Educational leadership & learning

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Transforming Primary Mathematics

I have spent time reading this informative and thought provoking book by  MikeAskew (@mikeaskew26). Below are some of the key points that resonated with me.

Introduction

Contrary to popular opinion, most children rise to the challenge of ‘hard’ mathematics rather than shy away from it…dependent upon a particular style of classroom ethos, close attention to the mathematical challenges presented and support for children in their efforts.

The nature of teaching is, and always will be, an adaptive challenge, rather than a technical problem…adaptive challenges require solutions that have yet to be found. We need to work with a view of mathematics teaching as an adaptive challenge. That means trying out new ways to teach and in particular allowing pedagogies to emerge rather than imposing them.

Current practices establish norms about different abilities…Society at large also labels people.

To meet the challenges of mathematics teaching, ways of working in classrooms need to emerge through the joint activity of teachers and children. Learning does not only happen in the minds of individual children – classrooms are learning systems. By attending to how the classroom community grows and learns (teacher and children together) it is possible to create classrooms where children: engage with meaningful mathematics; learn that they can learn mathematics; develop socially and emotionally; realise the importance of inter-dependency.

Thinking about learning

“Learning…is more of a reaching out than a taking in. It is participation…The agent’s activity and identify are inseparable from his, her or its knowledge. Knowing is doing is being.”

It is the combination of the following 3 together that makes mathematical teaching powerful:

  • Learning as a collective activity
  • How learning involves becoming as well as acquiring
  • Integrating the maths that ‘emerges’ as children work on rich problems and investigations with pre-planned learning intentions

Being meaningful is not merely about relating contexts to their ‘real’ lives; it is a meaningful context they can ‘mathematise’. (E.g. Place Value in Market Stalls example)

Teachers often say that the children can understand the mathematics but cannot apply it, rather than question the assumption that there is a logical connection in going from the abstract to the application. Starting from realistic contexts and mathematizing these may help the reapplication of this mathematics to other contexts later.

How do we encourage a classroom community that is a co-operative collective rather than a collection of individuals?

Thinking about curriculum

There is little point in teaching something if 3 months later the children show no understanding of it.

Most skills in maths only make sense in relation to other ones, so picking the off in isolation isn’t the most sensible way to address them…Outside of school most learning comes about through engaging in whole activities rather than learning discrete actions or behaviours.

Reflective teaching needs to focus on the activity, the experience, of the learner, not on the actions of the teacher.

“Learning originates in the experiences of the learner, not those of the teacher.” (Bernie Neville)

If we want children to engage in maths then teaching has to be based around collective problem solving, more closely matching the communities of practice that learners are engaged in outside of school.

One of the biggest difficulties in teaching maths is the assumption that what the child brings is not significant.

Thinking about teaching

Teaching and Learning is somewhat mysterious and unpredictable and we need to accept and work with that rather than behave as though it were completely controllable.

Complicated systems: particular actions determine particular, predictable results

Complex systems: effects of particular actions are much harder, if not impossible, to predict. Gardens are typical examples as they involve multiple feedback loops that dynamically change the whole structure. The results of actions depend upon the actions, but they do not uniquely determine them.

Teaching and learning is a complex system: learning is dependent upon teaching but cannot be completely determined by it. Accepting this complexity is liberating. It means teachers accept things as they are and work from that reality, rather than wish things were different.

The role of a teacher is to optimise experiences of learning, and in doing so maximise the likelihood of learning.

Mathematical activity: mindful or fluent?

“Trying to solve a maths problem in a way dictated by the teacher is different from attempting to test one’s own hypothesis. The teacher who tells students to solve a problem in a prescribed manner is limiting their ability to investigate their surroundings and to test novel ideas.” (Langer)

We need to pay more attention to the process of coming to know rather than the end results.

Successful performance depends on engaging in co-constructing emergent mathematical activity.

Is our focus more on finding answers to calculations or more on becoming mindful of the underlying mathematics?

Do the children need to learn their tables? The point of being fluent in addition and multiplication bonds is not as an end in themselves, but how they free up working memory when tackling more interesting and engaging pieces of maths.

As learners become more fluent and confident so they become more engaged and involved in maths lessons.

It is the lack of experience that limits what children can do.

Asian children adopt addition strategies based on partitioning (e.g. 6 + 8 as 6 + 4 + 4) sooner than international peers.

Variation theory

VT provides a framework for thinking about how to maximise the likelihood of learning.

“Exposure to variation is critical for the possibility to learn, and that what is learned reflects the pattern of variation that was present in the learning situation.” (Runesson)

Directing the children to look for and think about possible connections.

Transforming the learner

“The primary aim of every teacher must be to promote the growth of students as competent, caring, loving and loveable people.” (Noddings)

Research shows that attending to relationships in maths lessons helps to raise standards.

Inequality of attainment in the primary years may be more a result of children’s different experiences than their ‘innate’ mathematical ability.

You find yourself in the flow with an optimum level of challenge that stretches your capabilities.

Build a classroom culture that emphasises listening to each other, working together and trying things out rather than waiting for the teacher to provide help.

Any worthwhile mathematical experience is going to lead at time to some difficult emotions: frustration, confusion and irritation. Confusion is a necessary part of learning mathematics and can never be removed from the process.

Building mathematical community

“A sense of belonging, of continuity, of being connected to others and to ideas and values that make our lives meaningful and significant – these needs are shared by all of us.” (Sergiovanni)

Mathematical communities needs to promote: trust, friendliness, inclusion as well as resilience, perseverance and curiosity, and be inviting, engaging and welcoming.

Work towards building and creating shared goals and values, rather than imposing rules and regulations that create an orderly class but not a community.

Learning needs periods of incubation – over more time.

‘Sharing’ needs the vital component of ideas and solutions being built upon by other learners.

Tasks, Tools, Talk

Maths not based on procedural fluency but involves understanding means learners are active constructors of knowledge, not passive recipients of it.

Setting up tasks with a certain amount of uncertainty is a way to make learners engage mindfully and bring their sense making to the activity.

Introducing models (10 frame, numberline, arrays…) takes time. Learners will only appreciate them through repeated exposure, and it takes them different time to take them on as tools for thinking…they need to be part of the pedagogical furniture of the classroom.

Talk is central to maths lessons…it mean mathematical vocab becomes part of classroom discourse.

Making sense of problems by explaining them to someone else, putting them in your own words and comparing your answer with others all help meaning to emerge.

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Thoughts on “Liminal Leadership”

“LIMINAL LEADERSHIP” by Stephen Tierney

Building bridges across the chaos…because we are standing on the edge.”

“External pressures and forces may restrict you but they do not define you. You are defined by your “why” and the integrity with which you pursue it.”

Stephen has 30 years of experience working in education: as a Teacher, Subject Leader, Deputy Headteacher, Headteacher and now Executive Headteacher of an all through multi-academy trust. He is Chair of the Headteachers’ RoundTable Group and is part of the SSAT’s (Schools Students and Teachers Network) Vision 2040 Group. He shares his thoughts and learning regularly via his blog (www.leadinglearner.me) and on Twitter as @LeadingLearner.

I have collated some quotes / ideas from his book to share with different groups within our own school, namely: Senior Leaders, Governors, Middle Leaders and Teachers. The content below is what I have shared with them.

All of the points below are directly from Stephen’s book. They may not fully make sense in the way I have summarise them, which is why I would highly recommend you read his book.

 

Leadership

  • If you’re going to focus on something in a school, teaching assessment and learning seem a pretty good bet.
  • Creating a truly great school takes patience. Ultimately, truly great schools don’t just suddenly exist. You grow great teachers first, who in turn, grow a truly great school. A truly great school grows like an oak tree over years.
  • Being prepared to live with the uncertainty of a far from perfect judgment is part of developing a new, more informed perspective. Judgments become framed more within the context of lines of enquiry coming out of data, observations, book scrutinies and discussions.
  • When you own the changes you make, it is surprising how quickly they are implemented. Teachers want to get better; they also want to have a say in what getting better is for them.
  • Part of the liminal world created for leaders by being more informed is managing the tension that uncertainty brings.
  • Testing is an imperfect way of judging the knowledge of a child, capability of a teacher or value added by a school…What does the evidence look like over time and from multiple sources?

 

  • Authentic leadership is rooted in a complex merging of awareness and knowledge of self, values and beliefs.
  • The ability to deal with complexity, see the bigger picture and manage the tensions between different competing demands is important for leaders…making connections between disparate parts and weaving them into a coherent picture.
  • It is a challenge to manage the tensions and expectations of early headship: how do you prove you are a capable leader whilst not falling into the trap of doing everything yourself.
  • One of the biggest challenges for leaders is how to connect people to the bigger picture so they can make sense of the job they do, how it relates to others’ work and the vision of the school.

 

  • Invest time in coaching. Coaching is about building trust; it’s a longer term commitment to helping a person be the best self they can be.
  • People are more likely to follow when we do with rather than do to.
  • Highly emotionally intelligent, literate and resilient…taking their team with them through challenging times.
  • Explaining and emphasising the vision and goals.
  • Reservoir of hope and optimism, maintaining high morale, positive relationships and a sense of togetherness.
  • Engine room of school improvement. Their induction, ongoing education and authentic opportunities to lead will play a large part in whether a school is successful.
  • Appointing staff is one of the most critical roles you have as a headteacher.
  • Authority – Capacity – Accountability – Responsible – Consult – Inform.

 

  • A job is something you do for money. But a career is something you do because you’re inspired to do it. Chase your passion not your pension.
  • Too much time on the edge leads to exhaustion.
  • Rebalance education, with a greater emphasis on drawing out the person…the whole person is the whole point.
  • Communities function on reciprocity and forgiveness. Schools only work because staff, often and generously, go the extra mile…Relationships are built on the numerous small emotional deposits made over many years.

 

Middle leaders

  • It’s getting everyone working in the same direction which makes the biggest difference.
  • Act as a pivotal point, ensuring vision and goals are implemented day by day.
  • Powerhouse of innovation and organisation and act as standard bearers…think creatively, open to radical ideas and enjoy solving problems.
  • Right attitudes plus high aptitude are multipliers; their impact is the product rather than the sum of their parts.
  • Time spent on high quality professional development is never wasted.
  • One of the biggest challenges for leaders is how to connect people to the bigger picture so they can make sense of the job they do, how it relates to others’ work and the vision of the school.
  • ·Social capital is about connecting people. Great people working together and increasing their skills and knowledge is fantastic but it is how we put all this capital together for the benefit of the pupils that puts the final piece in the jigsaw.
  • To develop a culture you need the early adopters and champions, but cultures only embed when there is mass participation.

 

Teachers

  • Education is an act of love; it is an act of giving to each and every child.
  • Never lose your passion for what happens in the classroom; learning, pedagogy, assessment and curriculum will continue to fascinate you.
  • Coaching is about building trust; it’s a longer term commitment to helping a person be the best self they can be.
  • Great professional development improves teaching in order to impact positively on pupil outcomes.
  • We need to know what each teacher is good at and what they need and wish to improve.
  • We can all fall into the danger of deciding “this is good teaching because I am a good teacher and this is what I do”

 

  • See lessons as part of a phase of learning: sequencing and structuring the learning.
  • Clarity of focus on Learning Objective.
  • More focus on ensuring gains in learning and less focus on activities and completing tasks.
  • Adapting lessons based on prior assessment.
  • Collaborative planning and discussing teaching assessment and learning.
  • Don’t plan lessons, plan learning.
  • Find out what the pupils know and don’t know and teach accordingly.
  • Life after levels is primarily a curriculum issue not a data one.
  • Less assessment for leaders, more assessment for learners.

 

  • Professional capital assumes good teaching: – requires high levels of education and long training – involves wise judgment informed by evidence and experience – maximises, mediates and moderates online learning
  • Social capital is about connecting people. Great people working together and increasing their skills and knowledge is fantastic but it is how we put all this capital together for the benefit of the pupils that puts the final piece in the jigsaw.

 

  • “Classroom teaching is perhaps the most complex, most challenging and most demanding, subtle and nuanced activity our species has ever invented” (Shulman).

 

 

Governement

  • As politicians become more and more frustrated by the lack of impact of their efforts, external accountability is ramped up.
  • There is a place for accountability but it needs to be far less pernicious and much more focused on supporting schools struggling to help pupils progress.
  • The data leviathan has to be tamed.
  • Over the past two decades, externally driven accountability has been one of the biggest drivers of leaders’ and teachers’ behaviours…often brings the fright, fight or flight response to the fore.
  • A few one hour tests in Year 6 cannot hope to tell you everything about a child’s education during seven years of primary education. Cue the narrowing of the curriculum. In terms of accountability, primary school assessment is now in such a mess that it could be almost a decade before a coherent system could be established.

 

Exceptional Leadership in Primary Schools

This book about Primary Headship by Bill Laar (2014) made a fascinating read for me at the start of my third year of headship, and still being early on in my professional learning and development journey. I found it particularly interesting to read the number of case studies of successful heads, who had thrived in their complex roles: journeys that were inspiring, strategic, driven and innovative. Whilst there were differences in context, size of school, leadership style and approaches to the schools’ development, there were also a clear number of common threads. I have summarised some of the main points / messages from the book in the sections below.

 

“Recent educational reforms have called for a radically different type of leadership: visionary and innovative, intellectually rigorous and enquiring, analytical and evaluative, competent in the management of the complex business of institutions, creative in the professional development of personnel, outward-looking and active in the making of professional networks”

 

Characteristics of exceptional Primary Leaders

  • Forward-looking and an inspirational vision of schools with the potential to instil in the children a positive concept of themselves and a belief in their ability to flourish in the world
  • Effective management of teaching and learning which enriches and transforms learners
  • Creative professional development of staff which improves teaching and learning
  • Innovative curricular design and provision
  • Strong partnerships with parents and the wider community
  • Courage, self-belief, determination and tenacity
  • Sharply aware of the growing complexity and demanding diversity of the role
  • Highly intelligent, sharply analytical, with the capacity to evaluate and understand the significance of information and data
  • Effectively distribute school leadership
  • Motivate staff, maintain moral, exploit capacity and provide high quality working conditions
  • Independent thinkers, wary of official dictat, open-minded, flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances
  • Self-aware, self-critical, rigorous, thoughtful, reflective and introspective
  • Ready to investigate and study innovation and development elsewhere
  • Remaining dedicated teachers at heart, emphasising the centrality of teaching and learning
  • Driven people with a consuming belief in the value and importance of their role and school
  • Humanity, optimism, compassion and belief in others

 

Headship and Leadership

  • Committed to developing children into assured, accomplished and positive social beings, constantly learning and achieving
  • Create, articulate and engage others in a guiding vision which ahs been profoundly considered, wisely informed and gives an inspirational view of the purpose and mission of the school
  • Be inventive, at the cutting edge of things, leading a team to search for, evaluate and try out the new
  • Binding staff together in a shared purpose, and regard their calling and work as a form of sacred trust
  • Transformational leaders: moving a school forward to be the best it can be, fully serving the interests of the pupils, through the shared endeavours of individuals
  • Welcoming and encouraging professional debate, constructive criticism and evaluation: creates a climate of reflection, celebration of achievements and treats setbacks as momentum for fresh endeavours
  • Calls for a firm sense of purpose, dedication, self-awareness, and a readiness to seek out advice and to learn from others’ practice
  • Importance of positive leadership. Working alongside people, identifying their skills and capabilities and building on them.
  • High expectations and refusal to accept anything less than the best
  • Putting together a strong team, committed to the success of the school, rich in potential, eager to learn and advance their professional development
  • The role and genius of the effective head lies in their ability to draw together staff in the creative enterprise of providing effective education
  • “The leader and staff of a new school must create their own history, culture, climate and vibe, and this is extremely hard and challenging work. There is no place for the faint-hearted”
  • “You are not paid to run a commentary on the disasters and tribulations visited on your school. You are paid to change it”
  • “Leadership is about identifying what it is you need to get done, identifying the best people to get it done, putting in the resources that will help them get all the systems in place to enable them to achieve the targets, empowering them to get on and do it, but coming back to make sure they are still on focus.”
  • “Leaders must have the conviction and determination to do what has to be done, based on hard, strenuous, mature reflection and judgement, for the good of the school and the betterment of the children.”
  • “We must be constantly about self-improvement. That must be the purpose that drives us – that inspires us”
  • “There are times, when in the face of hostile opposition, your convictions can waver…but that cannot be the way of Headship. You must remain true to your vision and beliefs, even if that may be personally bruising at times”
  • “Mastering leadership only comes over time, from reflection and response to practical experience, from a readiness to learn from mistakes and setbacks, from a commitment to collaborative professional endeavour, and from a learning disposition in a school that is a thinking organisation”
  • “I am a great and unremitting enthusiast for the school”
  • “A major part of headship is facilitating expertise and creating the circumstances, conditions and support so that highly skilled professional teachers can exercise their craft to the very best of their ability”
  • “The truly hard part is recognising destructive dissent, negative behaviour, unprofessional conduct and then dealing with it. This aspect can make headship an isolated and lonely occupation”
  • “One of the most critical challenges to leadership is persuading staff to embrace your vision, especially where there is a need for substantial change or where staff are resolutely resistant or ill-equipped to manage new directions”

 

Teaching and Learning

  • Having gifted teachers in an enriched school context, providing memorable learning experiences, is more likely to produce enduring and worthwhile consequences than having excessive testing, unremitting evaluation, and a narrowly focused curriculum
  • Schools are committed to ensuring that every pupil reaches and maintains the highest academic attainment possible
  • Help children to become reflective, self-aware, resourceful people, at peace with themselves; able to communicate with, relate to and get on with others
  • Imbuing children with a passion for learning and life
  • High quality teaching without exception
  • High expectations that provide worthwhile, appropriate and differentiated challenge for learners
  • An emphasis on meta-learning, which enables pupils to make sense of their experience of learning and to take increasing control over its planning, monitoring and regulation
  • A climate and systems conducive to learning
  • Want teachers who are flexible, adaptable, creative in their thinking, passionate and enthusiastic in all that they do
  • “Teaching has become more complex and challenging and only practitioners of the highest quality will serve”
  • “Charismatic, hard-working, organised and intelligent people can inspire children to enjoy learning and achievement”
  • “Meta-cognition – the capacity to examine one’s own learning, to identify what makes it effective, to master the strategies that underpin it – is absolutely essential to the effective learner

 

Continuing Professional Development

  • They see the school as a place of learning for all, with teachers permanently involved in the learning process themselves
  • The importance of ensuring all staff have a profound understanding of primary education
  • Learning and instruction-centred leadership can provide powerful structures to support, develop and enhance professional capacity
  • Teachers need to be perennial learners, continually trying things out and reflecting on what they are doing and its outcomes for the children’s learning
  • Empowering staff to feel capable of taking on new challenges and to benefit professionally from every experience so that they are constantly learning, growing and developing
  • Coaching in classrooms encourages a sense of partnership and mutual evaluation
  • Actively nurture the leadership capacity of staff
  • People only learn leadership by actually leading, by seeing duties, tasks and enterprises through to successful conclusions
  • Performance Management is rigorous, robust and linked to learning
  • A culture of shared learning and team commitment
  • A highly informed understanding of what makes for effective learning, derived from constant observation, analysis and classroom based research
  • Heads should spend a major part of their time in classrooms, mentoring and supporting the teaching and learning
  • The development, support and advancement of staff needs to be a priority in a ‘training’ school
  • “The development and training of teachers is inescapably one of the most important functions of headship”

 

Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Assessment is at the heart of good teaching and successful learning
  • If teachers are to provide effectively for continuing progress and achievement they have to be minutely informed about the stages of pupils’ learning. Data from systematic tracking and assessment is essential, as it provides critical feedback and commentary, for both teachers and pupils
  • Formative assessment is central to the teaching and the children’s learning
  • An understanding of how to establish, maintain and learn from reliable and rigorous systems of evaluation
  • A precise knowledge of how each child is doing and what each child needs. A high value is placed on intelligence about the child’s performance, aptitudes, strengths and learning needs
  • Committed to the effective management of rigorous assessment and evaluation
  • The capacity to access, analyse and interpret relevant and important data and use it for the benefit of the school as a learning institution
  • Evaluation systems focus on the quality and effectiveness of teaching and its impact on the work and outcomes of learners
  • “It’s about peer assessment, self-assessment, defining clear success criteria, understanding the purpose of what you are teaching, teaching the children to be assessors and evaluators of their work, attainment and progress.”

 

Curriculum and Environment

  • The quality of the curriculum is one of the major determinants of a school’s worth
  • Offer the children a rich, highly relevant and up-to-date curriculum, a stimulating and enticing environment, and diverse opportunities for learning
  • The school environment should be an irresistible stimulus to curiosity, exploration, experimentation and constant learning
  • “A significant part of learning is dependent upon experience…a broad, enriching and inspiring curriculum is more likely to help pupils attain and achieve, particularly in those core areas”
  • We have a curriculum designed to stimulate the children’s imagination and curiosity by engaging them in programmes of practical, relevant and challenging activities…we pay equal attention to getting the basic curriculum right and ensuring its relevance and value to the need of learners of all abilities”

 

Partnerships with parents and the community

  • Relations with parents are crucial to the successful education of their children
  • “School must have a social conscience, and be organisations that are able and ready to contribute to the wider community”

 

Accountability

  • Policy is formulated and implemented, so that accountability is expressed in a formal and methodical way
  • Being wholly transparent and open to governors’ evaluation

 

“Primary Heads. Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School” by Bill Laar is published by Crown House Publishing Limited (2014)

Creating a culture where all teachers improve

I have read “Leadership for Teacher Learning” by Dylan Wiliam this holiday. It was the sub-title more than the main title that really grabbed my attention:

“Creating a Culture where all teachers improve so that all students succeed.”

Having worked in a range of schools over 20 years, with many colleagues and having been privileged to visit numerous other schools I think the importance of school culture is one of the key drivers that make a difference. Supportive, compassionate and challenging: encouraging and empowering all staff to be life-long learners: this is the type of culture I endeavour to promote and help flourish.

Dylan Wiliam discusses that the main job of school leaders is to improve the work performance of those they lead…developing the classroom practice of teachers”. Leading by walking about, leading by engaging in regular, open, low risk, professional conversations, leadership by ensuring time and resources are available to support teacher’s professional development and understanding, and leadership by ensuring staff are partners in that on going professional development.

How do leaders improve the quality of teaching? Wiliam suggests two main ways: by replacement or by improvement.

Only a few years ago the approach favoured by the local authority in which I work was very much based on the first of these. If a teacher’s practice was not good enough on a consistent basis and pupils’ learning was suffering they advocated a swift process of working that teacher out of the school. I have never felt entirely comfortable with this approach, given that we work in education, which surely is about people learning and working to transform their capabilities, particularly when you take into account the 10,000 hours to become expert at anything combined with the fast paced changes in education which can make us all feel like novices every few years.

Over the last few years with a decreasing number of teachers staying in the profession, the local authority have realised that there is not a pool of ‘Good / Outstanding’ teachers sitting at home waiting for a vacancy, and have been far more supportive of improving and developing the teachers we have. This for me is why “Creating a Culture where all teachers improve” is so crucial, and if done well hopefully also motivates teachers and gives them far greater job satisfaction.

But who has all the answers? Who can say confidently and accurately everything that every teacher in school needs to change, adapt or stop doing to become highly effective? I certainly don’t claim to.

“In education, just about everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere.”

Part of a leader’s role is to offer advice, to engage in professional dialogue, to suggest other colleagues to talk to or to observe, but also to listen and learn from colleagues. Everyone I have worked with has taught me something.

I think it is also important as a leader to summarise some key external research (which can often be contradictory) as objectively as possible, and synthesise it with internal collaborative analysis and evidence. This is a process which can take time, and it would unfair to ask class based teachers to undertake this whole process.

As a professional learning community in a school we need to ask questions about our pedagogy and the impact this has on pupils’ learning. We need to investigate together and analyse what we find, before clarifying the main development points and refining (not whole scale changing) our professional practice.

Wiliam focuses mainly on describing how successfully formative assessment can be used in teacher learning communities to identify and explore those elements which will have most benefit on learners and learning.

“A focus on formative assessment focuses on aspects of teaching that will have the greatest impact on student achievement.”

This has to be a collaborative approach between teachers and leadership and teachers, as he states that “attempts to tell teachers what to do are bound to fail”.

Wiliam describes how difficult it is to predict what every child will learn during a lesson, and that the end of the lesson they are likely to have learnt and understood it in the same way that the teacher perceives it in their head. This is why formative assessment is so valuable, to find out what they have learnt, how they understand it and what steps they need to take next on their learning journey (which may be more deliberate practice to reinforce their learning).

“We need to review what our students have learned regularly and frequently…before moving on is applicable to any learning”

Ericson et al (1993) defined deliberate practice as a “highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weaknesses and performance is carefully monitored.”

In my roles I have undertaken a range of observations and drop-ins to classes to watch and listen to pupils working and learning. Often the most valuable of these are when I observe with a colleague, but we always ensure a professional dialogue with the class teacher takes place afterwards. The focus is not on making judgements, or just picking faults, but is often on trying to together analyse what progress in their learning certain pupils have made. What is the evidence? What did we see and hear? Are we in agreement?

I often tell colleagues that I am in a privileged position (and should be able to spot more) as I am able to sit down and watch, listen and engage in different conversations of my choosing. For class teachers, with 30+ pupils, trying to teach the lesson, manage the classroom and systems, deal with all the queries and questions, manage the resources, respond in real time to the learners… it is very challenging to have insight into how all the learners have fared. This is one reason why working with colleagues on peer observations / team teaching can be so valuable and enlightening.

Richard Dufour (2004) identifies three ideas that are central to the formative assessment approach:

  1. All students should be learning
  2. Teachers work collaboratively to solve problems. “Significant advances have been made by treating failures as system failures rather than as failures of individuals”
  3. The work of professional learning communities must be focused on pupil outcomes

 

Definitions of Formative Assessment

“All those activities undertaken by teachers – and by their students in assessing themselves – that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities.” (Black & Wiliam 1998)

“Assessment carried out during the instructional process for the purpose of improving teaching or learning” (Shepard et al. 2005)

“Frequent, interactive assessments of students’ progress and understanding to identify learning needs and adjust teaching appropriately.” (Looney, 2005)

“The process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.” (Broadfoot et al. 2002)

 

Other quotes from the book I found interesting

“In the future, young people will need higher levels of achievement than have ever been needed before, not only to find fulfilling work, but also to empower themselves to thrive in an increasingly complex world.”

“Teachers vary considerably in their effectiveness in promoting growth in student achievement, so improving the quality of teachers is essential to improving student achievement.”

“Help focus the development of teachers on aspects of their practice that will have the greatest impact on their students.”

“The relationship between instruction and what is learned as a result is complex. Even when instruction is well designed and students are motivated, increases in student capabilities are, in general, impossible to predict with any certainty.”

“Clear evidence that having teachers engaging in an enquiry cycle where students’ needs are identified, and solutions are then proposed and developed, can be effective.”

 

 

Embedded Formative Assessment

I found this book by Dylan Wiliam (@DylanWiliam) a very interesting read this summer. Although it was published in 2011, it still makes many strong and well argued points.

Below is my summary of these I am sharing with my staff in September. I hope you find it useful.

Embedded Formative Assessment

 

Growing an ‘Exceptional Learning Community’

I have just finished reading the brilliant John Tomsett’s “This much I know about Love over Fear…Creating a culture for truly Great Teaching.” As well as being an inspiring and thought provoking read, I am also feeling positive as some of John’s points resonate with the journey our school is on.

I am privileged and blessed to be working with an amazing, dedicated, positive staff, who are keen to learn and develop their practice for the benefit of the children and the school as a whole.

Our pupils are interested in learning, very keen to share their thoughts and feelings and are developing a Growth Mindset approach in many aspects of school life.

Our governors are passionate, highly supportive and highly challenging, and are very keen to find out more about education and our school in particular.

An important point about our context is that we only opened in September 2013 with 25 pupils in 2 classes on a temporary site. (We now have 103 pupils in 4 classes). However in September 2018 we will be moving to a brand new 3 form entry building and site and we are predicted to have 630 pupils by 2020. If ever a school had the opportunity to develop a positive learning centred culture which could grow over the years, it would be a school in our situation. I am absolutely sure that by nurturing an Exceptional Learning Community culture now, it can only provide strength and amazing opportunities for the future.

For us an ‘Exceptional Learning Community’ is one in which we all see ourselves as learners, that everyone has value to offer to others, that we all can develop a Growth Mindset approach and that everyone can continue to learn from each other. Showing round prospective candidates for future jobs this culture seems to tangible enough for visitors to recognise.

It has been a long hard autumn term and I was very pleased to receive a number of cards and comments during the last week, two of which I will quote here (both from staff).

  • “To Tim. Thanks for all that you do, for your kindness and for being a great leader.”
  • The other was a conversation with our new teacher. She thanked me for a positive and rewarding term and wanted to let me know how positive, well supported and fulfilled she felt. I replied that we have an excellent, positive and supportive team and therefore I wasn’t surprised. She responded however by saying that it was still down to me as a leader. That in another school with a different head but the same staff it could be very different and I should take my share of the credit.

As a headteacher you don’t often get, or expect to get such lovely and heartfelt compliments, and I have no problem with admitting I felt quite warm inside and a little choked up in both these occasions. However it does lead me to think that we are travelling on the right path as we grow and develop as a school, and makes me incredibly hopeful and excited about our future journey.

This brings me then to John’s book. It is brimming with wise advice and quote galore about the importance of showing respect, kindness and love towards those you work with. About nurturing a culture in which all are valued and empowered, and in which people genuinely love coming into work. Below are a few of my favourite quotes (and yes I struggled to limit the list to these)

  • “I have to create the conditions for students and staff to thrive; if I can do that, then we will all grow.”
  • “The fundamental purpose of school is learning, not teaching.” (Richard Dufour)
  • “Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can get even better.” (Dylan Wiliam)
  • “The only way to develop truly great schools is through each one of us taking responsibility for improving the quality of our teaching…We need to foster a growth culture which is founded upon the belief that all of us can improve.”
  • “Our pursuit of excellence, with effective coaching and deliberate practice, could just make a transformative difference for our students.”
  • “You need to change your school structures until improving the quality of teaching is the explicit outcome of every initiative…make sure your leadership team is focused upon the core business of the school – improving teaching and learning.”
  • “Reculturing is the name of the game. Much change is structural and superficial. The change required is in the culture of what people value and how they work together to accomplish it.” (Michael Fullan)
  • “Until educators accept the fact that fear and quality work are incompatible, there can be no real improvements in the quality of the educational system.”
  • “The single factor common to successful change is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, schools get better.” (Micahel Fullan)
  • “Talent is not innate and it’s only dedicated, determined and disciplined practice that leads to great achievement.” (Joe Kirby)
  • “Ultimately there can be no point in CPD for teachers if it does not impact upon learning.”
  • “Each and every school should define what great teaching is in their context and target all of their CPD to this end. Sustained coaching, with a deep knowledge of the school context and students, can help if it is part of a long-term process of improvement.”
  • “The most important action schools can take to improve outcomes for students is supporting their teachers to be more effective, and the most reliable way to achieve this is to develop a professional culture where teachers are continually adapting and refining their skills and methods.”
  • “What we want for our students we should want for our teachers: learning, challenge, support and respect.” (Andy Hargreaves)
  • “If school leaders have one priority, it is to create in their schools the conditions for growth for their students and staff.”
  • “Improving teaching is about working deliberately at the margins of our practice.”
  • “Headteachers are the single most important defence against the general negativity towards state education. What we have to do is relentlessly exhibit behaviours which are supportive and creative, not penal and reductive
  • “Get the conditions for growth right so that everyone in the school community can thrive as they are inspired to work hard. I use the language of love over the language of fear.”

EducatingRuby

@EducatingRuby

A thought-provoking and empassioned book from Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas about what our children really need to learn. I have enjoyed having time over this summer holiday to read and consider the points they make, some of which follow on from their ideas in books such as “The Learning Powered School”. There is very little that anyone working with children in education would disagree with, but they strongly make the point about the continued need for strong voices in the profession to make sure views and evidence are heard by those in the DfE.

Below are a series of quotes from the book. I have tried to be strict and limit myself, but found it extremely difficult. As with other posts about books I have read, I would recommend reading the book for yourself to gain the full perspective. 

“The obsession with measuring our schools through testing their pupils means that too many children are on a relentless treadmill which is self-defeating…they need an education with all its richness, with teachers who bring learning alive and supported by parents who play their full part.” (Mick Waters)

“We can have happy, positive young people with skills, attitudes and ‘habits of mind’; who are knowledgeable and capable of passing examinations” (Sue Williamson)

Schools should foster a love of learning and enquiry, a thirst to discover and uncover, a sense of fun and creativity, whether learning about the past or developing ideas for the future.

Educations system is “too much a conveyor belt – it moves children along at a certain pace, but does not deal well with individual needs.” (CBIs First Steps)

It is perfectly possible for schools to systematically cultivate the habits of mind that enable young people to face all kinds of difficulty and uncertainty calmly, confidently and creatively.

To thrive in the 21st century…learn how to be tenacious and resourceful, imaginative and logical, self-disciplined and self-aware, collaborative and inquisitive.

The effect of parental engagement over a student’s school career is equivalent to adding an extra 2 to 3 years to that student’s education.” (John Hattie)

A new future of demanding project work and self-expression, collaboration and problem-solving, continuous assessment and portfolios.

Romantics: innate goodness of children, allow them to express themselves and discover their own talents and interests.

Traditionalists: lots of chalk and talk, strong discipline, conventional exams and teachers as respected sources of culturally important tried and tested factual knowledge.

Mods: (modest or moderate): that education is complex and hard to define, quick fixes and appeals to nostalgia won’t work, tinker and explore, think carefully, debate respectfully, experiment slowly and review honestly.

Give learners accurate specific feedback on inns they have done. We learn most when we are pushing ourselves, not merely staying within our comfort zone.

Both understanding and skill grow precisely by working at the limit of what you currently can do or know.

If you create fear in a culture, people will do what the people above them tell them to do – nothing else.

Conversations about education abound with false dichotomies and absolutist views, that must be transcended

If school is meant to offer young people a powerful preparation for a successful life (and not just for university), why isn’t it more like real life?

Real world learning is often collaborative…the hallmark of success is usually practical…is about getting things done…we learn because we want to or need to…often accomplished with a whole array of tools and resources…is often physical.

The broader relevance and utility of what you are learning has to be discovered.

They discuss the crucial importance of the 7 Cs, which they believe are what children really need to learn:

Confidence: developing and using a growth mindset and being a can-do person.

Curiosity: at the heart of all learning, noticing things, reading avidly and asking good questions.

Collaboration: listen empathetically, show kindness and give / receive feedback well. Feedback is one of the most effective mean by which we learn and grow.

Communication: learning how to listen to and offer opinions and being able to talk about feelings.

Creativity: having new ideas, having good ideas, dealing with uncertainty through tolerating feelings of confusion or inadequacy, and being able to make links and see patterns.

Commitment: trying many things to find their true passion.

Craftsmanship: showing pride, learning from mistakes, practising the hard bits

At Google intelligence means being able to think, question and learn in the face of unprecedented problems for which there are no right answers. To grapple with the future.

Education is a vision of what it is our children will need if they are going to flourish in the world as we predict it will be…What knowledge and skills, attitudes and values will stand them in good stead as they embark on a life in a globalised and digitalised future?

School, on the other hand, is a particular system that societies have invented for ‘doing education’.

Self-regulation: concentrate despite distractions, stay engaged, short term sacrifices for long term gains, deal with frustrations and disappointments.

Good person: kind, friendly, generous, tolerant, empathetic, forgiving, trustworthy, honest, moral courage and integrity.

Good learner: knowledge critics, ready willing and able to struggle and persist, give feedback and take criticism.

Children need interesting, engaging and important things to learn about. But there is more to school than knowledge. Attitudes and beliefs will be formed there that will influence, for good or ill, the rest of young people’s lives.

The purpose of school is to give people the tools and skills to think for themselves, and to engage with the people and ideas around them.

EYFS: serious play.

KS1: growth mindsets for success and collaborative learning.

KS2: projects driven by interest.

KS3: real world enquiries & possible selves.

KS4: sustained engagement with bodies of knowledge & research.

KS5: deep scholarship & extended making.

Learners using their maths and English in meaningful ways that deepen their competence.

Knowledge deepens and broadens at the same time as the capacities to think, learn and be creative are being cultivated.

In too many lessons learners comply but aren’t encouraged to enjoy the struggle of learning which assures progress and engagement. Learners are not always required to think sufficiently for themselves. Teachers do too much of the thinking for them.

Expansive Education Network: expand the goals of education beyond traditional success criteria; expand young people’s capacity to deal with a lifetime of tricky things; expand their compass beyond the school gates.

“When teachers become learners again their teaching improves” (John Hattie)

We need to facilitate systematically the professional development and lifelong learning of existing teachers.

Maximise the life chances of all young people by making them work-ready, life-ready and ready for further learning.

Mastery is born of effort, patience an d a tolerance for frustration.

OECD Dimensions and challenges for a 21st century curriculum:

Knowledge: Balance conceptual and practical and connect the content to real-world relevance.

Skills: High-order skills such as: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

Character: Nurturing behaviours for a changing and challenging world: adaptability, persistence, resilience, integrity, justice and empathy.

Meta-layer: Learning how to learn, interdisciplinary and systems thinking.

“The principal goal of education…creating people…who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify.” (Jean Piaget)

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