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.
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.
I have blogged before about our Kaizen network of schools, a small group of primaries who share common beliefs about education and learning. We began to work together about six years ago to improve the learning experiences of our pupils, we weren’t funded by any external agency and followed no external agenda but grew ourselves from the ground up, following our own instincts about what our schools needed. Within our network we agreed from the outset that as Headteachers we were privileged to be able meet and work together on areas of common interest. We support each other and challenge each other benefitting from such collaboration. We share common Inset days which provide all staff with the chance to meet up with peers in partner schools and work together on mutual areas of interest. The sharing of costs and resources has enabled us to move all our schools forward through a collegiate and supportive model of sustainable and relevant professional development. Recent shared Inset with the likes of Tim Rylands, Zoe Ross, Lane Clarke and others has been extremely well received by staff who are then able to build on what they’ve seen through school visits and joint working within the network.
This year we are once again taking advantage of ‘uncommon’ Inset days. This is when we put a working day aside for all our staff to get into partner schools to spend time in someone else’s class, working together, observing, taking in new ideas and approaches, and sharing good practice. Each school chooses a day when all the others are in full operational mode (not straight after a half term) and organises staff to visit one of the network, in small groups, to be let loose to spend the day being part of a different environment. These visits are followed up back at school with discussions and actions, further targeted visits and future projects. We have find these uncommon Insets to be invaluable. It is reported by McKinsey, that to improve teachers need to see best practice in an authentic setting, our approach gives staff the opportunity to do just that.
Term began on Wednesday with the first of three Inset days. We decided at the end of last term that we would get together on the first day back and share our favourite mental maths activities. I like this sort of session at the beginning of the year, it’s a great way of involving everyone after the long break, it isn’t too heavy and it’s a lot of fun with plenty of practical emphasis.
This year we welcomed several new members of staff and the sharing good practice session is a nice way for them to get involved with the team (their mental maths example activities were also the best prepared by the way!) Following introductions and welcomes we got ourselves into a large circle and each person shared/modelled an activity that they like to use in class, that excites and motivates the children.
Some great examples were shared and we all had a lot of fun making string shapes, playing quick draw maths, loop cards and finger sums, amongst others (when they’re all written up I’ll post them here.) This year we are introducing an additional short daily maths session to play these games so we’re going to have a booklet with loads of examples in as a resource we can add to throughout the year.
The first day back can be a tricky one, there’s always so much to do, so many things that need sorting out before the children come back and so many things you thought you had covered only to find they need more attention! Yesterday got us all back into the swing of things though, it gave us all a chance to get straight back into looking at learning and enabled everyone to contribute and feel involved. Long may the mood continue!