A bit like Schwarzenegger & Devito in the film Twins, St. Paul’s Catholic College and St. Mary’s Catholic College may not look like an automatic pairing but Rob Carter (@robcarter2012) and myself were twinned as part of the SSAT (The Schools Network) Vision 2040 Group. Our mission is to establish a clear understanding of the difference between the national curriculum and the framework it provides to the school curriculum, with its unique interpretation in our own setting and context.
Whilst the schools may seem different on first appearances the DNA running through them is pretty much identical. People in faith schools like to talk about journeys, we are a Pilgrim people – this is about journeying to become great schools, a journey and aspiration we all share as schools and teachers across England and beyond.
Having visited St. Paul’s Catholic College, I realise they are further down the road on the journey to being a great school but the vision, values and increasingly the systems at both schools are converging. This was a real comfort to me as it was hugely affirming that we are at least on the right path! There is nothing worse for a leader then to suddenly realise that you have spent the past however long taking people up a cul-de-sac or down a blind alley.
“Everything That’s Worked Well, We’ve Done Together” (Quote from a Middle Leader)
I could have easily used, “We shed blood for each other” as the quote, again from a middle leader, to launch this section as it was rooted in a similar vein of thinking. Amongst the staff I spoke with there was a clear ambition and aspiration to be the absolute best they could be: for the students, for each other and for the school. It was really infectious and the sense of enjoyment in working at and pride in the school was really prevalent, as was the positivity that seemed strong and widespread. Staff had agreed that there were certain things which needed consistency, for the sake of the students, rather than pursuing their individuality.
An example was the adoption of a common teaching protocol based on the Accelerated Learning Cycle with lesson objectives focused on content, process and benefit. I heard this first from senior staff and then an identical response from middle leaders. Students were able to talk to me about the 5Rs, the colour coded badges for top performers in each of the Rs and then there were posters around the school reinforcing the message. The teaching & learning protocols and approaches are all connected up. There is a shared language of learning and a real focus on the core business. Another area of consistency was their collective effort to ensure no-one was left behind. The college has a large number of statemented students and at 7.7% it is well above national average. The systems it has for tracking students’ progress, intervening and supporting students was well known by staff and hugely appreciated by students. There was a sense that even if you wanted to fail at St. Paul’s you wouldn’t be allowed or able to. Impressive!
“Rob’s Relentless, Positive & Proactive”
There isn’t an externally imposed aggressive “doing to/you must do” approach but rather middle leaders leading the accountability agenda and committed to quality assuring the work they and their teams do. They were very conscious of not letting anyone down and making sure they contributed to the team effort – it intrinsically drove them on towards even greater excellence. As one middle leader stated, “It’s a different kind of pressure”. In great schools it seems it is the middle leaders who assure quality and hold themselves and each other to account. I sometimes think we still have a bit of a “wait until your father gets home” (me being father) at St. Mary’s which is why we’re stuck at good. By the time I’ve noticed what’s going on it’s usually miles too late! Taking this idea further, in World Class schools, I wonder whether it is every teacher, in every classroom who holds themselves and their colleagues to account? I’ll develop this theme in a future post on “Journeying to Great”.
“Keep the Principle, Change the Practice”
Over time the school has changed and evolved by challenging themselves to do better whilst also looking outside benchmarking and learning from other great schools. Values run deep, the language is about: care & support, respect & forgiveness, enthusiasm & passion for learning and challenge & choices. With workforce reform a small army of support staff entered schools but at St. Paul’s the boundaries of who does what have merged. This keeps the focus on the students and also means the career development of staff looks more seamless than in many schools. This approach is enhanced by their Teaching School status which has led to a “grow your own” approach to teachers, leaders and future employees in general.
For leaders the principles, vision and values keep the direction secure and empower leaders to do “whatever is needed” in pursuit of their goals. This encompasses many small changes the one percenters, for example:
There was a “ruthless simplicity” to the approach, they kept “the main thing the main thing” and didn’t get diverted or waste energy on needless issues or overcomplicated systems. It is a school that has developed an improvement mentality and momentum.
“We Have a Real Knitting Teacher”
Whilst this might not be the rallying cry of many Secretaries of State, HMIs or Ofsted Inspectors, the students who were talking to me about their Wednesday afternoon enrichment options were genuinely excited. Walking around St. Paul’s you can’t fail to be impressed by the Art work, it is simply stunning. At a time when departments whose core business is creativity are being side-lined and downsized the creative curriculum at St. Paul’s is alive and well. The Wednesday enrichment afternoon with its huge variety of options, the vast number of sports (I couldn’t write quick enough to get the full list) and the many extra-curricular opportunities talk of a school that offers its students so much more than a purely functional curriculum.
There is a richness to what is on offer to students that is part of the rounded development of them as people.
The St. Paulsing Way
Chatting with students and the staff a common thread appeared around the “St. Paulsing Way”. I first heard the expression talking to senior staff. When I asked students about it they all started laughing and just said, “yes” and middle leaders nodded earnestly.
Many examples were given including my personal favourite Guardian Angels which just really appealed to me. It involves two or three Year 10 students who support each Year 7 form by just simply going along and playing games and getting to know them. The fruits of this are borne in on-going relationships as these students more into Year 8 and then eventually to them becoming Guardian Angels themselves. The process is generative. This led onto a discussion around student leadership, the importance of the Student Council and Sixth Form Committee and how both the council and committee focused on others not just themselves – a commitment to charity work and organising events for younger students “We’re big on community”. The St. Paulsing Way seems to be focused on the needs of the individual within a community context that is supportive, enriching and aspirational.
Relationships are at the core of everything at St. Paul’s and this chimes with St. Mary’s, it’s the sixth R.
Journeying to Great
I’ll remember not only the warmth and openness shown by all the people I met at St. Paul’s but also their passion for working at and on behalf of St. Paul’s, the cohesive community made up of students, staff and parents. Rob is clearly the Guardian Angel of this spirit and the support given to staff is as generous and fulsome as that provided to students. The visit inspired me to think about “Journeying to Great” and will be at the root of the next series of blogs. Special thanks go to Rob for his hospitality and to Debbie, Darren, Laurie, Matt, Peter and Sue for their time on a mad busy school day … the journey continues.
The next blog post in this series is:
If you would like to read Rob’s post about his visit to St. Mary’s it is here, “The Power of Collaboration”
Today’s first meeting of the SSAT Vision 2040 Group was a fascinating if sobering moment for me. By 2040 I will be 77 years of age. Despite what others think they might have in store for me, the one thing I can say with certainty is that I will be retired, probably for quite some time. My own children have all been through the state education system and currently seem pretty well balanced and content young adults. The challenge of thinking of 2040 is that my grandchildren, none currently born or on the immediate horizon, I am reliably informed, may also have been through or approaching the end of what is currently the secondary phase of education. Continue reading
This is a post largely based on an article written for SecEd and published on 2nd May 2013. I’ve added in a few more twitter suggestions to the the final “prayer” part (with thanks to Ross at @TeacherToolkit for advice on how you can do this) and also a link to a summary of our Teaching Improvement Programme, on which this article is based, can be found here:
The Teaching Improvement Programme is an attempt to formalise a lot of good practice we have and ensure it is consistently applied across the College. It also has a new idea to us around Research & Development Communities.
As the saying goes, “you don’t make a pig fatter by weighing it”. At some point we must commit as individuals, schools and as a whole system to improving the quality of teaching and learning in a formative, consistent and holistic programme.
Everyone interested in education knows that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of the teachers in it.” The difference seems to be how best to achieve the desired outcome, of exceptionally high quality motivated teachers, and performance related pay simply won’t deliver this. The research evidence is pretty conclusive that teaching is a far too complex profession for performance pay to have a positive impact. Not only that but it has now agitated the teaching unions into industrial action and will cause a loss of the “discretionary effort”, which teachers and others working in schools give in such abundance and is crucial to a school’s success. Not deterred and keen to avert disaster we are working on systemising key aspects of developing teaching and learning, here are my four wishes and a prayer.
1. Student Voice
We’ve used student voice before on a number of occasions in a rather hit and miss way. The programme we have now implemented is getting feed back, from students on twenty five different aspects of teaching and learning, at a whole school, departmental and individual teacher level. With a programme written by John Jenkins, one of the ICT teachers, and the use of Google Docs just over two thousand seven hundred responses were inputted by students over a three week period. At a whole school and departmental levels we can track impact in all twenty five areas and focus our CPD on specific areas. However, the real power of the data is at a teacher level. The information for each teacher is only available to her/him. Each teacher has been asked to identify an area of strength and become “expert” in it. As an expert they can provide support for any colleague who wishes to develop this area of their practice. Each teacher has been asked to focus on one area of her/his practice which needs to develop. This is about putting deliberate practice into action (see the piece on Deliberate Practice by @HuntingEnglish). The data collection will be repeated every six months so we can track progress. Everyone making small steps forward has a massive impact on the overall quality of teaching and learning. The first set of responses at a school level are below with a comparison to data collected via The Measures of Effective Teaching Project where the questions were identical or matched:
The first set of results are very encouraging with both the upper and lower quartiles for teachers at St. Mary’s being higher than the corresponding ones in the MET Project.
2. Innovation Fellows
For about five years we have given teachers the opportunity to work as Innovation Fellows for a two year period. Teachers apply for the position in about February/March each year giving an area of interest that they wish to research. The only criterion is that they must have an “outstanding” grade in one of their lesson observations. Each Innovation Fellow appointed has a reduction in their contact time from between one day a fortnight to one day a week giving them the capacity to do their work. The Innovation Fellow will lead a research programme first of all working on their own or in a pair and in the second year extending it to a department, learning house or other group. The Innovation Fellow also works alongside colleagues in the classroom in a coaching role to help further improve teaching & learning.
3. Formative Lesson Observation
How much do you honestly learn from someone observing your lesson? Time to think about flipping the observation process. This started with me observing a lesson alongside a trained Ofsted Inspector to moderate my judgement of lessons. Then I would moderate senior staff’s judgements and they in turn would moderate heads of department. What was soon apparent was the real value and richness of the conversations around what constituted high quality teaching & learning. This year I worked with each new member of staff, to the school, in pairs carrying out joint lesson observation. It is a real “light bulb” moment for teachers new to the profession to be able to dissect a lesson, in real time and understand the importance of viewing the impact of their teaching. I once stood next to a very talented teacher who just kept saying, “OMG I do that, OMG I do that …”. I think you learn a lot more by observing a lesson with a colleague experienced in lesson observation than you ever do being observed. We are going to use the Autumn Term to carry out paired formative lesson evaluations with all staff new to the school and any current member of staff who would like to. The only record kept will be a www.ebi (What Went Well, Even Better If – often used in formative assessment) set of bullet points that will be collated to identify good practice and areas for focus during CPD which we hold on Thursday afternoon from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.
4. Research & Development Communities
This is a new idea for September 2013 that has engendered a lot of interest. A R&D Community can be set up to develop and embed best or emerging good practice within the College.
If you’re interested in leading a R&D Community you should look at the following guide which will be really useful in shaping this the action research: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/EEF_DIY_Evaluation_Guide_2013.pdf
Alternatively the community might want to adopt a “Lesson Study Process” approach. More details may be found at: http://lessonstudy.co.uk/the-lesson-study-process/
And a Prayer …
This is a little more hopeful and long term but I would like to help the staff understand how powerful twitter, blog posts and a simple application or programme for capturing storing and organising online material that is of interest and use to you. Here’s how it works, get your self a twitter account and then put the twitter app on your phone so the two can synchronise with each other. Follow some people who may be of interest to you. There are loads to choose from but a few to start with are: @headguruteacher, @TeacherToolkit, @SSAT, @HuntingEnglish but there are lots of interesting people to follow.
Another great one for teachers is @pedagoo. Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit) suggested that it might be a good idea to look at some lists. This link is to @TeacherToolkit site and if you follow it then click on the “List Members” you will see a number of people who contribute to TeachMeet in London. Anyone you would be interested in following?
Other possible headteachers or leaders that I follow and find interesting include:
And if you want a guru or two I started with these:
Simply scan the tweets for useful information and links to articles that you might want to read. If you want to capture one of these articles, to read later or keep for future reference, then Pocket is a neat little app and very easy to use. As you get more advanced or depending on preference then Evernote or Diigo (PowerNote is the app for your phone) are different options to Pocket. As a short aside, I introduce Sixth Form students who are doing their Extended Project Qualification with me to use twitter, for research, and Diigo to store and organise any key information they find.
Now you have Martini CPD, any time, any place, anywhere professional development at your fingertips and convenience. You can use twitter to tap into some rich online content that is of interest to you and then start putting your own thoughts onto a blog. I’ve been using WordPress for just over a month and find it very easy to use.
To borrow a few phrases from the hugely successful London 2012 Olympics, Better Never Stops … so just take the next step.