Schools are full of hard-working professionals who are doing their best to improve the life of the children in their care.
Highly innovative and creative people are forever coming up with new and interesting ways to improve learning and this can lead to a proliferation of activity with a thousand flowers blooming but none really thriving.
The hardest thing to do is to recognise that an idea that you or a colleague have nurtured may be helping but that if it was stopped there would be time and space for an even better idea to take its place.
Start with the evidence
By drawing on the wealth of research around school improvement you can pick the strategies which are most likely to help most children most quickly. Staff at Farmor’s School in Gloucestershire have started using Professor John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning, as well as the Education Endowment Foundation and Sutton Trust Pupil Premium Toolkit in order to focus their CPD time on the “top-ranked” strategies which have shown to help pupil learning most quickly.
This could be, for example, focusing on improving the quality of feedback given in class which has been shown to be one of the most decisive factors in attainment. Every year they also support a few staff to engage in Master’s-level research with the University of Gloucestershire and ensure this is focused on whole-school development issues.
Prioritise resources and time
If you want teaching staff to improve their practice then you need to allocate a suitable amount of resource to enable them to do so. At St Mary’s Catholic College in Lancashire, teachers are given cover vouchers to give them flexibility over when they collaborate with a colleague to engage in peer observation. The leadership team has prioritised this in the budget in order to focus on effective school improvement.
Confront the hard truths: evaluate
Voluntarily altering your practice to try something new is always exciting and almost always feels like it has been a success. However, it is important to force yourself to measure objectively and to be ready to admit that an idea may not be optimal.
At Cramlington Learning Village in the North East, teachers are focusing all of their professional development time on clearly focused student learning areas so that they can take a baseline, engage in ongoing evaluation, and make sure they use objective measures of success which are judged against historical results or a similarly matched control group.
In a recent example, a new NQT induction programme was shown to be raising attainment by half a GCSE grade, on average, compared to the previous programme. Cramlington has worked with Sheffield Hallam University to ensure there is appropriate rigour in the approach to evaluation.
In order to challenge themselves further, Cramlington engaged in the National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN) CPD Audit to benchmark themselves against other schools and identify where they could improve their approach.
Pilot and collaborate
It is very hard to simply drop one approach and start doing something else while carrying others with you. At Watford Grammar School for Boys, a small number of teachers has been piloting a new approach to professional development, also through the NTEN.
Lesson Study is a collaborative enquiry where teachers construct a targeted research question, decide an intervention based on research evidence, then carry out cycles of planning, predicting the effect on pupils, observing and reflecting/improving. From their experiences in the pilot these teachers are now able to work with senior leaders to allocate time and resources so that others can engage more successfully.
Challenge and take risks
There are many habits in schools which are ingrained but may not be the most effective approaches. At Uplands Community College in East Sussex, the leadership team took inspiration from the book Professional Capital by Professors Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves.
They took the risk of moving away entirely from graded lesson observations as they felt this was impeding staff development rather than helping it. They challenged themselves by collecting copious “bottom-up” qualitative evidence from peer-to-peer observation where every teacher could nominate a chosen, trained colleague to observe them.
They are also investing in video technology so that teachers can voluntarily collect examples of their practice and they are engaging in collaborative NTEN Lesson Study to foster challenge in a more developmental, evidence-based way.
Further informationAccess the Teacher Development Trust’s free database of CPD at http://goodcpdguide.com and for details of the National Teacher Enquiry Network, visit www.teacherdevelopmenttrust.org/teacher-enquiry-network
David Weston is the chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional development. Visit www.teacherdevelopmenttrust.org