Tag Archives: teacher quality

What I think about…professional learning

Moving schools and with more than an eye on headship is sure to get you reflecting. The following posts are what I think about various things, in no particular order. Previous posts were about displays, learning generally, maths and reading. Next up – professional learning.

What should leaders prioritise?

With likely a range of often conflicting priorities, deciding what to work on is tricky.  Subject leaders will strive to keep their subject’s nose in front of the rest but ultimately, leaders must be able to zero in on what it is that the children need.  Once that is known, leaders can think about what teachers might need to do differently in order for those outcomes for children to be realised.  The list of things that teachers (could) do day to day is endless so leaders must be able to judge, through experience or by leaning on research, which of those things are worth pursuing and which need to be jettisoned because they take up our time and mental effort for no significant impact.  Research such as that by Hattie is useful but are the interventions described in such research too broad?  For example it is obvious that feedback can have a significant impact on learning but only if it’s done well.  Consider the difference between these scenarios:

  • training on implementing a new feedback policy
  • training on providing feedback on persuasive writing

Or these:

  • training on clear teacher explanations
  • training on explaining how to add fractions clearly

There is a difference between being research led and research informed.  Research should be considered in combination with the needs of children and teachers so that leaders get teachers thinking about effective ways to teach.

This would go some way to ensuring that teachers’ subject and pedagogical knowledge is developed, in line with the Sutton Trust report into what makes great teaching. It’s relatively straight forward to ensure that the focus is on those things, however ensuring the impact is a lot trickier. It makes sense for leaders to have from the outset a very clear idea of what they want that impact to be. Phil Stock’s post on evaluating impact (based on  Guskey’s hierarchy of five levels of impact) is very useful here in terms of leaders planning what they want to happen as a result of professional learning and the rest of this post details how one might do that.


Intended impact on outcomes for children

The intended outcomes for children should be set out so that there is no misunderstanding of the standard to be achieved. Using resources like Rising Stars Assessment Bank for maths can help teachers to gather the types of questions that all children will be expected to answer.  The same can be done for a unit of work on reading – find or write the questions about a text or texts, including the quality of response that you’d expect in order to demonstrate age related expectations.  Something similar can be done for writing.  Find or write a piece that would exemplify the standard that you’d expect from children.  Whatever the subject, leaders working with teachers to clarify what exactly children will be able to do and what their work will look like is the goal.

Individual questions would serve as criterion based assessment but for reading and maths, these questions could be compiled into an overall unit assessment and a target could be set for all children to achieve in the first phase of a unit of work. Gentile and Lalley, in Standards and Mastery Learning  discuss the idea that forgetting is the inevitable consequence of initial learning even if it is to a high standard of say 80%+ .  The problem is that for the most vulnerable children, who don’t achieve that initial mastery of the content to anywhere near that standard, forgetting happens more quickly and more completely.  If children don’t initially understand to a certain level, their learning over time is far less likely to stick and will make subsequent planned revision not revision at all but a new beginning.  Therefore, the expectation of the impact on children of any professional learning simply must be that all children achieve a good standard of initial understanding, whether that is judged as absolute through criterion referenced assessment or by a percentage on a carefully designed test.

Now of course, meeting the standard set on an assessment means nothing unless it is retained or built upon. This initial assessment would not be at the end of the unit of work but part way through.   I’d expect, on an end of unit test, higher percentages compared to those that children will have achieved on the initial assessment.  This is because that initial assessment will have served to tailor teaching to support those that require further instruction or practice.  And I’d expect that intervention to have worked.

To summarise, teachers and leaders first set the assessment and the standard to be achieved.  The unit of work is taught until all children can attain the standard, then the unit continues, deepening the understanding of all which is then checked upon at the end of the unit and beyond. The DfE’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (July 2016) identifies the importance of continually evaluating the impact on outcomes for children of changes to practice and so assessments of what children have retained weeks and months after the unit of work are crucial – they ‘ll inform at further tweaks to teaching and professional learning.  When there are clear milestones for children’s achievement, the professional learning needs of teachers comes sharply into view.


Intended impact on teachers’ behaviour

Once it has been decided what the intended impact on outcomes for children is, attention needs to be turned what teachers will do in order for children to achieve those outcomes. Such behaviour changes may be desired at the planning stages of a unit of work, for example in the logical sequencing of concepts related to addition and subtraction over a series of lessons. The behaviour changes may be desired during teaching, for example explaining and modelling how to create suspense in a piece of writing. Finally the behaviour changes could be desired after lessons, for example where teachers receive feedback on how children have done by looking at how they have solved addition and subtraction problems in order to amend the sequence of lessons.  Another example could be providing feedback on their writing to make it more persuasive either face to face or by writing comments in their books.  The key here is that behaviour change is specific to the unit of work.  Having said that, leaders must support teachers to think in increasingly principled ways so that over time, principles can be more independently applied to other units of work and subjects.  As such, intended changes to behaviour must be iterative and long term, with opportunities to make connections between topics and subjects through coaching and shared planning.

For any behaviour change, teachers must see the outcome.  They must see someone doing the things that are expected of them.  This live or videoed teaching needs to be deconstructed and then summed up concisely which acts as success criteria for teachers. For example, in a unit of work on place value, desired teachers’ behaviours could include (and this is far from exhaustive; simply to illustrate the point):

  • Plan for scaffolds (and their removal) so that all children can partition and recombine numbers fluently and accurately.
  • Intervene on the day if a child shows significant misunderstanding of that day’s learning.
  • Use concrete manipulatives and pictorial representations to model and explain the concept of place value.
  • Co-construct with children success criteria appropriate to the type of leaning objective (open or closed).

Having such success criteria ensures that both leaders and teachers are clear of what is expected in order for the desired impact on children to be realised. It can also be used to focus practices like lesson study and coaching conversations, which are crucial to keep momentum going and embed change.


Intended impact on teachers’ knowledge

If leaders require teachers to develop certain practices, for many there will be a knowledge gap that inhibits such development. The DfE’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development identifies the importance of developing theory as well as practice. Subject and pedagogical knowledge, as well as knowledge of curriculum or task design are all vital for teachers to be able to refine aspects of their practice.   This could be as straightforward as analysing the types of questions that could be asked to get children thinking deeply about place value before teachers write their own which are appropriate to the year group that they teach. Or it could be ensuring that teachers understand and can articulate the underlying patterns of addition and subtraction in the maths unit coming up. It could even be knowing the texts that children will be using for reading and writing in depth in order for them to dedicate future thinking capacity to pedagogical concerns. By setting out the intended theoretical knowledge to be learned and by providing opportunities to gain that knowledge in ways that do not overly strain workload, leaders can set teachers up for successful changes to practice.


Organisational evaluation

For children to improve based on teachers’ developing subject and pedagogical knowledge, there must be great systems in place that allow such development to happen.  Leaders need to be very clear about what it is that they will do to ensure that teachers are supported to act on the advice being given.  Some examples include:

  • Making senior leaders or subject specialists available for shared planning
  • Providing access to a coach (and training for coaches)
  • Arranging for staff to access external training
  • Ensuring that observations are developmental
  • Planning professional learning using Kotter’s change model

These items become success criteria for leaders implementing long term change.  They can be self evaluated, of course, but external validation of school culture is valuable here.


Reaction quality

The final strand of planning for impact concerns how teachers perceive the professional learning in which they’ll engage. It goes without saying that we’d like teachers to find professional learning not just useful but transformative – a vehicle for improving outcomes for children, personal career development and increasing the school’s stock all at the same time.  One can only create the conditions in which another may become motivated and by taking into account what drives people, we can go along way to ensuring a thriving staff culture. Lawrence and Nohria’s 4-Drive model of employee motivation is very useful here, describing four underlying drives:

The drive to acquire and achieve

If staff are confident that the professional learning will lead to them acquiring knowledge, expertise and success, then they are more likely to feel motivated.  Professional learning then must appeal to this drive – spelling out the knowledge and status that can be achieved through the planned work and never underestimate the power of distributed leadership, carefully supported, of course.

The drive to bond and belong

The school’s vision is key in keeping everyone focused and pulling in the same direction and this can certainly be reinforced with a common school improvement aim as the focus of professional learning.  Finding ways to ensure supportive relationships is crucial.  Culture is the result of what we continuously say and do so leading by example in developing good working relationships will go some to making it the social norm.  Leaders must also look for and iron out any pockets of resistance that could threaten the desired culture.

The drive to comprehend and challenge

This refers to providing opportunities for staff to overcome challenges and in doing so grow.  Setting out each individual’s importance in the school and how they contribute to its success is an example. This is often a long game, with external judgments being made in exam years or in external inspections, so leaders must find quick wins to acknowledge the impact of teachers’ work on the development of the school.

The drive to define and defend

By drawing attention to the good that the professional learning will do not just for the children but in turn for the reputation of the school, we can create a fierce loyalty.  If we get our principles right an articulate what we stand for, this momentum can be very beneficial for implementing professional learning.

This is the job of the leader, striving for improvement in outcomes for children whilst developing staff and building a culture of success. Any professional learning has to have clear outcomes and its only then that they can be reliably evaluated and tweaked to inform the next iteration.

 

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But what *is* guided reading?

I don’t think I’ve ever done Guided Reading ‘properly’.  I’m pretty sure that I’ve helped children to become better readers but there’s always room for pedagogical improvement.  During my earlier years of teaching, it was always one of those things that nobody I came across explained clearly and this irked me so I’m determined to work on it.  Some principles to work from:

Children need to think hard about the text that they’re reading. The quality of the tasks and questions that we present to children will determine how hard children will have to think. Guided Reading at its least effective resulted in groups of children completing shallow tasks without having to think hard about what they’ve read. Effective guided reading involves high expectations of the thinking that children will do about what they’ve read.

Reading skills are not transferrable. Children can only predict and infer if they have sufficient domain knowledge. Once children can decode, we can help them to become skilled readers by building their word knowledge and their general knowledge.   Guided Reading at its least effective assumed that if children could infer when reading one text, then they’d mastered that skill. Effective guided reading will seek to equip children with broad knowledge to comprehend a wide range of texts.

Small group discussions are worth creating. Working in smaller groups can give children a focus for reciprocal reading and the teacher can spend more quality time discussing the text with children. Reciprocal reading itself, although backed as effective in the York Reading for Meaning Project and in other studies, is worth analysing more closely. Children take on a roles which give them a focus while reading. This then helps to structure discussion around the text. The roles suggested are:

  • Questioner: Thinks of questions to ask about the passage.
  • Clarifier: Finds difficult words or ideas and looks for clues to explain them.
  • Summariser: Uses own words to explain the key ideas.
  • Predictor: Makes guesses about what the passage might be about or what might happen next.

My feeling is that there are aspects of it such as metacognition that are more effective than others.

Introducing texts is important, whether children are working alone or with an adult. Although children need to have experience at school of reading a text with minimal input from an adult, most of the time they’ll require at least a basic introduction to the text which could include:

  • A brief summary of the text
  • An explanation of the tier 2 words that they may not know the meaning of
  • An explanation of any general knowledge that children might need to in order to understand the text

Children should read widely. There are countless high quality books from which to choose. Children do not necessarily need to read the whole book / novel. Summaries of key points can be provided so that children can start a book beyond the beginning. Once interest is piqued, we can encourage children to read bits not read in school.

On grouping children… The research on setting does not mean that ‘setting is ineffective’, rather we should find ways of making it effective if we choose to group children by ability. There are times when a fluid grouping of children, based on the type of scaffolding they need to achieve mastery, might be appropriate.

Over the next term, I hope to develop a model of how the application of these principles might look. Comments and suggestion most welcome!

 

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…for who will coach the coaches? Part 3

In two previous posts, I thought about the role of vision and culture in getting coaching up and running in schools, and some of the things that coaches might need in preparation for working with their colleagues. In this post, I consider how coaching could fit into a wider CPD program.

A good CPD program is varied. There is varation in content, for example over a term, there might be sessions on Marking and Feedback, SEN, SIMs etc. There is variation in style, for example, some sessions will be more of a lecture style, some will be the catalyst for some action research etc. There is variation in speakers, for example, SLT, Subject Leaders, external experts etc. There is variation in venue, in that meetings are held in different places around school. Coaching certainly adds to the variety of a good CPD program.

The driver for planning a CPD program is the school’s strategic plan. There will already have been a thorough analysis of what it is that the school needs to work on and this could well quickly fill up weekly INSET slots. The danger here is that by having a weekly focus for CPD, coverage is wide but key ideas do not become embedded in practice. One off INSET sessions may not necessarily lead to sustained improvement in teaching. Rather, teachers need to act their way into thinking to adjust habits. This is where coaching can complement traditional models of CPD programs. When an idea is introduced in an INSET session, coaches can foster work on strategies over the next few weeks. This will not always be appropriate, though, and before long, if every session is followed up with coaching, there will be too much going on and we risk losing focus of the main thing – improving teacher quality.

One option, then, is for school leaders to have a clear vision for what it is that makes great teaching – generic strategies or principles that can be tweaked over time. It might be of use to refer to Hattie’s meta-analysis of teaching interventions to inform this thinking. Quality of feedback must surely be on any school’s list of aspects of great teaching and according to Hattie has one of the highest effect sizes. Teacher clarity also ranks highly – this could include quality of explanations and modelling. With clarity of thinking about what makes great teaching, any weekly CPD focus can be alligned to the values already established and then practised in subsequent coaching sessions. This provides direction and reinforces the message that teaching quality matters most.

The model outlined above takes the prevailing conditions of many CPD programs (weekly topics) and uses coaching to add further conditions that we know are more conducive to effective learning – deliberate practice, spaced learning and feedback. This could work. However, I think that our CPD programs should reflect more what we know about effective learning. The weekly topics structure that has been the basis of many schools’ programs for years is essentially massing as opposed to spacing. Massing can work for performance – cramming the night before a test can mean success, but all is forgotten soon after. Similarly, a situation where an idea is introduced in INSET, expected to be seen in upcoming observations and subsequently ticked off, is just the same. Learning and performance are different and spacing is the driver for learning. No matter how effective coaching is, we risk betraying our values and undermining our intended message if those weekly INSET sessions contradict what we know works in learning.

So, spacing and revision could be planned into the CPD program. A massed CPD program, supported through coaching may look a bit like this:

Week 1 – Marking and Feedback in English. (Coaching: Shared marking).

Week 2 – Modelled and Shared Writing. (Coaching: Modelled writing).

Week 3 – Implications of new curriculum in maths. (Coaching: Joint planning).

A spaced program would need a little more consideration and could look like this:

Example CPD program

Coaching presents a major change in how schools work and this change needs to be thoughtfully managed in order for it to make the impact on teaching quality that it undoubtedly can. For schools to benefit from coaching, there must already be structures in place. A strong vision and clear communication, shared with integrity by school leaders, will pave the way for deliberate practice and quality coaching conversations to take place. Coaches need to be well prepared and knowledgeable so that we can make the best use of time. They must have a range of strategies to draw upon and like any expert, must expect to practise to be as effective as possible. Coaching must also be part of a wider CPD program that reflects the best of what we know about learning.

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…for who will coach the coaches? Part 2

In a previous post, I explained the importance of a school’s vision for coaching matching the already established culture. There are a couple of reasons why I think that talking about coaching in those early weeks of the new school, with that carefully planned language, is necessary:

  • It gives leaders time to match up staff with coaches while giving them time to settle into a new school / room / role / year group etc.
  • It generates a little momentum for when coaching is launched. Think of the busker who scatters his guitar case with a few notes and coins, rather than start with an empty case. This isn’t such a big change – we’ve already started…
  • It creates time to work with coaches on their repertoire of strategies before meeting with their colleagues.

Managing Change

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At this point, any potential barriers need calling out and possible solutions shared. In Dan and Chip Heath’s book ‘Switch’, they talk about the elephant and rider analogy in managing change. The elephant represents emotion and the rider rationality. The elephant will only go where the rider wants it to if it so chooses. The rider cannot force the elephant to do anything. Unless the rider knows where he wants the elephant to go, they will not end up at the desired destination. To manage change, we need to motivate the elephant and direct the rider. We need to understand what it is about coaching that will motivate our colleagues’ elephants. Selling the expectation that it will lead to being a better teacher is a good starting point. We are motivated by the drive to acquire, to bond, to comprehend and to defend. Coaching can lead us to acquiring skills and knowledge about teaching which can make us better teachers. It can lead us to have quality conversations with our colleagues, helping each other to improve and bond along the way. It can lead us to deeper comprehension about effective teaching. It can reinforce the principle that we do the best that we can for the children that we teach, defending their present and their future.

Motivation without direction is useless so we need the attention to detail that the rider provides. What aspect of teaching are we practising? When will it happen? How will we practise the strategies? Which particular coaching strategies are most approproate for this teacher at this time? These details need planning for carefully because our time is valuable and clarity is what the rider needs. Each coach will need a coaching plan and part of the work with the coaches in September will be putting those together.

Along with motivating the elephant and directing the rider, if we want to arrive at a certain destination, the path needs to be clear. We need to remove any barriers so that we can get there. Time and the various other commitments that teachers have are the metaphorical logs blocking the path and must be removed for coaching to work. To start with, the time issue can be addressed by only asking a small time commitment per week – say half an hour. This half an hour cannot be at lunchtime or at 4.30pm on a Friday as that would diminish the status that we want to create for coaching. We have to provide release time from teaching responsibilities, where appropriate, for this to happen. The half an hour could involve twenty minutes of deliberately practising a strategy in class, followed by a ten minute conversation while someone else covers the class. Short and managaeable.

Practising being a coach

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A coach will have a repertoire of support strategies to draw upon to support colleagues. Like any other domain of expertise though, coaches will need to practise their wares in order to be as effective as they can be. There will be a few strategies that a school could identify early on that would yield the best results. Pareto’s principle, or the law of the vital few, is that 80% of the output comes from 20% of the input, that is, a few key strategies could provide the greatest return on improving teacher quality. These key coaching strategies could be:

  • Demonstration lessons
  • Team teaching
  • Quality and timing of feedback
  • Coaching conversations
  • Shared planning and marking

These strategies will need to be practised, with other coaches playing the role of the teaching colleague. So in the first few weeks of term, coaches could meet regularly to practise getting demonstration lessons as clear as possible. When coaches can do this with automaticity, they can focus more upon the reactions of their colleagues, tailoring what they’re doing to meet their needs better. They can practise the subtleties of team teaching – when to step back, when to model a particular strategy. They can practise giving quality feedback in those brief lulls in lessons that would enable their colleague to listen and act immediately by repeating the focus teaching strategy. They can practise the skillful listening and questioning needed to help a colleague solve a problem. If after 3 or 4 weeks back in the new term, coaches have met and practised these strategies, then they are prepared for doing so for real. These strategies need a context to be practised within though. In my school it will include some teaching practice that we deem to be of highest value in terms of outcomes for children:

  • Modelled and shared writing
  • Oral and written feedback on children’s work
  • Co-constructing a writers’ toolkit
  • Modelling mathematical strategies
  • Explicitly addressing misconceptions

Working with coaches in this way enables them to act their way into thinking, and gives them a sound experience in which to frame the language they use to share the vision for coaching and CPD with their colleagues. Also, spacing out the sessions over a few weeks will contribute to maximised retention of the strategies by the coaches. Interspersed with these practices, I’d expect the coaches to be reading in order to build their knowledge. Books like Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov and The Perfect Teacher Coach by Jackie Beere are essential reading, along with great blog posts like these from Alex Quigley @huntingenglish (here, here and here and Shaun Allison @shaunallison (here and here).

In the final post in this series, I’ll be thinking about how coaching can fit into a wider CPD program.

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…for who will coach the coaches? Part 1

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More and more schools are considering the impact that coaching can have on the quality of teaching, and some are already putting structures in place for September to make coaching an integral part of their CPD program, including appointing full time teaching and learning coaches.

These coaches face the exciting, yet daunting prospect of a substantial change in day to day practice. It can be difficult to know where to start, and undoubtedly there will be as many different induction programs as there are schools with coaches.

Definitions of coaching, mentoring and other support strategies show clear differences in approaches, but need we be so picky? I use the term ‘coach’ broadly as someone who supports another in improving their practice. Sometimes, direct instruction will be needed, sometimes the coach can relinquish the role of the expert and, through careful questioning, help a colleague to overcome an obstacle. The coach needs to be able to support in different ways depending on the teacher they’re working with and the situation that the teacher is in.

In this 3 post series, I want to consider what could be done to get coaching up and running effectively.

Culture and Vision

Culture is a direct result of how we talk about things. Careful language choice when talking about coaching will be crucial and will need to reflect the school’s vision. Some reasons why changes fail are that the vision is unclear or not communicated, or that it is not rooted in the culture of the school that has already been established. At my school, our vision is Individualised learning through a tailored curriculum. How we talk about coaching should complement what has already been built. Here’s a starting point for phrases that will be used to match coaching to the already established school vision:

Practise strengths to mastery.

…because we can be even better.

Teacher quality matters most.

Consistent principles, flexible approaches.

I want this to become a shared way of talking about what we’re doing when we’re in coaching conversations, or indeed any aspect of CPD. The same applies to appraisal conversations early in the term. In the past, Performance Management targets have been alsmost exclusively focused on improving on perceived weaknesses. This, of course, will continue to be the case but could the process be more effective with an additional (perhaps main) focus of developing a strength to mastery? I think so.

Change can fail because the vision is under-communicated. For coaching to succeed, the rationale should be neatly summed up with phrases like the ones above and used regularly. But not just from SLT to teachers. Sure, it has to start that way, then we need a core group of staff to continue spreading the memes. This is where middle leaders can be effective, for many will be coaches. Teaching assistants, too, will play significant roles. We must leave it in no doubt that we will use coaching to improve our teaching and support of children, because simply continuing our habits, no matter how effective, may not necessarily lead to improvements in our practice. The relentless sharing of vision, with its carefully planned language, will create urgency and spark thinking about what is currently happening in classrooms, and what needs to be done to improve outcomes for children.

For coaching to be effective, there are some pitfalls to avoid in terms of how it is perceived. Nobody will want to be involved if it is seen as an intervention from above because something is not right. Therefore one approach is to ensure that all teachers (and teaching assistants) have a coach. When experienced teachers and those with leadership responsibilities have coaches, we show that the process matches the rhetoric. The message is: We expect and will support everyone to improve. The time between the start of term and the appraisal targets being confirmed is the time to match up staff with coaches and work with those coaches on ways to support their colleages over the next year. In the next post, I’ll consider the specific preparation that coaches may need before they begin their work. In the final post, I’ll show how coaching can fit into a wider CPD program.

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