Today was a Training Day. The title of the day was ‘Thinking Big……Breaking Free’. The journey to this point has been built through a combination of many, many of the elements that are frequently blogged about.
A year ago training days were fairly traditional – a theme set by SLT and linked to the School Development Plan (SDP), with an SLT/ guest speaker led opening and SLT led closing session with a bit of departmental work in between. Lunch took place in the school canteen and was heavy on the baked potatoes.
Some of these days were quite good. The set themes were important and based on the data of the time. The SDP had been carefully considered to tackle the pertinent issues in the school. The guest speakers were usually relevant and engaging as they spoke to (at) 140 teaching staff. There were pockets of innovation and lots of very good teachers.
The school results were solid and there was a buoyant staff who worked hard. We were consolidating ‘good’ – we were tightening.
@teachertweaks in their blog Part Five: How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff? state:
“If you asked a teacher to describe our teaching and learning vision, they would most probably respond with ‘To get another good or maybe an outstanding grade from Ofsted’. And this, in a nutshell, is our problem. All past conversations about teaching and learning have been centred around doing well when we’re Ofsteded. That is not a vision: it’s an outcome.”
This is exactly where we were in 2011/12. However, two significant events happened in the Spring / Summer of 2012 that led us much closer to the point we arrived at today. In May 2012 we received a very good OFSTED report. In August 2012 after a few years of steady progress, our 5 A* -C with English and Maths rose by 12% to a very high standard.
These 2 factors gave us the impetus towards becoming a more self-confident school. With OFSTED recently behind us and results that are arguably outstanding, two of the major barriers and blocks for staff in ‘loosening up for outstanding’ had been reduced. We had the impetus to BE BRAVE and TAKE RISKS.
However, the Autumn Term 2012 was tough. All of the goals we had been pursuing with rigour for 3 years had been (almost) achieved. There was a lull and a feeling of ‘what next?’
OFSTED had highlighted 2 action points (as they do) and they were pretty broad and in fact pretty fair. So we did something that we hadn’t done too often previously in terms of CPD – we asked the staff how they wanted to approach tackling them, we listened to them – we were starting to go ‘bottom-up’.
The training day in February 2013 started the significant shift. The theme had still been set from the ‘top’ – in this case OFSTED action point – but there was free reign for staff in cross-departmental groups to generate ideas, discuss and debate, facilitated by their peers. The outcome was a whole school approach to independent learning within which virtually all staff could visibly see their input.The fact that it evolved from contributions from such a diverse and large group of teachers has meant that a wide range of views (knowledge and skills advocates) are represented in the final outcome.
Alongside these developments we have also encouraged staff at all levels to engage in formal and informal professional development opportunities. We have supported and been well supported by Chris Holmwood and our local Teaching School @LTCSBE which has created many more opportunities for individual and team developments. Following the latest, Middle Leader day out, Chris described the sessions and the subsequent mood amongst the group as ‘potentially game changing’.
Less formally many key staff are positively engaging with Twitter groups, attending Teachmeets and writing blogs. Pedagogical discussions are beginning to dominate conversation in the staffroom.
And so to today.
For today’s ‘Thinking Big….Breaking Free’ sessions the starting question was ‘What does GREAT look like in….?’ Departments decided how they wanted to approach the question and discussed, debated and drew conclusions – concerns and anxieties were able to be expressed as blocks and barriers to ‘GREAT’ were identified. From here, cross-departmental buddy groups, facilitated by the middle leaders explored the ideas of ‘Squaring the Circle’ – how can we still have all of the ideas for ‘GREAT’ lessons while resolving the anxieties that still exist around meeting the OFSTED criteria for outstanding.
A working lunch internal Teachmeet at our ‘Outstanding café’ followed with a range of great practice being shared by 7 members of staff, ranging from NQTs to Middle Leaders from different departments. Further time in departments to explore and develop GREAT ideas linked to the whole school independent learning developments followed in the afternoon. The feedback was hugely positive and the outcomes in terms of ideas that departments own and want to explore further are truly GREAT. But perhaps more important is the change in mind set. Staff are now approaching CPD and training days with a different attitude. Teachers at all levels are identifying ideas that they wish to pursue and there is a genuine desire to contribute.
There are a whole plethora of upside down CPD ideas that we are intending to expand on further next year – we have momentum – we have changed the game.