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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.

Redesigning the School’s Curriculum: Find Your Compass

The world of education is changing again and like many changes it is bringing us almost full circle.  If you are a teacher of about fifty years or older you may just about be able to remember a time before the National Curriculum and when levels weren’t part of your life (even if like me you are struggling to remember what you had for lunch or where your car keys are).  This is not quite taking us back full circle to pre-1988 as the sharp edge of accountability means you aren’t likely to tell a new Science teacher that you “can teach them (less able Year 10 group) anything you like as long as you keep them in the classroom.”  The latter part of this instruction proved more difficult than I at first thought.


Much has changed in education with respect to the level of informed professional practice of teachers and the degree of accountability we all experience.  The excellent SSAT Redesigning School Symposia are up and running in both Manchester and London.  With Dylan Wiliam leading on the development of new curricula and assessment – the “what” we have to do – and Andy Hargreaves on Professional Capacity – the “how” to do it – we can move with both excitement and no small degree of trepidation into the next phase of education in this country.  It’s time for the profession to take the lead, working with government and other interested parties, to deliver an education fit for the 21st Century and fit for our students.

Dylan’s classic one liner was “don’t implement things you don’t believe in.”  I wonder what your school’s response was to the E-Bacc a number of years ago.

  1. Didn’t make any impact as we already required students to opt for two Sciences, a MFL & either History or Geography
  2. Didn’t make any impact as we thought it was a bonkers idea, didn’t fit with our curriculum philosophy and so we ignored it and carried on regardless.
  3. Panic – get all students opting for the E-Bacc (or at least the most able as they will get a grade C), options changed rapidly and you’ve either now seen the light of Mr. Gove’s wisdom or wondering what you’ve done and why.

We need to get our curriculum compass out and make sure we know which way we are heading particularly if, after years of being told what to do, we’ve lost sight of why we are doing certain things within the curriculum.  At the symposium we were challenged to think about seven curriculum principles and which where the most important three.  I failed miserably to identify just three but managed to realise it is the tension between the different principles that was going to be key in breathing life into the curriculum at St. Mary’s.

Dylan’s principles for a good curriculum were: balanced, rigorous, coherent, vertically integrated, appropriate, focused and relevant (you need to take care with these terms as they had a technical meaning that doesn’t necessarily relate directly to everyday use and meaning).

In developing our new curriculum what would teachers need to know if they were going to be effective?  Here’s my starter for teachers but you will need to add your own thoughts as well:

  1. How their subject knowledge and concepts are vertically organised and integrated – what order do students learn these ideas and so what order should we teach them?
  2. What are the habits of mind, attitudes and skills students must develop if they are to be successful learners within the subject?  What gets better when a student’s understanding of your subject increases?
  3. How does the subject relate to other subjects and society – what numeracy or Mathematical skills do students need to be successful in Science & Geography in Year 8?
  4. How do students learn – can we transmit knowledge and understanding or must they construct it?

What does research say about the most effective teachers and the pedagogy they use?  Hattie goes for: teacher clarity (learning intentions & success criteria), feedback (but make sure the learner has to respond to it by improving his/her work), relationships and peer discussions.  If you have fifteen minutes this is a great summary of Hattie’s work presented by himself on what to do and what not to do.

I had the chance to listen to Dylan a couple of year’s ago at a SSAT Think tank and immediately went back to school to redraft the College’s Curriculum Policy.  After discussions with staff it was written in the style of a handbook and may give you some ideas about what to do and what to avoid.  We are currently challenging ourselves to increase the pace in Key Stage 3 by building programmes of study based on learning intentions written in SOLO Taxonomy style.  We want to make seven sub-levels progress in Key Stage 3 for all students and more with the most and least able.

Now that brings me to the afternoon’s work which nearly made my head explode.  What are we going to do if, as it seems likely, levels disappear?  If you are a teacher under fifty you won’t know life without levels.  Now don’t get me wrong I realise that levels were pretty much made up by subject groups sat in rooms, have been revised, revised again, had sub-levels introduced and by now probably don’t really link to how subject knowledge and concepts are vertically organised and integrated.  I know this but there is something very comfortable about the familiar.  I sense the comfort blanket is about to be taken away and we are going to grow up rapidly as a profession – we are more than capable of meeting this challenge with a little more wisdom from Dylan and some assessment principles.  We focussed on summative assessment.  The principles to guide in building a reliable system are:

  1. Distributed (so that evidence collection in not undertaken entirely at the end)
  2. Synoptic (so that learning has to accumulate)
  3. Extensive (so that all important aspects are covered)
  4. Manageable (so that costs are proportionate to benefits)
  5. Trusted (so that stakeholders have faith in the outcomes)

The introduction of data and its use in schools over the last decade has taught us much: make sure you know a student’s starting point (teach them from this point), set challenging and explicit goals linked to specific knowledge, understanding and skills that s/he needs to attain and check how they are going during lessons, at the end of topics and periodically through the key stage.  The information generated from assessments can be used to monitor progress and intervene when necessary.  This is great learning for us as professionals.

As we hopefully take the lead in matters of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment there is a need to make sure we build the professional capacity within our school, localities and nationally.  That was day two of the Redesigning Schools symposia with Andy Hargreaves, PC = f [HC, SC, DC], the “how” we can do it.

This is my second ever blog, the first attempt to write one I have managed to lose in the ether.  If you find it please send it back to me.  I’ll gather my thoughts on the building of professional capital, courtesy of Andy Hargreaves and blog again.

Thanks to Dylan Wiliam for a fantastic day and to Sue Williamson who is leading the SSAT onto fertile and crucially important ground.  Interested in Redesigning Schools?  Get involved.


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