Sunday, 2 December 2018

Thinking about... Rosenshine's principles of instruction

The Sutton Trust’s paper, ‘what makes great teaching?’ identifies quality of instruction as one of the components that has the greatest impact on pupil outcomes. Effective instruction enables teachers to deal with the limitations of working memory and ensures that pupils spend more time thinking about content, making it more likely that learning will occur.

Rosenshine’s paper; ‘research based strategies that all teachers should know’ is receiving growing admiration. His ten principles of instruction provide a clear guide to evidence-informed teaching and schools are adopting these to provide their teachers with an insight into effective instruction.

To an extent, all teachers may argue that these principles are, and have always been, evident in their practice. However, there needs to be clarity on the most effective way to apply these principles so that they achieve the desired outcome. The ten principles themselves are simple but doing them well in the classroom is complex. Here is what I believe needs greater consideration to ensure that principles of instruction achieve the desired effect in the classroom:

1.       What does each principle look like when it is and is not being used effectively? 

2.    Are the principles discussed at a subject level? Can teachers use them to gain a shared understanding of what great teaching looks like in their subject?

3.     It’s more than simply using the principles, it is giving careful consideration to when they are employed in a teaching sequence. For example: how are the principles being used to help pupils progress from being dependent on the teacher for knowledge to being independent? 

4.  Do teachers understand the complexities of learning? Having an understanding of the learning process will improve teachers’ instruction. For example:

·       How might daily review be used to reactivate prior knowledge before introducing new material?
·       How can the principles be used to help teachers deal with the limitations of working memory? 
·       How might a knowledge of cognitive load theory improve a teacher’s ability to present new material in small steps? 
·       Can questioning be used to help identify and address misconceptions?
·       How is guided practice used to help ensure a high success rate before pupils progress to independent practice?
·       Which principles might be used to ensure pupils are secure in a topic/concept before progressing?  
·       Can practice be used to help pupils learn key concepts to automaticity?  

5.     Teaching needs to be considered in the context of the curriculum. How does instruction help contribute to continually building on prior knowledge, revisiting key ideas and explicitly making connections between topics so that pupils develop meaningful schemas?

6.   Although pupils may experience the same lesson, they might learn completely different things. When planning the curriculum do we consider the unique set of experiences and level of prior knowledge pupils bring with them to lessons? 

  1. Our own intuitions as to how we learn and how we should teach are not always correct. What processes are in place to challenge teachers’ understanding and therefore their practice of effective instruction?
We need to ensure that the principles of instruction do not just become the next big thing or a quick win. I feel that there is a danger that some schools will introduce a whole school approach which is overly simplified and, as a result, these principles will be shoehorned into lessons without any real understanding of how to implement them effectively.

Leaders need to provide an infrastructure that enables teachers to carefully consider the complexities of applying the principles of instruction. Can leaders support the successful adoption of the principles of instruction by:

  • Providing time for professional dialogue and collaboration to ensure that the effective instruction can be explored at a subject level?
  • Ensuring that developmental processes are in place to improve the quality of instruction. For example: Do post-lesson observation conversations involve the observer asking a series of questions to encourage the teacher to reflect, on how the design and delivery of the lesson contributes to securely embedding knowledge?
  • Designing professional learning opportunities, which engages teachers with the principles, allows them to develop their classroom practice and monitors the impact on pupils’ learning?
Rosenshine’s principles of instruction provide a fantastic opportunity for teachers to engage with research to inform their practice. However, do not just stick the poster up in the staffroom or use them as a set of criteria to observe lessons. Please, give it the time and dedication it deserves. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Thinking about...Northern Rocks 2017

‘Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel, energies are contagious’

Last year I attended Northern Rocks for the first time. I left feeling invigorated and determined to better serve the pupils I teach and the staff I lead. I knew that, to develop professionally, I had to be a more active member of this community and therefore I made an attempt to ‘put myself out there’ and surround myself with individuals who would push me forwards.
I had to return for this year’s conference and I was delighted I could provide some of our staff the opportunity to attend. I had to expose them to the spirit, ideas and professional challenge that Northern Rocks generates. Neither I or they were disappointed.
The Northern Welcome

The Northern welcome came in the style of a Wonder Woman Panel – a collection of some of the greatest minds currently influencing education. Two consistent themes were introduced which, for me, seemed to underpin the whole conference:

1.       No-one has all the answers
2.       The importance of partnership and collaboration  
One of the panel stressed that ‘we are a profession and we need to stop being afraid’. The ‘accountability regime’ is simply not in the best interests of the teachers and or the children we serve. The Wonder Women themselves will admit that they do not possess ‘the answers’ and that ‘what is best for the sake of the children is really complicated to work out’. Schools and teachers shouldn’t be prescribed to. We need to be trusted. Trusted to use our professional judgement and to discuss not just what we are doing but why we are doing it.
‘Imagine a school in which you taught better simply by virtue of teaching in that school – what would such a school be like?’ (Judith Warren Little)
Such a school would regularly facilitate professional dialogue, expose its teachers to new ideas that challenge their thinking and provide greater clarity of how best to serve its pupils. It would be just like Northern Rocks!
Here is what I was exposed to and what I will take away.
Lazy Leadership (Stephen Tierney)
I must admit that I had to hold back the tears as Stephen opened his workshop by sharing the slides below - I need to ensure that I am present [at home] in mind as well as body.

Stephen’s session was not about being a lazy leader but about being a more effective leader by doing less better. He shared how he had refined his processes for leading T&L by stopping doing so many things. If it’s not a 9 or 10/10 he simply stops doing it or crosses it off his list. Stephen emphasised that teachers are working too hard and that they are teaching too many things. ‘Unless you stop you won’t improve!’.
Stephen, like the panel, shared the complexities of teaching by quoting Rob Coe; ‘What makes great teaching? … we don’t know as much about it as we’d like to..’.

Stephen shared how he challenges his teachers’ thinking to ensure that their practice is informed and focused. I left the workshop questioning:
·       How can I can better create the conditions for teachers to perform?
·       Do I develop a culture where my staff are willing to be vulnerable when discussing their teaching?
·       How do I contribute to the wellbeing of my staff so that they can be present at home, with their loved ones, without the burden of work hanging over them.
Professional Learning Without Limits (Dame Alison Peacock)
Alison explained how she is using her ‘learning without limits’ approach to inform her work as CEO of the Charted College of Teaching in order to positively impact the profession. She explained how the College will ‘work with teachers to share excellence across the profession’ and that it is like ‘Northern Rocks bottled’. That was enough to sell it to me!

All school’s should aspire to serve its teachers in the same way that Alison plans to serve the profession. How can my staff ‘learn without limits’?’
·       How can I support my teachers to make decisions about what works?
·       How best I can give teachers a greater awareness of the science of pedagogy?
Curriculum Imagineering (Hywel Roberts)
I told my staff that they had to attend this workshop. If you haven’t seen Hywel speak it is a must!
Hywel has been described as ‘a world leader in enthusiasm’ and he certainly lived up to that title. He gripped me right from the start and before I knew it, the session was over, not a single scribble in my notebook. I wasn’t sure quite what had happened but I knew I loved it!
When I see Hywel I often think of Ben Zander’s definition of success: ‘For me, it’s simple. It’s not about wealth, fame and power, but how many shining eyes I have around me’. I can assure you that whenever Hywel is in front of a group of people every single pair of eyes are shining. I left Hywel’s session reflecting on the messages I convey to my pupils on a daily basis and asking:
·       Who am I being if my children’s eyes are not shining?

High Challenge, Low Threat (Mary Myatt)
After reading her book, and loving it, I was thrilled to see Mary Myatt was presenting at Northern Rocks. She explained how we are a challenge seeking species and that ‘under the right conditions we are prepared to put ourselves under-pressure’. Mary refereed to cognitive conflict and how we need to recognise that ‘getting stuck is good’. As she progressed through her workshop she made reference to the work of Dweck, Willingham, Lemov and Berger as some of the essential ideas around creating the conditions to learn. We need to expose our staff to these ideas to help them make informed decisions about the best way to teach. To ensure that we providing a culture of ‘high challenge, low threat’ I need to make sure we:
·       Distinguish the work from the person.
·       Refer to prior attainment only and not ability.
·       Understand that sometimes progress goes backwards.
·       Pay greater attention to the quality of the spoken word.
 The Curriculum Debate
The conference ended with an insightful debate about the various education systems that exist across the UK. The debates reaffirmed the importance of collaboration and partnership and highlighted the danger of competition. When discussing one of the UK education systems David Cameron stated that; ‘we need to stop asking who are we better than, and start asking. who are we good enough for?’. Our policy makers are too busy with ‘PISA hysteria’ to consider if the policies actually serve our young people. Teachers are overworked and underfunded and our pupils feel neglected. As a 15 year-old form Manchester stated: ‘Education is supposed to set us up for life but does not teach us about life’.   
This is the reason I love Northern Rocks; no matter how bleak things seem to get, you can always count on the 500 teachers who are prepared to give up their Saturday and pay to attend a conference in Leeds.
There is no ego. It is simply a coming together of hearts and minds. The individuals who attend are passionate about their profession and they are just doing their best to improve the lives of the children they teach.   
Thanks Northern Rocks, see you again next year!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Thinking about...modelling and mastery

We can’t learn from simply watching experts, if we could we’d all be elite sports performers. We need this performance broken down into chunks that can be carefully examined. Modelling is a strategy that is frequently employed, by teachers, to allow pupils to know ‘what a good one looks like’. Modelling is an effective cognitive support but it is much more than just showing pupils a good piece of work.

I have experienced lessons where teachers have provided an explanation of a concept and modelled what they expected from the pupils before swiftly setting a number of tasks for them to complete independently. It quickly became apparent that the pupils lacked the understanding to complete the work and, as a result, the teacher spent the majority of the lesson racing around the room trying to explain, with little effect, what to do. Similarly, Barak Roshenshine recognises this in his paper on Principles of Effective Instruction. He identifies that the least successful teachers provide very short explanations before passing out worksheets and asking pupils to complete a range of problems. Under these conditions the pupils made too many errors and had to be retaught the lesson. Whereas, in contrast, the most effective teachers guide pupils’ practice by providing more detailed explanations and instructions, giving a wider range of examples and more regularly posing questions and checking understanding

Pupils obviously need time to engage in independent practice if they are to become fluent in a skill or in order to embed essential knowledge. During this time a teacher should only need to interact with a pupil for up to 30 seconds. If teachers need to take any longer, like in the scenario explained above, then they are too dependent on the teacher, indicating that they are not secure enough in their understanding to engage in independent practice.
The diagram below, from Make Every Lesson Count, indicates the process that teachers need to take their pupils through to achieve greater independence. The least successful teachers tend to provide less feedback, pose fewer questions and they often neglect the 'joint practice and construction' phase altogether. Although they may appear to be progressing at a quicker rate their pupils' knowledge is less secure. A successful teacher’s lesson will have pace, but it will be pace in depth rather than breadth. They will provide sufficient instruction, pose questions to probe and clarify, they will connect new information to previously learnt content and provide a range of examples during explanations. Whilst modelling, successful, teachers will deconstruct and simplify work and they will discuss the comparisons between exemplar and non-exemplar work. Their pupils’ will be guided through practice by breaking a task down into simple steps, through interactive modelling and they will probe for understanding with process questions. Throughout the whole process an effective teacher will be continually monitoring their pupils and only when they are confident that they have achieved a high success rate will they progress on to independent practice.

I believe that the processes employed by successful teachers reflect mastery teaching; a pedagogical approach that involves breaking content down into a series of sequential steps. Teaching, in this way, enables teachers to deal with the limitations of working memory more effectively and also ensure that pupils spend more time thinking about content, which in turn makes it more likely that learning will occur.
The two principles discussed within Rosenshine’s paper that resonates most with mastery teaching are ‘spending more time guiding practice of new material’ and ‘obtaining a high success rate’.
Pupils need to spend lots of time rephrasing, elaborating and summarising new material in order to store it within their long-term memory. If this rehearsal time is too short, pupils are less able to store, remember or use the new material. Another finding is that the more time spent guiding students, the better prepared for independent work they are and the fewer mistakes they make. Whereas, if the rate of progression to independence is too quick pupils may end up encoding misconceptions.
Pupils must demonstrate a high level of success on tests, typically at about 80% level, before progressing. This ratio of success to mistake shows that pupils are learning material, yet also challenged by it. If a child is not secure in a topic and they are moved on too quickly, then they will carry gaps in knowledge and misconceptions to the next topic. Previously teachers have moved on too quickly because they feel a need to show progression despite the fact that knowledge is insecure and it is likely that it will need to be retaught again.
We cannot provide limited explanations, model a good piece of work and expect our pupils to make progress in their learning. If our pupils are to acquire important knowledge and skills and have them readily available to apply to a range of problems, we not only need to be aware of the science of learning but we need to be able to carefully craft a process that moves pupils from dependence to independence.  

Monday, 17 April 2017

Thinking about...retrieval practice

Retrieval Practice - Pupils Need More Tests!
Generally, tests are considered for assessment purposes only. Teachers, in the main, have a negative perception of testing due to the significant increases in the number of tests that pupils now have to take during their school careers. However, they turn out to actually be one of the most effective tools for learning; quizzing and low stakes testing are crucial to optimise learning.
Testing has to be thought of as in a pedagogical sense. Testing, when used this way, engages learners in practicing recalling memories (information learnt). ‘The act of retrieving a memory changes the memory, making it easier to retrieve again later’. Repeated recall appears to help memory consolidate into cohesive representation in the brain to strengthen and multiply the neural routes by which the knowledge can later be retrieved. Research proves that practicing retrieval makes learning stick far better than re-exposure.
Retrieval practice is one of the most successful strategies for learning and the more effortful the retrieval the stronger the benefit. The greater the effort to retrieve learning, provided that there are high rates of success, the more learning is strengthened by retrieval. 
The following examples outlines some suggestions of how you might provide your pupils with opportunities to engage in retrieval practice.

Retrieval Practice Strategies for the Classroom
Regular low stakes quizzes - Possibly the easiest way to provide opportunities for regular retrieval practice is through low stakes quizzes/tests to your lesson that test knowledge that has previously been taught. Low stakes means that little emphasis is placed on the scores. Pupils’ results don’t have to be shared or recorded, it is the process of retrieving previously learnt information that is important.

Whole Class Quizzing - Create multiple choice quizzes that will engage pupils in retrieving information. You can use simple methods such as RAG pages or mini-white boards to ensure that pupils are individually accountable for answering question. This not only engages pupils in recalling learnt information but allows you to quickly assess their knowledge.

Interleaving Quiz - Regularly start a lesson with a low stakes quiz that allows pupils to revisit previously learnt information, using the following format:
1.   Question from previous lesson.
2.   Question from previous week.
3.   Question from previous topic.
4.   Question from previous term.
5.   Question requiring pupils to make a link between what they are currently learning and what they have previously learnt.

Quick Fire Questioning - This strategy simply involves asking a number of questions that require pupils to retrieve information. Consider how you make all pupils individually accountable for retrieving the memory. This could be achieve by providing pupils with some think time and insist on no hands up.

Writing to Learn - This task requires pupils to recall as much information as they can about a topic/lesson/term etc. Pupils are provided with a short period of time and asked to write as much as they can about a topic/lesson/term etc.
Homework - Forgetting is key to remembering and therefore spaced retrieval is an effective strategy.  The setting of homework is a great opportunity to encourage retrieval practice and to ensure it is spaced retrieval. Rather than set a homework relevant to the learning that has taken place during the lesson or that week why not provide pupils with a task that will require them to revisit previously taught content?

Self-explanation - Pupils are challenged to consider how new information can be linked to what they already know. In order to make links the pupils must engage in retrieval practice to recall all the previously learnt information.

Knowledge Organisers – There are a number of ways in which pupils use their Knowledge Organiser (KO) as a resource to help engage in retrieval practice.
·     Peer Quizzing - Using their KO, as a resource, pupils can quiz each other in pairs. One pupil can pose questions from the KO and check the pupils answers whilst the other is challenged to answer the questions. To help with this process encourage pupils to use Tip-Tip-Teach. If a pupil incorrectly answers a question their peer should give them a tip to help them recall the correct answer, followed by a second tip and then teach the correct answer if necessary.   
·     Cover – Write – Check - Correct - They cover the KO and aim to write down as much of its content that they can recall. Once pupils have recorded as much information as possible they check and correct their work. 
·     KO Starter Activity - Displaying one section of the KO with some information left off. Pupils are required to fill in the blanks, identify the key terms, complete a process or recall the precise definitions etc.

Cooperative Learning Strategies – There are a number of Cooperative Learning Structures that can be used to engage your pupils in retrieval practice. The main benefits of these are that all pupils are individually accountable for engaging in the activity and that half of the class are simultaneously answering a questions/recalling information at any one time.
·     Rally Robin & Pair Share – Basic structures. Pupils can recall information such as key words or speak about a topic.
·     Quiz – Quiz – Trade & Inside Outside Circle - Involves pupils pairing up and, in turns, answering and asking a question that requires pupils to recall information. Pupils can create their own questions or you could use exam questions and mark schemes.
·     Rally Coach - This cooperative learning structure involves partners taking turns; one solving a problem and the other coaching. This usually works best when the teacher has previously modelled a process for working out a problem e.g. Maths problem or answering a question with multiple steps.
Technology – There are number of ways in which you could use technology to help engage pupils in retrieval practice.
·     Classroom Apps - There are a number of apps and software that can be used to engage pupils in retrieval practice. Regularly used examples include Kahoot, Socrative and Google Forms. They allow you to create multiple choice quizzes to engage pupils in retrieval practice.
·     Flashcards Software - Here is a list of flashcard software that you can use to create your own flashcards for pupils to use (shared by @AceThatTest). These allow pupils to track their own progress, prevents them having to create their own and there are often a number of sets that have already be created that might be of use.
·     Subject Specific Software - There are a range of subject specific software which actively engages pupils in retrieval practice. These can be used as a high impact/low effort homework strategy that requires little workload. Some examples of subject specific software include; Linguascope/Memrise (MFL), Mangahigh (Maths), My PE Exam (PE) and Pearson ActiveLearn (various subjects).

Conditions for Effective Retrieval Practice

Success Rate - In order for the above strategies to be effective pupils must have a medium to high retrieval success.  If the tasks are too difficult pupils will not be able to recall any information.

Feedback - immediate feedback must be provided. Although the process is more important than the results it is still essential that pupils are provided with feedback to the non-recalled or incorrectly recalled information. Providing immediate feedback increases the likelihood that information will be stored to memory.

Space Out Retrieval Practice - It is important to leave a considerable amount of time between sessions of retrieval to take advantage of forgetting.

The misconception is that massed practice can lead to embedding something into long-term memory. Although this might lead to increased performance it is not conducive to learning. This is because when retrieval strength is high additional study has no effect on storage strength. When ideas have been forgotten the effort to recall them reconstructs the learning from long-term memory and makes the idea more memorable and connects it to other knowledge more recently learnt.

Educate Pupils on the Process - One of the most effective strategies for improving pupils’ ability to retain information is explicitly educating students about the research on effective learning strategies.  Teachers are encouraged to be transparent about the frustrations but the importance of the ‘testing effect’. Educating pupils on the benefits of regularly testing and self-quizzing is likely to improve their motivation for such tasks and will also help them develop their own effective learning habits.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Thinking about...what we can learn from John Wooden

 John Wooden led his basketball teams to ten national championships in twelve years and is regarded as one of the greatest sport coaches in History. However, it is not his success and achievements that make Wooden so popular, it is the way he lived his life. His integrity, class and humility have inspired people from all walks of life and I believe the that teachers, schools and the education system can learn a lot from him.  
The road is better than the end
After Wooden had retired he was asked if he missed it [coaching basketball]. He explained that he missed the practices and working with the young people under his supervision but that he did not miss the games and the tournaments. Wooden expressed that the importance is in the preparation and not the outcome. He felt that ensuring his players were prepared to perform at their potential would have a greater influence on the result than constantly stressing over the outcome. Does your school focus on the road or on the end?  In education, like basketball, an outcome is inevitable; we can’t avoid the examinations that our pupils will sit at the end of their five years of schooling. We can, however, focus more on how they might grown as an individual throughout their five-year journey. We can make sure that our young people are defined by their character and not by their exam results.
Be more concerned with your character than your reputation
Wooden disregarded reputation because it was something that he had no control over. He felt that his teams couldn’t necessarily control if they win or lose but they could control how they played the game.  Wooden believed that success is what you consistently do and that you cannot be defined by a single moment, game or tournament. He would watch how his team played to determine if they were successful or not. Wooden would often say that ‘there were games when we scored more than the opposition but we had lost and vice versa’. In education, do we care how well young people play the game or are we only concerned with their results? Some schools become so focused on their reputation, on their results and on their Ofsted grading that they lose focus of what matters. The children!  
John Wooden was asked, after one outstanding season, if this was his best job and he replied that he wouldn’t know for twenty years. He explained that it is what your youngsters do after they have left your supervision that really determines whether or not you have done a good job. What good are a school’s results, or its reputation, if its pupils fail to make a positive contribution to and succeed within society?
Never mention winning
Ironically, those schools that become overly focused on winning (results and Ofsted grades) are more likely to fail (by their own standards). Wooden himself has experienced this. When discussing the 16 years prior to his first championship title he explained, ashamedly, that there were times when he wanted to win so much that he hurt his team’s chances by overworking his players or trying to give them too much. In education we are currently facing a workload crisis; a number of teachers are reportedly leaving the profession due to being over worked and over stressed. Perhaps, as Wooden suggested, we are hurting our chances of being successful as we are focused too much on winning. We are focused too much on what Ofsted want. If we want to succeed; take a step back, let teachers do their job and stop putting the emphasis on winning.

Real happiness and success comes from the things that cannot be taken away from you
Perhaps we need to revisit our moral purpose, the reason we got involved in the profession and what it actually means to be an educator. When reflecting on his life, Wooden stated, that true success can only be measured by the lasting things in life, those things that cannot be taken away.  He explained that he always tried to live his life by the motto: ‘you can’t have a perfect day without doing something for another without any thought of return’. How many perfect days have you had recently? In education are we fulfilling our moral purpose and allowing our pupils to fulfil their potential? Or are we teaching in return for good results or an Ofsted grade? John Wooden will not be remembered as being a winner but for being successful. It is not the ten national championships that gravitate people towards him but rather the influence and inspiration he had on his players and those who he worked with. Perhaps our education system can learn the difference between winning and success from John Wooden and focus a little more on character and less on reputation.  

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Thinking about... how to encourage teachers to take risks

Are you a teacher that has taught for ten years or a teacher who has taught one year, ten times?

We often associate taking risks with doing something different. Before taking a different course of action we carefully consider the pros and cons associated. However, the scales are often skewed in favor of inaction.

When it is suggested that we adopt a new form of pedagogy we are very effective at considering all the potential consequences. But how often do we consider the consequences of changing nothing, carrying on as normal and teaching the same way for yet another academic year? 

Last academic year, as one of the Teaching & Learning whole school priorities, we asked staff to consider how they can take measured risks in order to increase innovative practice within the classroom. But, how do you take (acceptable) risks within the classroom?

First of all we need to loose the negative connotations associated with risks. Instead of perceiving risks as bad we should see them as unavoidable. A risk is the possibility of bad consequences, therefore we can’t avoid them; every action or inaction carries some degree of risk. Once we acknowledge and accept this we can focus our energies into figuring out the risks that are worth taking in order for us to become innovative, more successful practitioners.

To encourage staff to develop their teaching and try something new we introduced ‘Risk it Weeks’. The first two weeks after February half term were devoted to ‘Risk it Weeks’ to provide staff with an opportunity take a risk in the classroom. During this time we asked staff to make a personal commitment to trying something new which would have an impact on pupils' learning. It is hoped that by taking a risk and trying something new teachers would:
  • Increase their comfort zone.
  • Improve their practice.
  • Add more skills/activities to their teaching repertoire.

Prior to the ‘Risk it Weeks’ we held a professional dialogue session. These are regularly scheduled to provide teachers with the chance to engage in meaningful discussions with colleagues from across the school. In this session we provided a range of pedagogical approaches and scenarios and asked groups to discuss each and arrange them on to a flip chart paper, containing a sketch of a fried egg, to indicate how comfortable they would feel using that approach within their classroom. The yolk represented the comfort zone, the egg white the stretch zone and the fried crispy bits on the outside represented their panic zone.

Two weeks after the session we delivered a range of T&L Forums that teachers could opt into. These sessions were based around those pedagogical approaches that teachers felt were in their panic and stretch zone. We hoped to give teachers the understanding and tools to use these strategies and grow their teaching repertoire.

This was a perfect time to launch our ‘Risk it Weeks’ as each individual teacher had been involved in the process of considering a range of teaching practices that they would not normally use and they had been given training on how to implement them effectively. Now, was the perfect time to ‘give it a go’.

The poster below details exactly what Risk It Weeks involved

Following 'Risk It Weeks' we held an internal TeachMeet where teachers shared the risks they took and the impact these had on learning. It was great to hear teachers reflecting and sharing moments of success in their classrooms. However, it provided me with a great opportunity to identify and share any best practice.

The following year I developed Risk it Weeks further by challenging teachers to take on the ‘are you a hobnob teacher challenge?’ (See details below).

Is the whole thing a bit of a gimmick? Yes it is. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, it is not! Teachers embraced the idea, engaged with meaningful CPD and committed to something that developed their practice in a light-hearted way. Creating pleasurable experiences for teachers can only be a good thing, especially when considering how stressful and stringent our profession has become in recent years. In my opinion, this was a basic form of classroom-based action research; All teachers investigated what will and will not work for their pupils in their classrooms. As a result of Risk it Week teachers:
  • were talking more about T&L.
  • had increased opportunities to reflect on their practice.
  • could attend learning walks to observe their colleagues teach.
  • were given training in various areas of pedagogy that they didn’t feel comfortable with.
  • most importantly, were given the message that it is ok take a risk and for it to go wrong.

‘Failing forward’ is a fantastic concept and emphasises that we must learn to ‘fail intelligently’ as a result of risk taking and not carelessness

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Thinking about... my visit to Michaela

Michaela: ‘You’ll leave with more questions than answers’ 

Barry Smith, Deputy Headteacher at Michaela, wasn’t wrong. After two days at the school, my head is spinning. I am still trying to digest and comprehend everything that I have witnessed and heard. I am unsure of exactly how I feel about Michaela and I have been left pondering if I want to join the revolution.

During her introduction to Michaela’s ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ event on Saturday morning Katharine Birbalsingh, the Headteacher of Michaela, exclaimed that ‘We’re thinking differently and we’re part of the revolution. Join us and be on the right side of history!’

Michaela are certainly challenging the status quo or ‘ripping up the rule book’, as Katharine would put it. Teachers at the school are required to challenge what has become the ‘known truths’ in education and, in doing so, they have become unashamedly knowledge focused and they have adopted a tough-love ideology. Their philosophy and practices have raised debate, scepticism and, in some cases, have been opposed very strongly. I was unsure what side of the fence I would fall on, but I went with an open-mind and as Katharine requested of delegates, I was willing to change my mind.

I visited the school on Friday and had the opportunity to drop into lessons. The best way to describe what I saw is absolute consistency. Pupils’ movements and actions in lesson were unified, teachers taught lessons through drilling and didactic teaching and using the exact same structure. Even on the corridors pupils moved consistently, in lines and with purpose.

The event, Michaela hosted the following day, was really valuable because I had seen the school in operation but I did not have the opportunity to listen to the reasoning behind their methods and values. This is why, when I left on Friday, I had more questions than answers. The majority of these were addressed throughout the ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ event and the following is what I took away. 

One aspect of Katharine’s opening speech that resonated with me was a section on ‘personal responsibility’. It is clear that this underpins the routines and no-excuse behaviour policy at Michaela. The school does not aim to oppress children, contrary to the suggestions of some of Michaela’s critics. Rather it is used to inspire them to rise to the ‘top of the pyramid’, a metaphor used to articulate the extremely high standards that the school has for their pupils. A pupil at Michaela operates at the ‘top of the pyramid’ simply because it is ‘who they are’. Their behaviour represents their intrinsic motivations rather than their desires to simply avoid a sanction, to please others or to benefit their future self.

I witnessed this first hand, during a conversation over lunch, a year 9 pupil explained how they had been given a detention in a Maths lesson for talking. He expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to learn from his mistake so that he could become a more successful individual. The systems in place at Michaela ensure that pupils take personal responsibility seriously. How many behaviour systems across schools in England result in pupils staying at the bottom of the pyramid? Behaving just to ‘fall into line’ or to achieve rewards and please their teachers? The large majority I assume. Michaela could argue, for this reason, that it is the large majority of schools that are oppressing our school children.

How can I improve our school systems so that pupils’ take greater personal responsibility? This is one question I will take away; behaviour is excellent in my school but how can I change the attitudes of my pupils so that they act in manner that reflects their desire to become a better version of themselves rather than simply to conform to the school rules?

Whilst recounting his experience of joining the Michaela teaching staff Mike Taylor expressed a concern that ‘teaching is becoming anti-intellectual’, sadly I agree. However, as a member of SLT am I part of that problem? For teachers to be more effective and for the profession to be an intellectual one we need to provide time for our teachers to refine their practice and to develop their subject knowledge. Mike outlined how, as a teacher at Michaela, he had the rest and freedom to be a better teacher.

What is the learning return on the time invested? This one question, posed by Jessica Lund, will become my most important takeaway from the weekend. If I want my staff to become experts in their subjects, I need to give them the time and freedom to do so. I definitely can’t ask them to do anymore!

Jessica Lund’s speech, No nonsense. No burnout. No marking, discussed the one huge challenge facing our profession; workload, wellbeing and teacher burnout. This is something taken very seriously at Michaela. The staffs questioning nature extends to their own work. Jessica regularly posed a question that they frequently use; ‘what is the learning return on time invested?’. The use of this question has resulted in Michaela not marking work and centralising homework. Jessica explained that ‘we don’t mark we give feedback’. She emphasised that pupils are more similar, in terms of their learning, than different. So why write the same targets in 90% of pupils’ books? Why not focus on teaching the 10% and the common misconceptions before they arise?

What is the learning return on the time invested? I need to ask this question to determine how efficient and effective our school’s choices are. Do they have a greater impact on staff or pupils? If the answer is staff. We need to change or stop what we do.

If Joe Kirby had to attribute the astonishing culture and impeccable behaviour at Michaela to one single thing, it wold probably be the Michaela boot camp. Each new cohort is inducted to the ‘Michaela way’ with an intensive bootcamp that focuses on developing the mindset and habits that pupils need to be successful. Joe stated that ‘we can’t expect children to do anything that they haven’t explicitly been taught’. Michaela prioritise culture over curriculum in this first week and teach pupils about stoicism, self-control, the school values, how to deal with being given a demerit and how to behave in detention.

The bootcamp is not only an essential induction for new pupils, it also provides a sound foundation for new teachers. Often new teachers can feel overwhelmed with the complexity of new systems and structures, this can prove especially difficult when older pupils know the rules far better than the new staff. The opportunity to observe experienced staff, team teach and practice on the new cohort develops confidence and means that pupils cannot differentiate between the new and more experienced teachers.

What are the habits I would most like to prioritise in my school? How do I model these to both staff and pupils? The culture and ethos within a school is shaped by its whole school systems and practices. Can I leave the adoption of these to chance? If I do, I am likely to find myself within a different culture to the one I envisioned.

There were other speeches throughout the day that were equally as thought-provoking but the above are most pertinent to me. The school’s new book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ explains the ‘Michaela Way’ in greater detail. I recommend you read it; it is the first thing I will be doing when I finish this post. I have bought a number of copies so that staff at my school can also reflect on and learn from ‘The Michaela Way'.

Regardless of your opinion of the school you can only applaud Michaela for their openness and transparency. During my two days at the school there was no arrogance. The school doesn’t profess to be the greatest school in the world. Teachers openly admit they have made mistakes and that they are continually learning and developing. Michaela has simply put itself ‘out there’ and, in doing so, they have encouraged educators to question the practices within the teaching profession and they have inspired schools to make changes against bureaucracy and in favour of enabling both staff and pupils to flourish.

It is easy to criticise and judge from afar but my advice would be to engage with the staff, visit the school and use it as an opportunity to learn. Whilst I was there pupils were as happy, better behaved and more knowledgeable than any other pupils I have ever seen…you simply cannot ignore that.