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Leadership & innovation., Teaching & Learning

Culture, Systems & Processes


Culture Blog

The last two years have taken me on a personally challenging leadership journey, where, at times, I have questioned my own values and beliefs. Regularly reflecting deeply, I kept revisiting one critical aspect; my moral purpose. I sincerely believe the best leaders frequently consider the impact they have, their core beliefs, their moral purpose and perhaps at times, question their effectiveness as a school leader. Through experience I have begun to realise that a perceived ‘happy’ staff culture in schools cannot thrive nor survive simply through affiliative leadership and the relaxed earned autonomy model that I was an advocate of. This sounds obvious, but removing rigour, softening the prescriptive language around teaching and learning expectations, removing all observations, reducing/removing marking, taking away appraisal targets that focus on data, to name just a few, all in the short term deliver a fantastic return on staff morale. However, over time this is not sustainable.

I advise extreme caution when setting off down this route, as over time, I know this approach can potentially erode the clarity, expectations and consistency around teaching and learning and therefore the consistency of the learning experience for our students. I, myself, had begun to fall into the social media frenzy (trap) of the ‘person of the people’ approach. I am passionate about reducing workload and supporting teacher well being, but I have realised that tight systems, sequenced and aligned curriculum planning underpinned by a consistent language and approach to teaching and learning is the key to improving the learning experience for all.

Inconsistent approaches to teaching and a lack of clarity has the potential to create confusion and lead to a slow long term decline in standards. An over affiliative leadership style can bring about short term ‘highs’ for staff in terms of morale and feeling good, but ultimately you will have to ask the questions; is this feasible over time? are all staff clear of what is expected of them? where is the accountability? and, are all of our students receiving the same consistent high standard of learning experience?

I’m not advocating an array of draconian approaches to controlling exactly how teachers should operate every minute of the day, nor am I implying that every school should sell their soul to the devil of one or more ‘on trend’ modus operandi. However, bringing about consistency, ensuring high levels of challenge and creating accountability at all levels can only happen when there are core principles in place, all underpinned by absolute clarity of expectations:

  1. A set of common teaching habits

The transactional cost of using a wide range of varying pedagogy in the classroom can consume valuable learning time in having to explain to students how the process works, not to mention the impact on their cognitive load. In our school we believe in and insist on 58 minutes of undisturbed learning, which means we have to consider teacher efficiency. Like many schools, our learning behaviours are based on research, simple and proven:

There’s nothing new here in terms of the techniques, they are simply a blend of Teach Like a Champion strategies and Roshenshine’s principles of instruction. As a staff and student body we distilled the key elements of learning down to: positive relationships, prompt starts (Do Now), questioning (Cold Call and Stretch It), scaffolding (Name The Steps), modelling (I/We/You), spaced knowledge recall and application. The important thing here is for students to connect the icons with the technique, this dual coding approach is powerful and reduces the need for discussion about the next phase of learning, therefore reducing the transactional cost in lessons. In essence, everyone knows where they stand and what is expected of them.

2. A sequenced and aligned Curriculum

A sequenced curriculum is simply an expectation, and why shouldn’t it be? This must be a fully justified knowledge rich sequence of interleaving that builds upon prior knowledge and deepens students understanding and allows them to apply it in different contexts. A curriculum roadmap is a fantastic way to show students, staff, parents and carers the justified sequence of learning over a five year journey. Here is an example from our English department, led by the fantastic Caroline Sherwood (look her up on twitter @Caroline_Alice_)

Aligning this sequenced curriculum is where schools can really enhance the consistency of experience for every student. The rationale for an aligned curriculum is; to shift teachers’ focus from endless planning and the time consuming task of creating resources which quite frankly creates a classroom ‘lottery’ for students, to a high quality curriculum and assessment strategy where the resources are shared and lessons are aligned. This also reduces teacher workload, which means teachers can focus solely on their craft and ensure they meet and support the needs of all students. For years the curriculum in many schools has been put in some kind of justifiable order but all too often teachers were given a topic to plan and deliver. Therein lies the problem, which is variability:

3. Precision Coaching

Professional development as we know it has changed. In the last decade everyone has finally realised that lesson observations were pointless and had very little, if any impact on teachers practice. Learning walks then became the new ‘on trend’ approach, but again also had a judgmental edge and were mainly centered around offering retrospective feedback to teachers. Over the last 12 months I have been exploring the incremental sports coaching approach to developing colleagues. This is something that I cannot take any credit for, it has evolved through our trust collaboration with Ed Vainker and his brilliant team at Reach Academy Feltham. In a nutshell it provides all teachers with weekly or fortnightly in the moment coaching which enables them to rehearse and hone their practice in relation to a specific leverage point. More information on this can be read here and also blog here on the impact of incremental coaching from Ambition Institute. This approach works seamlessly with a coherent aligned and sequenced curriculum alongside a common and consistent language of learning.

I would suggest that culture is the systems and process and they are indeed interdependent. I believe that these elements are the foundations of culture and creates the standard which is led by all. The acid test is whether all students receive the same high standard of challenge in every lesson, the classroom lottery is eliminated, the transactional time cost in lessons is minimal and teacher planning and associated workload is significantly reduced.

About garysking

Deputy Headteacher - leader of Teaching & Learning. Change maker and believer in quality first teaching.

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