I’m procrastinating (and the All Blacks are playing Ireland).
After an external review and a session of taking stock and what can positively be referred to as calibration, we are reviewing our improvement plan, maintaining a lot of it endorsed by the review and refocusing on areas where we’ve found that gains could result in the most impact. We’ve also quickly started to act on areas where we were, frankly, off the pace. In that sense, it’s been a positive experience. As one comment was heard to say: “we now know what we don’t know”.
I’ve been named in a fair few school improvement plans in my time. I’ve never taken part in the writing of a whole school plan before. In short, where do you start?
Don’t get me wrong, my knickers aren’t in a ridiculous twist, I have a section (Teaching and Learning) that I need to insert success criteria, milestones, monitoring strategies and a few more actions into. I “get” how the mechanical process of writing a plan works. What I’d like to see is how it will look in my mind’s eye. When you sit down to work with a teacher, you can picture how their classroom may look or feel or be delivered differently and the advice and the action plan can be framed with that in mind. On a whole institution basis that’s harder to visualise. The number of variables multiply inordinately and clarity becomes harder to come by.
In fact, it could be argued that clarity could actually diminish the number of things that need to click and work. Is it as simple as boiling this down to “fixing” learning and teaching and soaking up the “lag” before achievement follows? No. It isn’t that simple. The complexity of it is mind blowing, when I let myself consider it. (Ireland leading New Zealand 22-7 at half time!)
I met a couple of old friends for dinner the other night and one of them provided me with a candid take on the difference of opinion on school improvement your perspective can give you. He was clear that, as a middle leader, his “neck” wouldn’t be on the line in a failed Ofsted inspection, it would be senior leaders. He’s right to an extent, but I did point out to him the uncertainty a “re-structure” and change of leadership might have. That may affect him.
What became even more abundantly clear to me in that moment was the need for everyone to be pulling forward in the direction that is required. A small contingent isn’t enough. The leadership team and advocates from a larger staff body, dragging a school kicking and screaming forward isn’t enough. It’ll kill someone eventually and doesn’t account for individual professional responsibility. Drilling down then, it’s clear that there has to be enough clarity in an improvement plan to communicate to all staff what the priorities are without them becoming confusing or watered down. Not easy. Especially in a human system, known for the “interpretations” of its inhabitants not quite matching directives. I’ve written about this before here!
For me then, my priority is the improvement of teaching and learning. Moreover the incumbent nature of individual teachers improving their practice, but really taking responsibility for doing so. In order to do that we’re looking at “Lesson Study”. Alongside this, a number of our leads on areas of whole school importance: behaviour and safety, curriculum, data, literacy, leadership etc will lead “focused CPD groups” (I’m working on the name) that all staff will be involved in. We’ve overhauled some areas of our use of data to highlight higher expectations for student achievement and I’m determined that Performance Management will be a firm, tight, focused lever to make sure every individual is pulling in the same direction. Literacy needs a culture shift; there are marginal gains to be had, but it’s a town and social issue that we can fight and improve but not eradicate. Right now. We want our school to really communicate and promote our values around language and communication and literacy. It’s quite exciting really.
The last quandary I’m thinking about as I avoid work is the question of success criteria. In terms of my direct responsibility, I’m thinking that “success” is really 100% of lessons judged as good or outstanding as a starting point. How can it be anything other than this? I’m keenly aware of the barriers to this judgement, but it is the criteria for success, otherwise, even semantically, I am allowing myself to settle for a number of less than acceptable experiences for students. I’m truly unsure as to how to approach this. Again, I consider this in terms of if I were dealing with an individual teacher. If that teacher indicated to me that say, 90% of their students would achieve at least in line with expectation. I would still have an issue with a target that allowed for any students to be written off, despite knowing that, statistically, all students don’t make that rate of progress. I’d want to know what investigation and intervention had been planned for those students not in the 90% and how they could be brought closer to the achievement expected or even exceeding expectation. In short, I’m not happy with lowering an expectation. I know that it may not be realistic, but it doesn’t sit well with me. John Tomsett’s brilliant blog has given me food for thought here in terms of planning for improvement: it’s a timing thing and a curvy thing, a “signoid” curve to be precise. You’ve got to know when to implement change in order to make it happen positively, a clear idea of a desired end point is also helpful here. Outstanding?
I’m learning this currently. And I know that it’s an almost evolutionary process in the sense that we can only “plan” improvement up to a point and empower those that we work with, including pupils, to “see” the improvement in their mind’s eye. It’s fascinating and frustrating and a bit scary all at once.
(In case you’re wondering, Ireland lost in the end after an incredible game. It was worth taking a couple of hours off to watch it.)