That’s just TYPICAL!!

Anyone can pull a great lesson out of the bag, especially for an observation and especially if the observation is stone age-esque where the observer does not get a handle on what is actually happening and sits in a corner writing (does that still happen!?)

We have moved to a system where the progress of all groups of pupils is looked at from three different aspects; in the lesson, in the data and through pupil work. It does give a thorough picture and a great starting point for developing strength and improvement.

What I am really interested in is typicality (hate that term though!!!!!) in other words what goes on in lessons on a daily basis to ensure progress over time? The more I delve into this to try and explore and improve it – the more difficult I find it!!! Great daily practice is impossible to measure – there are too many variables – but BRILLIANT daily practice is so easy to see (paradox?) We all know a fab teacher when we see one in action – even for only 15 minutes!!

We all know what we would expect to see in a great lesson, but great TEACHING is all about great habits. In my experience the teachers who are amazing, day in day out are highly skilful in implementing these essentials in their daily working practice and actually enjoy what they do – some don’t realise they are even doing it!!

Planning

Clever planning is crucial. All teachers should have PLANNED lessons (not necessarily written down extensively in a ‘lesson plan.’) Teachers who plan well know their pupils and plan for the best possible outcomes. It shouldn’t take ages – use the 5 minute lesson plan by @teachertoolkit – I do! A great plan should have flexibility to allow for some spontaneity as and when required. Great teachers think about how their lesson is going to evolve before it happens – they have vision. Equally they can adapt or change tack, they can think on their feet! Essentially, they know where the learning will go and take their students with them.

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Relationships

Teachers who are great day in day out have professional relationships with all they encounter, and are able to establish them quickly and maintain them. Where relationships are strong with students, confidence and progress flows. The students know that the teacher believes in them, therefore they believe in themselves and each other. With strong practice, relationships are all about expectation, not ego. Teachers who demonstrate great relationships are positive and solution focused. They are able to work as part of a team or on their own equally well.

Every Kid Needs a Champion

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Subject Knowledge

Daily practice is easier if your knowledge for the subject is strong. It is simple for a teacher to enthuse about a topic and go off piste for a while, or to enrich the learning with something related to the world or careers….or a gory story works well in some subjects!!! Kids love it! If you teach outside your subject area….swat up! Stay 10 steps ahead. We all know that knowledge of the curriculum, exam specs, post16/19/career progression routes will help your students also. Best teachers are also spot on with their pedagogical knowledge of how to teach the students their subjects…..put differently, they know what works and they use and build on it! Knowledge is everything! Know your students too!

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Communication

Teachers who have great daily practice are excellent communicators. It is a pleasure to be in their lessons, the kids hang on every word of an explanation or set of instructions. Teachers make themselves clear, they keep it simple. They use body language to their advantage naturally. Everything is communicated – the slightest behavioural expectation to the complex concept to the deadline for homework. Nothing is in doubt. They are expert listeners and use a variety of strategies to get their message across.

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Evaluation

Great teachers, naturally evaluate. They think and say things like ‘what if,’ ‘next time….’ They know their own strengths and weaknesses and act on them. They consistently evaluate the performance of their pupils formatively and summatively and encourage their students to act on feedback habitually. They are open to suggestions and plan for improvement. They seek feedback from many sources including their pupils. They feel good when they know they’ve got it right, but pick themselves up and dust down when things go wrong. I have found that using IRIS really helps teachers self evaluation skills. Try it – a bit weird at first, but good once you’ve got used to it! We will be experimenting with the in-ear coaching system next term.

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So, all in all, typically great teachers have the skills above in abundance! Some don’t realise what is is that they are doing, because it’s just natural. I really believe that teaching is an art, not a science. They just do it without question! However, if any of the above skills don’t come naturally, they can be made habit – if someone is willing to change their mindset! Creating positive habits to improve daily practice is where we should begin.

The Art of Teaching – Sir Ken Robinson

Adapting Fast!

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Well, I’m two weeks in now and I’m slightly exhausted! It’s not physical exhaustion, it’s purely mental. I really am determined to make a difference and with that mindset, you notice EVERYTHING! The slightest thing that could do with an improvement, but of course, you can’t sort everything at once. Continue reading →

Evaluating Teaching

The first round of lesson observations, using my new system of ‘no grades’ was conducted in December, and having completed the analysis, I am actually quite pleased by how it has gone.  It was brave to ‘go for it’ and ditch the grades…..my school is in serious weaknesses and I wasn’t even SLT back then in December!  Previously, it has been ‘all about the grade ’bout the grade -no trouble  (that was reference to a song by the way if you momentarily didn’t know what I was talking about!) and before you had even discussed what was brilliant or needed improvement about a teachers lesson in their feedback…they wanted to know what number they were, me included when I was observed!  The grading system worked OK if you were a 1 or a 2……especially if you were consciously competent and knew WHY you were good, but it works less well, if you are NTI or worse.  A meaningless number for an individual member of staff is NOT going to help their practice no matter what!  Therefore I questioned the impact of giving lesson ‘grades’ on pupil progress, which is ultimately what we want to improve.  I was also a little concerned about ‘one-off’ showy lessons being performed, graded and the whole teaching and learning of the school being judged on this.

My first work on this started about 8 months ago.  I was doing lots of reading and research about ‘typicality’ and ‘daily practice’ and realised that if we were to improve teaching and learning, it’s what teachers do, day-in day-out that is going to make a difference.  I started thinking about how we could evaluate that and after much thought, I came up with six pre-conditions for progress’ that great teachers instil in their classrooms in abundance on a daily basis.  Things that you can’t really switch on and off for a lesson observation.  These six conditions are as follows:

  • Student Engagement
  • Appropriate Pitch and Differentiation
  • Effective Explanation and Modelling
  • Questioning to Check Understanding
  • Recap, Refocus and Intervention
  • Student Application to Demonstrate Learning

CPD with all staff defined each of these ‘pre-conditions’ and how they linked to progress in a lesson.  We spent some time together on questioning, student engagement and will be spending time this year on Recap, Refocus and Intervention – which is largely feedback, verbal and non-verbal.

I then looked at how PROGRESS DATA correlated with existing teaching and learning data….there was NO correlation at all.  You would think that good and outstanding teachers would achieve good and outstanding results. There was a huge gap between teaching grades and pupil outcomes. I also presented this to staff, so that everyone was clear.  We were saying our teaching was ok, but actually our results were not suggesting our teaching was OK at all!  Moral of the story – WHAT WE DO IN OUR CLASSROOMS HAS A DIRECT IMPACT ON THE SUCCESS OF OUR PUPILS!!  So I knew, that in the evaluation of teaching and learning we had to take account of data.  After each data capture, staff now receive a print out of their class results.   Staff make this data available during any observations and are encouraged to scribble any contextual information on the sheet – for example ‘attends revision each Wednesday.’  It takes 2 minutes and is a record of how each teacher has intervened.  It also identifies PP children so any gaps can be seen immediately.  As new data comes in, for each data capture, you should be able to track the progress over time and the impact of the teaching on the learning.

I then thought about pupil work, and during an observation (or any time) it is possible to look at the quality, sequence and progress in books/folders etc.  You can also see the effectiveness of feedback.  Looking at work and talking to the pupils about it gives a really clear indication of progress over time and opportunity for gathering some pupil voice.

So my three strands for judging the quality of teaching and learning are:

PROGRESS IN THE LESSON (using the six pre-conditions for progress)

PROGRESS IN PUPIL WORK

PROGRESS THROUGH DATA

When these three vital aspects of teaching are RAG rated and triangulated it gives a good indication of the typical practice but MOST importantly, gives a really good and thorough focus for feedback.  Teachers are recognising and talking about how these three areas are all interdependent.  It is LESS about the ‘number’ now, and much, much more about the open and honest conversations that have to take place in order to move forward.  For each strand, Red is defined as ‘does not support progress,’ Yellow is ‘with some areas for development,’ and Green is ‘demonstrating significant strength.’  SLT and middle leaders will be able to discuss progress from three different angles with data to justify evaluations.  Using this system we can also show progress over time for the teaching and learning in school too!  BONUS!

To test the quality of the system (and because I’m a bit of a geek anyway), I pivoted the difference in progress data from HT to FT against the RAG rating for the preconditions for progress.  The hypothesis being that if a teacher had ‘significant strength’ in their lesson observation, they would make the most pupil progress – it was a clear relationship apart from one anomaly! The greens were clumped at one side and the reds at the other.

No system is perfect, and there are some tweaks and adjustments I need to make – it is a work in progress that will develop as our needs change as a school.  This work has taken months – from staff CPD sessions to actually getting it out there to middle leaders, to ensuring that we are as consistent as can be when observing and giving feedback – the feedback from staff has been positive, and I look forward to working further on this reflective and informative system to ensure real, significant and robust developments in teaching and learning.

Stepping up to SLT

It is going to be an exciting 2015 full of learning curves, highs, lows and experiences. I know some of these experiences will make me feel on top of the world, others will frustrate me massively. Sometimes I will feel like I am really winning and that is what I would prefer to focus on.

I am starting my new role as Assistant Principal with responsibility for teaching and learning. My school has had its ups and downs, with 2 full site changes and 5 different heads in as many years and an academy conversion, but we are on the up. I have to transform the way we teach and the way we view learning. I have already introduced an observation protocol that has ditched grading individual teachers and it seems (at first evaluation) that conversations about teaching and learning are becoming absolutely central to our forward drive. I plan on introducing lots of CPD opportunities for staff to develop their own and others teaching. I also want to make a positive impact on attitudes to learning but in a holistic way, from insisting that pupils bring the correct equipment for learning to developing real strategies for student engagement and many other things that some may see as trivial, like addressing the consumption of energy drinks!  My first main strand for improving teaching will be working with our staff on improving the feedback we give to our pupils.

So much to do! My problem is my impatience and that is something I will really have to work on over the forthcoming term.  I must realise that as well as making important short-term gains, long-term gains take time and real foundation laying to make improvement sustainable and high impact.

I am a little apprehensive about my new role….who wouldn’t be? However, I am more determined than I ever have been in my life to make the difference, to go the extra mile and to make our school a world-class place for learning.

Our journey is going to be tough, but nothing great ever came easily.

I will be updating this blog regularly with initiatives, impacts, my learning curve and anything remotely interesting about my life as an assistant principal. Feedback greatly appreciated!