So I’m sat in a room full of Teaching & Learning Leads, all Assistant Heads, we’ve had a network meeting and it’s been a good day. There’s been sharing and the requisite amount of “networking” and the atmosphere is considerably more comfortable than it was at the start of the day. When the topic of the next meeting is brought up, there are a few suggestions and I pipe up: “why don’t we all bring our strategy documents, our strategies, for improving teaching and learning?”
And something happened in that moment that hadn’t happened all day. Silence.
And then, people started territorially stroking monitoring folders, cocking heads to one side and saying, “well, this is it!” I put a little bit more meat on the bones of the suggestion by saying that monitoring was one thing, I’ve written about my bugbears with it before and would admit that my opinions have, let’s say, evolved. However, I do believe that monitoring isn’t a strategy for improving teaching and learning, it’s a checking mechanism and necessary. CPD? Also not a strategy for improving teaching and learning, the links between it and improved outcomes are too far away from each other and difficult to track and link.
So what is the strategy for improving teaching and learning? Given the outlined conversation above, it’s on the agenda for our next meeting. I was transparent in saying that I’m not completely sure what this looks like and I’d like to see what other people’s look like. It would appear that, from the reaction, no one has one. For me, it’s a combination of things. Monitoring is only one of these things.
What became apparent in the meeting is that the role of teaching and learning lead has changed. The creative, “ideas” person is still there but has been largely supplanted by the monitor. The sharing part of our meeting was, bar one, a catwalk of work scrutiny to learning walks, collation and use. As I say, I’m with it, I know the importance of monitoring and it’s a huge part of my job but, hand on heart, it’s not the main strategy or mechanism in place to improve teaching and learning. The learning walk is a viscous and unfortunate item that I find difficult to grasp. Again, I’ve waxed on about how I believe it should be done before, largely killed off by the good fight of the unions and reduced to what was described to me by an Ofsted Inspector as a “compliance check”. I argued the case at the time, but he was right and I don’t underestimate the need for a push for consistency but is this part of the strategy for improving teaching and learning? At most, a part.
So what is the plan? The strategy? The vision even?
It has tiers. Layers even.
- The “everyday” CPD. Working together in departments, the unplanned stuff: the teacher next door, the comments from pupils and reflecting on the good and bad lessons. The course requests for the stuff you need to do like exams and moderation. The bits and pieces you pick up online or on Twitter and the resource that someone emails or puts in your pigeonhole.
- Performance Management. This sounds trite because it’s a necessity and an expectation but surely it’s more about how it’s done? It should be a way of securing challenge, reinforcing an ethos and a feeling about what is expected of our kids and our staff. It should take into consideration starting points but it should be aspirational. It should, above all, be a way of inspiring discussion about practice. About teaching. Essentially about what is different because you are in that room. In that building.
- Whole school CPD. The big ideas, the priorities that transcend subject boundaries, the necessities like safeguarding etc. The briefings to share information and highlight what comes next in the busy calendar.
- Lesson Study. As often as possible, teachers talking and planning lessons together and, crucially, watching each other teach and offer feedback. But it has to run and run, “staying on the bus” (as always, David Didau got there first on this one) if you like until it becomes routine .
- Monitoring. I’ve said plenty about this already.
- The “vanilla” of the meetings is necessary: the departmental time, the briefings, House or year team meetings and briefings, but there’s more and it can be strategic, can’t it? Assistant Directors meeting (Deputy Heads of Dept or Faculty). An agenda linked to that of the “parent” meeting of Directors/Heads of Dept/Faculty to ensure ownership of a strategic element of the leadership of their curriculum areas but also linked in order to cater for the “hit by a bus” scenario and succession planning. There are generally only two types of Deputy: those who are more comfortable without the top job, the accountability, and those who are desperate for the top job, the accountability. This needs to engage them both.
- Directors Meeting (Heads of Dept or Faculty). This should run concurrently with Heads of House meetings (or Year). Their deputies should also attend. They are more likely to be dealing with the same issues as those leading, it’s a job with a far more horizontal front and structure. These two groups should meet together once a term, curriculum and pastoral.
- SLT. What school of thought works best here is for the individual context and team. It can be directive and operational. It could be, maybe should be, the place where the steering of the tanker occurs, where the strategic decisions are taken that are then filtered through the schedule for staff to engage with. Focused on key priorities.
What is noticeable about the above list is it’s normality, it’s dull, because it outlines basic structures of how an organisation (a school really) runs. And there it is: the strategy. It’s so simple it is complicated every day by the fact that the thing that populates the list is people. The other dull aspect? This has to run within a tight tight calendar and a relentless focus on priorities. One of my colleagues in the meeting at the start of this piece said that their strategy for work scrutiny was, “any book, any time”. A truly conscientious and committed approach. A compliance check with the progress of the kids at its heart. A strategy for improving teaching and learning? Possibly not.
What’s missing? Feedback. The opportunities to provide focused feedback that challenges people to be better and believe they can be. This has to tap into an intrinsic professional desire to achieve and be better but also harness the right amount of extrinsic pressure or maybe, as my Principal says, ecourage people to “love the job again”. And then this raises the question in my head, “is this a leadership issue?”. Having been sat in one (Mock) Ofsted feedback meeting, it would seem that everything is a leadership issue. The trick then appears to be getting everyone to lead. So that’s that sorted then. Easy…