On Monday we held our tenth annual Kaizen Conference. This is a day all schools in the partnership set aside each year for a shared Inset day. The Kaizen Inset day is the first date we all mark on our school calendars – usually a year or so in advance. The first Monday after the spring half term holiday is always our designated day to work together, share ideas and hear different speakers engage us with a range of educational thinking. This year, nine schools were involved from Blackpool, Preston, Wigan, Bolton and Liverpool. The morning was led by Dr Andrew Curran, a pediatric neurologist who specialises in ASD. Andrew’s messages about how the brain develops, how children learn and the barriers to learning were positively received and many of us wondered if such fundamental information was taught in initial teacher training, as without such understanding the role of the teacher is made all the more difficult. Andrew gave us an insight into how different parts of the brain act, the role of dopamine and serotonin and how we can create the optimum conditions for learning. His practical, no nonsense advice gave those present something to reflect on and consider when thinking about the pupils in their care.
As is the pattern each year, the afternoon was given over to a Teaching and Learning Exchange. At each Inset we run a series of workshops that allow staff from each school to share their practice on a range of different areas. This year, the afternoon was simply titled, The Love of Learning. Staff were invited to share something they really enjoy teaching. These practitioner led workshops ranged from hot seating, using picture books to develop critical thinking and developing characters through the use of props to forest schools, outdoor learning, yoga and mindfulness. Staff had the opportunity to choose three workshops from the fifteen on offer. The sessions provide a great opportunity for staff to find out more about what is happening in partner schools. It can lead to classroom visits and collaboration leading to focused, specific school to school support. The annual Kaizen Inset day is something all those involved look forward to. In a world where schools can easily become isolated, or forced into awkward and unwanted partnerships, we relish the opportunity to work together. Over the last ten year we have benefited from the input of some inspirational and passionate educators, we have worked together on a range of initiatives and learnt from each other through practitioner led workshops, where staff are comfortable to share with their peers and give an authentic take on things. We have built a strong, robust network that has grown from strength to strength and influenced the teaching and learning in each of our schools, more than any top down initiative or missive. Alongside our peer reviews, lesson study, pupil teaching and learning conferences, HT briefings and subject leader meetings, the annual shared inset is a great way for us to work together and learn from each other in uncertain times.
Last year we set up and ran as series of interviews with pupils in Y6 from April through to a similar time in Y7. The purpose of the interviews was to see what happened to their attitudes and approaches at the point of transition. We have engaged in a range of transition projects in the past but they have all tended to be based around learning experiences and we felt it important to look at the children’s attitudes and how they might change over that most important of years so that we might be better informed to deal with transition from primary to secondary education.
The six pupils involved in the project were carefully chosen to ensure that they would be receptive to the initiative, that they would be happy to share with us their thoughts and could be relied upon to provide us with an honest account every step of the way. We worked closely with our high school colleagues but they did not attend the interviews until the last couple, as they did not want to inhibit the children’s responses. The semi-structured interviews revolved around the same questions and left space for the children to elaborate and expand on given themes (What makes a great teacher? What makes a great learner? What are the features of the best lessons?) The children’s responses remained consistent in key areas. They all believed good subject knowledge, good classroom management, interesting lessons and getting to know students individually so they can help them learn were the key components. The latter response was interesting because this was not mentioned at primary school but something they talked about regularly at high school. This was informed by the fact they had experienced a range of teachers and some would regularly have supply staff covering regular staff absence. All very different to the primary model they had been used to. They all believed that where staff really made the effort to get to know them, they benefitted and the learning was more successful.
None of the interviews gave us any great revelations and we were not surprised by their answers however the interviews informed staff meetings at the high school as they recognised the value of hearing the thoughts of new students who were meeting their primary school head and deputy each half term to talk about the teaching and learning. When it came to classroom management they very quickly recognised the teachers who made idle threats. They cited many examples of teachers threatening those displaying unacceptable behaviour with detentions and other such sanctions but not following them through. They said that all students grasped these matters very quickly and those prone to ‘playing up’ would know they could do so without any further recourse meaning those who wanted to learn were potentially distracted. The children also stated that the higher the position of the member of staff, the more respect they had in the classroom. It was apparent that supply and cover staff were viewed on the whole as those who dealt with the brunt of poor behaviour and were the least effective at dealing with it. Lessons were covered by staff who weren’t specialists in that subject so the quality of teaching and learning could be a cause of behavioural problems. The number of teachers the children had during a week was a big factor in their changing attitude to teaching and learning and their comments about staff getting to know them were obviously informed by this impasse. How do all their teachers get to know them?
They stayed firm to their views that the best learners were resilient, didn’t give up, could avoid distractions and sought to challenge themselves. They spoke about the importance of a growth mindset and it was good to hear that the same messages were being given at primary and secondary about the importance of failure as part of the learning process. They told us about children who had left primary school with them who now misbehaved and would tell us we ‘wouldn’t believe’ how they had changed. We pondered on this and privately thought about the level of emotional support that some of these children had needed at primary and whether the high school was able to replicate this model given the different approaches at secondary and the difficulty in engaging with parents once they leave primary. The influence of older students also seemed to have a bearing on behaviour and perceptions of the school environment. Children who were big fish in a small pond suddenly became small fish in a bigger pond, this was clearly something they all wrestled with and overall seemed to have grasped positively, knowing where and who to avoid as if by osmosis.
The children’s views on the best lessons didn’t waver over the duration of the project and largely the key factors for them were found in exciting lessons that challenged their thinking and help them learn. They talked about the importance of engagement and questioning, being comfortable enough to make mistakes and to know that they weren’t going to be in trouble for make them. The best lessons were, again, where they knew the teachers and the teachers knew them.
It would have been interesting to keep up with the interviews as the group progressed through high school. They were still excited to see their primary school staff but I guess that would have cooled off over time! By the end of the project high school staff sat in with us and we had a good enough relationship for the children to continue to inform us and in doing so enable to us look again at transition. How do we build and develop the kind of relationships that are necessary following transition to high school? How do we limit the number of staff and so enable those who do teach the children to really get to know them? Is it possible to do this when each subject requires specialist teachers?
I hope the high school have kept the group together as a teaching and learning forum and continue to meet with them. When we want to know about teaching and learning who better to ask than those in the class.
I recently blogged about our changing approach to Lesson Study. Having operated in a number of different ways, we have moved to a school to school model that we hope will be sustainable in the face of cuts to school budgets. Our existing model requires a lot of release time for staff, and although every cycle of lesson study has proved to be extremely valuable, such as model is operationally challenging as we move forward. The school to school model requires less release time and has other benefits that we are beginning to see from our early forays into this CPD research field.
As blogged previously, we have tried out different approaches and engaged in some school to school research but are now planning more strategically to build on our previous work. We recently completed a first round of school to school lesson study with three Y4 classes. One class acted as host and the research lessons took place in this class over a two week period. The three teachers involved followed the same approach as we had successfully employed in our own setting with joint planning time and post lesson pupil interviews and review built in to the process. As is often the case with such things, staff gave their own time over and above the release each school allocated, simply because the research findings and conversations enthused them.
The research in this round focussed on the language used in maths. The findings suggested that children in the class were put off tougher problems if they didn’t understand the words being used in the problems. Some children didn’t have a clear understanding of the word ‘explain’ and therefore avoided any problems using this word, even though they could solve the actual calculations. In response to this the teachers decided to create a bank of words often used in maths, and find simple explanations and meanings to display in classes next to them. From the post lesson pupil interviews it was felt this would help the children access the questions. The research shows that we may assume children’s understanding of some of the words we regularly use in maths and that it is worth spending time unpicking meanings carefully with children in order to give them the best chance of answering the word problems.
The staff involved in this latest round of research have now planned a presentation to deliver in staff meetings in the schools after the Easter break. This opportunity to share their findings in more than one school is also a great CPD opportunity and I am sure, it will open up further rich dialogue around this area. Following this successful trial, we plan to extend the model to other year groups during the summer term.
On Friday, we held the official opening of our Confucius Classroom. This special celebration recognised the school’s work over the last five years and enabled us to look confidently towards the future. We are keen to develop the children’s understanding as global citizens and look for every opportunity to do so. Our mandarin teachers are not only teaching the children to speak Chinese but are also providing lessons in calligraphy, paper cutting and a range of other activities that the children fully enjoy. We are fortunate to be able to provide Wu Shu and Tai Chi classes so the provision extends across the curriculum. Beyond the visible though, our partnerships have also seen changes in classroom practice prompted by some of the lessons we’ve learnt from our peers in China.
The mandarin lessons in school give the children the chance to learn a new language from a native speaker. From the earliest years the children are learning songs, rhymes, games and stories and as they move through the school they build on these early activities developing their vocabulary and eventually moving onto some basic characters and writing. We recently hosted a group of Y6 Chinese pupils who were visiting the UK. It gave our children the chance to converse with their peers in mandarin building on the penpal letters they had sent in preparation for the visit.
The school also provides outreach for a number of schools in the area and we are keen to expand this support. Moving forward we intend to provide opportunities for the children to work together with peers in local schools, to share their learning and perform together. In this shrinking world we believe it is important to provide the children with real global experiences that not only excite them as learners today, but also give them an understanding and respect as tomorrow’s global citizens.
We embraced lesson study wholeheartedly a couple of years ago. The developmental approach to teaching and learning sits more comfortably than the judgemental. It encourages research and innovation and enables staff to improve their practice in a supportive and collaborative environment.
The problem with the Lesson Study model we adopted is that to run it successfully there’s a lot of release time required. We have worked in triads thus needing three teachers out of class to plan and review with two out of class for each research lesson (we work with a cycle of three research lessons). To sustain this model of LS is a challenge and we have therefore thought carefully about how we can continue to reap the benefits but without the financial costs and potential disruption to timetables.
Earlier this year we trialled a school to school Lesson Study with a partner school in Birmingham. Two Y6 staff worked together on a small research project and this gave us the incentive to take the idea further. We have decided this time around to work with two partner schools closer to home. This means each of us releasing just one teacher for each round of Lesson Study rather than three. In January we will begin a Y4 maths Lesson Study which we are all very excited about. It will build on the successful approach we have employed in school but with the added benefit of insights and ideas from beyond our own community. It further develops our school to school work and gives staff a great opportunity to learn and research with other practitioners. We still aim to continue with the distance LS using technology as much as possible to enable us to successfully work beyond local confines. Staff will still present their findings to their peers and the opportunity to deliver staff PD meetings with colleagues in other schools provides yet another opportunity to share research and learn from each other.
In this era of austerity with educational funding decreasing, it is important to continue to move forward as a profession and school to school Lesson Study provides a great opportunity for us to work together, share research and learn from each other.
Tomorrow it’s our annual Kaizen Inset Day. Each year we agree one common training day for all our staff. We pool our resources to bring in the best people to lead a day in one of our schools. This work can then be further developed in our own settings with collaborative approaches informed by a shared message.
Kaizen means small steps to continuous improvement. The name of this Japanese business model suits our aims perfectly. We set up this informal network as a group of new (ish) head teachers around ten years ago. Our initial aim was to support each other in our burgeoning leadership roles. We shared a common set of values and beliefs and we were all keen to work closely, to develop a school to school support model that would help our schools grow, and help us grow as school leaders.
Initially our network was a leadership support mechanism but it quickly grew to a body which included pupil teaching and learning groups, digital leaders, debating societies and subject leader clusters. Recently children from each school visited Houses of Parliament. This followed a joint pupil teaching and learning day looking at school values. Before half term the teaching and learning groups shared presentations based on findings amongst pupils in their own schools on ‘what makes the ideal teacher, the ideal learner?’ Debating societies at the same pupil conference debated whether the government should pay for homes for the homeless (this topic was chosen by the pupils from a number of options). The work the pupils are engaged in is shared back in their own schools via assemblies and school council meetings. A focus on speaking and listening is developing the confidence and understanding of those involved, and the more we can involve, the better!
Staff work together on key aspects of their roles and this is something we will be developing further this year with our focus on collaborative improvement and lesson study. Subject leaders find it useful to moderate beyond their school and local clusters (Kaizen involves schools from across the region and internationally) and in this new age without levels, such sessions are more important than ever. Last year our Kaizen Inset Day was led by Professor Barry Hymer, we looked carefully at the research into Growth Mindset and how such work could impact on our schools’ approaches. This year the day is being led by Dr Pete Dudley, to build on our approaches to Lesson Study. Plans are already afoot for inter school research using the Lesson Study model. The afternoon will be given over to a Teaching and Learning Exchange, where staff from Kaizen partner schools share a range of pedagogical approaches that they are having successes with in the classroom. These practitioner led workshops provide a ‘warts and all’ view that is refreshingly honest and helpful to colleagues in developing their own practices.
The Kaizen network grew organically. There was no top down initiative, no external funding and no outside agenda. The strength of the partnership is the shared belief that by working together, supporting each other and collaborating, we can improve the teaching and learning in our schools and provide a better all round education for our children.
Following our first year of lesson study, we have changed the format in school for this academic year. As a staff we spent time at the end of the summer term discussing the impact of LS to date and deciding on the best way forward. We were all convinced that this was the right way to develop teaching and learning but felt it worth tweaking our approach to get more out of it.
As a three from entry primary we are well suited for the model we’ve developed. Each term a different class in each year group becomes the research class. The ‘host’ teacher works with their two year group colleagues to plan the lesson study and the three teachers (along with any support staff involved) write up their research. This research is then shared by the host teacher at a lesson study staff meeting the following term. Over the year each class in each year group will be the research class once, all teachers will take on the role of researcher/research teacher, and each will present research findings to staff. All staff will have taken part in at least three lesson studies. As in the past, we are restricted to two ‘formal’ research lessons during the cycle, due to timetabling and class cover required however, the impact of the research goes beyond the formal process and is instrumental in driving developments in teaching and learning. .
The cycle below outlines our current approach to lesson study
Planning Meeting 1
Agree and sign Lesson Study protocol
Agree on lesson to be taught, who is to teach it and area of focus from AfL work
Plan lesson in detail together as a research team with area of AfL focus in mind, considering any resources necessary and any pre lesson preparation.
Research lesson teacher to identify three pupils, broadly representative of the differing learning groups in the class. Teacher to identify how they think the pupils will respond at different points in the lesson, researchers complete proforma (planning, observation and discussion sheet)
Research Lesson 1
Camera set up prior to lesson to enable inconspicuous filming for class teacher’s reference. Researchers complete proforma whilst observing identified pupils (emphasis is on the learner response)
Researchers also record thoughts regarding AfL focus for feedback in post lesson discussion.
Post Lesson Pupil Interviews
Each researcher interviews identified pupil following the lesson using profroma (suggested questions for post lesson interview) encouraging pupils to answer fully and share any thoughts on the lesson and the learning
Post Lesson Discussion
Following the first research lesson (RL1) and pupil interviews, research team come back together. Session follows format below:
a) Teacher shares thoughts on the lesson/learning
b) Researchers take turn to share findings (notes) on pupil’s response to learning (how teacher thought they would respond/how they were observed to respond)
c) Researchers take turns to share post lesson pupil interview findings
d) Film footage shared (if necessary) to support findings. Footage then provided for teacher to view later
e) AfL focus discussed in general terms and researchers share any notes made during research lesson.
f) Next lesson discussed in light of findings from RL1, changes/amendments made as appropriate, children for observation agreed.
Research Lesson 2
Cycle begins again
Research is then written up by year group team and saved on the school server. The host teacher then uses the research notes to inform presentation to staff.
The recent introduction of lesson study at school was greeted with enthusiasm by staff. They quickly saw the benefits of such an enquiry based, collaborative approach to professional development. The only problem some had with the form it would be taking was that we intended to film the lessons. We have used cameras in the classroom before with varying degrees of success. Staff would come back into school after taking the video home recognising certain idiosyncrises about themselves and reflecting on what they observed in their classrooms, “don’t I sound broad!”, “have you heard me? I can’t shut up”, “I can’t believe how many of my own questions I answered”. I’d question to what extend such an approach changed practice but we all recognised it was a powerful vehicle if used in the right way. Enter Lesson Study. We firstly reassured staff that the filming would only be used to support this process and not broadcast across the school for end of term amusement. In fact, the footage would only be seen in its entirety by the staff who were being filmed – if they chose to sit through it. For the purpose of LS it would simply be a reference point, a chance to discuss some small detail, a momentary response from a pupil or an unexpected reaction to a teaching point raised by a member of the group during the post lesson discussion. All those involved so far have watched the recorded footage and gained something from it. As part of the Lesson Study, staff are asked how they think the case study pupils will respond. The observers then record how those pupils did respond and this then leads to discussions about what we think is happening as opposed to what is actually happening. The filming helps with this as it gives staff the opportunity to observe the things they can miss during the cut and thrust of classroom delivery, it enables them to reflect on, replay and pause their teaching at key points to move learning forward in the future. Amongst other things we have been able to discuss key areas of AfL that we are developing; response and wait time, approaches to questioning and peer to peer work all with the assistance of recorded evidence. Staff have taken to this aspect of the Lesson Study process probably because the filming doesn’t really feature them! It focusses on the learner response and gives teachers the chance to view something they rarely get to see, their own classroom practice. It enables them to hold up a mirror to their teaching. They can also check how broad their accents are!
It’s early days but already LS has gripped the school! Staff who are involved in our initial work are finding it to be the most rewarding professional learning they have been involved in at school. Before Christmas I began looking at Lesson Study as a new way of supporting staff in the classroom. We have used coaching models previously, we have used peer observations, staff have filmed their lessons and reflected back on the findings (usually watching the video with a glass of wine, late at night, well away from their colleagues!) and we have used the traditional model of classroom observation that serves little purpose beyond monitoring and supporting self evaluation. What we were looking for was an approach that changed our approach to collaborative working, that enabled staff to take risks, to experiment and to ‘unpick’ their practice before reshaping it and putting it back together in a more effective, supportive and sustainable way.
Our approach in school owes a great deal to the detailed and hugely informative research undertaken by Pete Dudley (@DrDudley13). Pete’s work and his recent book ‘Lesson Study – Professional learning for our time’ give a really clear account not only of the benefits of LS but also how to get started in school. Earlier this month we devoted a staff meeting to introducing LS to the school. Some had heard a little about it but the majority were unaware of such an approach. For many, lesson observations, however you dressed them up were something that was done to them rather than with them. The biggest selling point for LS is that it really is, as Hargreaves refers to it, ‘joint professional development’. There is no hierarchical structure, it is an approach that encourages and promotes a shared working arrangement where all contributions are equally valued and positively received. This is easier said than done so to help encourage such an approach we agreed a protocol based on that found in Pete’s Lesson Study handbook (www.lessonstudy.co.uk) which helped build the right climate from the outset.
As we have an AfL working party in school we were not short of volunteers to get up and running with LS. Indeed, all staff saw it as much more appealing than the usual observations so we could have realistically started it with any class. Cover for staff is something that we had to build into the budget for this term so we had to be clear about costs and committed to making it happen. We began with four members of staff working with two Y3 classes. The AfL working party had already begun looking at questioning and pupil response so we took this as our lead. We spent our first LS session agreeing a lesson plan (importantly this became a shared plan with equal contribution) we spent a good couple of hours really picking the lesson apart, questioning why certain things were being done, why this or that approach was being taken, the purpose of activities etc. When we were all happy we moved onto discuss the three case pupils and what the class teacher would expect each of them to be doing at each stage of the lesson – this would be a key part of the case study lesson. We finally looked at the questioning and response time and discussed the different approaches we have been developing and how they could best support and stretch the learning.
The next day the case study lesson was taught by the class teacher with three colleagues watching carefully to see how the case study pupils responded to the learning. Did they respond as the teacher thought they would? What did we learn from their responses? Did anything unexpected/unplanned for happen? The lesson was filmed for us to use in our reflection and post lesson discussion and despite the class teacher’s mild concern(!) she ultimately saw great benefit in using this to support group and self reflection. After the lesson we interviewed the three case study pupils. Their responses were enlightening and not always what we (or the class teacher) anticipated. We then met to unpick the lesson, share the pupil responses and our observations of them as recorded on an agreed pro forma. We also shared our annotated (joint) lesson plan and discussed the use of questioning and how we could improve on things for the next lesson the following day.
By this time we were all getting quite excited about Lesson Study and any of us could have delivered the revised lesson the following day so great was our enthusiasm and desire to move learning on. Our reflections and discussion after the first case study lesson could have gone on for hours beyond our agreed time and we were oblivious to the passing of the school. It is amazing how much professional dialogue was generated by the experience – so much more than would normally take place after traditional lesson observations. The revised lesson gave us all a chance to see our input, changes and improvements move the learning forward. Again we observed three case study pupils representing different learner groups, again we interviewed them after the revised lesson for their contributions to the research. Our animated post lesson discussions made it clear that Lesson Study has a clear place in our school practice and is key in our approach to joint professional development. As we prepare for this week’s round, word has spread and we can’t wait to get started!