I was fortunate and privileged to be able to spend a day in professional dialogue and reflection with two passionate, dedicated and inspiring headteachers: Jon Le Fevre (@advens_learning) and Matt Hickey (@headhighwood).
We have all taken on headships at our current schools in the last 3-4 years (although it is Jon’s second headship) and each of our schools is a growing school. What I think really unites us though is the desire and determination to make learning and the curriculum meaningful, real and engaging for our learners, and to support staff to grow professionally in a trusting and empowering school culture.
We are visiting each other’s schools over the course of this academic year, to analyse how these visions are developing in practice. For me our first day was a mixture of ‘magpie-ing’ resources / ideas, raising questions / thoughts for me to discuss with colleagues at my school, and evaluating the evidence in practice seen on a range of classroom drop ins.
We shared different formats for Strategic Development Plans and Self Evaluations.
- Matt’s made me consider whether we should add Ofsted criteria for Outstanding and Good (RAG rated) to the top of each section. Should our SDP focus more directly than currently on gaps in the Outstanding criteria?
- Jon’s SDP was on the same format as his whole school vision map (based on Simon Sineck’s Golden Circle). It made it clear how each element of school improvement was strongly personalised to the school context.
- It also made me question our SEF. Previously we had a one page summary and then a separate evidence document. Currently we now have a combined document which provides our grades, rationale for these, evidence and next steps. However I was reminded of the power and usefulness of having all the key info on a one page document. This is definitely something I want to re-consider
- We discussed setting data targets for staff, including as part of their PM. It reminded me of a conversation I had last year about setting a range (from minimum expected to more aspirational).
We discussed the structure and focus of SLT and Subject Leader monitoring activities, and how this provides accurate information but also helps drive school improvement.
- I want to consider whether as we grow as a school (both in size and number of years since we opened) we would benefit from a more centrally agreed and tight focus for monitoring.
- Do we have the right balance of leadership and management tasks / time in our SLT, or do we need to ring-fence more regular strategic work?
Matt is very passionate about developing and embedding ‘Learning Behaviours’ with his staff. Jon is currently developing a ‘Learning Adventures’ pedagogy with his team, but plans to develop a similar approach re. learning behaviours as he did at his previous school.
- At our school we agreed with our Pupil Voice Groups 5 ‘Learning Powers’ last year (to our power up our learning journey). These are: Communication, Teamwork, Resilience, Independence and Positivity. We have launched new posters and ‘Learning Powers’ vehicles with our learners this term.
- Questions I want to consider include, how we might develop ideas / expectations about how these might be evident during an English or Maths unit of learning? Or how they might be evident during a Learning Quest?
- Should we consider creating with our learners social stories for each of the Learning Powers?
We all valued a long term approach and investment in culture and staff development at our schools. This is something that at our school I think we generally do well, and has been commented on positively by many visitors and the staff themselves.
- How effective though is our coaching model and practice?
- How often should we be encouraging teachers to self-evaluate in a more formal way? They currently do against elements of our Teaching for Learning policy and the ‘Teacher Standards’, but what impact does this have? Could it have more?
- Could we use technology to make more use of photographing and filming learners during drop-ins and learning walks, and this being part of the following professional dialogue?
We discussed the importance of the balance between the core subjects and wider broader curriculum experience. That standards in one are not mutually exclusive, and that a broad balanced and empowering learning experience was what we are all striving for, for our learners.
If we ensure learning is always the focus, the results should take care of themselves.
We discussed the overview of English & Maths in each year group.
- This made me want to come back and review again with staff the range of documents / systems they are using
- How do these fit with our Learning Quests and Curriculum Maps, which staff develop in additional release time with our Curriculum Leader?
Jon explained in more detail the ‘Learning Adventures’ approach to their curriculum. These included the elements: destination, flexible map, great guides, learning skills, up for it attitude. He was keen to find out if we could identify these elements when we dropped into classes and how the learners would articulate their learning.
There was agreement between us that learning and lessons should always aim to have a real purpose, but without ‘crowbars’ being employed to force all learning into the same contexts. Learning should be exciting and fun but with rigour and clear Learning Aims underneath.
I reflected on our school’s Values of Love, Forgiveness and Hope and our Vision to ‘Grow an Inspirational Learning Community’ amongst staff and pupils.
- I want to return again to look at how these fit in with our Cornerstone Rules, Learning Powers and Learning Quests?
- Do I regularly enough and authentically enough live out our Values and Vision?
- Do I regularly enough engage in conversations with staff and learners about Values, Vision and learning?
- Do these conversations have as much positive impact as they could / should?
- Am I being effective enough as a ‘Great Guide’ (in Jon’s ‘Learning Adventures’ vocab)? Are other staff with their learners? Do we spend sufficient time observing and listening before considering the most appropriate actions?
What I really valued was the time to reflect and the expertise / collegiate approach Jon and Matt selflessly provided. It certainly proved that ‘Three Heads are better than One!’
I look forward to developing some of my thinking in practice before ‘Part 2’ of the trilogy, when I will be hosting in the Spring term.