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Showing posts from 2014

School Leadership: The Journey to the Dark Side.

As Professional Learning Communities get under way here at North Berwick, I can see how a school leader might be drawn to the dark side.  It goes something like this:
Start teaching . . . "School leaders are idiots.  They think that top-down direction will improve schools, but what teachers really need is the space and time to collaborate and enquire into their own practice.  Teachers are not the problem - teachers are the solution" . . . Get promoted . . . Implement a programme in school that sets aside time for teachers to collaborate and enquire into their own practice . . . Some teachers think the programme is a waste of time.  They think that another idiot leader is trying to change the school through a top-down intervention . . . "What is wrong with these teachers? They are a real problem."

I will strive to avoid falling into this trap!

Professional Learning Communities: Why bother?

I imagine some colleagues thinking something along these lines about being in a PLC:

Seriously Robert, I do buy into the whole improvement thing, but if you want me to get better as a teacher, why don't you just observe me, then tell me something that I could improve?  I'd be up for it.  Why do I have to spend hours attending PLC meetings, observing, coaching, being observed and being coached?  It just seems like a huge waste of time, when we all know that we are desperately time-poor as teachers.
I would respond as follows:

 There are many reasons why I think it is better to be in a PLC than to follow your suggestion, even though PLCs take more time.

1. Being told to make a change to one's practice rarely leads to a permanent change in practice.  I wish this were not true, but all the research I have seen indicates that it is.  And not just for other people - it is true for you and me!

2. PLCs  improve the capacity of participants to drive their own improvement. Even if m…

Professional Learning Communities: What do I mean by a PLC?

PLCs have been around for years in a variety of guises, including Teacher Learning Communities in the Dylan Wiliam/Tapestry model.

As I understand them, PLCs aim to improve the learning of pupils through the professional learning of teachers.

Our implementation of PLCs at North Berwick High School has grown organically over a period of 18 months, and has been described both as "The Coaching Project" and "Coaching for Professional Enquiry".  We eventually settled on "Professional Learning Communities" when we realised that our model bore so many similarities to other implementations that it seemed pointless to hold on to our distinct name.

The North Berwick PLCs are groups of eight to ten teachers who have volunteered to participate.  They come together for 75 minute meetings six times per session, and participants engage in peer-observation, peer-coaching and collaborative professional enquiry throughout the year.  Each PLC is chaired by someone who has p…

Professional Learning Communities: Establishing Norms

This will be something like the tenth post in a series (if I ever write the previous nine!) about the work I have been doing to establish and support professional learning communities (PLCs) at North Berwick High School (NBHS).  It's a long story, which began 18 months ago with the growing realisation that the real work of professional learning looked more like personal growth than  "going on courses".

A potted version of the story so far...

I became very enthusiastic in 2013 about the potential for peer-coaching to support the professional growth of teachers.  This enthusiasm coincided with my temporary promotion to depute head, and my embarking on the Flexible Routes to Headship programme.  My FRH project became the development of PLCs supported by peer-coaching, initially in a pilot project of ten volunteers.  I failed to secure the permanent depute post, but continued to lead the pilot PLC as head of maths during the 13-14 session.  The pilot was deemed sufficiently …

Chaining down the goalposts

I discovered this week that all hockey goals in my authority are now padlocked in place by chains, following an unfortunate incident when someone climbed on top of one and it fell over on top of them, to their considerable injury. The PE teacher who told me this complained that the chains made it very awkward for them to move the goals, which they often want to do in order to use the playing area flexibly.

I don't know enough about this situation to comment on the wisdom of the decision to padlock the goals in place, but it struck me at the time that this institutional response is a great metaphor for the way that we, as individuals, respond to painful experiences in our lives.
When we experience pain, especially in response to the actions of others, we have a strong tendency to react internally by seeking to shield ourselves from further pain. Unfortunately, this defensive response also restricts our openness to receiving positive experiences in future.  In some small way we beco…

Joyce and Showers

In a post last year - Behaviour Management and Avalanches - I wrote about the failure of professional development activities to lead to actual changes in behaviour from teachers.  At the time I thought that I had stumbled upon something new.  It turns out, as usual, that I was just ignorant of the existing work in this area.

Joyce and Showers established, back in the 80s, that fewer than 10% of participants in staff development actually implemented new strategies in their classrooms.  But they found that with  peer-observation and peer-coaching this percentage increased to 90%!

This research is very reassuring to me, given that I am currently working with staff to set up professional learning communities in school, supported by peer-observation and peer-coaching.

A specific situation in which I have found SOLO useful

I introduced an S2 (year 9) maths class to the SOLO diagrams and the language of SOLO, prior to giving them some nrich problems to work on in groups. My description of the task was for them to 'do some mathematical thinking' using the problems as prompts. I used the  SOLO levels to give them a scaffold. When discussing their thinking, I asked them 'what level do you think you are working at now?' and 'what would you have to do to move to the next level up?'. Many of them found this very useful - for example they saw that to move from relational to extended abstract, they would have to generalise, make some predictions, make connections with other mathematical topics etc.  and they then did so. I'm not sure how I could have given them this scaffold without some common language like SOLO or Bloom's taxonomy.  I prefer SOLO, but I'm know people find Bloom's useful.  It appeared to me that the language of SOLO created in the minds of youngsters some…

Behaviour Management and Avalanches

I've read a few blog posts recently about behaviour management - "Top Ten Tips for Behaviour Management" is a fine example. Many of them seem to be aimed at NQTs.  I have agreed with almost everything in all of the posts, and use many of the strategies myself.

And yet these posts leave me with nagging questions - who are they for, and will they help?  The short answers are, of course, that they are for whomever wants to read them, and that they are bound to be helpful to some teachers - the strategies are, after all, tried and tested, and they work!  I think these posts would be particularly useful for an experienced teacher who is looking to expand his or her repertoire of behaviour management strategies.  I have certainly found them useful (as a faculty head with over 20 years of teaching experience).

So what is my gripe?  Is it just end-of-term malaise?  Maybe.  But I think this quote from a fascinating post by Harry Fletcher-Wood about trying to effect change in the …