Innovation in teaching and learning is rife not only here in the UK but globally too, you only need to spend a week on twitter following the array of educational ‘chats’ to realise that. But do school leaders, myself included, actually understand how this innovation impacts upon the day-to-day student experience? Leading whole school teaching and learning, I recognise that we can look at the big picture (data, feedback from supportive observations, student voice etc..) and you can read more about this in my previous blog ‘Re-shaping Teaching & Learning’ but is that enough to make an assumption on the quality of learning taking place? I would argue no, you can only gather so much information from these sources without experiencing it first-hand, hence the Pupil Pursuit, but how many of us have actually undertaken one?
Before I discuss what I consider the advantages are and how I propose this can be inclusive of all staff, I want to point out what a pupil pursuit most certainly is not:
- A method to ‘catch staff out’
- A ‘back door’ strategy to grade the various lessons you are in
- A means to pigeon-hole teachers, if for example, the lesson isn’t typical of the triangulated sources of information used to determine quality of teaching and we have to mindful that staff pursuing students are not there to judge or feedback on the quality of teaching, unless of course teachers request this.
and I would strongly advise the bottom line is openly shared and purpose clearly defined with all staff prior to undertaking a series of these. Also a great deal depends very much on the culture/ethos within a school and where they are in their particular ‘journey’, as all too often the above points are what staff perceive pupil pursuits to be for, especially if it’s only the leadership undertaking them. For me, what a pupil pursuit most certain is, is an approach to:
- Experience first hand consistency and typicality in teaching and learning across the school
- Gain an insight into mobility between lessons
- Follow whole school threads/development plan priorities
- Understand how the learning environment/ICT infrastructure (or lack of it) enhances or impedes learning in a 21st century context
I can still clearly remember arriving as a trainee to my first placement school back in 2002 and being allocated a student to follow as part of the induction process. So off I go, not knowing the environment, staff or school in any great detail and being thrust into a mad crush in the corridors, arriving into lessons where at times the teacher would look at me as the ‘newbie’ that I clearly was. Awkwardly, the student I was ‘attached’ to would have to explain who I was and at the end of the day I was somewhat confused as to what had just happened and my brain frazzled. I saw five lessons and followed a student around all day, it was an experience that’s for sure, but so broad that I struggled to consolidate the information into anything logical that would aid my development.
Let us fast-forward thirteen years. I now undertake pupil pursuits in a school where I have worked for the past eight years. The students and staff know me and I have specific whole school threads I want to pursue, crucially, all staff are aware of this. For me, the purpose of the pupil pursuit has become so valuable in driving teaching and learning forwards and leading change, this is also echoed by my colleagues on our leadership team as well. To begin with I decided to focus of Year 11, and what I discovered was quite profound. This was more about elements that would be hard to unearth any other way, here are just a few:
- Staff absence and supply teachers; it was quite noticeable how the attitudes of students were so different towards agency staff and also how the staff themselves didn’t necessarily understand our Bfl policy and sanctions, and rewards system too. As a result, agency staff now have a folder following a briefing to ensure they are clear on our whole school structure and systems.
- The focus on rote learning in terms of preparation for exams was mentally exhausting for me, let alone the students. Naturally all teachers were insistent on extra curricular revision sessions and it was soon apparent that in every lesson the burden was placed upon students to attend these. I’m afraid this is indicative of our current education system and its accountability measures, focussing on results, results, results and staff know this, so do the students.
- Movement between lessons was also interesting to experience. One example saw us travel from English, at one end of our large school site, to Science at the other, we arrived late and disrupted the start of the Science lesson, cutting down the learning time, it would have been impossible to get to there on time. As a result I have made the recommendation to our timetabler to be mindful of the location of lessons when they are back-to-back in the school day in the hope that we can geographically structure the day where possible.
So, in addition to the leadership team, the next step is to open this up to all staff who want to follow specific aspects pertinent to their role.
Inclusive for all staff
Personally, I believe all staff should have the opportunity to undertake a pupil pursuit with a defined purpose. For example, depending on their role, this could be focussed on a particular student or group(s) of students. A head of year/house may want to study micro cohort interaction/grouping, a SENCO may want to observe a particular student and differentiation within lessons based upon their specific educational need. A form tutor may want to pursue a student identified from current data trends and so on. The point I’m trying to make here is that a pupil pursuit is a great vehicle to enable staff to be autonomous in their development very much like our approach to ‘book looks’, see my previous blog Book Looks – Inclusive, Developmental & Reflective to read more about this. As a school leader it is my job to create time for staff to undertake pupil pursuits, book looks, peer-to-peer supportive lesson observations, deliver CPD and carryout student voice, whilst ensuring student learning in their classess is not affected. I’ll be posting a blog about ‘making the time’ very soon. In the meantime, I’d like to hear how you/your school use pupil pursuits to inform whole school development.Follow @gary_s_king