections on David Weston’s (@informed_edu) workshop at The Telegraph Festival of Education. Having heard David speak on several occasions, I felt certain that he’d live up to everything good CPD should and I’d leave with disrupted thinking and things to be curious about. I wasn’t disappointed.

Within a few weeks, I had shared my new learning with senior colleagues as well as fellow leaders at College. This has been learning that has locked itself firmly in my thoughts and will hopefully lead to more effective CPD approaches for colleagues.

Many of us used to facilitating CPD or introducing fresh approaches in our colleges and schools will be accustomed to colleagues often presenting with the rolling eyes of,I’ve been teaching for 20 years. What will be different about this new learning that I won’t have experienced before?’ And why blame them? Much of education policy seems to take a cyclical motion. Something experienced 6 years previously appears again but those crafty politicians have disguised it to look like something else, assuming that we’ll all be fooled into thinking they hold all the answers to our prayers. Alas, we are not as stupid as we clearly appear and we can see through their thinly veiled attempts at revolution. So when teachers pitch up at yet another workshop or coaching session claiming to ‘revolutionise their practice’, there is little surprise many present with an initial cynicism. 

So how can we approach teacher learning in a way that lands with novices as much as it does with experts?

I mean, apparently the inclusion of a brain or the word ‘science’ could get us pretty far…

But seriously, what answers might science hold for us?

Please excuse any inaccuracies in what follows and please feel free to leave feedback on anything you think is scientifically awry. It’s not especially my strong suit and it’s new learning for me!

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The images used are ones I created – I’m sure David Weston (@informed_edu) wouldn’t appreciate you thinking they were his handiwork!

Schemas formed the basis of the first part of David’s exploration of teacher learning. For those of you who don’t know what these are, they’re essentially ‘packets of information that help us anticipate what we’ll find when we encounter a certain concept, category, person, or situation.’ (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Psychology)

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When we encounter a new situation, our senses pick up on aspects of this new situation and add to the packet. For instance, we learn at a young age how to tell if things are hot and how best to respond to this situation in the future – ie. don’t put your hands directly into fire. In fact, remain a safe distance from it.

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It’s important that things are discarded from the packet or placed in a different packet at times though. For instance, when we learn what a dog is, we recognise it has ears, 4 legs and a tail. As we come across more dogs we learn that they’re furry and bark. But what happens when we come across a cat? They’re furry, they have 4 legs, they have ears and a tail. But they don’t bark… If this information were to be added to the existing dog schema then it may cause some considerable issues… Luckily, we check this thought with those around us and they confirm that what we’re seeing is not a dog. As we learn and form schemas, there is a continual adjustment to what our senses are presenting; causing equilibrium and disequilibrium as our schemas adjust and are formed.

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So, our brains respond to sensory information and begin to form associations; constantly causing this shifting movement as our schemas form and adjust based on our responses to the environment we find ourselves in.

Let’s translate this to the teaching environment then. Think back to being a brand new teacher. How did it feel? An assault on the senses? New things, faces, people, process, approaches, knowledge… You can see where this is going! A serious sense of disequilibrium and one can easily imagine the impact this might have on our learning.

 

When working with ‘novice’ teachers, it’s important that we help them to navigate the choppy seas and their feelings of being overwhelmed by the assault on the senses and their confused attention trying to make sense of everything they’re coming across.

How many of us when we first started teaching (especially in Further Education) were plunged straight into a classroom on day 1 with no training and a full timetable (my hand is up!)? How many of us were sent to observe more experienced colleagues to see how they did things? How many of us left those observations thinking all teachers were gods with magic powers and presence we couldn’t work out how to get our hands on?

This is the point at which I realised that what David was sharing could be absolute dynamite for the profession if we all took it on board.

Novice teachers have few relevant schemas already formed and no real clear idea of what a good lesson looks like. Lessons lead to confused attention and there is a sensory overload but they struggle to make connections and associations as they have no existing schemas in this area to help. It’s an exhausting experience and their working memory becomes overloaded as what they’re experiencing is in a brand new domain of expertise.

Novice teachers are unable to make sense of what they’re seeing in a more experienced colleague because they don’t have existing schemas yet. They see students engaged, attentive and working well. They see a teacher in command of the room and seemingly effortlessly involving each and every student in answering questions. The novice teacher sees only the end product and conclude that there’s just something magic going on or they try to piece together what they’ve seen based on little knowledge of teaching and form incorrect schemas.

If they were to have a colleague or mentor with them whilst watching the session then that colleague could act as the translator of the effective practice- ‘They’re reacting in that way because of the teacher’s position in the room, their stillness, the routine they’ve established with the ‘do now’ activity and meet and greet at the door.’ ‘She’s getting every student involved and boosting their confidence by taking a look at their work first, and spotting which ones have the answers before asking them to share with everyone else.’

You get the idea. It’s essentially a walkthrough of what a teacher has achieved so that the work of a teacher is demystified for a novice and made to seem far more achievable. That it’s not just down to experience. Most things written by Doug Lemov achieve this kind of thing perfectly, see this example of cold calling. (I might be a little obsessed by Doug Lemov at the minute).

The dangers that exist if we leave novice teachers to their own devices is that they begin to form schemas that won’t lead to effective practice in the future or a continued sense of being overwhelmed that ultimately leads them to leaving the profession.

So what might help?

Well, the paired observations would go far to support the formation of effective schemas. As a result of a paired observation, novice teachers could then benefit from clear procedures to follow for just 1, 2, or 3 aspects of their practice at a time so the disequilibrium is reduced. We shouldn’t be asking them to develop all aspects of their practice at once or expecting them to; this will only increase their feelings of being overwhelmed.

After recalling my own start in teaching, I feel some of these approaches could have seriously reduced the negative impact of being thrown in at the deep end. When I recalled what I’d heard from the Head of Michaela earlier on in the day speak about how their new teachers receive feedback on specific aspects of their practice 4 times a day, I made the immediate connection and my schema about effective CPD for novice teachers had expanded.

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So what of expert teachers?

As experts (experienced teachers and not necessarily effective ones), we have a lot of relevant schemas to make use of and we can therefore direct our attention effectively to whatever needs it the most. What we choose to pay attention to is easily decided upon as we’ve become accustomed to the classroom environment and have well-established schemas to help us respond.

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The issue with well-established schemas is that ‘unlearning’ is not easily achieved and whilst learning something new, we are easily drawn back to old habits and existing schemas. We demonstrate bias and reject the unfamiliar. Learning and change becomes a much greater challenge.

What biases should we look out for in our ‘expert’ teachers?

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Most leaders, coaches, mentors, and facilitators of CPD will undoubtedly recognise some of these biases in colleagues they’ve worked with at one point or another.

This is the curse of ‘knowledge’. We have an inability to remember what it’s like being an overwhelmed novice.

So what might help?

  • Get ‘expert’ teachers to articulate existing thinking- ‘What are you doing now and why? How does it impact your students?’ (In order to change or at the very least challenge their existing thinking).
  • Leaders being more transparent about their learning and the journey taken, including their own biases they had to challenge along the way. All the better if they can demonstrate, too, their evidence-based decision making proving that whilst their experience had taught them to make one decision, they routinely choose to check this against what other sources of evidence have to say.
  • Encourage expert teachers to gain a new perspective on existing thinking by following a student around for a day to see learning through a different pair of eyes, a different lens. A colleague to join them help them reflect on this experience would surely help them to correct and form new schemas just as it would for a novice?
  • As a leader, use social connection to change and overcome resistance. Form connections and make relationships. Admit your own failures and reassure them.
  • Experimentation, a sense of agency and high quality feedback are all essential.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about expert teachers is that it’s vital to sustain the change over time on order to suppress and replace incorrect or ineffective schemas. Short interventions mean that existing schema will just reassert themselves so it needs to be continuous.

Once more for the cheap seats…

Development must be continuous for expert teachers. One offs can even be actively harmful for experts as they might reinforce schemas we already have- ‘It looks similar to something I already do so I’ll just continue doing that as there’s nothing long term to influence my thinking in any other direction.’ There’s no depth to one off experiences and so the learning has all the stickiness of a sticking plaster ready to fly off at any moment.

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Novice to expert is the journey that we want and we want it in its most effective form. Just repeating procedures won’t make us great teachers. We need a higher level of expertise than that. We need an adaptive approach. Responsive teacher learning will support this so that a teacher’s learning is pursued based on the classroom happening in front of them.

This session from David at the festival has seriously disrupted my thinking about teacher CPD and, along with the online Match Education course on coaching, has already had impact on my practice and approach to working with teachers.

Now that’s the level of impact we want from CPD.

If only it could all be great as this.

I believe it can be.

We just need to listen to David!

Guest Post – Effective Collaboration of   Teaching Staff and Learning Support Assistants in the Classroom

In 2016/2017, colleagues at The Sheffield College were encouraged to participate in a Big Learning Project. A collaborative small-scale research project that would lead to the development of their practice. I’ll be sharing a few of the write-ups here and the first comes from a trio of staff who chose to work together on their project. 

They knew that teaching staff and LSAs could be working more effectively together; sharing knowledge and expertise so that each student’s learning experience could be improved. So, they set out to explore what might work.

What follows is a write-up of their journey.

By Cath Clarke, Louise Nunn and Isaac Howell

Context

This project was inspired by feedback from a staff development training event about ‘How to effectively utilise learning support assistants in the classroom.’

In the first instance, training was requested by the Staff Development team to improve communication between English and Maths Staff and Learning Support Assistants (LSAs). This was delivered on Staff Development Day in early January 2017 by Cath Clarke and Louise Nunn (English teachers) with expert guidance from Isaac Howell (SENDCO).

The training included an overview of the Specific Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Department, vocabulary associated with SEND, and effective work practices.

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Click here to view a PDF version of this poster

The intention was to give an overview of protocol and procedure when English and Maths Staff work alongside LSAs in the classroom.

On the day of the event, more than 40 LSAs came to the training session and one member of the English and Maths Department. Unfortunately, most of the English and Maths team were either delivering or were involved in other essential training. The event was supposed to run for one hour. This was too short, and the session overran significantly as it became apparent that there were so many issues and queries. This highlighted the fundamental need for specific strategic guidelines and training for SEND staff and English/Maths staff.

The key finding was a lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities as well as poor communication between academic and support staff in the classroom.

Research

In the initial stages of preparation for the training event it became apparent that expert guidance from within the SEND team was needed. Isaac Howell was approached and agreed to input on the training session. On the day of the training Steve Kelly also checked the training content to ensure it was sending the same messages that he was delivering to the wider team. This was done informally as a result of the relationships between staff but again would benefit from being part of a standardised approach.

In reading the College SEND policies there was an immediate realisation that the vocabulary and acronyms were unfamiliar and confusing. Staff were also ignorant of or confused by latest legislation changes. The only experience of this was at the start of the academic year when new Educational and Heath Care Plans were put in documents on Pro Monitor. No specific training seemed to have taken place for academic staff. When searching on the Hub – there didn’t seem to be any appropriate information.

We discovered most of the SEND acronyms by general searches on the Web – but again were confused by the meanings and definitions. Some terminology seemed to be nationally recognised across educational institutions and others were organisationally specific.

SEND is an integral part of the College’s four Cornerstones;

‘The LSA or any other support staff in a session are aware of their role and how that fits into the wider aims’ – it is essential that all staff College-wide have clarity of their roles.

Additionally, Ofsted state that for an OUTSTANDING OUTCOME-

Staff plan learning sessions and assessments very effectively so that all learners undertake demanding work that helps them to realise their full potential. Staff identify and support any learner who is falling behind and enable almost all to catch up.

This demonstrates the vital role that the SEND support team has to play in the classroom.

The Question

Following feedback from the training event, more questions were raised.

Our first question was how to improve the system and situation regarding teaching staff and LSAs working effectively together in the classroom.

The second question would naturally be –

If the teaching staff and LSAs did have a strong rapport and more effective communication, would this have a positive impact on their work?

Whatever was revealed by the question could then be carried over so that the focus was on the impact on learning for the students.

The Journey

Using the feedback given at the event – both of the academic staff attempted to follow some of the suggestions/guidance to try to improve their own effectiveness with their own LSAs in the classroom. This involved a trial experiment over a period of 6 months – January to June.

Cath Clarke had 8 lessons with LSAs in both Functional Skills English and Maths and in GCSE English. Support needs ranged from deaf learners, moderate learning difficulties, students with EHCP plans, and visually impaired students.

Louise Nunn had 4 LSAs which included support for hearing impaired students, EHCP plans, and learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Both academic tutors had LSA support for learners with Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties.

Draft guidelines following the training event were emailed to the SEND Department and Staff Development – using the suggestions from the session and the online evaluation feedback.

Both tutors followed a number of the guidelines to establish a model of good practice over the period of the experiment. Feedback was then requested from relevant LSAs on the effectiveness of this practice.

Both tutors also used Peer Observation with each other and other tutors within English and Maths – to check if the model of Good Practice worked effectively.

Model of good practice used with the aim of improving communication

  • LSAs informed on what was being covered in lesson each week.
  • LSAs given copies of lesson plans, resources and SOW.
  • Tutors and LSAs had informal and formal meetings at the start and end of lessons.
  • Updated Pro – Monitor reports/ emails to LSAs to inform decision making.
  • Tutors made aware of glossary terms and definitions to help with planning and delivery.
  • Use of technology to support effective Teaching, Learning and Assessment.
  • Increased proactivity in utilising and directing LSAs.
  • LSAs more proactive in HOW to help teaching staff with specific SEND issues.
  • Regular reflection and review of student progress outside the classroom.

Findings

Findings based on the 6 month trial were mainly anecdotal and qualitative, using feedback from LSAs and tutors’ own experiences (plus peer observations – one per tutor).

Both tutors agreed that the experience encouraged reflection on their own practice.

Tutors felt the training event had revealed a deficiency in awareness of SEND – despite being ‘experts’ in English and Maths. After the 6 month period – both tutors felt they had raised their own awareness of SEND.

Both tutors felt far more confident in directing LSAs during lessons.

Isaac Howell felt the bond between the SEND Dept and English and Maths was much better and communication had improved for those taking part.

LSAs involved felt ‘included in the lesson’ and more ‘aware of overall aims and objectives’.

LSAs felt more able to discuss issues and input in to lesson planning.

Experiences encouraged greater review of teaching practice and promotion of inclusivity.

One LSA remarked on feeling more ‘valued’ and having an impact on the sessions.

Conclusion and Recommendations

To establish cross-College agreement on comprehensive guidelines that clarify roles and responsibilities for all SEND staff and teaching staff.

To have a working party to implement these changes and cascade to the wider College.

For College to provide urgent staff training on SEND legislation, responsibilities, terminology and protocol.

To provide documentation to support the above – specifically the Vocabulary of SEND.

To provide a more coordinated approach to the student experience – ensuring all staff are aware of student needs (updated and regularly reviewed support plans etc on Pro Monitor).

More effective use of College systems especially Pro – Monitor e.g Group Profile Document with guidance for staff and recommended support for students.

For all staff to use the Model of Good Practice.

References

Ofsted (2017) Further Education and skills Inspection Handbook, Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-education-and-skills-inspection-handbook

The Sheffield College (2017) Shared Expectations of Students’ Learning, Available at: PRIVATE WEB ADDRESS

The Sheffield College (2017) The Staff Hub, Available at: PRIVATE WEB ADDRESS

 

How to Build a Culture of Professional Learning-Bridget Clay- #EducationFest

Seeing Bridget Clay was the first action of the first day of this year’s #EducationFest. Whilst some slots during the Festival posed a next to impossible choice, this one was easy. Bridget Clay it would be.

I’ve long since been interested in the work of the Teacher Development Trust and have heard David Weston speak at several events. Their work resonates with me and my role and so what better place for me to begin the two days of my packed Festival experience?

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

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This is why one approach to CPD that works well in one context, won’t work in another. A culture of ‘professional learning’ is far more crucial for long-lasting culture than ‘doing CPD’.

A  vital component of this culture formation and development is explicitly connecting CPD to the needs of students; it should, after all, be inextricably linked if it’s to have long lasting impact but it also supports a culture of professional learning. In a culture where CPD is for the staff and for their learning then it will more quickly drop off their ‘to do list’ and it will feel as though it’s on a to do list to begin with- this is not where we want learning to be. We should be working towards a culture of professional learning where staff see that the actions they engage with can have real payoff for their students; their confidence grows from this and they can see and feel themselves becoming better practitioners.

Warning!

In a school or college culture where there is a significant drive for consistency and drastic improvement (for instance- although not exclusively- where Ofsted have made a judgement of ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’), staff feel less confident to experiment and innovate. Professional learning is clearly affected as a result as they place less worth on it and this is certain to have an effect on the quality of students’ learning as a result over time.

What leads to a high quality teacher environment where students are making good progress?

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  • Culture
  • A shared vision
  • Resourcing
  • Relationships and trust
  • Evidencing and monitoring

Useful questions to reflect on- Staff view of professional learning

  • Do your colleagues value professional learning? Does it sit separately to their normal job and not at the heart of what they’re doing?
  • Do your colleagues understand what high quality professional learning is? Are they checking impact for themselves? Are they discerning?

Useful questions to reflect on- Leadership plan for professional learning

  • Is adequate and suitable time and space provided for professional learning to take place? Has workload been considered so that it doesn’t encroach?
  • Is it iterative throughout the year?
  • Is the time for professional learning preserved? ie. timetabled learning spaces for staff are completely protected and are not replaced by anything else. We need to demonstrate the importance we place on this time and space for them to engage in their learning.
  • Whilst it’s important to generate ongoing learning opportunities for staff to engage in their learning with colleagues, we must not forget the part that external expertise may have to play in this iterative approach.

It’s the (not so) small things

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All leaders should consider the following points as aspects of developing a professional learning culture-

Tea and toast can help the development of a culture for professional learning. There’s little evidence to indicate how effective it makes the learning taking place (action research project anyone) but its incorporation sends an important message- we value you enough to feed you. We value this space for you to learn and we encourage you to spend time in this space.

Staffrooms are important and recent years have seen us lose them. I can testify to offices rather than staffrooms in colleges for years now and staff in schools are spending more and more time in their classrooms and far less in the staffroom. They’re important for wellbeing as relationships and downtime are essential throughout the school day but they also aid collaboration as well as conversation about practice. It is here that a culture of professional learning can formulate naturally and informally; developing the kind of honesty and trust that makes more formal forms of CPD run much more smoothly.

Modelling professional learning is a significant action for leaders to take. We know this already from Vivian Robinson’s work, citing that the single most effective activity a leader can participate in (above Planning, coordinating and evaluating teaching and the curriculum, Establishing goals and expectations, Strategic resourcing, and Ensuring an orderly and supportive environment) is Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development (Robinson, V, 2005). As part of this modelling, are leaders modelling vulnerability? I’ve heard Professor Robert Coe refer to this as ‘reciprocal vulnerability’. Being vulnerable is a central part of learning and if leaders are able to model their vulnerability then staff are encouraged to so the same. In doing this, they’ll be sharing their own learning journey- what aspect of their role are they looking to develop, how are they going about this and what misconceptions have they already begun to address and feel challenged by? I believe this to be about sharing the facts and detail of the journey but also the feeling- learning is often uncomfortable and it’s important not to just run around how great learning is- sometimes it’s damn difficult.

Engaging with evidence and not basing all of our decisions and approaches on it but certainly using it as one aspect of being informed. Through this, and explicit sharing of this approach with staff, we’ll be modelling for them how we’d like them to engage in more evidence-informed practice. I once heard Dr Gary Jones speak about evidence-informed decision making for leaders where he spoke of the need to use multiple sources of evidence so as not to lead by bias too heavily.

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If staff can see leaders operating in this way- regularly questioning things, challenging themselves and each other and being open to checking the evidence- then it helps them to do the dame; aware that we don’t have all the answers and we need to work hard to challenge our thinking. On the other hand, how damaging might it be to a culture of professional learning to make decisions they think is right, relying on nothing but gut and actively dismissing all evidence to the contrary? So- when making decisions, think about how you’re using an evidence-informed model AND consider how you’ll be making this process more transparent to staff in order to generate a culture of professional learning.

Assessing teachers is a particularly significant of the professional learning culture of a school or college but it’s difficult to do reliably, so what’s the answer? What’s the purpose of teachers being assessed? It should lead to continual adaptation, refinement and improvement if it’s effective. Most schools and colleges now understand that high stakes observations don’t lead to development and have removed grading but what next? How can we get to the point of our staff requesting an observation to support their learning- stating, ‘I’m trying this out in order to see if it will impact x students in y way- could you come in to provide another perspective of how it’s going?’ How does it become ‘done with’ rather than ‘done to’, even if we have moved away from ‘done in’?

The myths about performance management need to be understood by leaders attempting to generate a culture of professional learning. It is often an annual process with humongous targets and numerical outcomes. This clearly doesn’t aid development. Imagine sitting with a student at the start of the year and setting 5/6 large targets for them to work towards. Leave them for 4 months and then have a review- how’s it going? Well, they likely won’t remember what the targets are and will find it difficult if not impossible to identify progress towards them as they had no measures to check against. This is no different for any of us. We need narrower targets, clearly linked to students (not necessarily numbers) and receive regular feedback. This leads to longer lasting impact and higher engagement in learning as staff know what they’re working towards and how they’ll know they’ve got somewhere… or not- and not is ok too as this generates learning also. How about something more experimental that will develop a love for learning as well as have impact on students? I’m currently concerned about these students for x reason, I’m going to improve the quality and quantity of work they’re producing. The how will change as the experiment takes place and the teacher engages with various modes of learning to inform their practice. Reviews of these are always future focussed with the intention to build on the learning that has taken place.

Click here to read, ‘Re-Engineering Performance Management

Warning!

CPD has become more about fixing problems.

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This is not helpful for the development of a culture of professional learning, in fact, it’s actively damaging. We need to focus on a more optimistic model for development centred around effectively meeting the needs of the students in front of us.

No-one asserts the concept of ‘every teacher can improve better than Dylan Wiliam

‘Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.’

“I think the only way that we can improve teacher quality is to create a culture of continuous improvement. That is given lip service in many districts, but nobody is really facing up to what it really means in practice. You see, I think that every teacher needs to get better. In many districts they target help at the teachers who “need support”, who need help, who are having difficulties.

Every teacher fails on a daily basis. If you are not failing you are just not paying attention. Because we fail all the time.

Many of you will walk out of this room absolutely convinced I said stuff I know I didn’t say. As teachers we fail all the time. We teach these brilliant lessons. We take in the notebooks and look at what the kids have written and we wonder what planet they were on when we were teaching the stuff.

Our daily experience as a teacher is a failure. Which makes it the best job in the world. Because you never get any good at it. At one time, André Previn was the best paid film-score composer in Hollywood and one day he just walked out of his office and quit. People said ‘why did you quit this amazing job?’ And he said – because I wasn’t scared any more. Every day he was going into his office knowing his job held no challenge for him.

This is something you are never going to have to worry about. This job you’re doing is so hard that one lifetime isn’t enough to master it. So every single one of you needs to accept the commitment to carry on improving our practice until we retire or die. That is the deal.” (Wiliam, D, 2014)

Click here to watch the video

Plan for Culture

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So often, when planning CPD, we dive straight into the end point we want to reach; professional learning communities, peer observations, reflecting on videoed practice together, lesson study…

We need to plan far more effectively to build the right kind of culture for this to take place first.

If we want to get to lesson study for instance- what might we need to do first to build the level of trust required for it to be a success?

  • Sharing practice on display boards for a period of time
  • 15 minute lunchtime forums for the sharing of practice
  • Tip of the week to test out in practice
  • Paired peer observations and/or walkthroughs
  • Journal clubs to engage with evidence

Doing some or all of these things incrementally might help to build a firmer foundation for effective professional learning to take place than just diving straight into the end point.

  • We want to get to here
  • Are we ready for that?
  • What might we need to do to build up to it and get staff ready to engage?

 

What next?

I have always been committed to ensuring that my learning turns into action that can influence the staff and students I work with. Bridget’s session has most certainly confirmed some ideas for me and introduced a new emphasis for the coming year. I have shared some of her messages with our Senior Leadership team and now also our middle managers. Whilst I’ll inevitably be incorporating as much of my learning into many aspects of my job, I have highlighted, in particular, the need for our leaders to model their professional learning more and I’ve been less mulling this over.

Coaching Teachers- Promoting Changes that Stick- Week 3

Clarity of Instructional Vision

A reminder of the equation- Teacher change as generated by coaching = clarity of instructional vision of the coach X quality of feedback delivered by the coach X (1- fixed mindset tax)

Read week 1 here (an introduction to the coaching equation)

Read week 2 here (fixed mindset tax)

After the first two weeks of this online course, I was really excited to begin week 3. Even better that I could learn sat on a deckchair outside in the sun. For me, this week was all about diving to the depths of what ‘effective’ practice looks and feels like.

The first video this week is back in with Mr Good coach and a new teacher he’s working with. The teacher is taking on board all of his feedback about improving students’ learning. He’s got so caught up in watching all of her new teacher moves, that came from his advice that he’s forgotten one crucial part of the picture: the students.

The fundamental question should always be, ‘In what way did her new teacher moves impact the students?’ ‘Did it change their experience in any kind of meaningful way?’

Students actually have a lot of expertise on great teaching; after all, they’ve been ‘subjected’ to plenty of it in a variety of guises.

Read the article below about ‘measuring’ effective teachers-

Ensuring fair and reliable measures of effective teachers

Whilst we may feel good because a teacher has effectively implemented strategies you’ve discussed with them, it’s the equivalent of a teacher feeling great because the students in class were ‘highly engaged’ – (a poor proxy for learning).

As a teacher coach, our job is not just to get the teachers changing their behaviours but to promote changes that will have a real and meaningful impact on students’ learning experiences.

Clarity of instructional vision is therefore not just a vision of what the teacher is doing. We mean a clear vision of what students are doing, saying and thinking. We need to help teachers to make the connections between what they’re doing and students’ optimal levels of behaviour and thinking.

Ultimately, a coach needs a student-facing vision.

An effective teaching rubric is the starting point for our relationship with our teacher. It defines the language we’re going to use to discuss instruction in our coaching sessions. A rubric will also add a level of urgency to those sessions; we have a finite amount of time we’re able to spend with our teacher and a rubric helps us to use it effectively.

The rubric is like a syllabus; it constrains the relationship and defines the paraemeters of what we’re going to talk about when we sit down in our coaching sessions.

It can be quite common for teacher coaching sessions to turn into a grab bag of topics related to teaching. Whilst spending time speaking about education philosophy and politics may be really interesting, sessions are best spent focused on skill acquisition. Defining the skills the teacher will need to achieve the instructional vision laid out in your rubric.

If we can bring focus and urgency to coaching sessions then we can shorten skill acquisition loops (see the snowman effect from the last blog).

Match Education’s rubric is just intended for analysing classroom instruction to set out a teacher coaching session. By no means does it capture all the aspects of a teacher’s job.

Their rubric is named, ‘The Kraken‘- Named after teachers voted on what to call it so that it wouldn’t just be ‘Match Education Resident Teacher Evaluation Rubric‘…

They’re looking for students who are working hard throughout the class; consistently putting forward real effort on rigorous thinking tasks. Those thinking tasks are well-aligned and ordered to help the students achieve a bigger goal from the lesson. They’re getting lots of opportunities to practice and the teacher is assessing that practice in order to give them really meaningful practice so that students know where they are at any given moment and how far they have to go to improve.

 

The Kraken

Daniel Willingham has shaped many of their beliefs for the rubric.

Specifically, two principles for learning that he lays out in, ‘Why don’t students like school?’

Principle 1- Memory is the residue of thought

The longer you spend thinking about something, the more likely you are to commit it to long-term memory. This informs their beliefs about practice in a lesson. The more students are practising a set of coherently aligned thinking tasks, the more likely they are to commit that content to their memory.

Principle 2- Learning is memory in disguise

What we perceive as learning, is really just memory at work. So if we can get students to remember the content that we teach, we have real, genuine, learning coming out of lessons.

The rubric is student facing so the best way to explore the particulars is to look at learning through the eyes of a student.

Kraken 1

 

Kraken 2

Kraken 3

Behavioural climate

What teachers are doing to set the necessary conditions for lots of learning to take place in the lesson.

  •  Time on task- to what degree are students engaged, focussed and working hard throughout a class period?
  • Teacher radar and student response to questions- the degree to which students feel like their behaviour is noticed by the teacher. If the teacher does notice the behaviour, how does the student then respond to those corrections.

Target task mastery

A task the teacher expects all students to be able to master by the end of class. There’ll be something each of the students is required to complete independently to indicate they’ve met the learning goal in a given lesson.

  • The rigour of the target task- the students feel it’s challenging but not so challenging that they couldn’t achieve it during the lesson.
  • Thinking tasks- once the student knows what the target task is, the end destination, the next question is, ‘What’s happening to get me there? What are all the inter-related thinking tasks, activities, prompts and questions that are helping to build me up to accomplishing that target task on my own? This is one of the most challenging parts of a teacher’s job but ultimately for the students, ‘Do the activities make sense to me, in light of the destination task of the lesson?’

 

Student Practice

If the teacher is giving the students lots of opportunities to practice content throughout the lesson then they’re doing more of the mental heavy lifting than the teacher. Of course teachers need to explain difficult content and make connections between ideas but ultimately they need to get out of the way to let the student try to do the work on their own.

Students require space to try out new skills but they’ll also be able to give the teacher lots of information about their learning, which allows the teacher to give students meaningful feedback to help them improve their practice.

 

Teacher Feedback

This is a broad category as feedback takes on many forms; directed at individuals, or to the whole group; the teacher writing notes on student work or whispering advice as students practice something on their own; how teachers respond to a student answer during a discussion that isn’t quite correct.

  • Students get lots of feedback- individually and as a class
  • The teacher is strategic about the feedback given so that it’s actionable and pushes students along towards mastery of the target task

Once all teachers aligned with the same instructional vision and language; feedback can take place.

 

 

 

Coaching Teachers- Promoting Changes that Stick- Week 2

A few weeks ago, I completed week 1 of the coaching teachers MOOC from Match Education. I’ve known for some time that I need to more formally develop my coaching skills but I wasn’t entirely sure how to achieve it. Technology has a crucial role in enabling lifelong learning and development for all, and often for free. The timing of this MOOC has been perfect as I embark on some new coaching relationships with individual staff. The skills I’ve already practised have, admittedly, felt a little too conscious and forced but that’s no bad thing; it’s an indication that deliberate practice is taking place and the more of this that happens, the more my approaches will become automated. Consulting my coachees and observing the impact our relationship has on their practice will all help me to ensure that what I practice is worthwhile.

I completed week 2 of the MOOC the weekend before last and and the content was asking me to consider the vital role of the ‘fixed mindset tax’ component of the ‘effective coaching’ equation we had been introduced to. I think that this week is potentially going to be the one with most impact on me, especially as the learning has real implications for working with students too.

A reminder of the equation- Teacher change as generated by coaching = clarity of instructional vision of the coach X quality of feedback delivered by the coach X (1- fixed mindset tax)

The first video of this week relayed how Mike Goldstein had been interviewing a candidate for Match Education and it came to the feedback part of the day.

‘Now I want you to open up your brain so I can drive a truck through it.’

He was preparing the candidate for feedback. This candidate was open to the feedback but it’s still important, for teachers we work with, to also prepare them for it- open them up to hearing the feedback (perhaps not in exactly this same way!). Staff we work with won’t necessarily be open to the critical feedback, at least, not all the time. They’re human and reflecting on how I’ve responded to feedback in the past, I know that my response is highly dependent on the timing of it and my state of mind.

When we talk about fixed mindset tax, we’re talking about the kinds of behaviours people exhibit that prevents them from hearing information that tells them they have to change in some way.

Effective coaching is all about ‘sticky change’ and if the person you’re coaching doesn’t truly believe they can make a change then you’re not going to get anywhere.

‘The Fixed Mindset Tax is therefore the penalty a coach pays in a feedback session where the teacher is being coached on a skill that they’re not confident they can develop. The teacher with fixed mindset may demonstrate a number of behaviors that deflect the feedback a coach is delivering, or undermine the potential solutions that the coach offers. In these situations, the coach loses tons of valuable time supporting the teacher emotionally, justifying their perspective, or convincing the teacher to take ownership over barriers to student learning.’

Teaching is multi-faceted. Just because a teacher has a growth mindset about one thing, doesn’t mean they won’t have a fixed mindset about something else. Mindset also changes with a teacher’s mood. They might be growth about an aspect of their practice one day but fixed the next. I guess that explains why progress made can be so variable. Why teachers, and humans(!) ‘hit the wall’.

An effective coach won’t just coach a teacher in the areas they have a growth mindset already. An effective coach has license to coach a teacher in any area that will have payoff for students.

Effective coaching is about promoting growth mindset no matter the task or day.

Mr Good coach has been using the learning from this MOOC- especially the learning from the ‘Instructional Vision’ week of the course- he now has clear goals for his teacher and a rubric for what’s going on in the classroom. He and his coach now have a shared language. Quality of feedback is good too- he’s now learnt just to focus on one area and the thing he’s picked will have great impact on the students. He’s modelling the skill for the teacher and giving feedback along the way so they know how to implement it for themselves. It’s still a warm relationship but the actions are much more focused.

So- with the new teacher who’s keen to learn from everything, coaching is deemed to be effective. But what about with a teacher who’s not quite so enthusiastic?

The example we’re given is a teacher who is apprehensive about all kinds of aspects of teaching- in fact, he’s beginning to question whether he has the talents to actually stay in the profession.

Even the directed feedback and clear goals is lost on this teacher. The teacher is presenting all kinds of behaviour that prevent him from hearing and internalising the feedback.

As a coach, you can’t just say that you’ll only be effective with teachers who have a growth mindset, just as it’s not ok for teachers to say they’ll only be effective with certain students. Whilst the job is harder, it’s not impossible and we can’t just give up…

Being proactive is the answer and often the first step is getting the person to admit they have a problem with fixed mindset.

The four horsemen of fixed mindset

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We’re first of all given the example of Orin being asked by his wife to get a check-up with his doctor regarding his health and weight. He goes to the doctor in the end as a wheezing basketball coach is never good.

The doctor tells him what the results have shown. The patient responds by saying, ‘I’m in great shape – look at me- you don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘Look, the numbers don’t lie. It’s all here.’

The patient responds by saying, ‘I know. I suck at taking care of myself. I’ve let my family down. I’m setting a bad example to my kids.’

‘Ok, don’t get too down. There are steps we can start taking today.’

‘I just find it so difficult- what with managing this that and the other. Fast food is just so cheap.’

‘Well that might be true but…’

‘Actually, I’m not all that worried. This has happened before and I’ve always sorted myself out.’

‘But you really should…’

‘Thanks- bye!’

This is reminiscent of coaching sessions I’ve facilitated with teachers in the past, although this is a much more exaggerated version. At these times, I felt as though the teacher was doing all the talking but not in productive ways and I was a passenger to their monologue; attempting to steer it. It never felt as though we really got anywhere fast or anywhere at all.

In this example, Orin (the patient), has displayed the following behaviours-

  • He was defeatist and pessimistic about being able to change his habits.
  • He was overly optimistic and rejected the doctor’s sense of urgency.
  • He blamed factors outside of his control for his poor health.

It’s easy to see why these behaviours may not exactly be all that helpful. We need to move beyond the teacher deflecting the problem or the feedback is never going to stick. And ‘sticky’ feedback is, after all, what effective feedback is aiming for.

Establishing some common language for naming these behaviours is an important step. This normalises the fact that we all feel fixed mindset at one point or another.
This isn’t something we tend to discuss openly but we’ll have to if we want to make progress with our teachers, as coaches.

Once this conversation is had, it can allow the teacher to be more mindful of behaviours and work to self-correct them.

The next series of clips we were presented with all involved a teacher who was working on how she notices and responds to misbehaviour. The coach had given her several strategies to work towards this- including use of demerits as a minor consequence for students not meeting her expectations.

In the feedback session, the teacher displays 4 common fixed mindset behaviours- the 4 horsemen of fixed mindset.

You’re right, I suck

This is a teacher who responds with a fixed mindset by talking about all of the things they’re terrible at and unable to do. Teachers in this mindset take feedback as commentary on themselves as a person rather than as advice on how to improve their practice.

The fixed mindset tax is paid in that the coach is required to take on the role of therapist- spending their entire time building the teacher back up.

You’re wrong, I rule

This time, the teacher responds by disputing the feedback. They’ve done things because you asked them to or they thought things were great when perhaps they didn’t.

The coach then spends time paying fixed mindset tax by justifying the data and observations they have in front of them.

Blame it on the rain

Third period, right after lunch. That student was out of control and completely derailed everything- he’s not usually that way.

The problem the coach wants to discuss is not something they can solve. They have no urgency solving the problem. They’re blaming it on everything other than the approaches they’ve been working to develop.

The fixed mindset tax is paid here in that the coach spends the entire session getting the teacher to focus on things that are a problem and convincing them that they do have the agency to change these things.

Optimist without a cause

This is a tricky one- they’re mostly agreeing with the feedback and they’re not disputing the narrative the coach brings to the session BUT they’re not placing the right level of urgency on solving the problem. They’re dismissing the complexity of the issue to the point that they’re not internalising what they have to do to make the changes. They merely assume that other factors and time will make it all fine in the end!

The fixed mindset tax is paid by the coach in the time spent trying to move the teacher’s general observations into practical and achievable actions that the teacher believes in the cause and potential of.

View the videos for yourself here.

The videos alone are recommended as a really positive growth mindset intervention. They help teachers to see what’s ahead in a year of critical feedback but they also help them to see the issues with the kinds of language this teacher exhibits in each of the fixed mindsets. During coaching, our coachees are then often able to stop themselves during a feedback session when they see themselves exhibiting that behaviour and say, ‘Hold on…that’s not productive. Let me consider my response again.

I have already implemented the approach of explicitly speaking to a future coachee about the important part mindset plays in how we’ll work together. She loved being introduced to the 4 horsemen of fixed mindset and, like me, could also see the significance to her work with students as much as our work together.

Recognising and calling the mindsets out is only the first step though. Let’s see how ‘mindset’ plays out in the context of a full coaching cycle.

The snowman effect

Robert Pianta researched interventions that could potentially shape a teacher’s expectations for their students.

He knew that teachers with high expectations for their students were more likely to have high student achievement.

Group A of teachers got direct instruction about high expectations whilst group B received coaching about basic teaching skills.

Group B were the more successful group of teachers where resulting high student achievement was concerned. Pianta and his researchers believed this was because this set of teachers saw, more quickly, evidence that students could learn and display positive learning behaviours (ones that had previously struggled). This lead to them having those higher expectations because they had evidence to support it- they weren’t just told to have high expectations.

The mindset effect was two-fold in some ways- it affected their mindset about the students’ ability to learn but it also affected their mindset about their own ability to grow- as they saw that coaching was helping them to improve their practice. They were then more hungry for feedback and for growth.


A Hannah Tyreman original (I know, it’s pretty special!)

The large circle of the snowman is the skill the teacher is trying to develop.

  1. The top of that circle is the first feedback session where the 4 horsemen are likely to be present. The coach must slow down their coaching to identify these behaviours. Time will also be spent developing common language to defeat some of those behaviours.
  2. Once some of the horsemen are back in the stable then feedback can take place- the kind that is internalised by the teacher. The teacher clarifying detail and processing- leaving the room with an idea of the way ahead.
  3. Imperfect implementation- Implementation takes place where the teacher is working to implement strategies and approaches. It will be imperfect at this point in the journey.
  4. Then improved, but sub-optimal, feedback sessions- because the teacher’s mindset has not yet been transformed.
  5. Then improved implementation and refined feedback
  6. Then acquisition of the skill

Having achieved this skill, the teacher can now see that they’re one small step towards achieving the vision of excellent instruction the coach has laid out for them. She now has evidence that she’s able to change and improve.

Skill B is the next part of the torso. The circumference is significantly shorter than it was for the first skill- this is because it takes significantly less time for the teacher to acquire the skill (without all the common language agreements and fixed mindset hurdles).

It’s shorter also because the most important thing that happened in A was not the acquisition of a new skill but the development of a growth mindset. If she can take that mindset and bring it to subsequent coaching sessions then the loop of acquisition will be much tighter.

  1. It will begin with a coaching session with fewer appearances of the 4 horsemen. Feedback is processed and internalised.
  2. There’s still imperfect implementation as it’s new skill development BUT there’ll be more confidence and optimism about acquisition.
  3. Improved implementation and refined feedback takes place
  4. The loop ends with the teacher feeling confident that the acquisition of this new skill will have real payoffs for his students.

For skill C, the feedback loop is even tighter.

So what are the implications of not developing a growth mindset or pushing our teachers to fully acquire a new skill?

You’ll end up pushing the Skill A snowball uphill and not really getting to anything else- the loop of feedback for Skill A just gets larger, picking up more and more horsemen along the way. What we want is a downhill trajectory where momentum is gained.


(Another Hannah special. You’re welcome!)

 

Coaching Teachers: Promoting Changes that Stick – Week 1

You can still sign-up to the MOOC here

Learn about Match Education’s case for a student-facing rubric here

A story

Our first video depicts a coaching session for a brand new maths teacher with enthusiasm and optimism in abundance.

The video we’re shown indicates the ‘coach’ doing all of the talking and sharing stories about their own teaching. This kind of approach clearly wouldn’t have a positive impact on her practice; the ideas were in abundance and not organised in any kind of framework for her to follow. It also wasn’t clear what she would work on first to improve tomorrow.

Coaching should seek to change behaviours.

Whilst what we were shown was an extreme example; I have been considering these things within my own practice recently-

  • How often do I speak to someone about their practice and share tales from my own practice? How helpful are these and if they are helpful then am I using them in the right way to help with changes that will be long-lasting in their practice?
  • How often do we talk about several aspects of their practice all at once without prioritising the aspects in any way?
  • How often do I offer multiple suggestions for aspects of their practice without giving a single one time to settle?

I chose to engage in this MOOC because, like so many other educators, I’ve landed in a role where I’m influencing practice, having had little to no real grounding in what it means to coach teachers effectively (bar a one day session involving some role-play 5 years ago and a half day session on the GROW model a couple of years back).

Coaching is challenging in institutions but once it is in place, how do you make it effective? Just having it in place, whilst an achievement, will not necessarily lead to high impact.

Matt Kraft was involved to explore the impact of their coaching model (match residency programme)- access his publications here.

The coaching model was highly intense with full days in several sessions over the summer. There was a focus on aligning teachers with goals that were to be sustained over a long time period. A common language about practice and improvement was established and iteration was important with continual practice and feedback the day after. Significantly, all participants were open, eager and committed; essential for the intense coaching process. A randomised control trial was carried out. The studies are ongoing with a 3rd cohort of teachers participating in the randomised trial.

With the first cohort, they found a striking level of impact- observers, principals and students were all involved in evaluating the teacher and all of those teachers were deemed to be more effective by the end of the year.

The 2nd cohort was a larger group- coaching didn’t move the needle for this group. This might have been related to the fact that the total days and weeks of coaching were reduced (by 1 week out of a total of 4). Each coach was also required to work with more teachers. Their hope is that the 3rd cohort will help them to delve into this effect some more.

The Match Education formula for effective coaching

Teacher change as generated by coaching = clarity of instructional vision of the coach X quality of feedback delivered by the coach X (1- fixed mindset tax)

Teachers will often mistake coaching as being effective when really all it has been is good; merely as it has made them feel validated and supported. It is effective coaching we must drive for; the kind that leads to long-lasting change.

Clarity of Instructional Vision

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Before work begins, the coach and the teacher need a shared vision of what great learning looks like. This vision should be focussed on the students- what the students are doing, saying and thinking at any given moment of the lesson.

Match Education have a rubric for this that will be shared in a future week of the MOOC-

  • Students are on task, paying attention and working hard throughout the lesson.
  • They feel like the teacher notices their behaviour so if they do slip of task for a moment, they’re able to be re-directed without much fuss or complaining.
  • The students also feel like the objective of the lesson is clear to them and it’s rigorous too. It’s something difficult but still attainable.
  • The activities of the class are aligned to that objective and they feel like they’re getting lots of opportunities to practise and get feedback from their teacher so they know how they’re getting on and what they need to do to make progress at any given time.

There are many sports movies with coaches in them that we can learn from. This MOOC uses the Hoosiers movie as the example-

The team in this movie gets a new coach in the form of Gene Hackman. His vision is very different to that of the team and the town. In his first practices, he doesn’t even use a basketball and when he does introduce it, he tells them they have to pass 4 times before they’re able to shoot. This is at such odds with the players’ philosophy that it took time to get his team on the same page. When they did then his practices made sense and the team became successful but this took too long. Ensuring they were on the same page to begin with would have helped.

An effective teacher-coach relationship requires an aligned vision.

Quality of Feedback

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What should actually happen during a coaching session?

The first video did not have any of the expected components of good quality feedback and instead featured the following-

  • Too many areas for the teacher to focus on
  • No priorities set for high-leverage areas
  • No accountability for previous feedback
  • No opportunity set for the practise of new skills

Whilst coaching is a collaborative endeavour, it’s ultimately directive

  1. Here’s what I want you to change
  2. Here’s how we’re going to work together to make that change
  3. Here’s how I’m going to make you accountable so that the change actually happens

Feedback is reasonable in scope.

‘Teachers have a lot to think about. If you’ve ever been yelling the homework assignment down the hall after half the class has already left, then you know exactly what we mean. Given the cognitive demands of teaching a lesson, we tend to think that asking a teacher to keep one focus area in mind when they start teaching is already plenty.’

Feedback aligns with instructional vision.

‘If you’ve defined a clear instructional vision, it will keep your feedback focused and constrained within a set number of topics. You can think about this vision as the yearlong syllabus for your coaching relationship. A teacher might show up with burning questions about the Freire text she’s working through, but a quality feedback session maintains direction and urgency towards your goals around instructional coaching. Might we suggest happy hour for that very worthy Freire discussion?’

Feedback addresses a high-leverage area of growth.

‘Observe any teacher and you’ll be able to find elements of their practice that they could improve upon. Quality feedback, however, will identify the area of growth that is the biggest barrier keeping students from learning. Again, if you have a clear instructional vision, you can probably use it to identify the highest-leverage interventions to move the teacher closer to that vision.’

Feedback is supplemented with modeling and practice.

‘It would make for odd feedback if a basketball coach said, “Hey, your jump shot form is all wrong. Get back out and try it again,” and then sat down on the bleachers. Typically you’d expect the coach to stand up, grab a ball, and model the appropriate technique. We think the same is true in teacher coaching. If a coach is committed to modeling new skills and setting up opportunities for the teacher to practice those skills in the coaching session itself, they’re much more likely to see that teacher executing well in subsequent lessons.’

Teacher is accountable for implementing previous feedback.

‘This is a big one. It’s possible for a coach to have accounted for elements 1-4 above and still fall short of quality feedback if she’s not willing to hold the teacher accountable for following through and mastering new skills. We see plenty of almost effective coaching where teachers lose ground when gains are not solidified by closing the loop with implementation feedback.’

Fixed mindset tax

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Most educators will now be familiar with Carol Dweck‘s teachings on mindset.

Our mindset changes depending on the task we’re faced with. You might be growth about being able to improve one aspect of teaching, you might be more fixed on another. When we’re in a fixed state of mind, we believe that our ability is fixed and there’s little we can do to change it. When we’re in a growth state of mind of then we believe we can, given time and effort, change how good we are at something. An individual’s mindset is not an overall disposition, and can change from skill to skill.

Even if the coach shares a clear vision with the teacher, if the teacher doesn’t believe they can make the improvement then they’re never going to get better.

Fixed mindset tax is therefore in the equation as it represents the learning lost in a feedback session between a coach and a teacher who isn’t optimistic about his or her ability to improve at the classroom skill they are discussing.

‘The Fixed Mindset Tax is the penalty a coach pays in a feedback session where the teacher is being coached on a skill that they’re not confident they can develop. The teacher with fixed mindset may demonstrate a number of behaviors that deflect the feedback a coach is delivering, or undermine the potential solutions that the coach offers. In these situations, the coach loses tons of valuable time supporting the teacher emotionally, justifying their perspective, or convincing the teacher to take ownership over barriers to student learning.’

Final messages

Be aware of the apparent success of ‘good’ coaching rather than ‘effective’ coaching. Teachers can rate their coaching experience highly not because it changed their classroom behaviors for the better, but because interacting with a coach is emotionally validating for them.

A clear instructional vision allows teacher and coach to have a common language about which to discuss effective classroom practices.It will allow for goal-setting and progress monitoring of the teacher’s classroom practice. It will also keep feedback sessions urgently focused on a well-defined scope of potential topics for feedback.

Quality feedback consists of the following three elements-

  1. Feedback is accompanied by the coach providing direct modeling for new skills that the teacher will be implementing.
  2. Feedback that has been delivered is revisited by the coach to ensure that the teacher has successfully implemented previous discussed skills and techniques.
  3. Feedback is delivered with language that aligns with the instructional vision decided upon by teacher and coach.
A teacher with a fixed mindset- “We talked about this in grad school, and I never really got the hang of it. To be honest, I think we’d have more success if we moved on to improving my questioning techniques.”

A teacher with a growth mindset- “I’m actually really bad at this skill. We need to spend a lot of time discussing this so I can nail it down and not stress out about it anymore.” OR “This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn to do as a teacher. Everyone says it takes years to master, but I’m willing to give it a shot even though it’s daunting.” OR “I’m not sure that this is the most high-leverage thing we could be discussing. Don’t you think that making sure all students are engaged in the lesson would be even more valuable to discuss?”

Clarity of instructional vision- Regardless of where it comes from or how it is articulated, both coach and teacher come to an understanding about the specifics of the instructional vision.

 

‘At its core, effective teacher coaching is about change. And change is hard. Especially in a profession as fast-paced and cognitively demanding as teaching. We believe a coach needs to attend to all three variables in our formula in order to drive meaningful, lasting changes in a teacher’s practice that have real payoffs for kids. That’s legitimately rigorous work. But we also believe there is no more powerful lever to change a teacher’s practice than a coach – someone who will meet a teacher where they are, and work relentlessly to take them where they need to go.’

10 things I learned from my first #WomenEd event

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This week marked International Women’s Day. The theme was #beboldforchange

I took this to heart and pushed myself to be (even more) bold all week:

  1. Writing my first feminist blog – Why we still need feminism
  2. Delivering the opening speech at development day on the theme of being bold – Read it here
  3. Organising a development day that was a bold departure from previous days – View the Storify here
  4. Signing up to attend my first ever #WomenEd event

Having followed the movement and been actively involved in it via Twitter, I was keen to connect with WomenEd in person and what better place to start than the event in Coventry, which would be crammed full of inspirational women? This was the bold moment of the week I was most looking forward to but at 10pm the night before, I had still not booked my tickets. Why not?

Well, first of all, it would involve that interaction thingy. That bit where, as a natural introvert, I have to converse with other humans and I feel the pressure to somehow find the way to live up to my, far less vulnerable, online persona. Now this is something I’m used to getting over and moving past. I have to be bold if I’m to enjoy life as an introvert and there are certain things for which I just need to take a deep breath and plunge headlong into. This would be one of them and I felt sure I would be rewarded with valuable connections.

So what else was holding me back?

My boldness this week had left me feeling exhausted and a little bruised. My inner voice was being her biggest b*%$!y self and I had received some less than welcome feedback. You know the kind. Not the stuff you can work with; not the specific comments and helpful suggestions but the kind that attacks you as a person when you’re already feeling vulnerable. Friday night saw me going to and fro about attending. Would it be one bold step too far or would it restore some of my resilience? I finally decided to book my train tickets and fell asleep.

In the morning, things felt clearer. My mum wondered whether I had in fact walked into a public lynching rather than a gathering of educators. And yes mum, the staff providing the feedback were all male, white, and of a certain age. How did you know? After reading the more positive and useful feedback again and watching Maya Angelou on the train (mum’s recommendation), I was feeling a little stronger.

There are many notes and details about the day I could share. I have chosen to summarise it into a list of 10 lessons learned.

1 – Claire Cuthbert is 100% braver

I learned from @Clairecuthbert9 that other people too commit to acts of 10% braver but feel more as though they’re acts of 100% braver. I learned that through sharing vulnerability and nerves with an audience is of value. Did it make us doubt her? Not want to listen? Believe it would be terrible? No. Well certainly not for me in any case. I learned that Claire is a local CEO who’s young, female and defying male expectations of her; no she’s not a deputy, an assistant or even a head – she’s the youngest female CEO of an MAT. I learned that sharing your journey openly and honestly with others can lead to connections and inspiration.

2- Viv Grant is, quite simply, inspirational

I learned from @Vivgrant that vulnerability is important and permitted BUT we need to address our inner landscape so that your outer landscape means your vulnerability becomes a strength. When the inner landscape is in disarray that vulnerability can emerge in unhelpful and uncontrolled ways. I learned the importance of bringing ‘who we are’ to school leadership. But who are we and what are the key experiences that have shaped who we are and how we show up? How we show up is so closely related to our childhoods and how we were brought up. I’ve learned that during my soon-to-be-planned, regular reflection time, I need to spend some time considering the following three questions:

  1. How do I wish to be seen? Authenticity- you have to understand what you want to be. To prevent us adopting a mask that’s not us. There’s too much around us shaping us into something else.
  2. What do I need to let go of? What might be blocking you? Sometimes it’s habits. That’s their stuff and baggage. We can’t carry that around anymore. It prevents the dissonance between our inner and outer landscape.
  3. What will be my first step? My 10% braver.

3- Claire Stoneman is a leader who acts on her values

I learned from @stoneman_claire that it’s important for us to be upstanders, not bystanders. If there’s something that doesn’t sit right with our gut then it’s unlikely to be right. We have a responsibility to do something about it. I’ve learned that it’s ok to question things; even if they are ‘policy’. ‘Tolerance’ for instance – it should be ‘acceptance’; it’s not ok to just to tolerate others; we need to accept them and who they are. I’ve learned that a movement to reduce instance of homophobic bullying in schools and colleges is still necessary and that the truth of Dominic and Roger Crouch can help to begin this journey with students. I’ve learned that once I discover something that doesn’t sit right with my values, I need to make use of the recommended questions to work through it, challenge it and act upon it:

  1. How does it far with your personal values or the values of your school? Why does it need changing?
  2. Who can listen to you, help you, question you, challenge you, support you in making a difference?
  3. What data is there to support you in your quest for change?
  4. What underpinning frameworks (within your faculty, school, organisation, nationally) support you in your quest for change?

4- Kat Schofield is defined by her soul and not her role

I learned from @PearlOchreRose that feminism is absolutely still necessary and not just in the face of sexism from men but in the face of women who do not lift one another up. I learned that there can be life after burnout but that it’s a difficult journey; the need for me to focus on my own wellbeing grows stronger by the day. I learned that sharing honest journeys was certainly an emerging theme for the day. I learned that there’s a great deal of debate to be had about leadership styles but that authenticity and your soul are really the important things.

5- Amanda Pearce-Burton is precisely what was needed

#TSCornerstones opening speech

In planning the opening speech for our March Development Day, I planned it, changed it all, added to it, shared it with some educators on Twitter, showed it to ex-colleagues, asked for ideas from current colleagues and finally ended up with a keynote speech I wasn’t sure I would remember. This would need some carefully planned slides to prompt me. Despite the delivery of ‘speeches’ filling me with dread, it’s the writing and crafting of them that I enjoy the challenge of. This one, it turned out, would all be about being bold for change.
9 March (11).jpgI opened with this image and asked staff to discuss what they felt these three things had in common. Lewis, a lecturer in Sport, has recently started teaching some English so he was able to identify that they were all nouns. The Digital and eLearning team thought that they could all be bought in Ikea. In actual fact, they’re all celebrated on 9 March (Happy meatball day! And peanuts and umbrellas can be celebrated all month, believe it or not!).

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I also discovered that it was don’t panic day. Although some places said it was panic day which left me in a state of confusion and, quite frankly, panic.

How many of you know what day it was on Wednesday?

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It was International Women’s Day and the theme for the day was ‘Bold for Change’. It got me thinking about what it meant to be ‘bold’.

‘Showing a willingness to take risks; confident and courageous.’

So I got to thinking about when this might have applied to me this year:

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1- In my last talk in December to everyone, I shared how I had been 10% braver so far that year.

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2- In December, we launched ‘wellbeing buddy boxes’; designed to remind us to take care of ourselves, as well as looking out for our colleagues’ wellbeing too. This was a bold initiative; not technically in my remit.

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3- I’ve set my students their first pure online learning materials for the lesson they should have had with me today. A bold action to try something new.

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4- I’m stood here today, hoping I’m not going to fall flat on my face but knowing it’s a distinct possibility.

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So what has been the point of doing these things? Was it necessary to take these bold yet nerve-wracking risks?

Since the talk in December, I have had a number of staff share how they too had chosen to be 10% braver and to share their thanks for my bravery.

Since staff have started sending buddy boxes, a number of them have got in touch about how good it felt to both send and receive one. Here’s just one quote I received this week.

We’ll see what the impact of my online learning risk will have been in due course…

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So I feel like I regularly push myself to be bold. Most days in fact. As a natural introvert, being bold is something I just have to do; especially working in the environment and role that I do.

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In fact a fellow introvert shared this book recommendation and although I’ve not finished it yet, I’d recommend it to anyone other introverts amongst you. So bold- tick! But what of change?

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Working in a learning organisation, we’re surrounded by change; some of it welcome, some of it not so much…

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What we will see, if we’re able to notice it, are the small changes we effect in the students we work with. At the start of the year this can be as small as them arriving with a pen, a hello, a smile. But this grows and when we look back at the end of the year, the changes have been huge. How many times has a student you’ve worked with made a change? How much of this has been a result of them being bold? Taking a risk?

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Conducting speaking and listening presentations with my students last week, I was reminded of how brave they are on a daily basis. They stand up. They speak. They share. They write. They read. This requires much persuasion but they do it. They show up.

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We currently have a student on work experience with us and she shared this blog on Wednesday. A bold risk for her to take but already, educators are commenting and sharing her words.

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You see, being bold and taking risks is linked to positive change and learning. Being bold has been essential for me to grow as a leader; to learn and I’m certain this journey will continue for years to come. The changes this boldness has resulted in has lead to changes in the way I work, my behaviours and attitudes, my relationships with others and so, in turn, has resulted in changes for them too.

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I’d like you to now turn to the person next to you and share one moment, from recent months, where you felt you were bold, you took a risk… share what you think the impact was on your students and/or colleagues- whether the risk resulted in a perceived success or not.

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Now what I’ve discovered about being bold is this (and you may have found this too)- it’s not a comfortable place to be. In fact it’s downright uncomfortable. And that’s because there’s a chance of failing of revealing our weaknesses or what we’re yet to learn. But what’s the alternative? What if we don’t move beyond feeling comfortable? What then? Because if we choose not to take the risk. To avoid being bold then no positive change will occur. No learning will take place and I don’t know about you but that’s not a place I want to be. No challenge? No fear? No risk that you’ll surprise yourself or other people?

‘We must prioritise CPD even though it may never be the most urgent thing on the list.’ Shaping CPD, 2016

Which brings me to development days. The learning they contain is plentiful but it’s really about what we do with it afterwards. Investing all that time and doing nothing with our new learning is wasteful and it’s certainly not bold.You have the chance to spend a day thinking about and deciding how you can be be bold, what risks you might take, how you could change or even support someone else to be bold.

CPD can be a vehicle that helps us to move beyond our comfort zone. How will you use your learning today to move beyond your comfort zone?

At some point today, we’d like you all to update the ‘pledge wall’. Look at the pledges you made after the Learning Festival in January and let us know how it’s gone. What’s worked? What hasn’t? How will you move your learning forward even further?

So there are two things I encourage you to do today:

  1. Put your practice out there; see what others think and have dialogue about what works best. Share the risks you’ve taken, the times that you’ve been bold and what learning has come from that.
  2. By openly sharing the challenges we’re experiencing in our practice with colleagues; we’re more easily able to move past them because we can use their experience, ideas and suggestions. We can engage too with research and evidence. 

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Running through term time; with its challenges and tasks at times assaulting us can feel like this. It’s important for us to find some time to breathe, to reflect, to share practice and success and…

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hopefully have some fun too.

A few years ago, I attended a Learning & Development Conference. One of the activities I was a part of was shared as a way of changing the working environment into one filled with:

  • Celebrating achievement
  • Having fun
  • Championing one another

The speaker who shared the activity said that it had been played every morning in the office and a trophy given to the winner.

It’s a bold risk for me to trying this with co many of you know but let’s give it a go! (It wasn’t the most successful activity ever but the majority took part).

After a demo, we played and finally ended up with our winner.

I shared a hope that the energy created now can be carried through the day; leading to championing of and supporting of one another, genuine collaboration, positivity and fun.

The first activity of today will allow us all to spend some time engaging with practice; exploring the Cornerstones of practice (designed to incorporate the 13 themes of teaching, learning and assessment that you’ll already be familiar with). After this 2 hour activity, you’ll then join your teams for the remainder of the day until 3.30pm. At which point, you’ll be heading back here to review one another’s displays produced for the Cornerstones activity. There will be an opportunity for you to vote on the display you think best meets the criteria.

Now my end for the speech was somewhat scuppered due to my facilitators stealing my cocktail umbrellas during the morning briefing. If I had been able to give them out to everyone, they would have been a reminder that although the summer weather is on its way, it doesn’t mean that stepping out of the door without an umbrella isn’t taking a bit of a risk. What risk could it remind you to take today? How could you use it as shelter from all of your other competing priorities so that you can just enjoy some time and space to consider your development?

I hoped that everyone would have a great day filled with learning, that they wouldn’t forget to share their learning more widely on Twitter at #TSCornerstones and be bold for change!

Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development

 

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

Last year, a set of standards were published by the DfE aimed squarely at schools, the teachers and leaders they house and CPD providers. The panel behind the standards is filled with people I have respect for when it comes to effective CPD. I’d be stupid to ignore the standards just because they weren’t labelled for Further Education use.

At an away day with my team, I set aside some time to explore what the standards might mean for our practice. We completed a reflective activity where each of us rated each of the standards as to where we felt our whole College was operating currently (4 being high, 1 being low). After some discussion together, this is where it ended up (the first number from the summer and the second as a recent review):

Part 1 – Professional development should have a clear focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes

Professional development is most effective when activities have a clear purpose and link to pupil outcomes. In particular, effective professional development:

  1. Has explicit relevance to participants. This means the activities are designed around: individual teachers’ existing experience, knowledge and needs; the context and day-to day experiences of teachers and their schools; and the desired outcomes for pupils (2 – no change).
  2. Ensures individual activities link logically to the intended pupil outcomes (2 – no change).
  3. Involves ongoing evaluation of how changes in practice are having an impact 
on pupil outcomes (1 – no change).

Part 2 – Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise 

Professional development is most effective when informed by robust evidence, which can be from a range of sources. In particular, effective professional development:

  1. Develops practice and theory together (2 – no change).
  2. Links pedagogical knowledge with subject/specialist knowledge (1 – no change).
  3. Draws on the evidence base, including high-quality academic research, and 
robustly evaluated approaches and teaching resources (1 – increase to 2).
  4. Is supported by those with expertise and knowledge to help participants 
improve their understanding of evidence (1 – no change).
  5. Draws out and challenges teachers’ beliefs and expectations about teaching and how children learn (1 – no change).

Part 3 – Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge 

Professional development that aims to change teachers’ practice is most effective when it includes collaborative activities with a focus on the intended pupil outcomes. In particular, effective professional development:

  1. Builds-in peer support for problem solving (2 – no change).
  2. Includes focussed discussion about practice and supporting groups of pupils with similar needs (2 – no change).
  3. Challenges existing practice, by raising expectations and bringing in new 
perspectives (1 – increase to 2).
  4. Includes support from someone in a coaching and/or mentoring role to provide modelling and challenge (1 – no change).

Part 4 – Professional development programmes should be sustained over time 

Professional development is most effective when activities form part of a sustained programme, typically for more than two terms. In particular, effective professional development:

  1. Is iterative, with activities creating a rhythm of ongoing support and follow-up activities (2 – no change).
  2. May include complementary one-off activities as part of a wider coherent package (1 – increase to 2).
  3. Includes opportunities for experimentation, reflection, feedback and evaluation (2 – no change).

Part 5 – Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership 

Professional development is most effective when it is led well as part of a wider culture of evidence-informed reflection and discussion of teaching practice. In particular, effective leadership of professional development:

  1. Is clear about how it improves pupil outcomes (1 – no change).
  2. Complements a clear, ambitious curriculum and vision for pupil success (1 – no change).
  3. Involves leaders modelling & championing effective professional 
development as an expectation for all (1 – increase to 2).
  4. Ensures that sufficient time and resource is available (1 – increase to 2).
  5. Balances school, subject and individual teachers’ priorities (1- increase to 2).
  6. Develops genuine professional trust  (1 – increase to 2).

We had already known that staff development wasn’t anywhere near in the kind of position we’d want it to be in. It wasn’t seen as being of value to managers or staff and it certainly wasn’t translating into impact on our students and stakeholders. This activity had helped us to identify some areas we wanted to prioritise; some key areas in which we felt we might be able to have significant impact.

What have we put in place already (some highlights)?

  • Into all of our guidance, forms and evaluations, we have embedded reference to ‘impact’ with some indication of the aspects to be considered. This is one way for us to begin raising the level of awareness when it comes to ‘impact’ for staff evaluating their CPD activities (see one example below). I’m not happy with it yet but it’s a beginning.

  • We’ve turned a pilot into the Big Learning Project; a self-directed relevant, reflective and sustained approach to CPD that encourages engagement with evidence as well as measuring of impact; encompassing a number of the standards at once.
  • We’ll be piloting at least one lesson study group this term which we hope will be another way in which we can meet a number of the standards in one go.
  • We have ensured that there is always suitable follow-up activity after any developmental activity so that no event occurs in isolation of any other developmental work.
  • The College has introduced a set of online ‘Expectations’ units along with a new approach to Developmental Observations that leads to coaching conversations and shared dialogue about Teaching and Learning.

 

So, what next? 

My hope is that through our efforts and actions, more of the scores will be higher than a 1 or a 2 this time next year. I’d like to revisit these standards again with @helenhayes and and the newly inherited Digital and eLearning Team in the next couple of months to place the standards back on the radar and renew an effort towards meeting them. The Big Learning Project encompasses so many of these standards (…almost all of them in fact) and so it’s important for me to figure out a way of making it become more of the way we do things with regards to development, rather than an additional project staff can choose to participate in.

Being able to meet so many of these standards is heavily reliant upon other individuals in the organisation, other teams, College-wide strategies and approaches that it means I need to think more strategically about how I can influence the development of these areas; such as the creation of meeting slots and a shared focus on and ownership of the measuring of impact. With a staff exceeding 1600 in total, it’s certainly not a job for me alone. Harnessing work already taking place by other teams and within curriculum teams themselves will be of paramount importance.

Sharing the following expectations of teachers (tied up with the ETF professional standards) somehow may help in communicating the importance of CPD and what makes it effective to teaching staff:

As the most important profession for our nation’s future, teachers need considerable knowledge and skill, which need to be developed as their careers progress. As the Teachers’ Standards set out, teachers make the education of their pupils their first concern, and are accountable for achieving the highest possible standards in work and conduct. The Teachers’ Standards set out a number of expectations about professional development; namely, that teachers should: 

  • Keep their knowledge and skills as teachers up-to-date and be self-critical
  • Take responsibility for improving teaching through appropriate professional 
development, responding to advice and feedback from colleagues
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how pupils learn and how this has an impact on teaching
  • Have a secure knowledge of the relevant subject(s) and curriculum areas
  • Reflect systematically on the effectiveness of lessons and approaches to teaching
  • Know and understand how to assess the relevant subject and curriculum areas

I’m hoping that tomorrow’s day of sharing practice with @TeacherDevTrust will shed some light on how the standards can be met and what we might still be missing.

Click here to read the full standard for yourself. I’d be interested in hearing how your own experience of or leading of CPD measures up to these standards. My own belief is that they will challenge a great deal of current and stagnant practice in the education sector for the better.

The best teachers I know…

Are easily identifiable. 

In my current role I, rather luckily, get to see many of them in action and there is one thing they all have in common. 
They demonstrate genuine care.

In each instance, this care is made apparent in different ways.

I could see it in one teacher through their insistence on students displaying industry standards of behaviour and nothing less would be accepted. This teacher genuinely cared that these students were given the opportunity to enter the industry at a high level; not just as a result of their skills but as a result of the attitudes they’d developed. These would be the kind of students who had developed the potential to become Michelin starred chefs.

I could see it in another teacher through the continual focus on students’ wellbeing as well as their studies; fully in the possession of the knowledge that if they felt more ‘well’ and more able to share when they weren’t, the learning would take place.

I could see it in another through their willingness to adapt their practice to ensure the success of their students. They were willing to abandon their preferred way of doing things and their beliefs about what works in favour of more evidence-based approaches to see the effect on their students’ learning.

But the one place their genuine care is most evident?

In the relationships they have with their students.

Of the numerous educators I have known, worked with, and observed; the best ones have incredibly strong relationships with their students. This does not mean there’s laughter and smiles all round at all times but their genuine care drives their actions to positively impact the students’ learning experience.

If a student is challenged on their behaviour then it is out of genuine care for them and their success.

When feedback is given on their progress, it is done in such a way that demonstrates genuine care for them improving their work.

A climate is created that, as Mary Myatt puts it, leads to high challenge and low threat. No one is made to feel like a muppet. A learning environment filled with genuine care is one in which no one is ever humiliated or made to feel stupid. This is a safe environment filled with praise, challenge pitched at the right level, feedback (and plenty of it too!).

The relationship between student and teacher is a valuable one. For the best teachers, this is a relationship not built on ego, Ofsted or a misplaced sense of duty. 

It is a relationship not built on anything other than genuine care.

Learning Festival 2017

2017 had finally arrived and the day of my second Learning Festival at The Sheffield College. The first one would always be a hard act to follow and I wasn’t entirely sure that my post-holiday brain was up to the job. We’d soon find out. An inhumanely early alarm was set and I was bound for the earliest train.


After the fear subsided that the College was closed (it wasn’t!), we set about the last minute tasks to ensure we were ready for the day ahead. It was in these moments that I remembered what the first day of the January term is like- you’re there in person but you’re unsure where the rest of you is- probably tucked up at home in bed if it has any sense!


Staff settled into their free breakfast and were invited to register to receive the Teaching & Learning newsletter while they were at it. You may also wish to register for this newsletter and you can do so here: http://cm.pn/2a9y


I also decided we’d start a ‘wellbeing buddy box’ this term a la @mrshumanities

Colleagues who have registered will be allocated someone else from the list and they will be tasked with sending them, at some point in the coming term, a box of wellbeing goodies. At some point in the term, they will receive one in return. It’s not something you can really argue with- the good feeling provided by an act of kindness, as well as the excitement of a surprise gift. Staff will have another week or so to register for this term’s boxes. You can find out more about the initiative that inspired this internal action, launched via Twitter, here.


After an opening and welcome back talk from Paul Corcoran, staff headed to their workshops run by over 50 of our generous staff, one CEO, three students (most proud!) and one Alex Krasodomski-Jones.

As usual, we also offered a range of online workshops to staff:


After two 45 minute workshops, it seemed that staff were more than ready for lunch.

After staff had been sufficiently fed and watered, they were invited to the afternoon’s Unconference. The morning’s workshops had been grouped by theme and provided with a floor of rooms where staff could gather to make resources, continue discussions and further their learning.

3-4pm saw staff sharing the day’s learning with their teams and making their pledge- the one thing they’re going to try out, experiment with or make a change to in the coming term. This was a crucial part of the day- to ensure all of the day’s learning turns into an action that will, in some way, improve the service we provide to students and stakeholders alike. I’m looking forward to reading these pledges over the coming days and to reviewing progress with them in March’s Development Day.

Staff were then gathered together briefly at 4pm to share pledges with their colleagues, whilst Heather Smith shared positive messages about taking risks, being 10% braver and celebrating success. All facilitators were thanked and staff released after a long but hopefully learning-packed first day back.

In the spirit of a day of learning, it’s also important for me to reflect on how it went. All of this will, of course, be reviewed in light of a debrief with my team later on this week and a more detailed exploration of attendance, feedback and pledges but here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • Last year’s feedbackGreat– In response to staff feedback, we were able to provide an informal breakfast, fewer workshops, longer workshops, time in the afternoon to work on resources and ideas, and a final talk to gather everyone together again at the end of the day.
  • New initiativesGreat– Wellbeing boxes went down well with staff with far more sign-ups than anticipated. Not so great– Fewer sign-ups to the Teaching & Learning newsletter than expected but I’ll be following this with further promotion and relying on word of mouth.
  • Rooming and atmosphereGreat– Most of the rooming seemed to work out and we had enough suitable space for everyone. Not so great– The vibrant environment created at the last Learning Festival in Hillsborough was far better and this may have been due to the more compact layout of the College site. This is purely speculation at this moment in time so I need to give it some more thought- time of year is likely to have played a significant part in this too.
  • Opening and closing talksGreat– The diner was packed out for Paul’s opening talk and we were all set with mic and lectern. The afternoon was laid out well and we ensured a member of staff was on hand and visible in case anything went wrong again. Positive and uplifting messages were shared at each of the talks. Not so great– The battery for the mic ran out before Paul finished his welcome and with no spare seemingly available, we missed the ending and key messages about the day were unable to be shared. This will be followed up with the sharing of Paul’s written speech in full but there was little we could do about the other communications- bar bellowing at a room full of people and I don’t think my voice would have quite been up to that!
  • WorkshopsGreat– We had more facilitators than previously and managers had helped us to put the day together so it better met their staff’s needs; skills to be shared and areas for development. Not so great– Business Support managers were not incorporated into this planning phase in the way I would have wished and as a result, the offers of workshops from staff and teams were limited. This is something we will look to address for future development days to ensure that their needs are being met. Great– Having said that, more of the SEND Team, LSAs, library team, workplace assessors and technical trainers were incorporated and involved than ever before. There was also a set of bespoke workshops offered by one manager for her administration team- and all without any involvement required from my team!

I could go on but instead I will choose to end on the words of one recently, and very sadly passed, John Berger- an author whose ‘Ways of Seeing’ had such a great influence on me during my years of studying and well beyond it too:

‘You can plan events, but if they go according to your plan they are not events.’

I am left satisfied that it was, therefore, a pretty decent event and now I await, with anticipation, the abundance of pledges, risk taking and acts of 10% braver that will hopefully emerge from the past two development days.