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Redesigning Schools

Redesigning Teaching & Learning: Finding Your Magnetic North

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The theme of “knowing your vision, values & direction” again featured heavily at the symposium led by that first class double act – Professor Guy Claxton & Professor Bill Lucas.  The full presentations can be found here but as ever this blog tries to provide a summary and some ideas.  The message from these symposia is beginning to go deep and to the core – Redesigning Schools will mean redesigning classrooms, what actually goes on in them, and the professional development of the staff leading them.  This is not system but systemic redesign.

“The test of successful education is not the amount of knowledge pupils take away from schools, but their appetite to know and capacity to learn.”

Sir Richard Livingstone, OxfordUniversity, 1942

 It’s a fairly challenging question for a Monday morning to be asked, “What are the valued residues from education that must be left when all else is forgotten or gone, what do we want students to leave our schools with?”  These “virtuous residues” may be classified as:

  • prosocial – we want our students to be: kind generous, forgiving, tolerant, trustworthy, morally brave, friendly and ecological, or
  • epistemic virtues (refers to the nature of thinking, learning & knowing) our students need to develop: inquisitive, resilient, imaginative, craftsman like, sceptical, collaborative, thoughtful and practical (able to put the academic or skills learnt to use). 

“The skills you can learn when you’re at school will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace – except one: the skill of making the right response to situations for which you have not been specifically prepared.”

Prof Seymour Papert, MIT, 1998

 Important learning this morning included that the “either/or” debate about subject content versus subject processes is technically referred to as “bollocks” (did you know that?).  The same is true of the “either/or” debate relating to good examination outcomes versus a good education.  The growth mindset and abundance mentality, which we need in education more than ever these days, is all about “and”.  You can have a good education leading to good examination outcomes and rigorous subject content alongside developing the habits of mind and skills of a learner, in fact, when we get it right the different approaches and outcomes complement each other.

Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas kept returning to the theme of, “What do you believe in, what is of value in an education?”  This can be looked at from various angles including our own classroom practice.  If you are a History teacher do you believe that History is about retention and reproduction of facts or critical analysis of sources, perspectives and bias or both?  Whilst this may look a loaded question all of these approaches have merit but what is happening in your classroom?  Is your teaching congruent with your value system of education?  A simple touchstone, I often use, is whether you would be happy for your own child/children to experience your teaching – is it helping produce the residual virtues you value in education?  As Dylan Wiliam said, “If you don’t believe in it, don’t do it”.

To help exemplify this further, have a look at the eight principles of expansive teaching and learning below.  They are full of judgements about what we value in education.

 Eight Principles of Expansive Teaching and Learning in Schools (For Discussion)

  1. Schools are the foundation for a lifetime of learning
  2. There are a set of wider life and learning skills which need to be deliberately cultivated in the context of the curriculum and beyond
  3. What learners believe about themselves matters and a ‘growth mindset’ is both a powerful motivator and a predictor of success
  4. Parents and the wider community have a significant role to play in pupil’s learning at school
  5. When teachers actively continue their own learning and model this in their classrooms learners achieve more
  6. Learning works well when it builds on pupils’ prior experiences, is authentic, has clear and stretching goals and is undertaken in an environment full of formative feedback with many opportunities for reflection
  7. Learning requires opportunities to develop emotionally, socially and practically as well as intellectually, individually and with appropriate theoretical grounding and understanding
  8. Learning is learnable and improves when learners have a set of metacognitive strategies which they are able to use confidently in a range of contexts.

After discussion with a number of people around the table (thank you for your time and expertise today) we determined there were a number of things we agreed with and others we didn’t.  I have written my own first thoughts below which take extensively from the list given but also has some important changes and one addition that is significant to me.  It begins to expose my own views and values in education.  It is a great exercise to really challenge your thinking and help form a vision for education that you will rely on in the coming years as you lead in the classroom, department, school or system.

Principles of Expansive Teaching and Learning (Also For Discussion)

Learners are themselves the foundation for a lifetime of learning:

  • What learners believe about themselves matters and a ‘growth mindset’ is both a powerful motivator and a predictor of success
  • Alongside subject knowledge, understanding, skills and habits of mind there are a set of wider life and learning skills which need to be deliberately cultivated in the context of the family, school, wider community and beyond

Learning works well when:

  • It builds on what learners’ already know, understand and can do; is authentic; has clear, explicit and stretching goals and is undertaken in an environment full of formative feedback with many opportunities for reflection
  • Learning requires opportunities to develop emotionally, socially, spiritually and practically as well as intellectually, individually and with appropriate theoretical grounding and understanding
  • Learning is learnable and improves when learners have a set of metacognitive strategies which they are able to use confidently in a range of contexts
  • When teachers actively continue their own learning, including into proven pedagogical strategies that have known impact, and model this in their classrooms

I believe that content is an important vehicle on which we build students’ learning (the SOLO Taxonomy is really helpful here) and develop students as learners.  There is a lot of evidence about what works in the classroom (see Hattie’s work) so we should use it as a menu to choose from.  Is this belief sufficiently reflected in the principles above or not?

Supporting our learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, if s/he doesn’t already have the social capital in his/her family life, and helping them to develop as learners is crucial.  The more disadvantaged the student’s background the “more grit, more social intelligence, more self control” s/he will need.  This is part of the moral purpose we need to develop within our, schools, classroom and thinking if we are to help the most disadvantaged.  It isn’t fair but it is real and some of our poorest students have to learn to be resilient, responsible, resourceful, reasoning and reflective – Alistair Smith’s 5Rs.  The same is true of developing our high achieving and very able student as learners.  When they suddenly come across an academic challenge that doesn’t appear to have an immediate and obvious solution they must be able to “flounder intelligently”.

The challenge that redesigning schools presents to us is, if we accept the above, or at least most of it, is to help develop a set of virtues in young people that can take them into adulthood, so they may carry on learning in an increasingly complex World that is changing at an exponential rate.

What are the barriers to making things happen?

We managed to very quickly come up with three but you might easily beat this.

  • Fear – getting it wrong in the eyes of Ofsted, the Head, the LA and the pressures of accountability.
  • Time – to reflect and redesign your own practice (Remember – Redesigning Schools means Redesigning Classrooms).
  • Isolation – I’m on my own trying to solve this.

We are potentially producing a profession that is Stressed, Stuck and Solitary!

It’s time for some courageous leaders.  The Redesigning Schools: Building Professional Capacity Symposium led by Andy Hargreaves has much to offer in how we can move forward together as we seek to develop new habits in the classroom and leave old ones behind.

What New Habits do we Need as we Redesign Classrooms

Our vision needs to be realised in the lived, everyday classroom experience of young people – it is the hard miles, the perspiration to put policy into practice that requires our long term commitment once the vision, values and direction has been determined. In the early stages this may require: an inspiring vision to engage and give direction to staff’s work with high quality CPD (pull); careful and rigorous monitoring of what is happening in reality as past habits are difficult to break and new habits challenging to embed (push) and a bit of “nudging” in the right direction – coaching, Teachmeet sessions and celebrating practice that is congruent with vision.

Possible New Habits

  • Be precise about the habits of mind you are trying to help students develop. Move away from composite generic terms to more specific detailed statements, for example the 5Rs from ALITE, with some SEAL added in, detailed in our Curriculum Policy
  • Think about the 5Rs in terms of developing deliberate practice for students who are focussed on honing their specific learning skills across lessons and phases.  If it requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become expert, we only have this if we work cross phase.  In fact, we have 15,000 hours of primary and secondary teaching and learning time.  We need to break the primary/secondary divide and the dislocation in learning and messages we give children about learning that happens around 11 years of age. Let’s help young people build their learning skills progressively from novice towards the expert learner, developing learner capacity as the child journeys, through real, deep cross phase work way beyond the usual transition work done in Y6/7.  In September I will take on the Executive Headship of St. Mary’s and Christ the King Catholic Primary School, we will be much more effective together than we would ever be alone – can’t wait.
  • Use split screen objective – science & questioning, history & empathy, maths & resilience and english & imagination. Also use split objectives (both content and process) with associated success criteria for key assessment pieces with feedback given on both.
  • Report to parents on their child’s development as a learner alongside the progress being made in content based areas.
  • In one colleagues school, UPS teachers are required to acquire 45 pts to pass their next performance review.  Points are acquired by delivering CPD, coaching, contributing to others’ development through collaborative practice. What’s the impact of doing this and the impact of not doing it on the ethos within your school?
  • Encourage teachers to try some new routines e.g. Try 3B4 Me, plus-minus-interesting, two stars and a wish feedback to the teacher at the end of the lesson.  This could become increasing sophistication if students were taught how to link their feedback to the explicit split screen teaching objectives – content and pedagogy.

These changes will require subject leaders to become the pedagogical coach of their team and the Headteacher to become the Chief Pedagogical Coach (coach of coaches) influencing other leaders – pull, push and nudge.  We may not have enough time but we probably have sufficient, the challenge will be to use the available time to best effect.  If your interested in Expansive Education and wish to join an action research orientated network click here for more information.

Redesigning schools is the mainstream movement for schools today, even if it doesn’t yet know it or only a small minority of schools currently involved.  Thanks to Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas for another fantastic day and to Sue Williamson who is leading the SSAT onto fertile and crucially important ground.  Interested in Redesigning Schools?  Get involved.




  1. Pingback: Learners at the Centre III | headstmary's Blog - June 7, 2013

  2. Pingback: Redesigning Teaching & Learning: Finding Your Magnetic North | Leading Learner - July 23, 2013

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