I’ve only been teaching for 10 years, but even within this relatively short period of time, ideas and received wisdom have changed greatly. Rapid progress, brain gym, learning styles, (limited) teacher talk, and triple marking are just a few of the approaches that I’ve been told I should include in “outstanding” lessons, some of which have since been debunked.
Experienced teachers talk about ideas coming round full circle. For me, the main reason for using evidence to inform practice is to help us question what we’re doing and why, and to use expertise and evidence to help us decide on the best approach.
Our school has a re-structured CPD programme this year. You can read more about it here, but in brief, it follows an evidence-informed peer-coaching model.
Vicki and I were asked to talk about the school CPD programme from our own perspective at the staff meeting on Tuesday, because we were both members of Journal Club last year, and we have contributed ideas to the programme.
Neither of us had ever stood up in front of the rest of our colleagues like this before and, inevitably, we were both rather nervous! So we made some brief notes about what we wanted to say beforehand.
This blog post is my personal interpretation of our notes and the meeting itself. We THINK we said most of what we had planned to say although, as with anything like this, it’s actually all a bit of a blur….
Using evidence to make informed decisions
“Teachers need professional development that is relevant to their practice and which has significant impact on pupil achievement. They need more than narrow ‘CPD’ comprising stale, irrelevant and one-off events. They need readier access to evidence and expertise to allow them to make informed decisions about their professional development.”
Researchers not Sages
This report from CUREE (Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education) about accelerating progress in schools says:
“excellent schools don’t have ‘pockets of excellence.’ They instead strive to remove barriers to learning for both students and teachers. In emerging schools, teachers were held up as outstanding practitioners for others to go and see, creating a growing divide…. [schools should] trust teachers to improve, provide support to allow this to happen and move away from ‘pockets of excellence.’”
Our school is doing well, and outcomes for our pupils are good. So we know that there is already good practice throughout the school, and this experience needs to be respected. All our teachers, whatever their level of experience, should be used as fully as possible, because they are a very valuable “resource”.
So this CPD programme is about learning from each other, and using school time to reflect on what we want to do to improve our own practice, while allowing us to decide how we want to do this.
Having said that, we realise that people will want to approach all this in different ways. We are all incredibly busy most of the time, and some people will simply want to discuss ideas, and be given “ready-made” strategies to try. We are therefore producing a booklet of evidence-informed ideas for them to discuss and try out.
On the other hand, there are plenty of teachers who are perfectly capable of reading and discussing any relevant evidence themselves, and then working out how to apply it to their own practice.
This programme is therefore not (necessarily) about being given innovative new ideas to take back to the classroom, but rather it is about applying well-researched ideas to our own practice. We want to give people time and space to tweak what they do, to take risks, and try things out. But we also want them to question what they do, using research to inform their decisions.
Take (evidence-informed) risks
This programme feeds into our PM process, so it is important that people don’t see it as a potential “stick to beat people with”. If we are to improve our practice, and take risks in the process, then sometimes things will not go according to plan. At times, this might be when someone is observing (or coaching) us.
When they spoke at the meeting, both Roger and Tom emphasised that this is designed to be a developmental process, and not a judgemental one. The school have already removed gradings from lesson observations, which is a positive step, and they appreciate that any planned success criteria that are set at the start of the year might not actually be “met”, in the way we had originally anticipated, by the end of the year.
Tom talked about creating a culture of “love over fear” (referencing a book by John Thomsett, reviewed here, and available to borrow from the staffroom). Roger emphasised that this PM objective is all about engaging with the process, reflecting, and trying things, rather than demonstrating a specific measure of progress at the end of it.
Learn from each other
Overall, we are trying to emulate those conversations that we all have anyway. Teachers are well-known for being boring party guests, because they inevitably end up talking about work. Any time I walk into the coffee room, my colleagues will generally be talking about teaching, not because they have to, but because they want to, or they find it interesting and helpful.
The idea of this programme is that we are given time to have those conversations with people who have similar aims to us. Hopefully, we’ll be grouped with people we might not usually talk to, too. Last year in Journal Club, Vicki and I learned a great deal from each other just by talking about what we’d done, and throwing ideas around. Before Journal Club, I don’t think we’d ever really spoken to each other about our work.
Tom spoke about how the peer-observation aspect should be regarded as help and support from a “critical friend”. We’re really keen that people don’t see this process as something to be scared of. We’ve all had lessons where hardly anything that we planned beforehand has happened during the hour when we’re with the class. If this happens when someone else is in the room (and “observing” us), it can feel wretched. It’s important that we see these times as a chance to just chat things through with someone we trust, and to use them to help us develop.
Notre Dame’s vision for Continuing Professional Development is therefore “a culture of allies that support each other’s professional development, sharing the belief that we are all life-long leanrers, and empowering each other as resilient professionals resulting in better outcomes for students”
Little changes, big impact
Vicki talked about how, for her, this approach is all about little changes making a big impact. She is teaching 11 different classes this year and, much as it’s nice to do something “whizzy” every now and then, it is physically impossible to sustain this in the long term.
Last year, Vicki used ideas about metacognition in her History teaching. A few of us also did this in Science. She talked about how these small changes had really helped us all, despite our teaching very different subjects.
This year, Vicki is going to apply some of the strategies she’s read about in Levmov’s Teach Like a Champion (a book that is available to borrow from the staffroom), and she’s keen to get others involved via our new Reading Group.
If this programme is going to be effective, it will rely on people engaging with it, getting involved, and contrabuting ideas. So we highlighted a number of ways that people can do this.
Firstly, we are in the process of putting together a booklet that will form the basis of Teaching and Learning meetings. We are collecting together strategies and sources that are relevant to each of our questions, as a basis for discussion.
We would welcome contributions from others across the school. Please get in touch with Roger if you want to help.
I’ve been posting links in the Bulletin Blog Spot for a while now (list of posts here). There is no grand plan or strategy behind what I post. I do spend (too) much of my spare time reading, and I post anything that I think other people might find interesting. Please let me know if you see anything and think I should link to it.
This blog site is a chance for us to share examples of good practice with each other from within our own school. Posts are in the pipeline for a range of topics eg. Mindfulness sessions for staff, a (no) marking policy in the English Dept, Growth Mindset in maths, Secret Buddies, Austin’s butterfly, more Lemov, Whole-class mock-marking, STEM club, Google forms, flipped learning, book reviews… Can you think of anything else we should write about? Please let me know or write a post yourself.
We now have a range of books in the Staffroom (listed here).
Please borrow them and tell others about what you’ve read. If you can think of any other books that should be there, let me know.
There are many of us here that are reading the works of experts but not getting a chance to share what we’ve found interesting, except with people that we happen to chat to anyway. We’re excited about the new CPD programme, but it has inevitably led to the demise of our beloved journal club. So we too have undergone a rebranding. We are now: Reading club!
Our plan is to share with others about something we’ve read or something we’ve tried out. There is no pressure to take part in this at all. We’d say it’s voluntary, but that’s a dangerous word for busy people. However, we can guarantee that it will only last for 15 minutes, and there will be biscuits! We just want a chance to discuss what the educationalists are saying, and think about whether it’s worth using their ideas.
Please come along on Wednesday, if you can spare the time. We’re meeting in the staffroom at 1pm.
NB: I wanted to call the new meet-ups Geek Club, but Vicki has told me very firmly that it most certainly won’t be a club for geeks (only). We’ll let you know who was right after our first meeting…
(post written by NKA)