Monday, 24 June 2019

Behind the headlines - teacher well being

I got ill this term.  I worked through laryngitis and a cold for a week and a bit only to find myself with tonsillitis on a Sunday.  I remember joking to the students in year 10 about a year 11 who had needed one on one support and had complained about his sore throat.  Antibiotic scotches a bout of tonsillitis in a few days normally for me, but by Wednesday of the week before half term I was back at the GP, who gave me a longer course of penicillin, rather than the clarithromycin I had been taking.  I resigned myself to being ill for half of half term, but making the most of it when I was well.  Only nothing lifted, I was still ill.  The infection moved over to cover both tonsils and the roof of my mouth.  I went back to the GP who gave me a different antibiotic for rare infections (acute tonsillitis) and was very clear that if it did not lift in a couple of days, I needed to come straight back to her and might be looking at a hospital stay.  It lifted slowly by the middle of the week after half term.  20 days of tonsillitis left me with extreme fatigue and sky high blood pressure.  The word that best described the state I was in was 'depleted'.

I am, consequently, just starting the fifth week of not being in.  I haven't had this much time at home since maternity leave in 2008.  My blood pressure is still cresting above 110 for the bottom figure regularly, the normal level is between 60-80. My GP is insisting on continued rest at home and my mum is threatening to come and get me from school, if I go in against medical advice, which is what I want to do.  I am the only drama teacher in my school, I lead Oracy for year seven and all 225 of them are ready for their Oracy week where each student will give a speech on a theme that they are passionate about.  I lead 'Solution Focused Coaching' within school and am conscious that there are students I want to be working with one on one... There are many reasons why I would rather be in and only one reason that I am not: well being.

With my 20:20 hindsight vision, I can see with crystal clear clarity that this has been coming for a while.  I have been using work as a place to hide, seeking solace through being busy as my husband recovers from heart surgery following a small stroke, as he moves jobs to suit his new sense of self, as my mother recovers from a near fatal bout of meningococcal septicaemia, as she comes to terms with her debilitated right hand, as we provide the necessary care for my mother in law, who is progressing through the latter stages of dementia, as my children struggle with school, as my heel recovers from a severe bout of plantar fasciitis, as my ego recovers from a failed internal interview process, as I added copious assistant head role applications to my work load, almost punishing myself: throughout all this, school has been my constant.  A place where I can have impact on young peoples' and professionals' lives, where I can be the super hero and rescue others, where I can feel good about my professional capacity.  A place I really love, but where slowly, consistently I forgot about the need to look after myself.

I knew my work/life balance was completely off.  I was eating my feelings at home and relentlessly working so there was no time to exercise.  Where there was time out, I was so tired that it was as much as I could do just to sit and watch box sets of ER.  My work trousers were getting very tight.  I had no life: I ate, slept badly and returned to work the next day as quickly as I could. It was easier just to keep going, than it was to stop and make the necessary changes.  I remember a friend asking me whether I was intending to keep the superwoman act up indefinitely? Another asking me whether I actually wanted any of the jobs I was applying for?  I remember making a third hot water bottle one evening and wondering how long I could keep going for.

In the end, I kept going till my GCSE Drama year 11 class had sat their written exam on the afternoon of Friday 17th May.  I remember waiting for them to come up and tell me how it had gone as I supervised a year 10 rehearsal.  I remember the jubilation that the biggest struggle for each of them was the time limit, trying to work again as they left and not being able to focus.  I got up about 4.45pm, leaving my desk in a mess and thinking I could sort it all on Monday.  I remember my cleaner's surprise that I was leaving 'so early'.  I remember the car park was pretty empty already, then getting home and telling my mum I was 'shredded', that I was going to have a 'zombie' weekend.  I remember both of us laughing about how typical it is of me to be this tired the week before half term, my husband arriving and joining in. The tonsillitis struck that Sunday...

I haven't been back into school since.  It has been a salient reminder of the value of good health and the importance of doing all I can to make sure I am well first.  Blood pressure is a silent killer; it took my paternal grandfather's life with a horrible stroke.  A well balanced life is key to ensuring that my inherited essential hypertension (high blood pressure) remains under control.  I have had time to reflect with friends on quite how 'much difficult stuff' I have contended with over a number of years, how the strain has silently accumulated and knocked me off my feet.  I am going to be OK; my health is salvageable, I will feel better and be better at managing again.  I will work hard (!) to remember this lesson in looking after self first and hope sharing it helps some one out there to do the same.

Behind the headlines about well being, there is this one very simple rule.

 It's that simple and that difficult: you have to look after yourself first.  You have to, and whilst we do need to have a national conversation about the hours that teachers work, it will always be your responsibility to monitor how you work and how you live.  Ed Dorrell cited this OECD statistic in his TES editorial, we teachers work on average, 'a staggering and unsustainable 46.9 hours'; I can't be the only teacher that read that total and thought, is that all?  Measures need to be instigated nationally to reduce teacher work load, but day to day at an individual level, we all need to be responsible for ourselves and model best practice for each other.

If my 21 years in the profession have taught me anything, its that the job is always bigger than us; there will always be more to do on the to do list!  So, get savvy about what actually has impact, get good at prioritising tasks and be firm with yourself.  That and you have to take time out with those you love on the evenings and at the weekends.  You have to do things that you love, even in term time.  Give yourself time to have a life and in doing so get ready to go again at school tomorrow, because by prioritising your own well being, you make sure there is a tomorrow.

It's a message I wish someone older and wiser had told me sooner.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Collaboration’s heart is communication #Oracy #WomenEd

This is my talk from Lead Meet 3 at #WomenEd #Unconference 2018, only Vivienne Porritt’s exceptional time keeping skills are not here to keep me to five minutes so I have extended a little (!!) of what I said to cover my first unconference experience:

In September 2015, as my son started Junior school and my daughter started High School, I had decided that it was time to get back to focusing on my future by starting NPQSL. In hindsight I can see I can see I was trying to find my voice again after 10 years in part time posts and after a day with the #WomenEd tribe, I can finally accept this: I had other people’s definitions of me as a part time ‘mummy’ teacher in my heart and head.  I was a person who had irrevocably chosen her family over her career.

I found Oracy by chance, guided by the principle that anything I did as a whole school initiative had to be linked to Literacy. I’m glad I did as it became a process of real self actualisation. A program which gave as much to me as the professionals and students that have been involved in it.  The definition of Oracy is:

‘the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech’

There are two targets for our practice within schools

  1. Classroom Talk 
  2. Presentation Skills 
I outlined how it is incredibly easy to ignore the challenge of a typical day in school: I used the example of #unconference and the salutory reminder of how attending two ‘assemblies’ (Opening/Plenary) and four sessions was exhausting. At high school particularly, the skills needed to survive a day at school are assumed without teaching them: punctuality, organisation, focus, engagement, planning, evaluating, time management and, of course, talking, listening and literacy. Thus, my NPQSL initiative was focused on developing a discrete curriculum for year 7 oracy, developing a CPD program to improve the use of Oracy protocols in lessons and looking at whole school culture through assemblies. This was as part of an EEF pilot research program supported by School21/Voice21.

In school CPD has explored the divergent forms and purposes of classroom talk whilst delivering important INSET through the oracy protocols, focusing on:

  • Groupings -
    actively using groupings to promote engagement in talk and have as many students engaged in talking as possible 
  • Purpose -
    clearly identifying opportunities for talk and actively planning for them 
  • Outcomes -
    clearly identifying, recording if required and reflecting on the outcomes of talk 
For example, we reflected on our OFSTED judgement through Harkness Discussion, we used roles of talk to explore the ‘Literacy Ladder’ and we have used the ‘onion’ to diversify an INSET on behaviour.

Classroom talk needs to be democratised: we are all familiar with the teacher who uses hand up volunteers, we are all familiar with the handful of students who dominate discussions with their contributions, we are all familiar with the child who gets through a whole day without saying a word. It limits the cognitive load, promotes inequality and diversity and yet it happens every day. Oracy teaching empowers every voice within the classroom through the environment we create and through clearly identifying the purpose of talk:

  • The WHAT of the talk - considerations of content 
  • The HOW of the talk - considerations of form and developed use of protocols that help talk; discuss ‘this’ is not a clear enough instruction 
  • The WHY of the talk - considerations of the purpose of our talk and beyond this to the fundamentals of being an individual in a community. 
Beyond this, our oracy work targets talk scaffolds that build towards reading and writing - how through expressing our learning with our voice in our own words we begin to own our learning. Connecting talking and listening as the first steps towards reading and writing.

We value students individual voice and identity in our week of speeches from year 7, where each student earns their Embrace badge by focusing on presentation skills:

Your confidence in speaking publicly will be linked to your experience of speaking publicly, I always use the maxim in class that the first time the year 7’s cross our school gates they are highly aware of them, but by the time they are in lessons in October they do it daily without thinking about it. Talking publicly is the same, the more you practice the easier it becomes: the frequency with which you do something is highly linked to your confidence in doing it. Confidence is a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it becomes. The challenge for schools, therefore, is to find moments for every year group where every student speaks publicly. It’s what we are trying to do at our school.

I wanted the students words on the impact of #Embrace to shine here, but was rapidly running out of time so these lovely quotes did not appear in my presentation:

  • “I said something that needed to be said, #Embrace gave me the platform to do this”
  • “It was an opportunity to share something that was important to me”
  • “It built my courage”
  • “It feels like the school know me better having given my speech”
  • “Not going out there and giving your speech, would be worse than the nerves you feel doing it”
I would urge anyone reading this to come and experience our #Embrace week for yourself. It is an amazing week: we have witnessed so many great speeches, but I referenced two that stood out to me from last year’s program. The first was a profoundly deaf student, who spoke about the gifts her deafnesses have given her, acknowledging all the good she sees in being deaf and in the process making the audience laugh and weep. The second a student who re-wrote Maya Angelou’s Rise poem with black female heroes at the heart of each verse - the final verse was about her mum who was sat right in the middle of the audience. Both speeches were fierce, brave and full of each student’s passion, perhaps what is more exceptional is that there were 208 other speeches that matched them. The program gives each student the opportunity to let their light shine and as they do they unconsciously give others the permission to do the same. It’s a marvel and a delight - we’d love to help you do it with your students too.

I was pretty much at the end of my time here but managed to say that Oracy is a culture based programme
  • A community is defined by the way that it communicates 
  • At the heart of real collaboration is real communication 
  • No voice can be lost in a community that truly makes EVERY PERSON MATTER 
The future of those you teach will be decided by how they speak at interview mostly: If the students’ literacy can define their life span, Oracy defines your opportunities. I was very much out of time here, but wanted to convey the story of a mother who came to our first year of #Embrace speeches and was overwhelmed by her daughter’s efforts. The mother had not been applying to jobs with presentation tasks, but was so inspired by her daughter's efforts that she had decided she would now.

The anecdote shows that there are real term issues of losing your voice. In my family alone I have a son who did not speak till he was 3 and whose early primary years were thwarted with a lack of vocabulary - I struggle to sum up how hard the vocabulary rich classroom was for him. My daughter is a further example of how oracy is connected to well being as after a year 3 full of unkindness from others, she clearly communicated to her dad and I that she wanted to be ‘invisible’ and not speaking at all was the best way to do this. Beyond them I have a niece, Teren Brandy, who was, in her teens, selectively mute - she wrote a book, Alma, as a tribute to those struggles and which we now use in our Oracy program. Mental Health rests on being able to talk, to share how we feel - we must prioritise teaching talk to ensure well being both for the professionals and the students within our care.

Teaching is talking, we convey everything through our voices and therefore as leaders we cannot underestimate the importance of our colleagues' voices. At the start of every sharing for #Embrace I give a speech; I tell the students that I would never ask them to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself. We wanted year 7 tutors to do the same, but the refusal rate has been alarming. Teachers tell me that they ‘can’t’ do it. How strong are our teachers' voices in our schools? What does this suggest about their communities and collaboration? It seems we need an #Embrace day for teachers as much as year 7.

Oracy is a program of Virtuous Circles: the more you give, the more you get. Above all, it teaches us the truth of Paul Dix’s words:

‘We have to teach the behaviour we want to see’

We are our students’ best models - we can’t afford to have weak voices. We have to risk being heard so that they will. We have to be 10% braver so they will be. It's hard. Your voice might wobble as mine definitely did this Saturday, but what you give will be returned and more.

It is worth the risk, because you are worth more than you currently are.  You always will be.  There is always another step, another challenge, another way to achieve and having a strong voice will always be a great asset. 

Thanks all @womened for helping me to believe in me.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Listening: The Golden Frame

We have been using Peter Reynold's picture book, 'The Dot' with year seven in their oracy lessons this week.  Picture books can be a really good way to reduce transition anxiety at the start of the new year and really capture their attention.
This fabulous book has all sorts of lessons about the learning journey within it.  I originally bought it for my nervous and shy son, who struggles with struggle and persistently told himself that struggle equals a huge, resolute and scary problem.  Whilst reading it to him, I fell in love with the book; like all the greatest picture books, there is an economy of words - the visuals are equal to the words.  In our school, we use it to explore listening, in particular we use the 'golden frame' within the story as a metaphor for the power of listening - how focus and attention in listening can increase a person's capacity to talk well.

The 'Golden Frame' surrounds Vashti's first dot, the first mark she makes in her art class, where in a state of crisis she tells the teacher she just 'can't draw'.  The teacher meets her struggle calmly, insisting she simply makes a mark and owns it by signing it; once Vashti leaves, the teacher frames the simple dot and hangs it above her desk.  This affirmation spurs Vashti on to open her 'never before used' water colours to paint many dots in many colours and sizes, which are then shown as a collection at the school art show that term. There are so many things that Vashti's school is getting right in her education, because the authentic audience for the gallery sharing of her work is younger learners including a boy who believes he can't 'draw a straight line with a ruler' and who interacts with Vashti, giving her the opportunity to help him make his first mark and pass the inspiration to paint on.

One of our 'catch all' phrases for our oracy work is that 'the quality of talk will not exceed the quality of listening': that to talk well, we need others to listen well.  This is easy to model within the lesson: a volunteer is asked to come up to the front and have a conversation with the teacher twice.  In the first conversation, the teacher listens carefully, focusing on the speaker and smiling encouragingly whilst asking questions to draw points out.  In the second conversation, the teacher loses her focus, turns her back and walks away a little, she asks no questions to develop the talk.  The quality of the talk is diminished by the teacher's negative listening.

The lesson then develops to explore the different messages for us as learners within the book (you’ll have to buy the book to understand these quotes – I promise you its worth it):
  • Courage and Resilience - 'just make a mark'
  • Humour - 'Ahh, a polar bear in a snow storm'
  • Kindness - 'she was surprised to see what was hanging above her teacher's desk'
  • Inspiration - 'she opened her never before used set of water colours' 
  • Agency and self belief - 'I can make a better dot than that'
  • Teacher expectations - 'Just make a mark and see where it takes you'
  • Grit - 'Vashti even painted a dot by not painting a dot'
Before drawing all of these ideas towards listening and talk:
  • Courage and Resilience - once you've talked once in class talking again gets easier, listening well is the first step in this journey
  • Humour - be human with each other, making someone laugh through a reflection on their talk can free them up to talk more
  • Kindness - a kind listener hears more
  • Inspiration - you are all 'change makers', your listening will inspire others to talk; changing the world involves listening first
  • Agency and self belief - by letting our light shine, we give others permission to do the same, by listening well we give others the context in which to shine as talkers
  • Teacher expectations - all of your teachers will plan lessons where talk will be significant, they will expect to hear your voice and expect you to hear their's
  • Grit - if you keep listening, others will keep trying - remember to use drawing out questions, immerse yourself in what they are telling you, help them to explore their ideas fully
We currently teach these protocols within this lesson and then consistently model them and scaffold student behaviour toward exhibiting them through the year; I picked them up from leading the EEF/Voice21 Research Pilot in school and must acknowledge the huge part this played in developing our work:
  • The 3 M's of Listening: Teaching self regulation
    • Me Listening
      Attention is focused entirely on themselves.  You are me listening when you are bored or distracted.  Your focus is not in the room.
    • Micro Listening
      Your focus is entirely on WHAT the person says verbally, you will be able to remember what they have said, but have not been thinking actively about their words' significance.
    • Macro Listening
      Large net listening, absorbing everything the speaker is saying; you've considered their tone of voice, energy, facial expression beyond what they are saying and have started to connect HOW they are talking into your understanding.  Beyond this you may notice what they are NOT saying as much as what they are saying.

      PRACTICAL TASK - with the whole group watching say these words 'I'm fine, thanks for asking' firstly as if you really mean them, then as if you really don't - you must indicate this physically both times.  Consider the impact of the voice and body in making meaning.  Try to get the students to find a different statement that can also function like this, e.g. I love you, I hate you, etc.
  • The 3 magic keys to good listening: ***CONTENTIOUS KLAXON***
    • We continue to teach focusing and accepting as good practice, but in lessons discuss how some students/people find eye contact and tracking a speaker difficult.  Using the social and emotional strand, we consider how necessary these skills are:  they do work for the majority of people, but their absence isn't always an indication of negative listening.  I offer the example that many times in a lesson a student will not have focused on me but immediately shows in a question to me that they have indeed been listening.  We reflect on how it feels different to the speaker if they are met by smiling faces, accepting their words and willingly drawing out the talk.  The audience for talks are part of the process, not passive receptors.
    • As teachers we reflected after our #Embrace week last year that as 210 students each gave a speech, the majority of the experience for the majority of the students was listening.  By the end of that week, they understand how key the audience are in helping you to deliver your speech: this lesson prepares them to really enter into that process whole heartedly.

      PRACTICAL ACTIVITY: Ask students to talk to each other in triads, use cards to decide what role they will play in the talk (Good listener/Poor listener/Speaker).  The listeners should not identify themselves: the talk must be easy for the speaker such as describing their route to school that morning.  Let the exercise run then ask the speaker for feedback on the listening in their group - look for themes of how the good/poor listening impacted on their ability to continue to talk.
    • The direction 'I'd like to see your proof of listening everyone!' has been really helpful to teaching staff.
    • Again, it involves the contentious notion that your proof of listening requires eye contact.  We ask each student to consider what their proof of listening would be and offer those behaviours in that moment.
    • The key is to focus on their awareness of how they shift to make themselves receptive and encouraging to others as best they can and to recognise the individuality of how this might look

      PRACTICAL ACTIVITY:  Ask students in pairs to establish their 3 behaviours that will prove they are listening: stillness, single focus point, ears towards the speaker, eyes up, smile, calm pose, etc.  Then get them to demonstrate them all at the same time - pick three examples that contrast with each other and talk through the differences, noting for the class how they all have their own merits and individuality.  In our school, I would reference our #uniquetogether statement from the school mission statement.

When we started planning our discrete oracy curriculum for year 7, the intention was to teach the implicit expectations about talk explicitly and through this to up skill both students and teachers in using talk more actively in the classroom and beyond.  Daniel Willingham asserts, 'Memory is the residue of thought': a student's talk within the classroom is an expression of their thinking.  If we structure and plan for better talk, we will prompt more focused and developed thought and therefore, memory.  Listening is an implicit part of this process; the clarity in our expectations and standards for listening as teachers will impact on the quality of talk. Teaching and modelling the listening expectations, consistently asserting the standards for how we listen will develop the quality of talk also - it's a virtuous circle based in a culture of mutual respect.

We are now moving into our third year of teaching oracy, the entire of our KS3 have been exposed to a year long discrete oracy curriculum and are either on the way to presenting a speech or have presented a speech in our #Embrace week.  We have had university tutors recognise that students have been taught oracy whilst observing their trainees in our school, however, as the Oracy Lead I recognise that the use of oracy protocols is still patchy and needs further attention to become consistent.  Listening is the cornerstone of most lesson practice and developing a school wide approach to it is key to our success as a school; this year I will be working to establish these behaviour expectations as part of our 'Ready to Learn' rule in school.  I hope this will develop more consistent use of language in how teachers refer to the skill of listening and our listening expectations of every student in every lesson.

This week I set a homework asking the students to look out for a 'Golden Moment' of listening in school to talk about in our next lesson.  I am always able to tell them that my example of a 'Golden Moment' was the way they listened to me reading 'The dot' voicing out all the characters with a rapt and silent audience; at the end of one lesson, three girls said that they had their golden moment already - it was me listening to everyone all lesson.  Blooming marvellous!  We are our students best models in listening and talking, as Paul Dix says 'Model the behaviour you want to see'.

I hope this helps you to have many 'Golden Moments' of listening in your lessons.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

In house CPD: Drawing different approaches of great teaching together

What makes great teaching?

This is a discourse question; a brilliant way to start a discussion and generate helpful talk about teaching, but the aim should never be a single answer, because...

Leading a whole evening of CPD where teachers generate their own ideas and provoke interesting discussion based on their existing knowledge and experience of teaching could be an enjoyable CPD event.  It could even provoke some heated moments, however, the pedagogical rigour of a CPD session will be lacking if the session does not move beyond the vernacular of current experience and knowledge in the room.

There currently seems to be a debate on twitter between the need for subject specific CPD versus pedagogy CPD: if you are talking great teaching in whole staff T&L session, the focus needs to be on consensus across departments of the core values for the school in teaching and learning - WHat makes teaching great here?  This consensus can then drive the quality assurance work of the T&L team - see earlier blog here.

To build pedagogical understanding across the CPD session, I'd be tempted to explore some models from other schools and bloggers.  These models should provoke deep thinking and clarify what each teacher knows about the best of their existing practice, whilst probing into how to take it further.

I think I'd start with a whole group introduction of the teacher standards, which give us these headings as the basics of great teaching:
Before giving out the models, I'd be tempted to split into working groups for discussions to ensure that every voice within the session is heard and every teaching mind stretched.  You could even set up the models at different tables within the room and have the groups circulate between them as in a carousel lesson.  The choice of the models is going to be key to what is discussed, I'd promote these:
    • At Huntington school, their model of 'great teaching' has these headings;
    • Inclusive teaching strategies promoted by Mary Meredith to support social and emotional might cover;
      • Consistent routines
      • Clear rules
      • Relationship building
      • Meet and greet
      • Modelling empathy and understanding
      • Personal connections
        (See twitter account @marymered)
    • Ruth Swailes shared these ideas at #BrewEdChezzy (with thanks to Helen P for sharing) for further ways of being an inclusive teacher:

    • From Tom Sherrington's 'Great Teaching: The power of...' we have:
      1. Probing
      2. Rigour
      3. Challenge
      4. Differentation
      5. Joruneys
      6. Explaining
      7. Agility
      8. Awe
      9. Possibilities
      10. Joy
    • From Mark Enser this weekend at ResearchED's national conference we have:
      1. Recap
      2. Input
      3. Application
      4. Test
Prior to asking each of the groups to present their list of what makes teaching great in our school I think you have to consider two other areas of our work:

  • Current Initiatives and how these should impact on the classroom:
    Our #Oracy initiative would suggest that great teaching includes and promotes great talking by:
      • Meeting and greeting - get them talking before they cross the threshold
      • Discussion Guidelines
      • Time to think alone and in pairs before sharing
      • Planned talking activities
      • Strong recording practices such as talk detectives or note takers
      • Scaffolded talking activities
      • Both higher level techniques such as Harkness as well as the basic techniques like referring to the 6 types of talk
      • A chance for every voice to be heard
      • Little use of 'hands up'
      • Links between the talking and writing activities that are exploited for greater gains
  • Literacy and Numeracy - how should these be witnessed within the classroom:
    As the literacy lead for our school, I'd be looking for the support and development of literacy through:
      • Clear use and promotion of the Literacy Ladder to build vocabulary knowledge (Listening/Talking/Reading/Writing)
      • Highlighting the etymology of new words to build understanding and retrieval
      • Removable scaffolds that push the student towards independence in talking, reading and writing
      • Reading strategies including: skimming, scanning and zooming, teacher reading aloud, students reading aloud, discussions deconstructing the reading, support for students who will struggle such as specific highlighted sections of accessibly readable text or coaching/reflection/praise after the reading task.
      • Writing strategies including: group writing, modelled writing, using a WAGOL (What A Good One Looks Like), Deconstruction and construction activities, talking the task before writing the task and links beyond the current task to high/academic literature.
Each Group should report back to the whole staff, but I would save analysis and the final selection of ideas for the middle leaders at a later meeting, where I would push them to really consider data.  Middle Leaders would be asked to attend the meeting with a prepared strengths/weaknesses audit in the teaching and learning in their subject disciplines, which they should have developed within department meetings.  These need to be consolidated together at the start of the meeting and combined to give the team of middle leaders a 'hit list' of practices that need to be targeted in the coming year across departments - ideas for changes in expectations of teachers and learners/students.

The middle leaders should then consolidate the ideas of the whole staff meeting into a single list; the process of doing this should be led by the democratic principles of what was most referenced by staff as well as by the professional judgements of those involved.

The resulting list should then by compared to the 'strengths and weaknesses' audit and adjusted as necessary, practical and reasonable.  At this point middle leaders need to consider how the feedback sheets for observations are designed and tweak them to meet these ends so that all notes, reflections and discussions are targeted towards the agreed 'great teaching' structures.  CPD and line management coaching sessions also need to be tweaked (by paper work if necessary again) to ensure that these agreed skills are subject to training through post observations reflections, coaching and development.

Let me be very clear the intention of this joined up thinking is to support and coach staff into better practice.  This work needs to be about how we raise every professional up towards a challenging and aspirational model of great teaching that has been tailored specifically to the school's context and needs.  Here's a reminder from John Tomsett:

Love over fear, always wins.  By committing to support and train teachers through the quality and quantity of training they receive, the school's outcomes will improve. 

I have never met a teacher, who didn't want to improve and do better for the students in their class, but I have met plenty of teachers who struggle to know where to start and which strategies and ideas to prioritise.  In house CPD is key in every teachers' ability to develop and improve.  Managing CPD effectively is key to reducing the variability of teacher performance - we can talk about attainment gap all we like, what has impact is the teaching every student receives.

Great teaching changes lives.
Great CPD drives it.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Learning about Leading in School

The WHAT of the process: getting the settings right

This used to be the icon for settings back in 1998 when I got my first, brick like mobile phone.  I remember vividly seeing this image and thinking 'That's just like teaching'.  

Odd, but true, let me explain.

In your classroom as a skilled teacher you fine tune activities to yield different learning experiences; for example, when I am introducing a unit of work on theatre design I might start the the lesson with a montage of different openings of productions of the same play and instigate a teacher led discussion about the impact of the design on the same scene with every student engaged in hearing most points.  As the weeks progress in studying theatre design, I will want the students to develop their own concept for the design of our set text and here the discussions will be student led in small groups and then progress to some quiet individual study as concepts begin to be generated and tested out.  An overall lesson might change some of these settings up or down:

The more I mused on this diagram as a teacher, I began to realise that I actually had a settings diagram for each child as well as the lesson plan: students who required more one on one time, students who wouldn't speak up in a whole class discussion but who would talk to me with a small group, students who needed more support with written work.  The diagram scales down to an individual student level and up to a classroom level; what the levels are change depending on who/what they are for

I completed NPQSL in February 2017 and was then asked to function as part of our school's extended leadership team from September 2017.  As my practice and knowledge has developed, I find myself seeing the same settings diagram in my mind for the whole school; it has always seemed to me that the classroom is a good model or microcosm for the school.  The settings diagram might look something like this:

The theory once again following that your choice of variables will be adapted for your school.  For example, schools like Michaela have chosen to up their behaviour controls for students.  Schools like ours have made a commitment to oracy protocols across both teachers and students practice to enhance confidence, trust and independence.  As an SLE I have worked in a variety of settings where different school's give a different accent to their work: heavily prescribed and monitored appraisals or less centrally controlled more teacher directed appraisals, for example.  The variation should be in response to the context of the school and the culture promoted through the senior leadership team: the aim is to get the variables right for the whole school in every classroom for every student.

The very best leaders that I have worked with know their context, students and staff; they have 20/20 vision, cool eyes that do not miss anything, but don't react and it is this that helps them make the best choices - they know the operable variables for their school and exploit them.  They choose the variables to make their vision a reality, their vision gets staff buy in and they manage the logistical practicalities well so that staff and students are engaged in purposeful work in helpful conditions - this is great leadership.

The HOW of the process: Managing vs Leading

When I first started teaching practice, I could either have what felt like bedlam across the drama studio or complete silence as I addressed the class, I struggled to find anywhere in between too much control and not enough.  I could lead well when speaking to the whole class, I could inspire their engagement and get them to understand what I wanted them to do and where the lesson was going, but I couldn't practically manage the class when they were working independently; my instruction and modelling had not sufficiently developed to help them to manage themselves better.  Slowly, I learnt to do better to both lead and manage the classroom.  

That was some 20 years ago now, I have developed into a strong teacher and can manage classes, even multiple classes, well.  I have also developed as a leader of teachers through leading departments, youth theatre networks, faculties, year groups and teams of moderators as an assistant principle moderator.  In the smaller setting of a pastoral team, even the larger setting of faculties or even beyond school working nationally across three teams of moderators, I can lead well getting colleagues to buy into the vision, our purpose in this team and consistently monitor and evaluate progress to ensure that we reach our destination on point, not a couple of yards out.  I can manage well too ensuring that work gets done, employing the necessary logistical structures to allow the team to function well, minimising any obstacles to our progression and ensuring that teachers and students are nurtured and grow through the process and are not undone by it.  

There is a balance to be reached between leading and managing; both are necessary practices in leading a school.  I have known too many leaders who had control without soul and equally too many whose highly wrought vision never becomes a practical reality.  The balance of practical concerns and vision & ethos is key to ensuring a school moves forward purposefully.

The WHY of the process: motivating & engaging the school community

Over the twenty one years of my career in teaching, I have worked in six schools/colleges/educational settings, where I have been led by 9 different head teachers as in three of the six schools the head teacher changed during my time there.  Each of them provided a model for me in what helps me work well and what inspires me.

Trust and Integrity
The head teachers who reached out to me as a person, who took the time to get to know me and who went above and beyond in demonstrating their teaching and leading skills as models.  Those who were unafraid to stand next to me and fail with me in the interest of doing better next time.

Humility - being human
The head teachers, who were able to share the best and worst of their experiences, in order to help me gain perspective on my experiences and grow from them.  The head teacher who owned mistakes and in doing so helped us all to move on.

There has to be laughter.  The catharsis of shared belly laughs glues our community together. There is no better laugh than that with your colleagues as you help to get each other through the days.

Unfortunately, life is a massive journey of ups and downs personally and professionally.  I am so grateful to the head teachers who have gone 'above and beyond' in supporting me.

Respect and Trust
I have always valued the space to work it out for myself and have flourished most when head teachers have respected and trusted in my ability to work it out, who have helped me to grow through coaching me through evaluating and improving my practice.

As an experienced teacher in a recruitment and retention crisis stricken profession, I take such heart from the head teachers who are willing to plough their time into building me as a professional. Those who see it as part of their mission to build me up as much as the school and the students, even if I might leave...

As I grow as a leader, I hope to build on these skills.  The best compliment I ever got from a member of my team was a young teacher who reflected that I need never remonstrate her, because she knew what I expected and knew that it was not only possible, but right. If she ever got anything 'wrong', she continued, she was more disappointed in herself than I was and knew I would only ever be interested in helping her to move on.  This is what it is to lead; essentially I want to move the team towards independence and mastery and then focus on other areas of our practice.

anyone who holds him or her self responsible or accountable 
for finding potential in people or processes.'
Brene Brown

So thank you to Ann Coward, Kate Campion, Neil Rathmel, Helen Pegg, Graham Clarke, John Sullivan, Neil Stonehouse, Marie Garside and Ben Davis for the support in making me realise the leader I want to be.  

I have also been lucky to work with some amazing Deputies so thanks also to Mr Wennington, Penny Wysome, Steve Carter (now a head!) and Mike Carroll; you have all been so significant to my practice.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Engaging parents and carers

I had been a teacher for 12 years before I took my daughter to school for the first time.  I'd been a head of year for over half that time and worked closely with parents, but there is no lesson like experience.  Having a children at school is an eye opener as a teacher, living the experience from another stakeholders shoes gives real perspective.  It took another five years for a teacher to greet me with their full name, it was a game changer for me.

At our annual #Embrace week, parents engagement is immense: it exceeds all other events in school and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.  Parents watch their child give a speech on a subject that they are passionate about in our hall; it provokes all manner of reactions tears, laughter, surprise, empathy... mostly the parents say how much they would have benefited from an experience such as this:

Parents need inspiration, they are as much in need of acts that make them believe in the work of our schools and the commitment of teachers as students are.  Parents need encouragement, they are as much in need of seeing their real child in the process as we are; beyond the targets, statistics and accountability measures... beyond the teenage mood swings, homework battles and daily grind.  Parents are worried and anxious, which has been exacerbated by constant changes and a system in schools that they won't recognise.  They need the reassurance and help that students do.

Parenting is hard, relentless and repetitive.  It doesn't come with a manual; each child's idiosyncratic approach to life will test the parents' will and nerve to breaking points in their own ways.  It's hard and then they do go school and you are judged on everything they do...

It's a relationship based on mutual vulnerability, but personally I would reflect that it is much easier to be the teacher, than the parent.  I will never forget my sage first midwife telling me that I would in time gladly go back to being pregnant, that this was preferable to the child being on the outside.  I must have looked incredulous (I wasn't very good at being pregnant, it didn't suit me, I didn't bloom), because the midwife then said these fateful words, "From the day they are born you wear your heart on the outside of your chest."  And you do... 

Parents were also students once and bring a lot of what they experienced then to your table.  It's hard to return to a place where you did not thrive, harder still to believe that your child will be able to thrive and harder even still to give your child the confidence to be ok.  Like much of what we do as teachers, engaging parents and carers is fraught with the needs of the whole person when we're trying to be 'just teachers'.  I don't like these posters, but I get where they come from

I think what is helpful to remember is that you are the professional in the relationship; you have a professional duty to represent yourself and the school well.  If you can leverage the 'buy in' of the parent, you will have more leverage with the student.  When all the stakeholders work together (teacher/parent/student) everyone does better.

How do you do that? Here's my top 10:
  1. Introduce yourself as a person, Bec Tulloch, not Mrs Tulloch, the teacher role you play.  Shake hands and ensure that you listen as much as you talk.  Use eye contact and talk with them as an equal.
  2. If you are meeting to discuss a difficulty, talk to the parent first and only invite the student in when you are both in agreement about how to proceed.  Students do not need to see the two important adults in their life arguing.  Agree an action plan and stick to it, set a meeting/phonecall up in the near future to review what you've all done (parents get action points as well as students and you as the teacher) make sure you celebrate the successes and continue to address any remaining issues.
  3. Invite them into school, share brilliant work on an afternoon or evening after school.  Use postcards and notes in diaries to promote the positives; see this as putting pennies in the bank with them before ever having to take any out.  My subject as a Drama teacher lends itself so well to this practice, but there will be ways for every single subject to do this.
  4. Stay in regular contact via emails or blogs:  keep them informed about the plan for the term or the focus for work at home.  I love google classroom for this.  I blog most lessons in terms of class resources and suggest other places to go for further information.  Equally the 'in touch' function on SIMS is useful for sending quick messages home with reminders and advice.
  5. Hold a meeting to brief parents about the next needs in your subject/area of school life.  For the Oracy work that we run in year seven, I always get myself a slot in the year 6 induction evening with parents and take students with me.  The students exhibit their jaw breakingly good skills, whilst I get to talk to the parents and ensure buy in for our week of speeches #Embrace.
  6. Plot which parents attend parents evening by postcode.  Work out which areas of your catchment have the lowest engagement with school functions and then hold some functions in their area.  Use a feeder primary school or a church's function room or even the local pub's function room.  Run events that would make a difference to those children there: literacy catch up sessions, numeracy support sessions, homework support sessions - invite other agencies along to work with you.  Train the parents up to support the students at home, be open to helping them through resources, time and extension tasks: for example, a parents briefing on the #oracy or metacognition initiatives you are running in school.
  7. In a telephone call, always ask if they have time to speak to you then and there and if they don't organise a mutually convenient time.  Be prepared to acknowledge and work around their busy lives as much as you need them to do the same. 
  8. Give the parent and child time out together in school.  Be prepared to leave them in the room together and come back into the room at an agreed time.  The parent and the child need you to hear their story as much as you need them to hear yours; work with a view towards consensus and a better tomorrow.  Try to find ways forward, rather than retreading the wrongs of last lesson.
  9. Show them the person, behind the role.  I often find myself sharing the struggles that I have had as a parent with my children; their struggles socially or my struggles with their schools.  You have to risk a little to get a little - faith breeds faith.
  10. LISTEN.  Be open to their views.  They know their child, they may not have the answers for you as a teacher that you want, but they will give you nuggets of information about that student that will help you find the way in and in turn help you to safe guard the student's education or selves.  Try to hear where this family might need help, then make sure you share this understanding with all the teachers of that student.
I often find myself saying to students that I might not be able to change their world and solve all their problems, but I can safe guard their future through a strong education.  I can help them to understand the world better, understand themselves better and achieve more through their education.

You have the power to change lives through education through qualifications sometimes, but mostly, by helping them to learn to be themselves, to find their way.  Sometimes we have to acknowledge that school doesn't work for everyone, we have to search for the intelligent inconsistencies and the reasonable adjustments that this child and family need.

Just like it was when you were a teen the process is trying, difficult and tiring. 

Just like it is for you with your children and their teachers and as it was for your parents and teachers with you.

Be their professional, honest, kind and respectful teacher.

Stay in role enough to keep it together, but not so much that you become oblique.

Be the person you needed when you were young.

Be the person who sees their light, as well as their darkness.

I wrote this blog on the results day of 2018, this was my favourite conversation from the day with a student, whose parents I spoke to a lot.  Even when the results aren't all you'd hoped for, there is still hope.
Then I got this from a student later that night.  A student whose parents I was on first name terms with, whose best mark was in drama and who needed a good few intelligent inconsistencies, but boy, did he thrive! #oscarhopes

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Quality assuring teaching and learning... some thoughts...

I had two brilliant English A level teachers, one who was all (and taught us) 'Wuthering Heights' and one who was all (and taught us) 'Pride and Prejudice', they rarely agreed, except on one very clear point; academic writers must define their terms.  So what does 'Quality Assurance' mean?

'The maintenance of a desired level of quality in a service or product, especially by means of attention to every stage of the process of delivery or production.'

The problem with definitions is that they require further definitions; if we are quality assuring T&L what is the 'desired level of quality in (the) product', how do we evaluate teaching?  What constitutes great practice? What are the features of a good lesson?  Are there variables subject to subject and if so what are they?  Are there core common features and if so what are they?

With the leak of possible changes to the OFSTED framework, how does this change? Do we need to quality assure teaching given the myriad of issues involved in the process?

In an era where there might be no grade for T&L, how does the axis of our school T&L policy begin to change? There is an undeniable link between the accountability measures and how schools choose to quality assure their teachers' work.  At the time of writing this, the term "a rich education" was stimulating debate... does the emphasis now shift towards curriculum and away from T&L?

Will T&L leads now shift to curriculum leads or add this to their portfolio or is it something else entirely sitting with options and timetabling?  How does this change our sense of our school's work, its mission?  

The quality assurance measures of a school will reflect the context and culture of the school.  Yet there are clear pieces of research work which move the debate forward in terms of generic practices across the key stages, subjects, departments and disciplines, what Tom Sherrington calls 'collective action' ('10 Essential Discussions to have in any teacher team') where there is a clear sense of what great teaching looks like.  How do we work together as a team on agreed 'great teaching' practices that should be evident in everyone's classroom every lesson? Is this what quality assurance is?

Essentially, schools have to establish a standard to evaluate T&L against; to agree what great teaching and learning looks like in our context.  This policy should be at the heart of all school's T&L QA procedures and over the course of time should shift and develop.  My sense of this process is that it starts with middle managers and then becomes something that a smaller team take on and report back before publishing to ML and then whole school - perhaps using the Lead Practitioners?

John Tomsett and his teachers at Huntington school went through a process to do this as a school;

It's easy to agree with the terms of 'great teaching' used here in  (find it in this blog) which is really about Performance Related Pay and is a useful reminder of the impact of judging teachers on the community spirit of the school:

'It is potentially corrosive and pits teacher against teacher. Anyone who has worked in a thriving school knows that one of the reasons it thrives is because of its sense of community. I have been determined to prevent the new policy damaging our school’s culture and so far, so good.'

The corrosive nature of grading teacher observations as well as the lack of coherency in judgements has been well played out in the twittersphere, but beyond this, we need to recognise that T&L quality assurance processes have far reaching implications and therefore matter to teachers in a myriad of anxiety inducing ways.  We can't build community without respect, kindness and honesty, it is imperative that a quality assurance policy is steeped in these qualities.

'It's the teacher standards, stupid' and 'minimise the variables' are also quotes from John Tomsett's blog are helpful in creating policy; the teacher standards define the:

'minimum level of practice expected of trainees and teachers from the point of being awarded QTS' and need to be 'applied as appropriate to the role and context within which a trainee or teacher is practising... Following the period of induction, the standards continue to define the level of practice at which all qualified teachers are expected to perform... headteachers (or appraisers) should assess teachers’ performance against the standards to a level that is consistent with what should reasonably be expected of a teacher in the relevant role and at the relevant stage of their career' as the 'professional judgement of headteachers and appraisers is... central to... these standards.'

The standards give us these 'minimum' subheadings for the appraisal/quality assurance of teaching and learning:
  • Part One: Teaching
    • High Expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils
    • Promote good progress and outcomes by all pupils
    • Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge
    • Plan and teach well structured lessons
    • Adapt teaching to respond to strengths and needs of all pupils
    • Make accurate and productive use of assessment
    • Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment
    • Fulfil wider professional responsibilities
  • Part Two: Personal and Professional Conduct
    • Teachers uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by: 
      • treating pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in mutual respect, and at all times observing proper boundaries appropriate to a teacher’s professional position 
      • having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being, in accordance with statutory provisions 
      • showing tolerance of and respect for the rights of others 
      • not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs 
      • ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law. 
    • Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality. 
    • Teachers must have an understanding of, and always act within, the statutory frameworks which set out their professional duties and responsibilities.

If you ever doubted the complexity of teaching and learning, this gives a true sense of how many plates we have to spin as a minimum.  The use of the words 'professional judgement' is interesting:  I well remember feeling overwhelmed by the expectations at the start of my career, but twenty years in can see that the standards are not enough to move teachers on to an expert level. The definition of 'professional judgement' is not immediately available on Google, but with some effort this definition suits our purpose for Quality Assurance:

'You may hear the terms ‘professional judgement’ and ‘practice wisdom’ used during your ITE course, particularly if you ask a teacher why they made a particular decision about how to teach. Sometimes, it is difficult for an experienced teacher to unpack what lies behind their decision-making processes (Hobson, 2002, Jones and Straker, 2006). What often lies behind professional judgements or practice wisdom is years of experimenting with different approaches, incorporating different ideas from research, theory and practice, and constant critical reflection.'

Each school, each context needs to add to the definition of what it is to teach well in their context.  The professional judgements of those teachers in their classroom is key to this as is other quality assurance work such as departmental level results analysis, departmental SEFs and Line Managers overviews of strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed across teachers and students work. Beyond this research into the wider workings of academic research and other schools in similar contexts would be interesting to look at.

Inclusion and the issue of minimising the 'gap' in attainment across the school's cohorts is a key measure for OFSTED.  On this theme, Mary Meredith proposed at the start of the summer that we as a profession need to 'focus more on the art and (a) bit less on the mechanics' of teaching in a great tweeted thread where the nature of what it is to be an inclusive teacher was carefully addressed:

I like the division of teaching into subject teaching, rules/routines and inclusive practices; the level of specification of what it is to be inclusive is really important here.  A colleague was talking through all of the support she had put in place for a specific student towards the end of last term and feeling like she had done 'a lot', which she had, but was told to be 'even kinder still' by another colleague in her department: because of the integrity and reputation of that colleague with hard to reach students, the advice was taken on board and more support was given to the student. I heard the story being told to a further colleague later that day; 'Being kinder still' is a great culture to build into teaching through colleague mentoring.  These inclusive strategies are as useful for teachers as they are for students and make a useful addition to the ideas set out by Huntington in striving to acknowledge the action needed by the teacher to include all students.

Social and emotional support given to students has impact on outcomes, peer to peer coaching has impact on professionals, but any quality assurance policy for T&L needs to give teachers ways on extending their pedagogical and subject specific knowledge.  Durrington Research School and the work of the twitter giants, Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison would be my next go to place with their book series, 'Making Every Lesson Count'.

The power of the work of this duo and their school T&L blog,, is the focus on the minutiae of teaching and the necessary cycles of behaviour for students to be supported into purposeful practice.  If you haven't read the book, there are now a series of subject specific focused reads which really engage with the day to day practice of teachers in the classroom.  It's full of strategies to use within your classroom as well as really specific guidance in what to do to hone your developing craft.  I love that it is dedicated and experienced professionals sharing their hard won experience and know that engaging with this practice as a teaching team would develop any and all professionals.

Once a quality assurance framework is established - your "this is what great teaching looks like here" policy - there would be much merit in post observation reflective discussions focused on this work and the work of Doug Lemov and his website,  Both of this site and book give the teacher a chance to extend and develop autonomously beyond the whole school CPD.  There would be much merit in training up a small observing team, perhaps those lead practitioners again, in the work of these professionals(Tharby/Allison/Lemov) and all that it offers teachers in honing their craft. This would ensure that reflective conversations are not only policy, but resource based, giving every professional the best chance to continue to develop with teacher specific strategies and ideas to extend their individual practice.

My final go to piece would be the work of Rob Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major on 'What makes Great Teaching' for the Sutton Trust.   As well as identifying the facets of great teaching:
  1. (Pedagogical) content knowledge 
    (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes) 
    The most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level it is a significant impediment to students’ learning. As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions. 
  2. Quality of instruction 
    (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes) 
    Includes elements such as effective questioning and use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely Executive Summary 3 and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also elements of high quality instruction. 
  3. Classroom climate 
    (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes) 
    Covers quality of interactions between teachers and students, and teacher expectations: the need to create a classroom that is constantly demanding more, but still recognising students’ self-worth. It also involves attributing student success to effort rather than ability and valuing resilience to failure (grit).
  4. Classroom management 
    (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes) 
    A teacher’s abilities to make efficient use of lesson time, to coordinate classroom resources and space, and to manage students’ behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced, are all relevant to maximising the learning that can take place. These environmental factors are necessary for good learning rather than its direct components. 
  5. Teacher beliefs 
    (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes) 
    Why teachers adopt particular practices, the purposes they aim to achieve, their theories about what learning is and how it happens and their conceptual models of the nature and role of teaching in the learning process all seem to be important. 
  6. Professional behaviours 
    (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes) 
    Behaviours exhibited by teachers such as reflecting on and developing professional practice, participation in professional development, supporting colleagues, and liaising and communicating with parents. 
This piece of research work gathers together evidence of how best to employ an observation framework for impact:

'Successful teacher observations are primarily used as a formative process – framed as a development tool creating reflective and self-directed teacher learners as opposed to a high stakes evaluation or appraisal. However, while observation is effective when undertaken as a collaborative and collegial exercise among peers, the literature also emphasises the need for challenge in the process – involving, to some extent, principals or external experts.'

I have always believed that the classroom is a microcosm of the school, that what is right at a classroom level often gives us the best indication of what is right in leading professionals and this research confirmed this:

'A review by Timperley et al. details a teacher ‘knowledge-building cycle ' - a feedback loop for teachers – that is associated with improved student outcomes. Their synthesis ‘assumes that what goes on in the black box of teacher learning is 5 fundamentally similar to student learning’. And their findings suggest that teacher learning can have a sizeable impact on student outcomes.'

Teachers need to be challenged in a healthy way; too often school's challenge through mocksteds which increase threat as well as challenge.  In my early days of teaching in Shropshire, I worked within the advisory team supporting the creative arts adviser.  It was a fantastic opportunity to see some truly gifted subject specific advisers; one of my favourites was the maths adviser, who when calling a school to arrange a visit would always ask to teach a class with the HoD watching prior to starting any work with them.  The 'buy in' and genuine good will that this brought to his days with maths teams around the county was worth any level of squirming discomfort with the set 3 year 8's they always seemed to give him.  This is worth replicating on any level you can, through planning and delivering a team taught lesson where subject specialisms can be shared (e.g. a light unit for a physics class taught with theatre lights in school) or simply having the observee come and watch the observer before observing them. 

There is evidence within the report about how to use pupil voice and what the validity of this may be in establishing ways of improving student outcomes.  The issue with this is avoiding the 'popularity' game and ensuring that the students words are turned into action through briefings or helpful CPD.  Any evidence gained in this way needs to be tested before it results in action and again being honest, helpful and kind with the information you glean is paramount.

Over the twenty years of managing departments, year groups, faculties and houses, I have been asked to record information from quality assurance processes of observations in a myriad of ways; most of them too punitive, time consuming and ineffective.  The report from the Sutton Trust is clear that there are six principles of effective teacher feedback:

'Sustained professional learning is most likely to result when: 
  1. the focus is kept clearly on improving student outcomes; 
  2. feedback is related to clear, specific and challenging goals for the recipient; 
  3. attention is on the learning rather than to the person or to comparisons with others; 
  4. teachers are encouraged to be continual independent learners; 
  5. feedback is mediated by a mentor in an environment of trust and support;
  6. an environment of professional learning and support is promoted by the school’s leadership.'

The quality assurance processes of a school are 'formative assessments', part of a wider picture of whole staff CPD, subject specific CPD, departmental agendas, line management agendas and appraisal documents.  As Andy Tharby notes in his blog, 'always chose the simpler option' - time is our most precious resource.  Quick formative records of reflective post-obs conversations, records of CPD shifts to meet needs and reporting back to line managers can be rough recordings of oral feedback. (No stamp required)  Above all, continual reflection between your T&L team and the middle leaders/line managers will really help the school in addressing issues quickly.

There is an unpalatable truth is assessing the impact of T&L, which the Sutton Report sums up well:

'We define effective teaching as that which leads to improved student achievement using outcomes that matter to their future success. Defining effective teaching is not easy. The research keeps coming back to this critical point: student progress is the yardstick by which teacher quality should be assessed. Ultimately, for a judgement about whether teaching is effective, to be seen as trustworthy, it must be checked against the progress being made by students.'

And whilst a million caveats need to be added about single sets of class data, single observations, triangulation of evidence, consistency in observation practice, at some point you and the teacher/departments/whole school need to reflect on how what you did had impact on outcomes and how action can be honed in the coming year for the next cohorts; openly, honestly, kindly and respectfully.

I have a strong feeling that coaching has a strong part to play in any T&L quality assurance as the process needs to be self directed by the teachers involved within it and just as they are with students, relationships will be key to this work.  I would also strongly suggest that if you run an initiative like #oracy or growth mindset that your feedback forms direct the teaching practitioners involved to discuss this.  Everyone needs to buy into a view of what great teaching is in your context, everyone needs to feel supported through T&L processes to self evaluate and improve, challenge is helpful but should come without fear, observations need to be consistent, reflective conversations need to give teachers places to go to extend their practice, recording processes need to be active and simple and finally, the in house CPD needs to be tailored to suit the needs in the findings.  #simples

I wanted to end by returning to the two A'Level teachers I had who were polar opposites of each other, but who recognised this, told us about their differences at the start of the course and consistently used their differing views to build a fantastically strong and interesting course for us.  I favoured them both equally for different reasons as a student and recognise now as a leader that there is a huge lesson for us here in quality assuring the work of our teachers in our school. #valueteachers #recruitmentcrisis