Ultimate Growth Mind-Set…School to School Support and …Ofsted!

baldyblogs

Our last week’s school post http://www.meolscophighschool.co.uk/dep-blog/?p=1415 ‘Growth Mind Set-Not just for Xmas’ seemed to gather more interest from colleagues at other schools with regards to how staff might develop their mind-set, rather than just the students. From the responses we had, most interest seemed to focus on the effect that removing grading from lesson observations has had on the ‘risk taking’ aspect of planning an observation lesson and the impact of lesson study on the planning and self-analysis of the lesson in all of its stages from thoughts, to planning ‘big’ questions, to delivery and feedback. Both of these factors link to the development in staff of the mind-set of thinking positively that anything is possible for our students [with our teaching and support], that honest critique should be sought and acted upon to support professional development, that we should celebrate the success of others and actively seek to develop…

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Caring and Sharing….

In my previous blog ‘Being Special’ I wrote about what it is like working in a school that is in Special Measures. I feel I only scratched the surface but don’t want to wallow without looking for solutions. Reading several tweets, reports, research findings recently has led me to think that, the biggest challenge of a school in SM is looking after the staff while implementing rigorous and often much needed changes. Dylan Wiliam (2014) has said,

‘There is not an infinite pool of good and outstanding teachers who are queuing up to join under-performing schools. Research suggests that we are better off improving the teachers that we have, than attempting to force them out of the profession or the school, so as to recruit potentially better staff.’

I don’t know what research he is quoting but the sentiment does make a lot of sense. If a school is under-performing, then it is not being adequately led, and this must include the development of staff, who may not have been well supported to improve their practice over the years. If teaching and learning was not an issue then the school would probably not be in SM. I firmly believe that no teacher gets up in the morning with the intention of doing a bad job but some people have not had the skills development over the years to improve, they have not had the time or encouragement, or indeed modelling of looking outwards to find best practice and latest research ideas. You don’t have to agree with it or use it, but a professional should have a working knowledge of current thinking.

Schools must have a proper programme of staff development if they want to improve the quality of teaching. This might mean reducing the teaching load of teachers who are struggling to allow them to work with others who are in a better position to share good practice and who are confident in supporting their colleagues. The latest Sutton trust report advocates that,

‘To make significant changes to their practice, teachers need multiple opportunities to learn new information and understand its implications for practice. Furthermore, they need to encounter these opportunities in environments that offer both trust and challenge’ Timperley (2008).

The key words here are ‘significant’, ‘trust’ and ‘challenge’. Good leaders will know the strengths and areas for development of all their staff and will be able to team people who will work effectively and be mutually supportive. Trust is especially important when the school is in difficulties and staff feel under the SM spotlight  but change in weak practice needs to be quick and sustainable; not turned on for a 60 minute snapshot lesson observation. The education of our young people is too important for it to be otherwise however; leaders have to tread a fine line between supportive development and the rigorous challenge that is expected by Ofsted, HMI and governing bodies. Exley (2012) succinctly states that staff can be,

‘aggressively micro-managed and bullied through observations, particularly in the wake of an institution criticised by Ofsted.’

This quickly leads to a climate of suspicion, mis-trust, negativity, low morale and a culture of isolation that then moves to a downward spiral of resentment towards SLT, withdrawal of goodwill, reluctance to embrace new ideas and more worryingly the departure of the very staff you desperately want and need to keep. The staff who are left have to struggle with the problems caused by over use of supply teachers and the implications for their own health and well-being.

Having a transparent and supportive monitoring structure, which has been set up and agreed by all staff, can go some way to avoiding this scenario; if people buy into the problem they will engage with the solutions, even when the decisions and outcomes are not always pleasant. Leaders of all levels and experience need to realise their role and responsibility to move the school forward and to be accountable for their team. This also means having the confidence to ask for help when they need it, and to know the right questions to ask to get that help. Again this comes down to keeping up to date with current thinking and ideas  and being given time to implement and monitor the inevitable plethora of changes.

I am not saying anything I have written here is right, true or indeed worthy of a read, these are just my musings at the end of a tough half term.

Being Special

We have been in Special Measures since June 13th 2013; a date indelibly printed in my brain. I knew things were not right but for someone to come into our school, spend the best part of just two days with us and then deliver that life-changing statement was mind-numbing. I think we were all in a state of shock for quite some time. How could we be in Special Measures? We had been outstanding! That I think, is where the problem started; we had forgotten to look beyond our school gates, we had become complacent, we had taken our eye off the ball. So far off the ball, if truth were known, we could not even see the pitch!

Change of management; existing Head retired; change of governing body, IEB put in place, change of pace and regime. The hardest part is the feeling of personal inadequacy; not everything or everyone was inadequate, we had pockets of outstanding practice, but you cannot help feeling that YOU ARE INADEQUATE. It became embarrassing to say which school you work in, you would go to Teachmeets and other external meetings and no longer feel that you had the credibility to make a contribution.

We started our ‘journey back to good’; and if I hear that phrase again I will thump the person who says it. It is not a journey, it is just putting right what should never have been wrong. Learning and teaching needs to be consistently good, expectations of staff for students, staff for themselves, parents for their children need to be consistently good, keeping abreast of local, national and global ideas and initiatives needs to be constant. Monitoring and development of staff needs to be rigorous yet  supportive and dignified. There needs to be a realisation that time is not elastic, books take hours to mark if they are to be done properly, lessons take hours to plan if they are to be done properly. Analysing data to make informed plans and judgements takes hours if it is going to be meaningful and used effectively. We had been on the back foot here in a lot of cases and so this was a  massive sea change for some people. So many changes were needed to our everyday practice just to get on a par with schools who had improved incrementally over the years. We did not have the luxury of years; we had to change now, immediately, we were not good enough. As a leadership team we did not get it right first time all of the time but we have tried to do what is right by the students, their parents and the staff. we have had to make some tough decisions and some radical changes to school life; we were too cosy, we were not good enough.

Not everyone made it through the first year; not everyone will make it through the second year but the students are now getting a much better deal than they were getting on June 13th 2013. One of my science colleagues summed it up nicely as we broke up for a well-earned summer break  ‘Surely to God I am a better teacher than I was a year ago?’ – he is; we all, are but by God it has been the hardest, most draining year I have ever spent. We still wait for HMI; we still wait for the forced academisation (stressful time spent dealing with this when we could have been putting more energies into getting the school out of SM but that’s a whole different blog).

quick-step marking

A colleague and I were discussing the need to try and help people become ‘smarter markers’. several staff, many new to the school this term, are clearly struggling to keep up with the constant conveyor of marking; even more important when your school is in SM and HMI are overdue. we looked at several twitter comments about marking and took some of the ideas and developed them. Apologies for not mentioning people by name but we had just saved twitter pics etc. @ewenfields http://t.co/NTvJZ4826S  has been helpful and also @dak74.

We use Hattie’s ‘medal & mission’, or variations of this, across the school and try to give specific praise and individual feedback/forward. We trialled the idea below last week and it really did shave a good 30 minutes off the marking time for a set of 23 books. The  pro-forma was pre-populated with questions from grade C – A and after writing in the specific praise (medal) I put a spot sticker next to the question I want students to complete during D.I.R.T. next lesson. We have also looked at including a range of differentiated reflection questions and RAG questions with corresponding stickers.

diff feedback questions

Lesson Study Lite

some new pictures added

oddsandblogs

picture289At long last I have got around to setting up a blog to share ideas, thoughts and general musings. I took part in a Lesson Study lite project with two colleagues recently and was pleased with the outcome. It was a LS lite as we were fast approaching the end of term and I very much wanted to dip a toe in the rippling pond that is Lesson Study. My focus group was my lower ability year 9 group; looking at some GCSE science ISA questions. Prior attainment data for the group ranged from L2a – L4c and they were now hovering around L5c- L5a. I decided to look at the case study sections of the ISA as this flowed nicely from the investigation and data tables we had just been working on.

The three students I chose for the fine focus were the three most able; I wanted to see…

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Lesson Study Lite

picture289At long last I have got around to setting up a blog to share ideas, thoughts and general musings. I took part in a Lesson Study lite project with two colleagues recently and was pleased with the outcome. It was a LS lite as we were fast approaching the end of term and I very much wanted to dip a toe in the rippling pond that is Lesson Study. My focus group was my lower ability year 9 group; looking at some GCSE science ISA questions. Prior attainment data for the group ranged from L2a – L4c and they were now hovering around L5c- L5a. I decided to look at the case study sections of the ISA as this flowed nicely from the investigation and data tables we had just been working on.

The three students I chose for the fine focus were the three most able; I wanted to see how much information  they could retain between lessons and how they would apply this to the actual exam questions. They also had the most consistent attendance which was crucial for the Lesson Study.

My success criteria was that the students would apply given rules to interrogating data tables and make their way, with support, through gradually more complex tables, answering more technical questions. Eventually, support would be withdrawn and students would be able to work independently, answering questions to a GCSE standard.

I printed off ‘dead’ ISA case studies and cut them into individual tables; I typed the given hypotheses onto separate strips of paper. I enlarged the data tables, stuck them onto A3 card and laminated them. I put together a question sheet and made a self/peer assessment overlay.

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(Thanks to @ewenfields at Meolscophighschool.co.uk for sharing this idea on his blog.) Students worked in pairs and wrote their responses on the laminated sheets.

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My two colleagues were looking for specific learning outcomes from the three focus students but were also involved in giving me general feedback from the group as a whole.

I must be honest, I was not expecting the group to be able to maintain their concentration on the task for two full lessons let alone three and we agreed that we would just work on 40 mins. observation over two lessons; we were wrong! The group as a whole really engaged with the tasks for the full two lessons except one student who did not enjoy it as it was not his usual routine; but this is his usual response to anything new. I had told the group that they were taking part in an important research project and they enjoyed the focus; their comments at the end were enlightening.

By the end of the first lesson students were identifying independent and dependent variables from data tables; stating patterns and using data to support this.

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By the end of lesson two they were looking for anomalies, checking mean results, identifying incorrect mean results and giving reasons for the incorrect calculation.

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This was done with minimal support by the end of lesson two. We did not get on to using the peer assessment overlays so they have gone away for another day but I, and my colleagues, were really impressed with the responses from the students; they were well on their way to writing detailed and accurate responses to the case study questions.

picture293 Overlays not used yet.

I cannot compare this group with my current GCSE physics groups as they are at opposite ends of the ability spectrum but what this showed me was that they are capable of working at a higher level and will be able to cope with the course next year but they will struggle to achieve ‘pass grades’ at GCSE because:

  • They need more time and practise to process information
  • They will struggle to retain the amount of content and skills needed for terminal exams

My task is to keep their enthusiasm and engagement and make sure they have the best science lessons possible over the next two years. Lesson Study will play a part in this; either developing my own practice or using the ideas and findings of others.

I will definitely use the same approach of cutting up and enlarging exam questions for all my groups next year. There is something about the ‘big text’ and the space around the questions which allows students to feel more comfortable working with the information – the laminated sheets will also be used again as there was a definite increase in self-correcting when students could just rub out and start again.