Please don’t ask me; I’ve no ideas where the years have gone. Nearly thirty two years ago I walked into Notre Dame School, Blackburn as a probationary teacher and the intervening years are now all a bit of a blur. In a “this much I know” reflective moment; I’ve worked too hard, on too many of the wrong things, for too long throughout my career.
At 7:25 am this morning I reached the ripe old age of 55 years; whilst I’m not yet ready to retire, hitting the point at which I could take an actuarially reduced pension and commit to gardening, holidaying and housework full time, has moved me into a reflective mood. Possibly all the more poignant as, for the first time ever, I’ll celebrate my birthday without my mum.
Whilst I have no idea what this summer’s GCSE results will bring – the primary SAT results are in and vary between good and really very good – I’ve already decided that we will not be lurching to some madcap new scheme whether things go badly or well. Our current priorities have been carefully chosen.
The first five are all about the curriculum and its development within Mathematics, English, Religious Education and Science and embedding our approach to assessment. Basically, find out what pupils don’t know and should, you’ve taught them it already, and put in place the necessary remedial teaching and learning.
The English strand will see the greatest collective piece of work across the Trust as we seek to start a two year implementation of a reading programme – phonics, vocabulary development including the morphology and etymology of words – Tier 2 and 3, developing reading fluency and improving comprehension. The two years will be just a start. I’m saddened I didn’t do more about reading earlier on in my leadership journey. It seems such an obvious way to enhance pupils’ life chances; to open up the World of possibilities to them.
A further three objectives all link to the professional development of staff in things that are worth being professionally developed in. Too much professional development starts with an inappropriate intervention to a problem that doesn’t actually exist or hasn’t been identified accurately. “Why are we doing this” is a reasonable question that is often asked by staff about CPD and deserves a high quality response.
The use of a more evidence informed approach, immersing ourselves in the better bets, has led to a change in many teachers’ practice. Our assessment system has also led to many teachers self-analysing and identifying areas they wish to improve in, related directly to aspects of the curriculum they teach. Low stakes testing to aid memory, development of metacognitive strategies, modelling and worked examples, clarity and structure of instruction followed by immersion in problem solving are all increasing and a joy to see.
I wish I could go back to the start of my career and do it all again; I would be so much better second time around to the benefit of the students I’ve taught and staff I’ve led. Sadly this option is not available to any of us. So my leadership advice, if you would like to receive it, at the point I’ve reached retirement age, would be this:
- Slow down and make sure you’ve really identified the problem that is holding you, your staff and your pupils back, from even greater levels of achievement. Spending time solving a problem that doesn’t actually exist helps no-one.
- Spend more time really thinking through the best way to address the problem you’ve identified – read and consult, then read and consult some more. Implementation matters; get the end point fixed in your mind and “script the critical moves” particularly the early steps and staff development required. Learn along the way and tweak your approach if required.
- Don’t try to do too many things; you’ll end up doing them all badly. It’s a 9 or a 10/10 in terms of importance or it’s a no. Busyness is the enemy of impact.