Whilst leaders don’t create a school’s culture all on their own they must play the major role in determining the destination, the type of school culture they believe is right, and keep moving colleagues in that direction. ResearchEd Scotland was a great opportunity to reflect on the schools’ journeys so far, on how much further we still needed to go and how best to travel forward together.
In the previous post Four Aces for Improving the Quality of Teaching #rEdScot I suggested that research, data, feedback and experience all had a part to play in improving the quality of teaching, leading to enhanced outcomes for children and young people, and were far more powerful when seen as a whole.
What is crucial for schools, teachers and leaders is not to confuse potential signposts with ultimate destinations. Being research informed is not a destination in itself – same for data, feedback or experience informed – it is what you do with information that really matters. Within the Trust and its academies these signposts are at various stages of development. We haven’t yet pulled them together sufficiently to fully impact on the quality of teaching and the outcomes achieved as we would like. Enhanced outcomes which help improve young people’s life chances is one of our goals, that’s a destination we are aiming for.
Using Information, Being Informed
Schools are awash with information, quantitative and qualitative data abounds, but it is the decisions we make about how to use the data which will determine how informed we are. Some data lacks a validity unless we are able to triangulate it with other data which shows similar patterns or reinforcing messages. Grading individual lessons is probably the classic example of the profession’s failure to triangulate. However, information gained from an individual lesson observation may be interesting enough to form part of a discussion between colleagues or to explore in further depth as part of a discursive rather than judgemental process. There may be an occasion or two where the information you receive is so compelling there is something you want to change immediately in your practice or approach to teaching a particular element of a topic. Finally, not all information is useful to you and it can at times be a distraction. The ability to filter what information is useful, this is not the same as what information is positive or I like or reinforces my biases, is a critical part of teaching and leading. As Dylan Wiliam advises, start with the decision you want to make rather than starting with the data available.
Building a High Quality Teaching Culture
A school’s culture creates a way of working and being for staff, a way that has to be sustainable, unless we are to continue with a high turnover increasingly stressed and burnt out profession. Weaving the different strands of information together may lead to an approach that looks something like this:
Many teachers will hopefully look and recognise some elements of their current professional practice and maybe other parts which could be relatively easily put in place. The challenge for teachers and leaders alike is the disciplined and rigorous adoption of the whole process by all teachers within a school. It becomes the backbone of a personalised development programme for each teacher which other elements of continuing professional development can be plugged in to. The personalisation comes in step 2 where the teacher decides which aspect of her or his practice s/he wants to improve. As a leader should I worry about which element of practice, informed by the data and feedback, a teacher wants to improve? I think not, let’s all just get a bit better at what we are doing. Potential ways of improving class room practice are informed by research and the final option to work on can be informed by experience, own and others. Whether the “innovation” has an impact or not is informed by the data and feedback the teacher receives as part of evaluating its implementation. It’s a cyclical process focussing on knowing your impact and seeking to increase it. There’s a link on each of the graphics below to a post with a bit more detail if you are interested.
To develop a culture you need the early adopters and champions but cultures only embed when there is mass participation. The challenge of giving people sufficient time will not go away. It is possibly best to approach this from the perspective of abandonment, “what can we stop doing”, rather than the false belief we can create or find time. We can’t and need to accept. The other time enemy is the need or desire for quick results. Too often we see perpetual change, busyness and lots of action confusing them with deep rooted sustainable improvements. This year within the Trust and its academies we are likely to continue becoming more data and feedback informed but research and experienced informed will be less systematic though I’ve no doubt bright spots will exist. The approach of being more informed will require years to develop, spread and embed. Part of this will be developing our evaluative skills and practises way beyond those we currently have.
This will not be easy not least as it will mean swimming against the current educational tide of confused autonomy, accountability gone mad, a demographic time bomb, workload challenges, pointless data collection and poor continuing professional development for teachers. If you’re interested these are covered in more detail in the post, The Maelstrom of Change or Educational Cluster F***? You Decide.