So here goes. This is my first ever blog post on my first blog and may be my last as I’m not sure how often I will get the time to do this. I have tweeted many times about how much I dislike graded lesson observations and, as a result, I do get asked very often if I blog about this. Until now not but I feel that, for once and for all, I will describe and explain the process my school goes through in order to develop the quality of teaching.
I work part time at Bridgwater College Academy in Somerset; an all through 3-16 academy in which I am blessed to be on the Academy Leadership Team as Head of Staff Development. Although that job title is not unique, my role is not a conventional ‘assistant head’ job. I work solely with the adults and have no teaching timetable. My sole focus is to support the teachers in my academy to be the best they can be. I spend, therefore, all my time with teachers in their classrooms; coaching, mentoring and helping them develop into great professionals.
I joined the academy as a member of staff in September 2010 and at that time worked two days a week. Prior to joining the school I worked for Somerset LA as a consultant and had been seconded to the school to help them out of the category: notice to improve.
In November 2009 Ofsted had visited the school and decided that the school needed by July 2010 to have 75% of lessons being judged good or better. When I arrived in January 2010 20% of lessons were judged to be good or better. By July 80% of lessons were judged good or better and we were duly removed from that category. July 2010 was the last time we judged individual lessons. At the start of the last round of observations in June 2010 I was adamant that we shouldn’t pursue this judgement course. However, we judged them one last time. Before this last round though I wrote a number (1,2,3,4) next to each teacher’s name on a list and placed it in a sealed envelope. At the end of the three days of full lesson observations, having put staff once again through the ringer making some sick, literally, I took the list out. One teacher was one grade higher and one was one grade lower. All the others were as predicted. The question I posed to my head was along the lines of ‘why have we put our staff through this process and wasted all this time and manpower to find out something we already knew?’ Why judge 3 hours out of a possible 700 hours? Take that to a statistician and ask them for the validity of that data. From that point onwards we decided not to continuously weigh the pig but to feed it!
This blog post is about how we now conduct business. It is not perfect and is always being tweaked to streamline the process and make it more meaningful and effective but it fits in with my vision for any school I work in. That is that staff should take responsibility for their own professional development with support and challenge from all levels.
In September, every teacher in the academy is required to video one of their lessons – these videos are the property of the teacher and used solely as just one way to inform their decisions about the priorities for their own professional development. I do not get to see them unless staff ask me to watch them, which has happened.
The insights they glean from this video, together with any other knowledge they have already about their teaching, informs the completion of their Personal Development Plan. Completion of this ‘PDP’ is done within the parameters of our ‘framework for exceptional teaching’: our T&L policy which was created by our staff and is heavily based on teacher standards so staff can’t have brain gym or VAK as a possible focus!!! This policy is not driven by Ofsted. It is not Ofsted’s job to tell us what great teaching is. It is their job to find it! Our framework has the following ten headings…
- High expectations and aspirations
- Positive classroom ethos and relationships
- Purposeful learning
- Varied and appropriate teaching strategies
- Inclusive teaching with high levels of challenge
- Responsive teaching
- Specific and clear feedback
- Students take responsibility for their own learning
- Good subject knowledge
- Effective and creative resources
The following constitutes the Personal development plan and is on one side of A4.
What are my skills and strengths?
Identified from self-reflection, video analysis and observations and follow up conversations with colleagues.
What are my development needs?
Identified from self-reflection, video analysis, observations and follow up conversations with colleagues.
What do I intend to practise & achieve?
Be specific, realistic and measurable. Focus on the learning needs of the students being taught by you not just what you do as their teacher.
How do I intend to achieve this?
What actions will you take to achieve this goal? Focus on deliberate practice.
When do I intend to achieve this by?
Challenge yourself yet be realistic. This development process should be sustained for a significant period of time and involves cycles of trialling ideas, reflecting and adjusting.
How will I know that I have been successful?
Identify clear outcomes and success criteria that focus on the impact on learning.
Who might support me with this development?
This development process should be collaborative with other teachers supporting, challenging, observing and coaching you.
How am I going to share my successes with others?
Team meetings, staff meetings, coaching conversations, INSET, Twilights, Learning Exchange…
What has the impact been on the student’s learning?
Identify what has gone well with evidence and examples.
The PDP ‘target’ is negotiated with the individual teacher’s Team Leader and then sent to me. I read them all and ensure that they are focused on the right things and constitute a good level of challenge. Some are inevitably returned. The PDP ‘target’ also becomes the second of our two performance management targets in order that the streamlined process remains in tune with appraisal and not a ‘bolt on’. This PDP must be completed by before the October half term.
The purpose of lesson observation at BCA is to…
…accurately portray what is happening in the classroom.
…stimulate professional reflection and dialogue.
…inform the coaching process and future developments at the academy.
…help us deepen our understanding of teaching and learning.
…make us even better teachers.
Staff are always reminded of the purpose of lesson observation at BCA prior to any period of observation and encouraged to inform me if this is not the case.
Our teachers are formally observed three times a year – Any time in November, February and June. The observations in November and June are undertaken by the teacher’s line manager and/or another colleague e.g. one of the lead teachers or me and the focus is solely on the priority established in the teacher’s PDP. Many of our observations are done in pairs so staff can learn from each other. Quite often, someone with a similar focus will observe the lesson too. The teacher determines the time and group to be observed and cover is provided for the observer, if necessary.
The observation form is almost blank and the observer is encouraged to collect data about the focus and devise questions ready to ask the teacher about the lesson to prompt reflection and professional dialogue. Quite often, therefore, in the PDP focused observations (November and June) there are, in theory, no evaluative comments unless requested by the teacher, just information on which to reflect – a story of the lesson focus if you like.
The majority of our teachers still welcome evaluative statements though but no individual lesson grade is given. Initially when we started this process staff used to ask ‘what grade would you have given it?’ But not anymore. Follow up meetings therefore report back what was seen and discuss the next steps in the colleague’s professional development and revisit their personal development plan, adapting where appropriate.
At the end of this professional dialogue the teacher and observer are asked to agree on…
Next goal: What do you want?
Reality: Current situation? What happened?
Options: What could you do?
What, who and by when: What will you do?
Success Criteria: How will you know you’ve been successful?
Support: Who is going to support me with this and how?
Share: How am I going to share my successes with others:
Staff are asked provide a copy of the agreed actions to:
- The teacher
- The observer
- Curriculum team leader, if different from the observer
- Chris Moyse
If the personal development plan is adapted and refined the new copy is sent to me who keeps an overview of the whole process and various focuses with the specific intention of pairing people up in order to facilitate further sharing and learning. We have initiated some ‘Lesson Study’ with PGCE students and this year would like to extend this to other staffso knowledge of each teacher’s development is key.
Observations in February are undertaken by academy leadership team and lead teachers; again, often in pairs. No judgements are given but many more evaluative comments are provided this time. The observation form is essentially blank and there are no boxes to tick. Every observer will know the PDP focus of that teacher and provide evaluative feedback on this focus too to ensure that the observation continues to retain a developmental feel. Observers are in the lesson for the whole time (75 minutes in the secondary phase and 60 minutes in the primary phase)
Much of our observation is ‘live’ – feedback there and then as lesson is going on thus negating the need for feedback afterwards which we don’t always have time for as very busy teachers. This has worked especially well with less experienced colleagues. Many staff request interim lesson observations especially when trialling ideas. This support is provided by me. I observed one teacher 14 times last year on her request! Some staff get directed to work with me to improve their practice too. I will make that recommendation or a teacher may be directed by my Head to seek my support.
Coaching is very much a way of working for us. We run a lead teacher programme in which staff are trained to become good coaches and a new teacher programme and a recently qualified teacher programme in which staff are coached. Our aspiration is for everyone at BCA to be a coach. Our middle leaders are starting to be trained in this process. Coaching at our academy helps build capacity, fosters a better team spirit and sparks dialogue about pedagogy. Over time it will lead to sustained improvement, personalise even more our CPD and empower our teaching staff. It is a ‘done with’ not ‘done to’ system where staff are required to take responsibility for their own professional development and seek the support and challenge from colleagues at all levels.
Following the introduction of performance related pay at a national level the Board of Trustees at our academy recognises that it is very difficult to measure individual teacher performance given the vast array of variables which impact on student outcomes over time. Indeed, measuring individual teacher performance in terms of outcomes accurately is impossible and research suggests that performance related pay has no impact on improving student progress or attainment at all when it is implemented in a crude and quantitative manner. Our Board of Trustees have agreed that they will implement a form of performance related pay which has followed a review of our current appraisal and capability processes. ‘Performance’ for the sake of pay issues and in light of this policy will be defined as the progress an individual teacher makes in improving their professional practice as outlined in their PDP which forms part of the A+C processes. Performance will be measured in a qualitative manner and will be based on professional development.
All teaching staff across the Academy are required to complete the A+C process annually.
There will be at least two targets in this process, which will include:
A numerical target for an individual teaching group or wider group of students for which the teacher holds responsibility and a requirement to achieve the PDP ‘target’. Therefore staff must actively engage in professional development throughout the year in order to improve or disseminate effective teaching practice. In effect, teachers are required to proactively seek to continually develop their professional practice.
Progression up the Academy pay scale will therefore be determined in the annual A+C meeting in the autumn term against a teacher’s success in meeting these two targets. Progression will not be restricted should a teacher not achieve the numerical target as these will be demanding and stretching and the outcomes being measured in these targets is at times subject to factors beyond an individual teachers control. However; the expectation is that all teachers will work towards achieving these targets.
Progression through the pay scale will be restricted in the following cases:
1) The member of staff is failing to meet the agreed teacher standards and concerns about their performance have been raised with this colleague. They are likely to be in capability proceedings or have been warned that their performance is weak and are likely soon to be subject to capability proceedings should performance not improve.
2) They fail to make sufficient progress in meeting the objectives outlined in their PDP or they have failed to actively engage in developing their professional practice.
There is an obligation therefore on teachers to be able to evidence throughout the year how they have actively sought to address these objectives. Teaching staff should not assume that progression up the pay spine is automatic following one year of service and if no concerns have been raised. Progression is based on the A+C process alone.
Staff are encouraged to challenge themselves and it is a truism that the only way to guarantee success is to have low expectations. If a challenging PDP is set but not fully achieved, then this will not affect the A+C process.
Effective professional development at Bridgwater College Academy focuses on improved student learning not teacher behaviour. It identifies teacher development needs based on the student’s learning needs and builds on teachers’ existing skill, providing a balance of improving students learning and transferable teaching skills. It offers choice to our teachers but is based on evidence: that this focus will have an impact and research suggests that it is a focus worth pursuing. Our professional development is about taking small sustainable steps and embedding practice; making it habitual through extended periods of deliberate practice. The whole process is collaborative; providing support and challenge, and involves observing and coaching each other. Each teacher’s professional development is actively sustained for a significant amount of time with cycles of trialling, practising, reflecting, and adjusting. The process that each member of staff goes through is celebrated and shared and encourages excellence. We need to be the best we can be at our school and the support and challenge required to be this is provided by colleagues from all levels of the academy.
Staff at the academy welcome this supportive yet challenging approach and feel empowered and no longer threatened by staff in their lessons. Personal development plans create autonomy and ownership and no judgements encourage staff to take risks, to change and grow, to’ have a go’ without judgement of any failure. Although we do not judge lessons we do give teaching at our academy a grade in our SEF and this is a result of the triangulation of lesson observations, progress made as evidenced in books and results.
I am convinced that our pursuit of excellence at BCA, with personal dvevelopment plans, effective coaching and focused deliberate practice, could just make a transformative difference for our students.
Hope that all makes some sense and I would be delighted to hear your thoughts although I am not sure I will always have the time to reply to you. I may just leave blogging to you younger types!