We go to learn NOT teach – Developmental lesson observations.

There has been much debate in recent months about lesson observations and whether or not we should judge them. It would seem that many schools are now ‘seeing the light’ and thankfully deciding that this is a flawed and unnecessary practice.
At Bridgwater College Academy we have not judged lessons for four years now and have tried to develop a system and culture that support the development of our teaching staff. This is, of course, still a work in progress and this post outlines the process that builds upon what we have done in the last few years and will be in place next academic year at our academy.
As one way of improving outcomes for our students we will continue to improve teacher quality and to do that we will improve professional development. The vision and approach I have for professional development at BCA is that there is an explicit obligation for individual colleagues to take responsibility for their own professional development with SUPPORT and CHALLENGE provided from all levels. Whilst we acknowledge that we, of course, work within parameters, it is essentially left to staff in negotiation with line managers to establish their own focus for their professional development. However, the choice will be inevitably limited by academy, subject, curriculum, key stage demands.

At our most recent all academy staff meeting we decided as a staff body to develop the way we use observations for professional development purposes. This post outlines what the process will look like next year at Bridgwater College Academy.

2014-2015 will start with celebration and reflection in the form of a ‘teaching and learning fair’ at one of our professional development days at the start of the year. This will be an opportunity for the staff at our academy from all phases (we are an all through 3-16 academy) to get together and share their professional development focus and successes from the previous academic year in a marketplace type event. Staff are expected to set out their ‘stalls’ in the morning prior to an afternoon of sharing and professional dialogue.

September
Reflection and action

September 2014 will be a time of reflection and action. At some point during September, every teacher in the academy will be, as in previous years, 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 but is inevitably uncommon. Staff in the secondary phase tend to record a whole lesson whereas staff in our primary phase generally record specific elements of their teaching such as whole class teaching or working with a specific group.

In September all teaching staff are issued with a Professional Portfolio; a file in which they are encouraged to document and evidence their successes.

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In September all staff are required to compose their own Personal Development Plan (PDP). This is an evidence based document that forms the focus of all subsequent personalised professional development. This important document is evidence based in three ways. Firstly, any knowledge that our teachers have already about their teaching through previous observations and their own professional judgement should inform the completion of their Personal Development Plan.

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This is generally information stored in their Professional Portfolio.Secondly, the insights they glean from their video will inform its construction and thirdly that research evidence suggests that the focus of their PDP is worth pursuing in the first place. The PDP will then be agreed and written in negotiation with your line manager. The focus of this ‘PDP’ is also established within the parameters of our ‘framework for exceptional teaching’: our T&L policy.

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October
Action and practice
October 2014 will be a time of action and practice. The newly established focus for professional development is broken down into manageable time phased chunks and sustained, deliberate practice is encouraged. The focus for all teachers’ professional development is displayed in every classroom so that anyone visiting a classroom may be able to provide some feedback on the desired focus. This display also has the added advantage of conveying to our children that teachers are also learners.

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By October half term 2014 every teacher will have been through the annual Appraisal & Capability process and have established 2-3 targets: a data driven target based on their class or key group, a teaching and learning target (this is simply the PDP target to avoid any additional and superfluous extras) and if you have a leadership responsibility you will also have a leadership target.
Within our Appraisal and Capability policy there is a requirement to attempt to complete the PDP fully and then to 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.

CPD tied to targets and professional standards can inhibit teachers taking risks and experimenting with new teaching strategies. We often set targets that we know we can achieve rather than really challenge ourselves. To counter this we are trying to create a culture of personalised and continuous improvement. Therefore, we see that it is the responsibility of our teachers to continue to improve their classroom skill and to focus the improvement on ideas supported by evidence. It is the responsibility of our leaders to create this expectation for continuous improvement, keep the focus on what is likely to improve achievement, provide support and challenge and encourage risk taking. The removal of lesson grades certainly has a beneficial effect on the willingness of teachers to take risks. Lesson observations at BCA are NOT graded and NEVER will be.

November
Practice and feedback
The first of three lesson observations will take place at some mutually convenient point in November 2014. The purpose of lesson observation at BCA is to…
…accurately portray what is happening typically in the classrooms across our academy.
…stimulate professional reflection and dialogue.
…inform the coaching process and future developments both as an individual and at whole academy level.
…help us deepen our understanding of learning and how we can, and do, make an impact upon it.
…make us even better teachers.
The purpose of lesson observations at our academy is emailed to staff prior to any period of observation and staff are encouraged to contact me if they feel that their observation did not meet these expectations.

Observations during November 2014 will be focused on the Personal Development Plan and conducted by your line manager. The date, time and group are all determined by the teacher not the observer. Cover will be made available for the observer if required. On several occasions, throughout all phases of the academy, I will join the observers to create an opportunity for additional dialogue and ‘quality assure’ the process. It is hoped that much of the observation and coaching will be ‘live’ – real time feedback to affect change there and then. This works especially well with less experienced colleagues who more actively seek guidance. I personally will observe all new qualified teachers with their mentor and all second year teachers with their mentor too.

Any lesson notes will be recorded on our essentially blank lesson observation sheet – not a tick box in sight! It is all about evidence of the PDP focus in action and questions composed by the observer with the intention of encouraging the teacher to reflect on reality. There are no evaluative comments, just information on which to reflect – a story of the lesson focus if you like. After the lesson there will be a meeting to discuss the lesson and at the end of this professional dialogue the teacher and observer must agree…
Goal: What do you want next?
Reality: Current situation?
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 you with this and how?
Share: How are you going to share your successes with others?

At the end of any professional dialogue at our academy each person must go away knowing exactly what their next steps are to be.

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January to March
Action, practice, collaboration, coaching, and learning.
Traditionally this has been a time when members of the academy leadership team observe all teachers at the academy. Next year we have dispensed with this as an approach and have decided that the theme of this round of ‘observations’ is…
We go to a lesson observation to LEARN not teach.

Therefore, it is planned that the ‘observations’ that take place throughout the spring term 2015 will be focused again on the Personal Development Plan. They are called ‘Peer Support’ as opposed to peer observations. However, instead of someone coming to you to give you feedback on your development focus, there will be a requirement for you to visit another teacher to learn alongside this colleague. The teacher you visit will have a similar focus to you and it is also planned that CPD time will be made available for you to plan alongside this colleague prior to visiting and learning with them. The ‘observing’ teacher will record their visit in two ways.
‘What I noticed’ and…
‘What I am going to take from this lesson to help my own teaching’
There will be an expectation that, as a result of your visit, you also consider your ‘next steps to excellence’:
Goal
What do I want?
Reality
What is the current situation?
Options
What could you do?
What and by when
What will you do?
Success Criteria
How will you know you’ve been successful?

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To enable staff to visit other teachers the senior leadership team will cover lessons. The leadership team will also use this time to look at books in your classroom and talk to students about their learning. CPD time to meet, share and plan in groups based on personal development plans will be made available and staff will be grouped to enable and encourage sharing and the ongoing development of the PDP. These grouping will be displayed to enable staff to initiate their own study groups.

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I would like this round of observations to take the form of ‘lesson study’ and I will be encouraging some pilot groups to trial ideas in classroom based collaborative action research. Hopefully this will involve 2 or 3 staff in each ‘study group’. The focus for their work being a similar identified aspect. They will research the pedagogy, collaboratively plan with one teacher delivering but the others involved too in some capacity. There will be a subsequent debrief and reciprocal visit. This will be a work in progress for next year.

APRIL and MAY
Practice and refining
Further practice and refining of appropriate classroom strategies.

JUNE
Feedback, coaching, and reflection.
These observations will be similar in purpose to November and, therefore, observations during June 2015 will be focused on the Personal Development Plan and conducted by your line manager. The date, time and group are all determined by the teacher not the observer. Information about your lesson will be recorded on our lesson observation sheet and a follow up dialogue undertaken in the same way as it happened in November.

JULY
Sharing and celebration
In July 2015 there will be a whole academy Teachmeet which will showcase and share effective practice:
Direction of travel keynote from me
Learning Innovator Projects
Other projects
‘Bright spots’ and innovation
Nano presentations

Throughout the year we will further look at approaches which enable staff to learn from each other;
‘Finding the bright spots’ (thanks to @shaun_allison for the phrase) leadership learning walks with the intention of spotting best practice to further share.
Subject / curriculum leaders learning walks
Key stage leaders learning walks
Heads of year learning walks
NQT and RQT learning walks
Open weeks

We are currently running a staff competition to rename ‘learning walks’. We all know what they are but I just hate the name!!

At BCA we must try to make our professional development genuinely continuous and continuously effective. Coaching is very much becoming a way of working for us. Although we ‘train’ some staff as coaches, our aspiration is for everyone at BCA to become a coach. Coaching at our academy will help build capacity, foster a better team spirit and spark dialogue about pedagogy. Over time it will lead to sustained improvement, personalise even more our CPD programme and empower our teaching staff. Hopefully in time our support staff too but one step at a time!

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 periods of sustained 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 very best we can be at our school and it is hoped that through sustained practice with lots of immediate coaching feedback, reflection and gradually, but consistently, raising the level of challenge we will create an environment for excellence. That’s the plan anyway! Please tell me what you think.

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Professional Development at my academy – No Lesson grades EVER!

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.

DISCOVER

What are my skills and strengths?

Identified from self-reflection, video analysis and observations and follow up conversations with colleagues.

IDENTIFY

What are my development needs?

Identified from self-reflection, video analysis, observations and follow up conversations with colleagues.

INTENTIONS

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.

ACTIONS

How do I intend to achieve this?

What actions will you take to achieve this goal? Focus on deliberate practice.

TIMINGS

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.

SUCCESS

How will I know that I have been successful?

Identify clear outcomes and success criteria that focus on the impact on learning.

SUPPORT

Who might support me with this development?

This development process should be collaborative with other teachers supporting, challenging, observing and coaching you.

SHARE

How am I going to share my successes with others?

Team meetings, staff meetings, coaching conversations, INSET, Twilights, Learning Exchange…

IMPACT

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!