Educationalist, teach thyself
I turned down the invitation to send colleagues on a training course, even though the title was exactly on the topic at the heart of our school development planning this year; boy’s greater depth writing.
Partly my reluctance was based on cost – at £265 per person for the one day course, transport to the nearest venue (Manchester or Leeds), and a day’s supply cover, the course would cost school in the region of £500 per person, and we’d want at least two colleagues to attend.
I’m also reluctant because it only directly impacts on one or two colleagues, and when they try to impart their learning back at school the effect becomes less and less at each tier - maybe only 10% as effective. The trickle-down or cascade approach has accepted law of diminishing returns built-in inefficiency. Combine that with the challenge of covering all 28 of our teachers, many of whom are part-time and we would have accept next-to-no impact in places.
Then there’s the lack of prior knowledge of the trainer, and their expertise and skills. With no ‘CheckaTutor’ or ‘Tutor Advisor’ app available, with ratings provided by precious trainees, it is not easy to tell whether the training will be that good.
And finally I don’t like the implied put-down on our own staff, that we have to get someone to tell us how to improve because presumably we don’t know ourselves or have expertise in-house.
So what we do instead is confidently, happily and with commitment take part in a school peer partnership programme with our local colleagues. All seven local Primaries in our S10LP (Sheffield 10 Learning Partnership) group signed up two years ago to a scheme that research (there’s a thing!) supports as effective in developing school effectiveness. EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) research has shown that using coaching principals, outside eyes and trusted colleagues, but without giving answers, continues, in a sustained manner, to help schools find the answers themselves.
It draws on an unstated fact – in the teaching staff body there is vast experience. Our 28 teachers share about 600 years of teaching between us. We probably have seen it before, and we probably do have possible answers to most problems within our experience or our ‘skill-set’.
It absolutely requires us to demonstrate ‘vulnerable trust’. We have to be open and honest with our colleagues outside our own school, and to be willing to accept that the problem may be ourselves. How we teach, how we organise, what we teach and the order in which we teach it, the behaviour management methods we choose, the curriculum arrangements and so on are the choice of professionals and so changes are in their capacity also. We have to open up so that colleagues can see what we really do and the outcomes we really get.
Earlier this term two Headteachers and a Deputy Headteacher visited us for a day and went full-on into an investigation on boys’ engagement in lessons and how that might be impacting on the percentage of boys attaining higher writing levels. This week the Deputy Head and another middle leader from a further school came to run an improvement workshop for our teaching staff, following on directly from that day of review. The two colleagues in this role are known as ‘Improvement Champions’ – they come to enable and encourage, presenting research that might help and then challenge us to choose a pathway and commit to action on it.
So far, at no cost to us. This work is quid pro quo, as they must have said in Roman schools back in the day. I have been on a review day at one of the partnership schools as lead, and will do another next term. Our Deputy will be the second reviewer at yet another local school next month. Two of our class teachers will act as Improvement Champions before the summer. Total financial cost about £1,000. But ALL our teachers have had training and inspiration, two teachers have been able to visit other schools and to develop leadership skills and experience, Head and Deputy have been challenged skilfully and able to learn from practice elsewhere.
The simplest measure of whether the group thinks it works is that all seven schools were at a review meeting this week. Two years in and we are training more staff in the various roles so we can ensure sustainability. The very next morning after our workshop I kept coming across colleagues talking about the issues raised and covered. We have booked two further activities because we have committed to actions. I think it is more effective than sending one person (or two) on a more expensive day out course. If we didn’t think it worked it would have faded away by now and we would be spending our time and (limited) money some other way.
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