It’s February half term, half way through the year. One external review, an Ofsted and a range of new experiences challenges and shifting priorities later, I’m hoping it’s normal to be asking yourself, A: do I know what I’m doing? And B: have I still got “it”? I came into the post of Assistant Principal as an outstanding teacher, an AST, given the opportunity to lead Learning and Teaching, in my view, to outstanding. With the shift into a leadership role, I’ll be honest, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to knock out an outstanding lesson – perhaps some of my contemporaries will let me know how they’re feeling but the day to day quality of lessons have, it’s fair to say, suffered slightly.
Now this isn’t self deprecating. It’s a genuine “poacher turned gamekeeper” moment. I, more often than not, am now the observer rather than the observed. Before taking up this post, I almost revelled in the challenge of deconstructing the criteria to see how to ensure an observation was judged as outstanding. I got quite good at it. Being the name, so to speak on Learning and Teaching makes the observation slightly more important in terms of credibility. As an English teacher too, this made me a prime target for our external review – first observation of the first day – a solid good. Job done initially. Bizarrely, during our Ofsted, no one came near me. Then, in an effort to maintain “normality” after the Ofsted, we decided to stick with our already in place monitoring calendar and would move on to “review” our own English Directorate of which I am a part. This meant both observing and being observed. By the Principal in my case.
Ironically, I had been out of school the day before, taking trainee teachers through a variety of different areas, one of which was outstanding lessons. The test would be the next day with Year 11. My usual routine was supported by scrutinising the criteria with the trainees. Given the workload increase, the night before was the classic late one, making sure marking was up to date and the plan was tight. It wasn’t. But what it was, was the next lesson that needed to be taught. My feeling was that it was teacher talk heavy and didn’t result, potentially in enough demonstration of progress or indeed learning.
As it turned out, the kids were exemplary, as if there wasn’t enough of a problem we had two room changes. They were on time and worked with me – they knew that “we” would be observed and were clearly intent on being seen at their best. Routines came into play. They had a headline from the Language Paper to identify features within and extend to explaining intended effects. They repeated this with the picture – I took feedback – swift questioning was important here – as many kids contributing as possible – taking their contributions and collating them on the whiteboard. Again, routines came into play. We had learned about semantics two or three lessons before – with support – the kids identified the main semantic fields within the article – swift feedback again and they were ready to write. I had provided a writing frame to support them in hitting each part of the mark scheme and they were off. I circulated, making sure I approached those kids I knew would struggle the most. Importantly, the lesson was planned off the back of the fact that they had done a question of the same type poorly in their previous lessons. That was the marking the night before. The lesson addressed their misconceptions directly.
If I’m being honest, I’d say it was a good lesson. But we seldom reward ourselves for the things we do as part of our routines. It was judged to be outstanding thankfully and gave me a much needed boost to get me towards the end of the half term. On reflection, the secret of the success of the one off lesson was that it wasn’t for show – it wasn’t a one-off – it was part if the sequence of lessons that needed to be taught. There wasn’t a gimmick. It was, in places, as “chalk n talk” as you can get. For me, the secret was in the planning that related directly to ongoing assessment. I taught them something I’d taught them before, but they demonstrated that they didn’t quite “get it” – so we reframed the learning, approached it in a different way and were successful.
It does underline a conversation I had with one of the Ofsted inspectors who asked me about the proportion of outstanding lessons we had recorded for our staff. I dutifully gave him the data but this sparked a conversation about the, potentially more favourable scenario of the largest proportion of teachers routinely teaching good lessons. He did not disagree.
My focus now moves back to the feedback from Ofsted. How to put into play a situation in which we don’t throw out the baby but that we adapt to address those points made most lucid to us. How do we create a situation in which our kids don’t just read because we told them to, but read because they actually want to? How do we communicate the worth of reading, the joy and the power to inspire the kids rather than simply direct? How do we ensure that our kids display the legendary “thirst for learning”? How do we inspire their own learning behaviours? How do we ensure that peer and self assessment is a deeper, more meaningful activity? Not just a “tick n flick” exercise. How do we ensure that the kids’ low literacy levels don’t hamper their ability to take part in this meaningful assessment of their own and others work? How do we ensure a higher priority for SMSC?
That’s all. There may be a couple more blogs in the work that needs to be done. Just a couple though. Almost time for the second half. This is where stamina really comes into play.