Leading change and changing how we lead – how we’ll improve sentence construction across the school

We have a well thought out English curriculum and the intent behind it is that children will master the art of speaking and listening as well as the craft of writing. Establishing talk for writing has been pivotal in raising expectations of the quality and quantity of writing expected by teachers and after 10 weeks or so has resulted in a significant improvement in children’s writing.

Something is lacking though. When children write more independently, it is at sentence level upon which the overall quality of the piece relies. Children do not yet have mastery over the science or the art of sentence construction.

In this series of blogs, I’ll document what we’re doing about it, drawing on the EEF’s Putting evidence to work – a school’s guide to implementation, Kotter’s 8 step model for leading change and the Teacher Development Trust’s Developing Great Teaching.

Foundations for good implementation

The first piece of guidance from the EEF is to treat implementation as a process not an event. It is all too easy as a leader to rush into a training session with teachers, hand something out along with instructions and think the job is done. In their review of effective CPD, the Teacher Development Trust’s Developing Great Teaching found that a duration of at least two terms and more likely a year or more is the time needed to secure profound, lasting change. What’s important here is to balance between allowing enough time to prepare for the implementation withoug getting stuck in the planning zone with no action.

The second piece of advice from the EEF is to create a leadership environment and a school climate that is conducive to implementation. This begins with a clear vision and values. At Courthouse, we aim for every child to flourish and this is underpinned by three values: the pursuit of knowledge, doing the right thing and leadership and teamwork. Any change is framed within this thinking. The need for improvement in how we teach sentence construction is driven by our aim for every child to flourish. One way that children can flourish is by ensuring that they gain mastery over the English language, to choose just the right words in the perfect order to put across their point. Our value of the pursuit of knowledge drives the work. Teachers must be experts in language in order to expose children to great sentences then model and explain how to craft them. The habit that we instill in children to pursue knowledge will guide them to thirstily soak up language and savour the well turned phrase.

A climate that balances urgency with trust and support will allow teachers to flourish in their pursuit of shared intent. Kotter’s first step in his model for change is to create urgency. Teachers must feel that unless we do something about children’s sentence construction, they will not master the art of speaking nor the craft of writing so it is our moral imperative to get it right. Leaders’ behaviours and utterances show what they value and so a common language about this whole school priority is vital. Leaders at Courthouse will begin to draw teachers’ attention to sentences not just in English but across the curriculum. We already use my turn, your turn to practise with children succinct complete thoughts turned into vocalised sentences, for children can only write what they can say. Our urgency also comes from assessment. We have just completed two rounds of writing assessment using the comparative judgement process by No More Marking and the resultant insights into quality of writing has sharpened our thinking. Making multiple comparisons between pieces of writing certainly makes patterns across a year group easy to spot. The urgency needed goes beyond our gates. The weekly newsletter already has well crafted sentences from the inspirational people whose names give identity to our classes – a discussion prompt for parents and children over the weekend.

Trust is needed. We have consistent principles but flexible practices when it comes to teaching and teachers are encouraged through day to day conversations to think about the best way to meet the principles for their class in that lesson. Professional risk taking is supported by leaders.

Change driven by one person is dependent on that individual. Kotter’s advice on building a guiding coalition is echoed by the EEF in recommending building leadership capacity. At Courthouse, the curriculum and assessment leader, the English leader and the leader of teaching and learning have important roles to play to model the behaviours desired of teachers, to champion the vision and strategies and to remove barriers to implementation. These early adopters try strategies in advance and iron out any difficulties to make implementation by the majority far smoother. We’ll meet as a group first to take the first small step of clarifying a strategy and trialling it in a small number of classes. When the time comes to roll out the strategies further, there will be a range of voices explaining their experience, what worked well and the pitfalls to avoid.

The foundations for effective implementation are set and the next stage is to explore in more detail how we’re going to turn the identified need into a coherent improvement strategy.

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