How can schools move away from consistency to coherence?
All school leaders aim for consistency. Who wouldn’t? Yet, I do not believe any school can claim to have 100 per cent teaching and learning consistency. So, how can schools provide the conditions for teachers to teach?
The teaching and learning problem?
Visiting 150 schools over the past two years, I have thought very deeply about teaching and learning, particularly on the matter of teaching and learning policies. It appears that we have all been chasing something which is elusive and unobtainable – and worse, causes all sorts of problems with an inspection and attrition. I’ve recently shared a model of high-stakes accountability versus professional absence. This also includes what I believe to be the hallmarks of an effective teaching and learning culture. I have also believed as professionals, we do silly things to one another which does our profession, no favours!
What if we changed our approach?
What if we stopped chasing teaching and learning consistency?
Instead, what if we sought coherence? A common script between classrooms, a core agreement on key, teaching strategies in all classrooms, and with sufficient flexibility to allow teachers to become autonomous of bureaucracy, in order to teach better. Thus, holding themselves to account… Using all of the ideas, experiences and discussions I’ve gathered with teachers and school leaders in many schools, here is a *30-day plan I would recommend to schools who are yet to shift towards a better model for teaching and learning – which takes priority over all aspects of school life.
The leader of teaching and learning must reflect on the school’s position.
Then, if they do not watch this video in full, preparing notes to discuss with school leaders, they should already be thinking daily about their own position…
Once ready, agree to dedicate an entire leadership meeting to teaching and learning.
Raise the same agenda with middle leaders. Ensure all school leaders are present.
Propose a Mark Plan Teach common vernacular; discuss this concept in great depth.
Middle leaders are given the time to discuss the same MPT vision with their teams…
All feedback is discussed publicly with all teachers; part-time staff are also consulted.
The agreed vision is communicated with parents and pupils.
A clear programme of study is calendared and published in advance for the academic year and linked to whole-school priorities is published.
Professional development is protected. It is treated as a non-negotiable part of school life.
CPD maintains a grass-roots approach, with all colleagues opting into training sessions that meet their own needs. The leadership team takes a step back from the delivery of the sessions, but, always takes part.
Day twelve to twenty-four:
All teaching and learning ideas are presented, observed in classrooms and interpreted during training sessions – and then taken away for practice in the classroom again. All content is continually revisited publicly, consulted and refined over a two year period.
Note, 12 days is dedicated to this process. E.g. three weeks each academic term (fortnightly sessions) with sufficient space between sessions to go and practice, then revisit whilst in synchronisation with new topics. All content is evaluated publicly and anonymously to ensure honesty and reflection. Most of the information is captured to share in tweets or video and there is a collegiate feel, with external visitors and partnership schools collaborating, where needed.
As content is gradually linked to research and curriculum needs, appraisal begins to shift from performance management to research enquiry to encourage all teachers to be learners. This is often the beginning of phase two and planning must commence during the middle of the first year.
Support staff are catered for (earlier if possible) and they lead on aspects of professional development and sometimes drive the agenda; there is a collegiate approach to whole-school improvement, rather than an ‘us and them’ mentality.
To help shift away from ‘parents and politicians telling teachers what to do’, memberships to organisations and engagement with research is encouraged. Membership is subsidised where possible, including protected budgets for MA and EdD/PhD. A research-informed profession is better for everyone – no one is left behind!
For long-term impact, one per cent of the school’s overall budget is used to fund coaching for everyone. There is a mixture of morning, lunch and after-school sessions to meet the needs of all staff, including those with flexible working conditions.
A rhythmic and longer-term approach to professional development is established and the traditional 5-day INSET model is abolished. This is in keeping with research which supports memory, spacing and interleaving practice for pupils – it works for teachers too! External guests are invited to take part, culminating in an annual conference.
All leaders, especially the headteacher and the lead for teaching and learning continually ‘check-in’ with their cultural, teaching and learning plan to evaluate if it is coherent, transparent and high priority – avoiding the illusion of consistency – at all times.
When compared to behaviour policies – in order to sustain safe, classroom conditions for teachers can teach – it is necessary for all schools to adapt teaching and learning policies within a school to enable all teachers to thrive.
*Note, the 30-day proposal does not mean thirty consecutive days.