We have just completed our first cycle of Lesson Study and the response has been extremely positive. A more explicit focus on pupil learning and a deeper understanding of how they learn has been a prominant feature of this first round of research. The shift from teacher at the centre of an observation to learner at the centre of the research is significant. Where traditional observations tend to warrant a quick post lesson chat before the handing over of a judgemental, evaluative A4 sheet, Lesson Study has encouraged us to look in fine detail at the process, to develop practice and collectively reflect on findings. The high level of professional dialogue, both in the joint planning stage and during the post lesson discussions has reflected the interest and enthusiasm of those involved. I am sure not all were completely sold on the idea of four adults and a video camera invading their classroom, followed by a thorough dissection of what had occurred, but once through the process all recognised the power of such an approach and believe it is worth developing across the school.
As with any new initiative in school, the Lesson Study model still needs work for it to be successfully embedded. There are potential issues around cover and creating the time and space needed to run Lesson Study properly. We are probably still too kind to each other when it comes to professional discussion and I am sure the gloves will come off given time. We placed great importance on the protocol and everyone signed up to this but we will revisit it in the next round and ensure everyone really does feel safe to disagree, to challenge assumptions and beliefs and to share ideas and approaches, however outlandish they may sound. The level of dialogue generated following each research lesson has been staggering and I believe that will only grow over time. The protocol is important in clarifying to all involved that there is no hierarchy rather equal research partners co creating lessons and reflecting on the findings. This takes away the notion of one teacher and their work being the focus and encourages a sense of collaboration and joint professional development.
In the next cycle we are keen to involve support staff more as they have such a crucial role to play when it comes to learner response. We have not yet settled on the right way to collate and share the research findings. For this first round it will be disseminated through staff meetings and electronically via the school server but in the future this could take the form of teacher demonstrations, presentations, handouts, booklets or videos. As our overarching focus for this first round has been questioning, we have begun to run a series of staff meetings to share the research and open up ways to move practice forward as a result. The use of praise, learning partners and resourcing also featured significantly in this cycle and sharing the findings of these areas is planned over the next term. For us to develop teaching and learning it is important that we move away from simply evaluating lessons and their effectiveness to a system that promotes professional development by allowing staff to experiment with new ideas and strategies in a safe and supportive environment. I believe Lesson Study gives us that opportunity.
The way schools approach professional developed has changed dramatically over the last few years. The rise of teachmeets and similar models has seen a shift away from the content driven courses run by consultants and advisors of the past. Many now prefer the engagement and active involvement of peer led training as opposed to the passive learning model that is the diet of many traditional courses. The kind of course that generally takes staff away from their day to day practice to tell them how they can do their job better. The problem for many with such delivery is that it can lack credibility, practitioners like to hear from those who are walking the talk, who understand the day to day pressures and recognise the difficulties that can be encountered. Practitioner led training is popular as it not only gives its audience a ‘warts and all’ account of tried and tested approaches, but it also gives those presenting it an opportunity to develop professionally themselves.
A number of practitioner led approaches at cluster and network level can be replicated to good effect in individual schools. Below are a few approaches that work well both with groups of schools and within single organisations:
Staffroom teachmeet – this sharing good practice model is a great way to get staff up and talking about what they are doing in class that is proving successful. It promotes conversation around teaching and learning and a quick five minutes in front of peers doesn’t necessarily worry people in the way a longer slot in front of a larger audience might.
Learning walks – many staff rarely get into their peers classrooms and giving a couple of staff meetings over to learning walks means they will be able to spend time learning from each other, getting ideas, discussing how the learning environment can support learners and informally planning future developments. We spend an awful lot of time moving around school to meetings, classes, assemblies etc… so it is nice to actually slow down and make the walk around school purposeful in itself. A meeting on the move!
Moving the meetings -asking staff to host a staff meeting in their classroom is a good way of encouraging them to talk about learning and the learning environment in more detail. It is also a way of sharing the leading role and developing leadership skills in others. Having staff meetings in different classrooms can effortlessly put teaching and learning high on the agenda. It is amazing how much dialogue around practice can grow out of a simple question about a classroom display.
Staff Surgery – I have posted about this approach on this blog before but simply put, we make use of this model to support staff in developing their use of technology. Each term we have a staff meeting where everyone brings along a device (or we use the IT suite) and we share what is working well, what people are doing with their blogs, what they are struggling with or have heard about. It is a real collegiate environment and has become a recognised opportunity in school to develop collective and individual use of technology to support learning. Recently phase meetings have also introduced an ‘app of the week’ where staff will share an app they have been using in class on their iPads.
With a range of external directives and initiatives competing for space and time on an already crowded staff meeting agenda, taking a step away to develop such sharing is hugely valued and seen by many as the best way to approach school level cpd.
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.
A few years ago we worked with three other schools on a performance poetry project that we’re keen to build on this year. The project was born out of a collective desire to improve the children’s understanding of poetry and to further their speaking and listening skills. All four schools were keen to work together and share the children’s work. We had identified Y4 in each of our schools and introduced them to the project agreeing with them clear success criteria and desired outcomes. We pooled our finances and paid for the poet Paul Cookson to spend a day in each school with an additional fifth day to run a master class for each school’s winning poets and an evening performance to families and friends.
Paul got the project underway in each school, working with each Y4 class in turn. The children readily responded to Paul’s lead and we began to see some great results. Once the children had written their poems in small groups, they were then taken to one of the partner schools where their Y4 peers marked their work to an agreed criteria. The poems were then retuned, amendments made, and the results video conferenced to each class, enabling the children to give further feedback to each other building a constructive, supportive dialogue across the four schools. Finally the performances were ready to be presented to the rest of our schools in assemblies and the best three or four from each setting were then chosen to be further worked on in a shared master class with Paul. He worked with all the chosen children together which gave them a chance to further collaborate, working together to develop their performances before the poetry evening.
Paul compered the evening and recited a number of his own works for parents, families and assorted guests. The children performed their own poems and a book and dvd of all the works was sold on the evening off setting the minimal costs of the project but more importantly to give the children a record of their achievements. The project ran over a half term, it fired the children’s imagination, motivated them and help them appreciate poetry. It helped them develop confidence on their speaking and listening skills and a provided four school communities with a great chance to come together to share their children’s learning. In these days of web 2.0 I’m sure we can build on such a collaborative effort and I am looking forward to getting involved in a similar collective effort with our partner schools this year.
I’ve been reflecting on the simple things that can have a profound impact and wondering what we can do more of to further the children‘s learning experiences. Something that was successful last year and is worth taking further is sharing our learning. Pupil to pupil, class to class and school to school. The children really enjoyed sharing their learning with others. Not only did it help consolidate their own understanding, but it also made certain areas of learning more attractive and easier for others to grasp. We made good use of assemblies to share the children’s recorded learning, they enjoyed using the class blogs, the ‘show me’ app for screen casting and the school’s green screen studio to produce ‘micro lessons’ on a variety of themes. Children were very keen on suggesting ‘micro lessons’ they felt might help others and much of their content was produced by themselves, in their own time – a real sign that they were enjoying the process. Below are some examples of how pupil to pupil, class to class and school to school sharing helped children further their learning.
Pupil to pupil sharing
All classes make good use of learning partners, which is a simple way of encouraging the children to share their learning, discuss their ideas and provide peer support. In addition to this beneficial approach the children also made tutorials on the iPad using the ‘Show Me’ app. They reduced concepts down to two or three minutes and recored simple screencasts to help their peers with tricky areas of learning. We kick started the idea by showing some of the first few in assembly which galvanised the children to create more. They were embedded on the school blogs which enabled children (and parents) to easily access them as often as they wanted.
Class to class sharing
As a three form primary I often feel this is an area we should be making more use of. Older and younger classes really enjoy pairing up, as do classes in the same year group. The older children loved dressing up on character day and reading to the younger children in costume! Groups of children going to other classes to share a project or present findings not only gives them a real sense of purpose to their learning but makes a great starting point for further learning for the class. This year we are keen to look at how class to class sharing can help further the children’s speaking and listening.
School to school
Working closely with a small network of schools can provide some fantastic opportunities to develop projects beyond the classroom. I have written here previously about the Y6 Space Museum, that not only opened to other classes and parents at our school, but went on the road enabling the children to share their learning with their peers at Heathfield in Bolton. I have also written about how a group of children used the green screen to make adverts which acted as a lesson starter for children in Hall Park in Bradford. We have fully enjoyed hosting kidsmeets which is another great way of school to school sharing. This year I hope to further explore the potential for such approaches to sharing learning. It would be great to hear from others who are doing something similar.
There are lots of inspirational practitioners in schools, piloting new approaches and ways of working, but often the ideas and initiatives they are exploring never make it beyond one or two classrooms. How do we move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation?
One of the most important ways to make this transition it to develop a culture of coaching. There obviously needs to be encouragement from school leaders to run with new ideas; to trial different approaches, to fail, evaluate and modify, but beyond this peer support can be a powerful lever for change. The development of blogging is an example of how such an approach can be effective.
In many schools the development of blogging is limited to one or two classes where the teachers are confident in their use of technology, have the right attitude towards innovation and can see the tremendous possibilities of this medium to further children’s learning. Our first attempts at blogging would fit this model. With the encouragement of the head, one or two teachers with a passion for ICT made fantastic use of the blog, they got their children and parents on board and really enjoyed developing their learning and engagement. We looked at where we wanted blogging to go (a campus style blog with every class and pupil group represented) and knew that for us to reach our goal we had to have all staff comfortable in developing their skills in this area.
As with any new initiative, we anticipated, reluctance, fear, worry and concern across a large staff. We had already begun to look closely at coaching in other areas of classroom practice and staff development and consequently explored how this might support us in promoting blogging. Through careful planning and management we were able to arrange one to one support at various times, pairing up confident staff with those less so. We had broad agreement that the use of web 2.0 would be a whole school objective for performance management and in pm meetings we outlined how this might be supported. The introduction of staff surgeries (see earlier post: the staff surgery) each term, to support each other and share concerns and ideas has also been helpful in promoting blogging across the whole school.
We spend so much or our time in schools isolated, working alone with children in a classroom, pressed for time and too tired at the end of the day to consider our own professional development. Arranging coaching meetings gives staff time to reflect on their practice, to talk through things with their peers and to explore innovative approaches with the support and encouragement of those around them. Sometimes the best resources are close at hand, we just need to create the time and space for coaching and support to develop.
About a year ago all Blackpool Primary Schools got together to create the Blackpool Primary Partnership. It was fast becoming clear to us all that, in the future the local authority was going to struggle to provide the support we had previously enjoyed, and a new direction was needed. As part of the new partnership we agreed to meet in regional clusters of seven or eight schools each half term. Over the year, we each agreed to give up six staff meetings to the common cause and the meetings rotate around the schools with year groups getting together to share, collaborate, support and encourage each other. The host school for each meeting provides the chair and minute taker and each school contributes around an agreed area of learning. The first meetings last term helped cement relationships and support between schools. Where once this had been sporadic and ad hoc, it was now given a strategic footing with all schools, initially at least, buying into this model of mutual support.
Tonight’s meeting was different from those held last term in that all schools in each regional cluster met together. Rather than just year groups, each school as a whole, was asked to share one or two ideas that were working to improve writing. As the meeting was only an hour it meant, in reality, one 5 min presentation per school. With a little flexibility built into the timings we managed to cover a wide range of initiatives from practitioners from Foundation Stage through to Y6.
It would be naive to believe all the teachers from our cluster felt enthusiastic about tonight’s meeting. Unlike teachmeets where people come along to listen and share of their own volition, many teachers tonight didn’t choose to attend, they were directed. Some staff would no doubt have preferred their own staff meetings back at base. Some of those presenting were certainly very nervous about sharing with an audience of over 150 rather than a smaller number of colleagues from their own schools, but the evening was a success nevertheless. The presentations well received and supported, and definitely took some presenters out of their comfort zone! We finished a few minutes early to give staff time to share emails and phone numbers, to bounce ideas off each other and plan further collaboration. What may have seemed to some, an unnecessary gathering, finished as the start of a new way of networking locally. In lots of instances tonight was about reaffirming the things we are all already doing in isolation, in some cases it was about sharing new ideas and initiatives that have proved successful but most importantly, tonight was about teachers sharing their practice with other teachers beyond their classrooms and schools. Our meeting was one of four taking place simultaneously across the town. It will be interesting to share how the other three went and it will be interesting to see where the Primary Partnership takes us, for such a collaborative approach offers huge potential for the professional development of staff and their classroom practice.
The introduction of monitors around school gave us somewhere to display our digital content. A digital display board.
The children had been creating photostories and presentations at home and we were finding it difficult to share their work on any scale in school. We decided to install screens around the place and scheduled the children’s work to play at key times during the day. The children are used to the screens now and look forward to seeing their work being broadcast around school but I can still remember the look on thier faces when they were first installed.
I often tell the story of a disenchanted pupil in Y3 who with the support of an enlightened teacher learned to use photostory. He persuaded his mum to come along to one of our parents’ workshops and less than a week later he was producing photostories for his maths and other films to support different areas of learning. He loved seeing his work around school and it had a profound impact on his attitude to his learning. Not only that, his friends saw the potential and got in on the act! Soon we had children bringing in their own projects for us to broadcast across the school.
As with anything new, when we fitted the screens we weren’t quite sure of where we might go with them. We began to test and stretch their capabilities and eventually felt we needed something more. We were fortunate to meet CMS, a local media company who agreed to fit a green screen studio for us in school. This gave us the opportunity to put the sceens to much better use. To not only share the children’s work, but also to create their own in-house films, adverts, vodcasts and more. Some of the early projects were great fun and the children immediately saw huge possibilities With the aid of twitter, an early advert made as part of a Y6 literacy lesson was used by a school in Bradford as a stimulus for a Y3 writing lesson! The children quickly turned the green screen into a roller coaster, a newsroom, the beach, a playground, outer space, you name it!!
Current projects include ‘Hawes Siders’ our school soap, ‘A story from School’ our answer to Cbeebies’ Bedtime story and the teaching and learning group are making a film about how children feel about marking – this is for staff and will be used at our next professional development meeting after Christmas. The children find the green screen easy to use and it supports their basic skills development giving them plenty of opportunity for speaking and listening, reading and writing (planning, scripting and autocue feature as much in any project as filming and presenting.) The green screen studio has enabled us to explore further possiblities in the use of technology to support learning, the screens enable us to share this learning. We also use a scrolling RSS feed on the screens to advertise class blogs and relevant information. Custom widgets also allow us to screen house point totals, birthdays, awards, sports news and much more. Live broadcasting is our next step, beaming in-house offerings across the classrooms and screens around school. The learning will be televised!
Today we held the first kidsmeet at Hawes Side, Blackpool. The format was similar to a teachmeet with one or two differences. The schools in the most part, signed up via the wiki, presentations were limited to seven minutes (although timings weren’t too precious) and presenters were randomly selected over the course of the afternoon. What made this event different was the fantastic efforts not of teacher, but the children involved. Pupils ranging from Y1 to Y6 stood in front of a packed hall presenting their exciting and innovative approaches to learning with, and without, technology.
As adults we stood in awe of our young learners. Many presenting for the first time but so confident in their delivery, so sure about the tools and techniques they shared. It was a great sight to behold, those in attendance (children and adults) left with a whole host of new ideas to try out back at school, but confident in the knowledge that others are doing the same for what they shared was tried and tested, in the classes and homes of these primary pupils. What today did was open up huge potential for this kind of sharing, both face to face and virtually and today I’m sure, will be the first of many such events.
When discussing the day we toyed with a number of different formats and styles but we were keen to keep it as close to a teachmeet as possible and this worked really well. The children showed respect for each other’s presentations and great support for their peers going through the same emotions before, during and after their talks. The time sitting and listening was not a problem for even the youngest there as they were all fully engrossed in the experience. A primary pad was set up by @primarypete_ to enable children to converse in real time as we tweeters do at such events. Indeed there were plenty of tweets flying around the room as well and it was great to see the presenters receiving such encouragement and support from the wider world. The whole of kidsmeet was filmed and broadcast live via http://www.kidsmeet.org.uk as set up by @mister_jim and children back in classes were able to sit and watch their friends. If they had any doubt, the children knew the event was more than just those in the room when @oliverquinlan presented via skype from Robin Hood Primary in Birmingham and @ianaddison’s pupils shared their work from Hampshire. Tom Sale (@tomsale) kept the event moving along and played additional presentations during the break including one all the way from Princeton New Jersey USA! The break also gave the children time for the children to try out games consoles, enjoy the buffet and mix with their peers from other schools.
Many made long journeys to be here in person and it was fantastic to see @chrismayoh and his pupils from Bradford and @raff31 and his children from Liverpool. Schools from Preston, Blackpool and Fleetwood made shorter journeys and none came as far as two visiting principals from New South Wales in Australia who had a fantastic time at the event and were blown away by what they saw. Ross and Jenny stood up at the end to say a few words and are now keen to take the idea back to their schools on the other side of the world.
The event was compared by Bill Lord (@joga5) with humour, consideration, excitement and understanding. Bill made the children feel comfortable and confident when presenting and kept the afternoon ticking along. When there are pauses between presenters it is great to have someone who can expand on the themes and provoke discussion. Bill did just that and also gave a short keynote which was both fascinating and fun hitting the right spot with everyone in the room – not an easy task!
Kidsmeet was a huge success and one that we all want to build on in the future. The children have a taste for presenting, I don’t think they’d let us drop it now anyway! For a full list of all those in attendance check out the kidsmeet wiki. I’d like to thank them all for making the day so special. The fantastic efforts of everyone involved will no doubt ensure the event lives long in the memory of all those who came.
As we prepare for new working relationships without the traditional influence and sway of local authorities our school to school partnerships will become more important than ever. It was heartening to hear David Hargreaves his week talk about this kind of support. I am in a privileged position to be in a school that already benefits from active involvement in a number of networks and has plans to exploit these links further.
David talked about such relationships as family relationships, he referred to groups of schools as ‘families of schools’ and also explained that in the future we might belong to ‘multpile families’. I like this notion and see these kind of relationships as crucial in moving our schools forward. In such ‘family relationships’ trust matters: supporting each other, sharing problems and solutions and learning from each other inform improvement. David gave some great examples of how such a model has worked in industry, in silicon valley and with heart surgeons – he asked ‘can we learn the same way in schools?’
It is reassuring to know you are working along the same lines as a leading academic and authority on education and systems leadership and plans to further develop our CPD through one of our ‘multiple families’ would fit David’s vision for the future I’m sure.
As the Kaizen Network, we have worked closely with our local partner schools on various ventures to support staff and pupils. We have agreed common inset days and made the most of shared staff meetings and twilight sessions for a few years now, pooling our resources to mutual benefit, we have a range of teacher and pupil forums that enable ongoing dialogue, face to face meetings and online discusiion and these have cemented strong links. This year we are looking at things slightly differently. We have agreed one common inset day when all our staff will come together as we traditionally do, but our other days are all being taken at different times to enable staff to visit each others classrooms and schools to see them in operation. Our previous visits have generally taken place when the children have usually left and we are conscious of how little opportunity teachers have to get into each other’s classrooms when learning is happening and childen are present. Our plan is to create the time and opportunity for all staff in each of our schools to visit each other, to observe practice, share ideas and work together. To benefit from what David Hargreaves calls ‘reciprocal knowledge transfer‘ and ‘joint practice development’. Such an approach to CPD costs little and the rewards are potentially very powerful and long reaching, impacting on practice in a way few courses could.
As stated earlier, such a relationship requires trust, it requires leaders to be interested in the success of the system, not just of their own school and it requires a commitment and shared belief that learning is reciprocal between schools and beneficial to all. The future is exciting and we are enthusiastic about developing new and more effective ways of working together with our ‘families of schools.’