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.
It is a sad fact that for many primary teachers their educational world seldom extends beyond the four walls of their classroom. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the day to day pressures in the high stakes arena and the opportunity to get out, to observe, to share, to collaborate and to reflect is often sacrificed for the potential short term gains of being permanently in the class. The problem with this is that long term development is hindered. One of the simplest, most effective ways to improve practice is to enable staff to get out of their own classroom and into those of their peers. This is easily managed in one school and only slightly more difficult to organise amongst several. We often overlook this most valuable resource in favour of more expensive professional development in the form of courses, conferences and training but class to class and school to school links can be hugely beneficial.
While visiting one of our partner schools in Beijing I witnessed such a refreshing approach. I asked our colleagues what the additional teachers in the lesson were doing – Were they trainee teachers? Was a peer observation in progress? Apparently it is routine in the school for a teacher to ask in the staffroom if a colleague wouldn’t mind watching them teach – perhaps they are trying something new and want feedback, it may be that they have concerns overs something else in the lesson and they want a second opinion. The process was one of complete openness and support and something I was keen to emulate on my return to school.
Staff meeting are often run from classrooms now as this is another opportunity to staff to get into their peers’ learning environment, to ask them questions, offer ideas and advice, compare and contrast. Our next round of peer observations has been an opportunity to match up the strengths of one member of staff with areas of development for another. This isn’t a perfect match as you can imagine but gives peer observations a stronger focus and a strategic edge. This pattern of getting staff into the classrooms of their peers with complimentary strengths is being extended to our partner schools after half term giving teachers the opportunity to see others wrestle with similar issues in their own school and beyond. It also provides staff with the chance to see someone who has strengths in an area they might be developing. Seeing someone ‘walk the talk’ is so much more powerful than hearing someone talk about what they do on a course, it has credibility with staff and enables them to build a strong professional partnership with fellow practitioners. Allowing staff to get out of the classroom to build such partnerships can only help what goes on in the classroom
Lucy’s out of school business!
The countdown to the animators next upload!
I visited a partner school a while ago and as I walked through the Foundation Stage I looked over at a group of children on the class computers. The teacher laughed as he explained to me that when the children had started school in September they went immediately to the computers, picked up the mouse and pointed it at the screen! Their pre school experiences with gaming platforms clearly dictating their understanding of how to approach this new experience. I recently recounted this story to a friend who explained that his three year old had stood in front of their television, put his hand in the air and attempted to ‘pinch’ to control its content as he was already comfortably doing with his iPad!
These two incidents illustrate the stark difference in experiences with technology for our youngsters and older generations. They also highlight the need for us as educators to understand the out of school experiences of children in order to bridge the formal and informal learning gap. For many pupils their out of school experiences with technology and their inquisitive, exploratory approach to each new device only serve to widen the learning gap. Celebrating their skills and developing understanding in school provides us with an opportunity to build on their out of school interests, benefiting their learning and sense of achievement.
In the last few weeks I have been sharing some of the children’s out of school hobbies with their peers in assemblies. Lucy from Y5 has her own business out of school which she advertises on her website http://www.yummycupcakes.webeden.co.uk/
Adam, Josh, William and Regan make their own animations and upload these onto their website http://theanimators1.weebly.com/animation-page.html Such enterprise and innovation are celebrated, supported and where possible, these out school interests encouraged within the school setting. We plan on ordering staff cakes from Lucy!
Our older children now bring their own devices into school to use as learning tools where appropriate. The technology they so often hold in their hand while out of school has such potential in the classroom that it makes sense to embrace it and explore its learning potential. The challenge is for us as educators to find ways to blur the children’s formal and informal learning, to bridge the gap between in school and out of school experiences in order to support their development, and where appropriate using the tools they are becoming increasingly accustomed to.
On Monday we are taking a group of pupils to visit one of our partner schools, Robin Hood in Birmingham. The visit will go beyond pupils meeting their peers, being given a tour of the school and discussing teaching and learning. On this visit the children will be donning the uniform of Robin Hood and spending the day as a pupil. This small scale piece of ethnographic research is intended to give our teaching and learning group a real understanding of how different schools operate. Following the visit, the children will present their findings on how our schools are similar, how we differ in our approaches and what we can learn from each other. A reciprocal visit is planned for later in the year and ongoing online collaboration via class blogs will aid communication.
Over the years, our teaching and learning groups have enjoyed looking at a range of approaches to classroom practice, the use of effective questioning and the work of educators such Guy Claxton, Chris Quigley and Dylan Wiliam. They have visited partner schools, made videos, led assemblies, given presentations, collaborated on projects and even organised a teaching and learning conference. The groups have furthered their own understanding of teaching and learning and regularly share their findings to support developments in pedagogy across our schools.
Through our networked approach to teaching and learning we have facilitated opportunities for staff to visit partner schools and experience the day to day practice in a colleague’s class. This is always hugely appreciated and staff benefit from such an open and collaborative relationship. This will be the first time we have undertaken such a venture with pupils, the outcomes are eagerly awaited.
- Sharing our learning (smichael920.wordpress.com)
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.
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!
Tonight we held our ‘Meet the Teacher’ forums. This is an opportunity for parents to pop into school to meet their children‘s new class teachers before the summer break. The evening has grown to be a very popular event on the calendar and something we are delighted to see being so well attended.
The idea for Meet the Teacher came about several years ago but it wasn’t until the last few years that we really looked carefully at how the sessions might best benefit parents. The meetings used to take place early in September but this was too late to allay many parents’ fears. By then we’d had the first manic morning back and dealt with parental uncertainties as to which class, which door, who is Mrs/Miss/Mr so and so and what does she/he look like? Through our Home School Group, parents suggested that ‘Meet the Teacher would be more helpful at the end of the summer term rather than the beginning of the autumn term and we subsequently moved the meetings.
A common format was agreed with staff that had enough space and flexibility for teachers to decide how they would best like to share information with parents. For some, the sessions began as informal one to one chats while other parents looked around the class but this year most teachers gave a short presentation before speaking to parents individually. When we first set up these meetings we would be lucky to have more than two or three parents in each class, but over the years the numbers have steadily grown and it was pleasing tonight to see that most classes has upwards of half the parents there.
I spoke to several families and asked if they had found the opportunity to come in and meet their children’s new class teacher useful, their response was overwhelmingly positive. They appreciated the chance to meet staff new to them, to found out about the systems and procedures for September, the curriculum, class blogs, the opportunities for them to come into school, to help the children with their learning logs and much more. Most importantly, those parents who came into school this evening now know their children’s new teacher, they have begun a relationship with them that will last for the next academic year and beyond. Meet the Teacher helps us to build a strong positive partnership with parents and families from the outset, a hugely important aspect of school life.
Last term staff filmed themselves teaching, noting the key areas they were happy with and those they wanted to further develop next year. This approach to observation filled some with dread however discussions with everyone suggest that most teachers got something out of the experience and found it a powerful tool for reflection.
All staff set up cameras in their classrooms and filmed a lesson of their choosing. They then watched the results in the comfort of their own homes (most with a large glass of wine!) and completed a pro forma which was then used as the starting point for a discussion with their phase leader. The observations were revealing to staff and the initial thoughts of many were similar e.g. ‘Do I really sound like that?’ ‘Don’t I say err a lot!’
A common revelation was the ‘over teaching’ staff felt they were doing. The amount of time spent ‘delivering’ to the whole class in relation to the amount of time the children spent ‘on task’ engaged in their own learning rather than listening to the teacher. This is an area many have decided to focus on following the observations.
The filming of lessons can be daunting for staff but ultimately the process proved to be very powerful and one worth using again.
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.’
Some years ago, in my previous school, we put together a thinking skills project. It serves as a fantastic sample of two schools working together to create a lasting and beneficial form of CPD across two settings.
The project came about when a fellow headteacher and myself attended a great day’s training in the use of thinking skills in the classroom to support learning. We were both keen to develop such an approach and decided the best way to do this was to identify one key member of staff in each of our schools who would enjoy being involved in such work. We sent them both on a further thinking skils course and then gave them another day to work together, share what they had found out and agree how they might move forward with this in both our schools. They were both piloting some of the techniques and strategies they had learned about on the course and were keen to develop the project further. It was agreed that a full inset day for both schools would enable them to present all they had learnt, to talk about their successes in their own classrooms since attending the training and talk abut any difficulties they had encountered. They continued to meet over the next couple of months to share and support each other, and to plan for the training day.
We planned for both the teachers and ourselves as heads to deliver the training, share what we had learned on the courses and provide staff with a range of strategies and techniques to try themselves in class. The day went well. We hired a venue away from both our schools and hired a buffet lunch! It gave the day an importance and helped staff see it as some worth taking seriously. It was great for teachers from both schools to work together in year groups to plan out what they would be prepared to try out following the day and how they might support each other, electronically and through school visits. A follow up twilight meeting was planned for the following term to share what had worked in different classes and what people would like help with.
The project not only saw the introduction of new approaches in the classroom but also helped to build a supportive network across both our schools. There was no fear about ‘getting things wrong’ as it was new to everyone. It was more about getting involved in something innovative and exciting together. The project acted as a catalyst to developing a cross schools network and a culture of collaboration and support that still exists today. It was the start of a way of working that we have all adopted almost as second nature today but I believe there is still an awful lot we can do to get the most out of such simple approaches to networking and lasting cpd.