If you engage with educators on twitter, participate in the array of ‘tweetmeets’ such as #SLTchat, #UKedchat, #aussieED, follow leading educational blogs like headguruteacher, TeacherToolkit, Dan Roberts to name but a few, or frequently attend teach meets, then you’ll know that the topic of conversation invariably comes back to sharing of practice; innovative, low-cost approaches to effective CPD. In my current leadership role as Teaching and Learning and Professional Development lead, I’ve realised that a two-pronged approach to Professional Development is highly effective, these two strands, which are not mutually exclusive are:
- Informed Professional Development needs derived from whole school Teaching and Learning QA processes and these are delivered through training ‘windows’ throughout the academic year (see T&L overview in my previous blog by clicking here)
- Personalised/individual staff development needs and requests.
The latter here is an extremely important aspect which we may sometimes overlook; peer-to-peer autonomous, open and honest sharing of practice which all comes with a culture and ethos of trust, underpinned by the Growth Mindset principle. This blog focusses on a simple, practical approach where sharing of classroom practice to meet the needs of all staff on a personalised basis can easily be achieved, hence the title ‘sharing is caring’. The added bonus is that this enables teachers to get into as many classrooms as possible, a concept for some which hasn’t been experienced since initial teacher training.
After speaking with colleagues and engaging in national/international debate frequently through Twitter, it was soon apparent there was a strong desire to observe colleagues in action to inform and improve practice. Now, this concept isn’t anything new, but making it happen in day-to-day practice is crucial, otherwise it simply remains a professional development nirvana. So as I enjoyed a delightful lunch in a local cafe I thought to myself how can we make this work, meet the differing needs of teaching colleagues whilst keeping costs to a minimum? The answer was sitting right in front of me on the table; the menu! This offers choice, a chance to consolidate your options, perhaps treat yourself to more than one course and literally leaves you with ‘food for thought’ for the next time you visit. The ‘Menu of Expertise’ was born.
Practicalities – making the concept a reality
This is where the tracking of areas for development in ungraded lesson observations are essential in identifying and signposting colleagues to outstanding practice, creating a self-sustaining cycle of classroom based sharing of practice. In agreement with colleagues, the menu began to populate.
I’m always mindful of staff workload and as we know this is a completely separate debate which appears to be raging on globally. Therefore, this approach needs to be as easy as possible and my role here is to remove the barriers and over complicated, endless amounts of unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork. So the process is simple, to the left is an extract from the reverse of the menu itself:
Without wanting to be too prescriptive, the bottom line is that all staff undertake at least one ‘menu’ observation per term, however, as this has grown organically into a vehicle whereby staff become autonomous, on the whole, they are undertaking more than one as this has become a valued professional development opportunity. The main barrier to a smooth execution of this is time, how do we get teachers into lessons? One solution would be to cover the member of staff, however I am not an advocate of this for two reasons; cost and more importantly the impact upon learning of students. On the other hand, we are growing a culture of teamwork and collaboration, so it’s now not uncommon to see subject specific colleagues, where the timetable permits, covering each other, so students are not falling behind from a knowledge perspective.
So what does it look like? It is literally like a take-away menu and I think that staff thought I was bonkers when I first introduced this over twelve months ago. There are eight categories, identified as key elements of outstanding teaching and learning, focusing on different aspects these are:
- Lesson starters
- Cooperative learning strategies (based upon Kagan structures)
- Marking for student progress (DiRT)
- Plenaries/mini-plenaries to measure progress
- Effective Afl strategies
- Effective and deep questioning
- Pace and lesson structure
- Differentiation, stretch and challenge
And here it is: