Look within for sources of best practice

12th September 2003 at 01:00
I'm banking on my head of service being too busy to have the time to read this as I confess that I have not, as yet, published Oban High's development plan (or is it now called an improvement plan?).

We have been through the review and evaluation stage and have identified our priorities, even completed some initial work on them on our in-service day, but the actual document has not seen the light of day.

The problem has been that the summer term - normally the time when we pull the year together and plan for the next - was filled with discussions on new organisation structures and the implications of the job-sizing exercise. The results of the latter will have a greater impact than we had ever anticipated. We need to do a great deal more thinking and discussing.

The real challenge for senior management, however, is to keep the focus of our work on the fundamentals. Classroom teachers don't stray from this; although talk in the staffroom may be of post-McCrone issues, reality kicks in when the bell goes.

It is not surprising that headteachers get caught up in the big issues: they are important and define the face of education. However, in terms of how we lead and manage our schools, our focus must reflect the importance of our pupils and our teachers in the classroom.

I found myself in discussion with one of my deputes last week over our way forward in further improving learning and teaching (and input to Oban High's ethereal development plan). We've worked hard on this for a number of years and the staff have taken on board a lot of sound advice. What we have all come to realise, however, is the extent of expertise which is locked up in teachers' heads and needs to be shared.

This has been happening within departments but achieving an effective system of peer sharing across departments has been a challenge. Peer observation is an obvious solution but we have never managed to implement a programme due to the exigencies of cover.

This is unfortunate since all of our staff and departments have so much to offer: the precision with which the scientists and food technologists organise practical work, how the linguists (English and modern languages) plan group work and writing frames, the myriad strategies and methodologies our individual teachers employ.

Heads should never underestimate the creativity of staff, and Oban High's working group has come up with several strategies for sharing ideas.

A couple of years ago, Anne from the art department came up with the suggestion of creating a desktop aide-memoire of teaching methodologies. It was her view that it should be instantly accessible, easily read and have a visual element. We started to gather together the content and now at last Flipping Good Ideas for Classroom Teaching is with The Diary Company for printing and soon every teacher in Oban High will have this collection of ideas and strategies on their desks.

Mindful of different learning styles, each method is flagged up with visual, kinaesthetic or aural elements and the titles (Concept map, Pupil power, Chain links, Bullseye, Snookered, Diamonds, for example) are indicative of our attempts to put fun into the process.

Further ideas for sharing advice are departments hosting gatherings at home, a collection of strategies that work well with boys and mentoring.

It is difficult for anyone to change their habits and we should remember this when we ask teachers for more improvements in teaching and learning.

But this must always be on our agenda, so we must find lots of ways to keep the pot boiling.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban HighIf you have any comments, e-mail scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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