Are you measured more than you are developed as a practitioner in your college? We need a culture that is based on organic and personalised development for staff and learners. As a teacher for 20 years and (more recently) a curriculum leader, my approach, fundamentally, is staff and learner-centred.
Last summer, my students gained outstanding results in English literature at AS and A2 level. Here are my top tips for creating a purely developmental ethos and approach in your institution.
Innovation, experimentation and trust
Implementing a diverse range of strategies, such as research groups and teaching and learning communities, is central to developing dialogue around methods among staff and to creating a sharing of dialogue among teachers. This year, I have developed with my team and colleagues a teaching and learning research group. The group meets each Friday to discuss the week and the methods that we have used. Staff-led workshops have revolved around a variety of topics, including: hinge questioning, the online learning tool Memrise, developing thinking skills and how to stretch and challenge learners.
This has been successful in offering staff a forum for further active discussion. After each session, colleagues have to experiment with a different technique in the next week of teaching. Using early bird sharing and twilight sharing (meeting with colleagues before or after the college day) can also work.
Peer-observation is key
Instilling and creating a whole-school culture of developmental drop-ins is imperative to improvement in teaching, learning and assessment. However, you need to ensure that there is a purpose and a focus to this.
The punitive approach to a formal, forced tick-box lesson observation culture must be dispensed with – it can become demoralising and will not necessarily yield high grades and good learner outcomes for students.
Also, unnecessary grids and Rag (red, amber, green) ratings must be ditched. A lesson observation is purely a “snapshot” and there must be a continuous development plan that is led by staff, for staff (and for their students) in order to yield improvement.
Planning lessons together in pairs can also be effective and empowering for staff, and having a personalised CPD programme for your staff is imperative.
programme and CPD
It is essential that CPD is personalised to the individual needs of your staff. If you use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to CPD, it will fail.
Having time for development on a range of methods and techniques is key, but it is important that you do not forget CPD for your own subject and the updating of your own skills.
It may be worth looking at your budget to see whether it could be possible to book some dynamic speakers as part of your CPD programme. These individuals can inspire, excite and energise staff. Staff need nurturing and motivating development to make them think and act. You can also use internal staff to help create that ethos; ensure that you have advanced practitioner staff in each of your faculties and teams, and use teaching and learning coaches or development advisers.
Minimum target grades
Be wary of using simplistic targets and data to define students. Unless used with aspirational target grades, these can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If mishandled or misunderstood, such targets can have disastrous consequences on teaching, learning and outcomes.
Data can become problematic if it is used to plan lessons in a reductive and formulaic way. It is there to inform and should be used in a learner-centred and planned process. For the same reason, staff and student surveys can often be problematic.
Staff and student surveys
Do not use punitive questioning in surveys. Make surveys staff and learner-centred in terms of development. The questioning around teaching, learning and assessment can become illuminating for improvement. Rather than asking students to agree to a statement such as, “Course materials on the college’s virtual learning environment are good and support independent learning: do you agree – yes or no?” Why not think about rephrasing the question to a more open one, for example, “What different types of independent work do you complete before and after class and do you set yourself challenging extension tasks from this?” Phrased in this way, survey questions will improve dialogue between staff and students.
So...are we doing this for Ofsted and value-added scores?
In a nutshell, no. We are developing our practice and sharing our ideas in order to improve teaching, learning and assessment for our students in the classroom. You do not get good results through focusing on Ofsted and value-added. High learner outcomes can be developed and nurtured naturally through innovative practice, sharing and risk-taking.
Staff questioning, reflection
The process of questioning your practice and the methods of others will enable you to develop in the classroom. Giving all staff the time to reflect, and the space to evaluate, is imperative. Ultimately, it is the culture and ethos of trust established in your college that will prove crucial. Avoid tick-box lists and turn them into reflective and evaluative questions for staff. By using these methods, you can create a truly ambitious and shared development culture for staff, which will ultimately lead to significant improvements for your students.