Improving Teaching and Learning (Blog 1/3 on 2021/2022 Reflections)

The 7th of July 2022 was a good day.  It was the day Boris Johnson resigned, and the Festival of Education resumed.  It has been two years since the Festival of Education ran (in person) at Wellington College, and, for those of us interested in what has happened in the world of CPD since COVID-times, it did not disappoint. 

Unsurprisingly, there were many threads regarding wellbeing, mindfulness, and sustainability (both self and community), which resonated nicely with the anxieties of our post-Brexit, post-COP26, post-COVID era. However, many poignant discussions about Education took place alongside these anxieties, and common threads were apparent; things pressing and important for our current educational worlds.  I’ve written, as best as possible, about the things you can take away from such a CPD event – ready for conversations in the Academic Year 2022/2023.

Thread 1: Improving Teaching and Learning

The first common theme seemed to be the question of: how do I improve CPD within my school and/or how do I personally identify myself in the educational world, and how to get better.  As a result, I’ve broken this thread into two categories: 1) Evidence-informed CPD, and 2) Personal or Leadership Coaching

Building evidence informed CPD

Robin Macpherson packed out Venue 7 (despite it being Thursday’s ‘graveyard shift’) with his talk on The Teaching Life

The Teaching Life (2021)

The book is appropriately introduced by Professor Dame Alison Peacock who writes: To teach is to learn, and explores the ‘why’ and ‘how to’ develop CPD culture within individuals and school communities.  Robin noted the substantial hours that have been considered to be ‘effective’ per year to enhance teachers in their profession, an intimidating “35 quality CPD hours” (Cunningham, 2020) were needed to be effective and that this, in turn, led to  “a greater effect on pupil attainment than other interventions schools may consider, such as implementing performance-related pay for teachers or lengthening the school day” (Zuccollo, 2020; Cunningham, 2020).  Unfortunately, there seems to be many schools that are unable to get this ratio to feel like ‘quality’ CPD.  Many schools struggle with the logistics of implementation and “operational difficulties” of so many hours (Cunningham, 2020).

One of Robin’s solutions, as the Head of Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen, is to encourage personal efficacy with this target: give staff a compulsory amount of CPD hours, and then allow them the opportunity to create their own CPD opportunities to complete the hours.  This encourages staff to have their own control and direction in their CPD journey, alongside fulfilling whole-school missions and aims.  However, Robin noted that this type of quality CPD can also come at a low price. Robin stressed the importance of Education communities and Research communities both locally and globally to move a staff culture forward.

Robin noted numerous examples of communities: ResearchED, The Festival of Education, and the Chartered College of Teaching.  However, he also gave more local, ‘in-house’ examples of where one can find excellent CPD, such as:

  • Lesson observations
  • Lesson study
  • Twitter
  • Blogging
  • YouTube
  • TeachMeets
  • LinkedIN
  • Education books
  • School visits (local/international)
  • Journal clubs

In short, Robin reminded us all of a Twitter comment made by Carl Hendrick (2020) …

… but argued that we are not quite there in implementing all the wonderful resources available to us as professionals. The question then becomes, how can we make our schools better in instilling this ‘golden age’ into our everyday practice?

If you’re familiar with the Teacher Development Trust, David Weston also shared his wisdom at The Festival of Education.  I’ve seen David speak numerous times and was inspired by his idea of the fireside approach to CPD – or Camp-Fire Leadership (link here). Echoing Robin’s practical and informative approach: David Weston argues in this talk that staff need two things to care about CPD: they need fuel, which is sufficient authority, time, and resource, along with access to support and expertise, and they need a spark – a problem they care about – and it can’t just be something that only leaders think is important. 

The Chartered College of Teaching was also speaking on the matter of instilling ‘Evidence-informed Practice’ into schools and institutions.  Unfortunately, this talk received less of a positive review.  Whilst Alison Peacock fronted the talk with the overall question: How do we create an energy around teaching and learning that is the opposite of a “staff meeting” and gave a few strategies for Leadership such as:

  • Research centres in MATs
  • Performance management though research reviews
  • Research digests
  • Journal clubs
  • Masters routes via apprenticeship levy
  • Chartered accreditation

The talk titled ‘Evidence-Informed Practice’ spiralled mostly a pitch to completing the Chartered College’s Professional Learning Courses.  Despite acknowledging the value of such courses, the audience was full of disheartened faces looking for answers on the sold title. 

What was alluded to incredibly well by Alison was the venn diagram put together by Cat Scutt and the Chartered College of Evidence-informed Practice.  This diagram (pictured below) cross-cuts the skills and reflection required to be a truly researched practitioner: 1) you are engaging with the best evidence from research, 2) you have experience in reflecting on such ideas, and 3) you aim to apply or test this research in your context if you believe it will suit.  Keeping these in mind will help with reflecting on your own self in this ‘golden age’. 

And it was this venn diagram that Robin also discussed.  Robin concluded his talk with ‘Challenge Questions’ – questions proposed to help steer individuals and their colleagues to their best Teaching Life.  Robin asked his audience to take these away either to reflect on personally, or with colleagues.  They were:

  • What do you want to achieve in your teaching life?
  • What professional networks do you have that support you in what you do?
  • Have you planned the next 5-10 years of your career?
  • Do you have control over your own professional learning?
  • What are the main drivers of your career decisions?
  • How do you define wellbeing for yourself?
  • How do you reflect on your own practice, and when?
  • What has been in the greatest achievement of your own career so far and why?

Coaching

It seems fitting to move from the questions above, to the other thing that seemed popular in the field of CPD: coaching teachers to identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they can become better professions and/or leaders.

I went to watch BTS Spark’s session on Leadership and Mindtraps.  The session was run by BTS Spark’s co-founder Lee Sears who has worked with numerous schools across the UK and the world.  Understandably, there was also a pitch to ‘signing up’ to the services that BTS spark offered and, like many of the coaching sessions, were linked with a way to make further contact with organisations for future CPD.  However, a useful activity that definitely engaged his entire audience was identifying the types of mindtraps that you are susceptible to in a ‘Mindtraps Questionnaire’.  The reflective task asked you to score yourself against questions:

1 – for regularly e.g. 1/3 times a month

½ – for very occasionally

0 – for rarely

The questions then followed, grouped into 6 categories.  For category 1, they were:

When you are not at your best, do you find yourself…

  1. Over-planning – or being reluctant to delegate – because you have been overly focused on the downsides?
  2. Creating unnecessary stress by imagining the worst-case scenarios and potential downsides
  3. Making a mistake and dwelling on its implications?
  4. Take a long time to make decisions in case you have missed something?

If your answers added to 2 or higher to the questions above, then you are considered to be susceptible to the ‘Worrier’ mindtrap.  All mindtraps identified by Lee were Worrier, Prover, Martyr, Avoider/Victim, Critic/Doubter, Pleaser, and all affect the way we communicate with leaders and our teams.  Lee stressed the importance of ‘catching ourselves’ falling into these mindtraps so that we can assess our situations more calmly and rationally.

Some colleagues and friends also visited the GROWTH coaching discussions, and were similarly pleased and inspired by it. Again, the conversations that arose were about how we can be better at building relationships for success in education institutions. 

According to Christian Nieuweburgh (director of Growth Coaching international), there was not one ‘answer’ or particular framework that needed to be employed by organisations for successful coaching.  Instead, he argued that research suggests organisations who had any coaching framework worked better at growing their staff than those who didn’t.  So what framework is GROWTH?  They use the following, derived from Campbell (2016):

G – Goals: What do you need to achieve?

R – Reality: What is happening now?

O – Options: What could you do?

W – Will: What will you do?

T – Tactics: How and when will you do it?

H – Habits: How will you sustain your success?

GROWTH coaching also make coaching resources available  for free on their website which can be found on their website.

It was incredibly evident throughout the Festival of Education that many teaching professionals wanted the opportunity to understand their own pitfalls as educational leaders – I wondered if this came from seeing so many bad teachers rise up into educational leadership roles before. Either way, the drive to develop a strong coaching system in school communities, along with coaching frameworks, was strong; many educators looking towards coaching as CPD to improve leadership and practices.


Summary

In summary, I have finished the academic year 2021/2022 very excited about how I can help to grow my department, but also reflecting on the ways that coaching culture and CPD is implemented for best results.  Tom Sherrington has previously linked the two areas of Teaching & Learning and Coaching together before in his useful blog here, where he argues that educational institutions must take these five steps to improve:

1. Ditch the judgement culture

2. Establish a shared framework for thinking about teaching and learning

3. Map and embed CPD cycles and structures

4. Grow and develop a coaching team

5. Transfer ownership to teachers

I also found this table below from the TDT incredibly useful on what makes CPD effective (found here):

I hope that the above information enables you to see ways of moving your institute forward and towards these five steps from Tom.  I will also leave with six final questions for you or your team members to reflect on as you complete this academic year (Growth Coaching International, 2022) ready for next:

  1. What are you most pleased about from last year or the year so far? And what else? And what else?
  2. When you reflect on these things, what general principles or practices might have underpinned these successes?
  3. What must you get right to ensure that the year or term ahead goes well?
  4. What would be the highest leverage focus area for you to give attention to this year or this term?
  5. What would success in this area look like? Who else would notice, and what would they be saying?
  6. Who can support you in seeing this through?

Coming soon…

Refections: (Blog 2/3): Cultural Shifts: Black Lives Matter, Social Mobility, Gender.

Reflections: (Blog 3/3): Ofsted and Assessment

3 thoughts on “Improving Teaching and Learning (Blog 1/3 on 2021/2022 Reflections)

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