What do the most productive schools do?
In my work with schools across the UK, I am asked to work with two common briefs: How can our teachers deliver good teaching and learning and for want of a better phrase, ‘how can we get our teachers to pull their socks up’?
Delivering good teaching and learning
To develop a strong culture requires a common vision no matter what school you work in. For me, I’ve seen this working in schools and colleges where regular professional conversations are paramount. The difficulty is how to put this into practice with time-poor teachers and funding challenges common in so many educational settings. When the logistics are put in place, and if those at the very top also taking part, only then do I observe transformation happening. Internally, perceptions are rounded, but in some cases, I do wonder if they are well-founded. Quality of teaching and learning is often driven by a number of factors, including, grading lessons (if this still exists), examination scores, feedback from pupils and parents, management information system and teacher predictions, as well as regular leadership triangulation. Evaluations can also include other unusual measures: displays, classroom configuration, use of specific teaching approaches and timing prescription.
The notion that the general teaching body in a school is not yet performing is a misnomer, often derived from individual bias, external examinations or an assumption that teachers do not care or show no interest in the latest research, or one another classroom functions. Here are a set of questions for reflection to determine if you are on the right path.
Taking a commonsense approach
- Does your school protect 0.5% of its overall budget for professional development?
- If so, does your school have a bespoke CPD programme for individuals? If not, go back to question one.
- Is there a weak link in your leadership team? If so, is this being tackled?
- Do all school leaders attend CPD? If not, go back to question three.
- Are all middle leaders aware that they are responsible for leadership across the school? If not, how will you address this?
Only when the leadership questions above are resolved can you move on to the next set of questions.
- When last did teaching staff have a say in their teaching and learning policy? If this was not during the last three years, stay with this question for now…
- Once the policy is thrashed out, was there a common set of teaching principles agreed?
- How does teaching change for observation? For example, school inspection or appraisal.
- Are teachers equipped to have difficult conversations with one another?
- And finally, is there a research-lead who disseminates the latest information into bitesize?
If all schools remember that teachers do not need to know more stuff, but are given protected time to practice, professional development has a stronger chance of being meaningful. Secondly, teachers tell me time and time again that they need support to have difficult conversations with one another, as well as speak publicly about their ideas with their peers.
What schools need to do is promote commonsense conversations about teaching, and not only make them a priority, but protect the time fiercely.