Quality of Learning

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can schools improve the quality of teaching and learning?

It appears that observational-experience can never be assumed, and it is highly probable that colleagues may never have been given the time to observe anyone else; including outside of their department and school.

I am always surprised to speak with colleagues who say they have never observed another colleague.

If I think back to the period when I was a middle-leader, I was always observing colleagues within my department. As a classroom teacher, it was much less-so, but then again, teaching in the 90s as an newly qualified teacher is very different to what it is today.

The nature of design technology departments require teachers to frequently share rooms and/or borrow resources. So much so, that you are often in-and-out of each others classrooms, picking up small nuggets of information along the way …

But how often did I have the chance to observe colleagues outside of my department? Or on my own terms and in my time?

The answer: rarely.

The third degree:

Supporting staff and asking colleagues to observe each other should not be laborious. It should not require colleagues to receive ‘the third degree’ where development and the need for improvement does quite the opposite.

Asking to observe another colleague should never be a difficult request to grant, and as a school leader I have a responsibility to make this happen.

shutterstock_314929874 Undergoing the third degree

“What do you mean, you want to look elsewhere! …”

Image: Shutterstock

Teachers are very busy and the default role and responsibility of their day-to-day job finds them with very little time to observe for professional development (not appraisal).

And here lies the problem.

This is why, this coming academic year in the school in which I work, we are introducing coaching conversations for every teacher and providing staff with the protected time in their timetables to be able to do so.

When you work out how much time this is, it works out to be the equivalent of 30-40 periods in a single week (over 38 weeks of the academic year). That is 30-40 opportunities for teachers to observe each other and have developmental conversations. Over the course of the year, this equates to about £2,000 in costs for one member of staff. We are finalising the details this month, but we think the investment will reap significant returns in a) the quality of teaching over time and b) professional development of every teacher.

Asking the right questions:

This month, we are completing the final series of formal observations before we banish them under our current self-evaluation framework. We are also completing our second work sampling and early findings suggest that diagnostic feedback is becoming more of a strength in classrooms around the school. I will report back on this area.

In terms of offering teachers with a useful set of questions to ask themselves in observations and work sampling, here are some excellent suggestions by Mary Myatt.

Considering high quality practice over time:

  • What are different groups and individual pupils actually learning as opposed to doing?
  • Are pupils consolidating previous skills/knowledge or learning something new?
  •  Can all pupils make the links between previous/new learning?
  • Can pupils talk about what they are learning, as opposed to simply describing what they are doing?
  • Do they consistently produce work of a good standard?
  • To what extent do pupils take responsibility for their own learning?
  • How well do pupils collaborate with others? Do they ask questions, of each other, of the teacher or other adults, about what they are learning?
  • Are pupils creative, do they show initiative?
  • How well do pupils follow routines/expectations?

You can find this resource on Myatt’s website.


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9 thoughts on “Quality of Learning

  1. How can schools improve the quality of teaching and learning? –

    My answer “By understanding and managing learning needs”.

    This is a bit like a mission statement. If what you are doing supports the statement, do it and If not don’t do it. In my experience approaching teachers in the manner of asking (in a non confrontational way of course) “Is what you are doing supporting or enhancing teaching and learning and how do you think it could be improved?” promotes a collegiate and often very insightful conversation. Your list of high quality practice and more often comes from this conversation too. It always comes back to learning needs however.

    I have explored and written a number of articles about understanding and managing learning needs and will be running a workshop at the upcoming Leicester Teaching and Learning Summer Conference (#LTaLSC16) on the 25th (places still available contact Peter Sanderson @lessontoolbox) . If you want more about learning needs just drop me a request via twitter @aced and i’ll point you in the direction of a great deal of resources.

  2. Hi Ross. Genuinely think we could help further increase the impact of this approach AND save some of that £2k cost per teacher. We hoped to meet up at BETT 2016 but unfortunately missed the chance… Email me and perhaps we could support your strategy with a free trial of VEO.
    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Jon. The cost is equivalent to a period in a teacher’s timetable. It’s not the cost of any piece of equipment. It’s the lesson by lesson cost calculated from a teacher’s salary.

  3. How long do your teachers observe for? i.e. if they have one protected period per week to observe, do they spend the whole of that free period observing the entirety of another lesson, or can they move between, say, three different lessons. Or can they just pop in for 15 mins and then get on with something else?

    Is one protected period per week per teacher what you are aiming for?



      1. Interesting, that’s a lot of feedback time. Logistics of organising feedback within timetable must be very challenging…

  4. A better way of teaching always matters for every child or student.His development/growth is based on that how you are taking care of him.Some of the major aspects I’ve also described here

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