In common with a large number of schools around the country we had an inset day today. And in common with a lot of schools, I am sure, some parts of the site felt more like this
than a warm, welcoming place of work! Never mind.
Happily, we spent most of the day in the warmest part of the school on what was one of the most productive and interesting inset days that I can remember. The publication of the new Ofsted inspection framework led us, as an SMT, to think carefully about the conversation that we would have with an inspection team about the quality of teaching and learning. It’s clear that in an environment where inspectors are not simply making their own deus ex machina judgement of the quality of lessons the SMT need to have a convincing, evidence-based picture of teaching and learning to start the conversation. There are a range of pieces to the jigsaw – exam results, work scrutiny, student perception surveys – but there is no escaping the fact that lesson observations play a part too. So since September, as an SMT, we have been into more lessons than we did in the previous two or three years combined. This has been a big culture change in the school, which has always been pretty ‘light touch’ previously and it has not been the easiest culture change. What we have really tried to emphasise, however, is that a greater level of observation leads to more effective, targeted professional development. Happily (after a pretty rigorous debate) we decided not to grade the lessons we observe as an SMT, but rather to provide direct feedback to teachers after the lesson (or in as timely manner as possible) and to actively feed back our findings into professional development. That’s where today’s inset picked up.
Our lesson observations focus on three things (the Big Three, as we call them):
- the lesson environment: are students challenged, engaged, passionate about their learning? Are they being given the chance to develop independence of thought?
- ‘Closing the Gap’: what strategies are visible, in the lesson and in exercise books or notes, to make marking and feedback effective?
- the use of the rafls: this is a particular one to a school using the excellent realsmart platform
Since September we have been building a clearer than ever picture of best practice in these three areas. Today’s inset was about sharing this practice. All departments were encouraged to bring along examples of effective Closing the Gap and rafl strategies and we set up a marketplace in the library. Working in cross-departmental groups so as to further facilitate the sharing of ideas and practice, the morning was spent on a carousel around the displays and presentations of best Closing the Gap and rafl practice. Staff were encouraged to ask questions and make suggestions but, most importantly, to pick up ideas to take back to their department time in the afternoon. There was a great atmosphere and a wealth of fascinating material to look at.
But this brings me to the most tricky part of the observation/professional development equation. It is pretty clear to us that there are some fantastic classroom practitioners out there and some teachers, at all stages of their career, who could benefit from some targeted training. It seems pretty pointless a member of SMT popping into (for example) the Head of English’s lesson for the rest of the year: we know that we are going to see relentlessly high expectations, stretching material and fantastic probing questioning. What would be far, far more valuable would be to get a couple of teachers for whom questioning is a known issue into her lessons. But here’s where across the board we are hitting a logistic and, to an extent, cultural barrier. From the one side there is the understandable reluctance to give up a scarce and valuable free period and from the other there is the quite justified sense that this adds to an already large burden of work – taking on responsibility for an aspect, no matter how small, of another teacher’s professional development just seems like too much, particularly when you’d need to go into the other teacher’s lesson in one of your own scarce free periods to really complete the cycle… There can also be that awful sense of ‘what’s in it for me?’ For now I’m not sure how we are going to get over this one – any suggestions and thoughts are welcomed!