As the journey to shifting our whole school approach to teaching and learning continues, I thought I would post an update as recent conversations with colleagues in other schools seem to indicate that there are still anxieties, elements of uncertainty and a perception of apprehensiveness with moving to ungraded lessons. I would ask why? If the answer is simply because schools want to put a number or grade on teaching whilst doing more of the same, then perhaps it’s time to consider your approach to unlocking the potential of your teachers. Personally and in a professional context I feel this move is liberating, not only for me as a leader but for all teachers, it provides a chance to rekindle that love for the profession and bring back the risk taking, innovative, supportive, ‘shackles are off’ approach, which is exciting as practitioners.
I think it’s important to stress at this point that an irrational move to ungraded lesson observations, without thinking through a strategic approach to teaching and learning could be harmful in the long-term. Let’s look at this on two levels 1) whole school strategic approach 2) Impact to professional development, ethos and culture of teaching and learning.
This quote from Mike Cladingbowl (National Director for Inspection Reform) will set the context and lay the foundations for change, bearing in mind that we are still subject to accountability measures:
“Inspectors should not grade an aspect such as teaching, unless circumstances are exceptional, without considering the broad range of evidence that they can gather during a visit to a lesson – for example, the behaviour of the students and how well they are managed, subject knowledge, the standard of work completed in books, the quality of marking and so on – and use this to come to a view about what teaching is like for those students and its impact on their learning over time.
Furthermore, ASCL also offer the following guidance in their update for classroom teachers:
- 26. Individual lessons are not graded but where there is sufficient evidence, achievement, behaviour and safety and, leadership and management may be graded.
- 27. Quality of teaching judgement is made considering the strengths and weaknesses of teaching observed across a broad range of lessons.
- 28. Schools do not need to provide records of graded lessons but will be able to discuss how they evaluate the quality of teaching.
- 29. Feedback to teachers or groups of teachers on strengths and weaknesses of what has been observed.
- 30. School leaders and teachers decide for themselves how best to teach.
- 31. Increased focus on the teaching of mathematics ensuring pupils acquire knowledge appropriate to their age and starting points.
- 32. Focus on ensuring teaching assistants are knowledgeable about pupils they support and have sufficient subject knowledge to be effective in their role.
- 33. Increased emphasis on whether teachers command the respect of their classes and set out clear expectations for pupil behaviour.
- 34. Book scrutiny assesses whether marking, assessment and testing are carried out in line with school’s policy and whether they are used effectively to improve pupils’ learning.
Whole School strategic approach
Considering this long overdue and welcomed change, combined with the fact that as a school, we have moved from ‘special measures’ to ‘Good’ in two years, it’s the perfect time to redefine the whole school approach to teaching and learning and this has been a very careful and considered move. It has provided an opportunity to move from doing ‘more of the same’ and inject a fresh approach to what had become a very rigid, stagnant and one-dimensional system of monitoring and accountability of all teachers. Let’s be honest about this, an element of ‘game playing’ has crept into our profession to try to keep the ‘wolf’ from the door. What I mean by this, is historical government initiatives have created a culture where teachers stress about lesson observations, spend a disproportionate amount of time planning that particular lesson and for what? A grade, which satisfies a predetermined set of criteria, which then feeds into a whole school judgement. I’m not doubting the accuracy of lesson judgements by trained members of our staff, but I have questioned if this snap-shot performance is typical and evident in day-to-day practice?
More importantly, is the information gathered feeding into whole school and individual staff development, if not, why not? Also, if this feedback is formulated on this potentially untypical lesson observation, how useful will it be in terms of an accurate reflection of our staff’s individual professional development needs? Moreover, what’s the big picture? This question needs to be explored to make this fair and supportive for all teachers, triangulation of all the elements will be key:
Impact to Professional Development, ethos and culture of teaching and learning
One of the most important components of this entire strategy is the classroom observation and the conversation which follows, consisting of accurate and developmental feedback. Taking away a lesson judgement is a culture shift, like students we are all human and want to know ‘how we did’, this was a topic of discussion when we first started to explore this move. The general consensus was that over time, due to the accountability measures placed upon us, we have become programmed to require this as ultimately we are judged by this grade.
The decision has been made to work in triads, observing each other to give developmental feedback and of course, learn from the strengths of each other at the same time. This rolling half-termly model is designed to be fluid and combines coaching, classroom based CPD and whole school teaching and learning development information all in one:
You can download this form here
Please note that this is still in the developmental stage and therefore subject to modifications. Now, at this point you may be thinking that this appears rather judgemental in its layout, and I would argue that there needs to be an element of structure to this in order to give informed and developmental feedback to colleagues. It’s worth stressing at this point that a group of staff have developed this through collaboration and experimentation, it’s not something that I have imposed as that is most certainly not my style.
The Teaching and Learning Express
Here’s a visual overview of our Teaching and Learning model. Basically, the vehicle (train) in which we are moving always consist of the same elements (you can see these around the parachute, which is keeping us on the rails) which in-turn informs our CPD programme. Each half term we will have a changing focus, driven by our development plan.
I’d be interested to hear how colleagues in other schools are approaching this, and of course, I will be blogging updates as this evolves over time.Follow @gary_s_king