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Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast So Build Great Teaching Cultures

As weeks go this one has been a pretty damn good one.  Returning after a decent rest from February half term, I’m arriving at work in the light and on some evenings also set off home in the light.  The long winter haul of driving in the dark seems to be over.  Throw in an INSET day with the Family of Blackpool Catholic Schools and the inspirational John Tomsett key noting; spring, if not quite in the air, seems only around the corner.

Photo Credit: Clemens v Vogelsang via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Clemens v Vogelsang via Flickr cc

John talked about the responsibility of leaders to build great teaching cultures; ones in which all staff and pupils can thrive.  The “culture eats strategy for breakfast” quote in the post title is from Peter Drucker.  They both hit a chord.  Back in the dark dreary days of January I wrote a short paper for the Directors on Appraisal and discussed the contents with the Academies’ head teachers.  The first part of the paper is below:

As part of the on-going process of reviewing workload and seeking to focus teachers on those processes that have greatest benefit for pupils the Appraisal process for teachers has come under increasing scrutiny.  The objectives set for teachers across the Trust could be effectively summarised as:

  1. Ensure pupils make expected or better than expected pupils particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  2. Make a positive contribution to the Catholic Ethos of the Academy and implement policy as required.
  3. Actively develop the quality of your teaching and engage in professional development, increasingly leading the development of other staff, as appropriate.

 The Appraisal process requires an initial meeting to set objectives and targets, a series of lesson observations, an interim meeting and end of process meeting to review outcomes.  In addition there is the requirement to complete the associated paperwork and invariably management time in ensuring greater compliance with policy or chasing up late documentation. 

My questions about Appraisal are: does it have a positive impact on pupil outcomes and is it the best way to spend limited time?  After about twenty five years of being appraised and appraising others it is rather painful to realise the answers may well be “probably not” and “no” in that order.  The one element that can have impact on pupils’ outcomes is professional development; detaching this from the appraisal process is pretty easy and potentially useful.

Enhancing Professional Development

There are a number of ways schools could better systemise the professional development of teachers whilst also providing teachers with an element of choice about what was most appropriate and beneficial to them.  Claiming back the time from Appraisal would allow us to give teachers a menu of professional development opportunities, from which they select the one that is of most interest or relevance to them.  The choice could vary from year to year.  All would need to have a means for monitoring it is happening or showing it is having impact.

Photo Credit: Sam Howitz via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Sam Howitz via Flickr cc

Here’s the potential professional development menu teachers would choose from:

Retaining the Current Lesson Observation Processes

The current lesson observation process involves a series of three lesson observations over time against a pre-determined set of critieria.  The process is described in the post “Observing Lessons, So What’s Changed?” and leads to the teacher identifying one or two criteria which form the basis of their professional development needs moving forward.

Evidence: Completed summative and formative assessment spreadsheets and how the area identified is being/has been addressed

Coaching Through Mini Lesson Observations

This approach has been trialled this year across all three academies for Newly Qualified Teachers and some Recently Qualified Teachers.  It involves a weekly twenty or so minutes lesson observation with same day feedback and coaching by the observer.  The Head teachers feel this has been significantly more beneficial to the staff than the more isolated lesson observations previously conducted in the NQTs’ first year.  Focussing on minor tweaks in practice, as part of an on-going dialogue rather than box ticking or sheet filling, seems to be really beneficial.  A set of simple brief notes are kept and shared between the two members of staff of the key points of the observation and subsequent discussion.

For more experienced staff the mini-lesson observations could be conducted fortnightly and there is the potential in the future to record lessons.  Teachers could actually see their own performance as the coach highlights an area to focus on or strengths to retain.

Evidence: Bullet points of area of pedagogy discussed during coaching session

Lesson Study

As part of most teaching and learning CPD in-house programmes there is an element of lesson study.  This originated in Japan and involves a very structured approach to innovation and developments in teaching.  A group of teachers, usually three, supported by a mentor use research, lesson observation and quantitative and qualitative data to look at a particular issue they have identified.  The process is essentially one of on-going evaluation which can be written up as a report and shared more widely.  An example of a recent lesson study project at St. Mary’s is a look at the impact of “Slow Writing”.  We’ve developed this with the support of the Teacher Development Trust.

Evidence: Write up of lesson study (Could use the #5MinResearchPlan Structure)

Making a Difference Projects

As part of an in-house leadership programme all participants are required to take part in a “Making a Difference” project which involves identifying a significant issue within the academy, researching possible ways of addressing it, gathering baseline data and post implementation data as well as evaluating their own leadership approach.

Evidence: Write up of Making a Difference Study (we have a standard proforma – available below)

Making a Difference Proforma

External Accredited Courses

In addition to in-house CPD a number of staff engage with external providers through the National Professional Qualification for Middle Leader/Senior Leaders/Headship, Teaching Leaders or Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator.  All courses place significant demands on attendees in terms of attending taught sessions, leading projects at their home academy, writing up their work and final accreditation.

Evidence: Course Certification

This idea will be going out to staff and the teaching unions for consultation later this year.  If you have any thoughts or think that there is a professional development opportunity that can be added to the menu above I’d appreciate you leaving a comment below.  Would any of these options take your fancy?  If you think this may be madness please tell me.

Moving On

What is given up in this process is any hope of producing a table or colourful graph about the quality of teaching.  That feels oddly uncomfortable; the quality of teaching matters.  Maybe we are just left with looking at the pupils’ outcomes, in a zero sum examinations and testing system, knowing that professional development doesn’t really matters unless we improve pupils’ outcomes and life chances.  It seems a bit all or nothing and fails to take into account all the other factors, apart from teaching quality, which impact on test and examinations outcomes.  Nothing is perfect but maybe this is a better option than what has gone before.

Another Post which May Be of Interest:

Appraisal: Best Use of Your Time? #SaturdayThunk


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