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Learning Cultures' summer newsletter - click here to go to the contents


There is a wealth of evidence to show that CPD is an essential ingredient in the shaping of a successful school.

The Department of Education published very clear expectations in their document 'Standard for teachers' professional development' that effective professional development is a core part of securing effective teaching.  Professional development and training is not a luxury, it is an essential element of a successful school and without it, it is clear that the quality of teaching and its impact on learning suffer.  

The secret is to find a cost effective and sustainable solution that delivers the highest quality CPD across the whole school.  The DfE state in their guidance document,

'A one day course as a stand-alone activity without a specific focus is unlikely to have a lasting impact on pupil outcomes.' 

They then go on to say,

"That same course, however, could be used to much greater effect as part of a sustained, coherent programme which includes structured, collaborative in-school activities for teachers to refine ideas and embed approaches."

Here at Learning Cultures we whole-heartedly endorse this.  We have built our offer to the education profession over many years with exactly the same philosophy at the heart of what we do.  The work of Joyce and Showers back in 2002 looked closely at the impact of CPD on school, team and individual performance and drew exactly the same conclusion.  It is the sharing and disseminating of the training that will help to consolidate the learning for the recipient and will also cascade that learning to others.  Philippa Cordingley from CUREE and her team who developed the Standard for teachers' professional development drew on a range of excellent research in preparing and developing the new standard. The Teacher Development Trust have also drawn on some excellent research that endorses the imperative to ensure CPD is a priority for all schools.

We are passionate advocates of coaching as the most profound and successful way to ensure that there is a culture within a school where teachers know their own strengths and learning agenda. They share their good practice and are willing to learn from their own self - reflection and from observing and sharing practice with others. Learning how to coach has so many advantages for use in an educational environment. The development of a deeper understanding of how to use deep, rich and open questions is fundamental to high quality formative feedback with pupils, it is an essential skill when supporting teachers as part of formal and informal observation and coaching is profoundly beneficial in developing a sustainable CPD strategy that is delivered by professionals for professionals.

I want to show in this newsletter how the training we offer is linked directly to the expectations outlined in the DfE's publication and provides a platform for a sustainable and cost effective CPD offer that is relevant, motivating and above all allows the recipient to use their learning back in school.

Have a good summer term, longer evenings, warmer weather and the testing merry-go-round for another year nearly at an end.


Coaching and the standard for Teachers' professional development

To coach someone is to help them to find their own way, solve their own problems and be clear as to their goals in relation to their own and the organisation's vision for improvement.  

Part 1 of the standard states explicitly that professional development should have a clear focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes. Using a coaching model specifically when it is linked to teaching and learning means that there can be a focus; firstly, on the positive aspects of a teacher's practice that can be shared with others through professional dialogue; and secondly, coaching provides a medium for teachers to build on their prior knowledge and experience and set their own goals. In this way teachers are more confident at identifying their strengths, their own learning agenda and what they need to do to continuously improve.  The standard asks of providers of professional development such as Learning Cultures that we provide tools that can help participants change their own practice and evaluate its impact.  The many tools and models linked to coaching are ideal for this purpose.

Part 2 of the standard asks that professional development providers such as us have a robust body of evidence and expertise.  All our training is built on in-depth and sector - led research. Our training offers a blend of theory and academic rigour which is aligned to sound pedagogical and subject knowledge and principles.  Teachers are encouraged to understand how and why practices have an impact and how to implement them successfully in different contexts. In order to do this so that it works well, there needs to be the opportunity for structured conversations to take place.  The teacher is also required to actively seek formative assessment on their practice; something that is a natural part of a coaching culture.  The focus on testing and challenging beliefs and questioning evidence is also a fundamental feature of a good coaching culture.

Part 3 of the standard is all about collaboration and expert challenge.  Sustained collaboration is a natural part of coaching.  Coaching requires the individual to develop a range of skills that are designed to challenge and stretch another to reflect on their practice and how it could be improved and to find their own solutions when things need to change.  Developing a coaching culture provides multiple opportunities for teachers to share and disseminate their practice and share their understanding of the impact of their pedagogy on pupils.

Part 4 of the standard says that professional development should be sustained over time.  Coaching is not a soft option. It requires time and commitment. It provides a powerful way of sustaining and embedding change. Coaching also provides opportunities for experimentation, reflection, quality feedback and evaluation. A coaching culture can only exist in a climate of trust and collaboration where everyone is working together to achieve a shared vision. 

Part 5 of the standard says that professional development must be prioritised by school leadership which goes without saying. However, it is sometimes confused with performance management and its importance is sometimes lost in the minutiae of other school and funding priorities.  Coaching is proven through extensive quantitative and qualitative research to be the most effective pathway to a sustainable and affordable approach that builds consistency and a whole school culture of excellence and improvement.

We have an extensive range of coaching courses for all staff from senior leaders to support staff. 

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Developing the pupil voice - creating the expert learner

There is some very interesting research and a lot of anecdotes that suggest that giving pupils more of a say in how they learn, how that learning is assessed and the curriculum they are taught has a positive impact on their levels of achievement and attainment.  There is a very useful website which is part of the Childrens' Commissioner's website. School Councils UK provides a list of tips based on research as to the most effective way to ensure that there is a positive learner voice strategy in school. Here is a link to their resources catalogue which has a wealth of very affordable products to support pupil or learner voice in both primary and secondary schools. There is even advice for pupil voice in the early years setting. Childrens' Rights Wales is one of the most informative platforms I have used as part of my research into this important area of school life.

Learner voice is powerful and needs to be carefully nurtured.  It is not and never should be something that is left to the pupils without careful supervision and a great deal of thought and preparation. The school needs to ask a set of searching questions before embarking on a learner voice strategy. There needs to be a clear vision and a consensus from all involved including staff and pupils as to the parameters within which this can work.  Unrealistic demands and unreasonable restrictions will lead to failure.  However, where the learner is consulted and their views are listened to there is very good evidence that learning is enhanced alongside higher levels of motivation, a feeling of belonging and increased confidence.  I wrote an article for a magazine called Curriculum Briefing a few years ago looking in some depth at this topic.  

There are many different interpretations of what we mean by Learner Voice.  Simply giving the learner an opportunity to have a say in how a school is run and the part they play in the vision for that school is important.  However, creating opportunities for the learner to use their voice as the expert learner in the classroom can bring some surprisingly positive outcomes.  Where the learner takes responsibility for their learning and identifies the skills they need to learn and build mastery of their learning there is a positive and profound difference in attitude, behaviour and well-being.  We offer a well-researched and highly praised training course that looks in depth at learner voice and how to use the strategy to ensure all learners take an active part in the life of the school, the curriculum and the culture of learning. 

Developing the Learner Voice - Creating the expert learner provides an excellent opportunity to either begin to plan a strategy for developing the learner voice in both the primary and secondary school or to build on work already underway in school.  We also have a similar day for those involved in learning in the post 16 sector.  Developing the Learner Voice for Post 16 learners looks at the specific issues for young adults.

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Wellbeing and mental health in schools - such a priority in so many schools

Mental health and wellbeing issues are at last being brought to prominence both in the education system and in society in general.  Prince William and Prince Harry are both raising the profile of the issue with their own frank discussions about their problems following their mother's death.  Theresa May announced funding for school support earlier this year and there are numerous charities and other organisations who are actively supporting an open approach to helping those with mental health issues. 

There are huge demands on both staff and pupils in schools at the present time and many are finding the pressures linked to changes in the curriculum, approaches to assessment and the role of accountability to be almost too much to manage.  There are inevitably pinch points at times of external exams and tests and the stress of these ripple across the whole school; for those in primary schools when the SATs test come around and those in secondary schools with GCSEs and A Levels.  Pupils in schools inevitably encounter unkindness, a lack of self-esteem and the pressures associated with learning and achieving what is expected of them. We learn from the research and the press that the issue of mental health is huge and the problem is growing.  There are several ways that we can step in to help and support those who are vulnerable or suffering and there are many ways we can aim to find ways to intervene before individuals whether staff or pupils become ill. 

Here at Learning Cultures we have developed several strategies that can be fundamental in supporting staff and children; from raising their self-esteem to providing positive intervention strategies that can really make a difference.  We have a new course called Coaching in the Classroom that gives teachers an opportunity to learn how to use coaching to support learners to reflect on their own learning, feel comfortable with taking risks, be willing to accept that mistakes happen and give pupils licence to take risks and find their own solutions.  Where children are encouraged to take control and own their own learning they become far more resilient and motivated to learn. We also offer a superb training opportunity for those with pastoral responsibilities in school.  Coaching for Pastoral Leaders supports those with responsibility for the well-being of the child or young person to learn a range of coaching skills that will enhance their relationships with pupils, parents and other stakeholders in ensuring the best possible care is taken to support pupils.

We have a wonderful day for after SATs for teachers in primary school who want to re-energise their own teaching and build the self-esteem of pupils, whether they have just taken their SATs or not.  Fairytwists is all about immersive storytelling and supports the delivery of SMSC and PSHE and will contribute to the embedding of literacy skills across the curriculum.The resources have been designed by Jayne North. she has taken the themes of many of the issues that cause anxiety in the young and has written six social stories based on traditional fairy tales. 

We also continue to offer two highly acclaimed and extremely topical courses Mindset Matters - putting the theory of Growth Mindset into the classroom and Psychological Wellbeing - Promoting emotional health, mindfulness and wellbeing to optimise learning and achievement.

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The CPD strategy that delivers consistent and sustainable training across a group of schools working as a Teaching Alliance or within the MAT structure

The training school system is an excellent model and is providing an opportunity for schools to share and cascade outstanding practice beyond the lead school.  Schools working together as trusts or alliances have a wealth of talent within them and capturing this is undoubtedly the way to ensure successful futures for each and every individual school within the family of schools.  Creating the right model is essential; building a system that is quality assured and offers profound opportunities for professional growth, succession planning and improved performance is critical.  It is, however, often difficult to develop such a model and build a culture that is self-sustaining and has a genuine impact that is measurable.

Here at Learning Cultures we are working with several multi-academy trusts to support them in using a coaching model to define the vision, develop a holistic CPD strategy and deliver and cascade model that is cost effective, sustainable and has the measurement of impact built into its structure.  

Every trust or alliance is different and the plan can be moulded to the priorities that are identified.  The training and development opportunities that have come out of this model have been so rewarding and without sounding too boastful, for some, life changing. 

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Is observation and feedback at the heart of successful staff development in your school?

Lesson observation is an essential part of school life but what is its purpose? Seeing lessons delivered gives leaders and managers an insight into the quality of teaching and learning across the school and allows individual line managers to see how well members of their department or team are performing.  This is often as far as it goes.  An outstanding lesson delivered by the teacher and observed by a manager or fellow teacher provides little or no opportunity for others within the school to share the experience.  The wealth of talent within a school is rarely tapped and certainly rarely observed.  Where lesson observation is purely about performance management it is more likely that the emphasis is on what is wrong rather than what is right with a lesson. 

Having another look at lesson observation and its potential value as a tool for positive, sustainable and extremely cost effective internal training is well worthwhile.  The current focus on lesson study where teachers collaborate about the content and style of a lesson and observe the lesson together is one way.  Allowing teachers to video themselves teaching and sharing their results with colleagues is another.  Creating opportunities for teachers to observe other lessons informally is yet another.

Where lesson observation is seen as a positive learning platform for both the observer and the observed it can change the culture of the school. Teachers begin to want to be observed. They want to share their experiences, both good and not so good and to seek advice and support readily.  The opportunities for professional dialogue and the sharing and cascading of good practice are profound.  The EEF have recently published the findings of some research they have undertaken with IRIS Connect who sell the technology for teachers to use to video their lessons.

We have two important events that provide those with responsibility for performance management, CPD and teaching and learning with an opportunity to reflect on lesson observation and its impact and how through positive change and powerful professional dialogue outstanding teaching and learning can be cascaded to the whole learning community within the school.

The Art of Lesson Observation - making sure outstanding learning and teaching is not your best kept secret is for leaders and managers to look at their strategy for CPD and lesson observation.

Lesson Study - Enhancing learning through professional collaboration and enquiry This event looks at the well-researched and highly successful strategy called Lesson Study. The event is aimed at teachers and managers who want to use the concept to develop a team or collaborative approach to observing learning and its impact on selected pupils. You may also like to have a look at Peter Dudley's research in his book Lesson Study - Professional Learning for our Time

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Using Growth Mindset extensively in learning and teaching. For primary or secondary pupils, for A level students, for NQTs, teachers and support staff

Having read the research and developed several training courses around the theory of Growth Mindset I am struck by the immense value the messages have for a whole variety of situations and individuals. The principles that underpin the theory are that our intelligence is not fixed at birth and through our own intervention and belief in ourselves we can mould our brains and continue to learn throughout our lives. The underlying philosophy applies to individuals of all ages but the value to the education profession is profound.  Carol Dwek in her book Mindset - The new psychology of success unpicks the theories and the research and gives this piece of advice to parents,

"If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning. That way, they don't have to be slaves of praise.  They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence."

The message is that the earlier one starts with this approach the more likely pupils in school are to embrace challenge, understand the importance of effort even if it does not immediately bring success and develop the quality of persistence so that "I am not there yet" is much more powerful that "I can't do it" or "I am no good at it".  Equally the pupil who is consistently achieving and who expects praise may fall short of embracing difficult challenges that may lead them towards failure and no praise. Adopting a Growth Mindset approach creates within the pupil and those who influence them much greater confidence and optimism and opens their minds to seek out new vistas for learning.  This in turn is motivational and fosters curiosity, drive and ambition. 

We already run a very successful and popular training course for primary and secondary teachers that examines the theory of Growth Mindset and how it can be used as part of effective classroom pedagogy to create resilient learners who are curious, enquiring and independent, who are comfortable with trying something new and who understand that mistakes lead to learning.  Mindset Matters to Unlock Learning sets the scene and provides a wealth of resources and activities to embed this theory into classroom practice. 

We have recently been asked to work with A level teachers and their students to help them develop an A Level Mindset. Anyone who has taught at A Level will know the mindset of those students who have a clutch of GCSEs achieved as a result of being taught, pushed and delivered to in order that they have sufficient knowledge to reach the required standard. The demands of A Level learning are a shock for many.  A level requires mental toughness and a very positive attitude to independent study. Students need to respond positively to challenge and identify their gaps in learning and how they themselves are going to fill them. 

Developing a Positive A Level Mindset is a course for all those subject specialists who teach A Level students.  It will change your own thinking and revolutionise attitudes to learning for your students. There is a paradigm shift from GCSE to A Level and the sooner students start to think differently about their potential, the importance of valuing effort and learn how to deepen their own knowledge the more they will achieve.

Coaching the NQT is one of our popular courses and we have introduced a section on how to use the theory of Growth Mindsets to focus on how to build the NQT's confidence and resilience and create for them an opportunity for greater self-reflection and opportunities to look closely at their goals and priorities.

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Something different for primary teachers after SATs and those teaching in Key Stage 3

Summer is a time to regroup and begin to plan for next year.  We have two new events that are perfect for some summer training that is fun as well as something that will enrich classroom practice, provide a different way to deliver the curriculum and relieve the stress and worry for both the teachers attending and for pupils learning.

Fairy Twists - immersive pupil led story telling is a resource that encourages immersive pupil led story telling using puppets, masks and props. This highly innovative resource supports the delivery of SMSC and PSHE education and will contribute to the embedding of literacy skills across the curriculum. The training day will provide an opportunity to learn how to use this highly interactive resource and focus on how it can be used to support pupils' well-being, help to deliver the SMSC and PSHE curriculum and build strong oral literacy.

Grow learning through gardening - a practical look at using horticulture as part of delivering the national curriculum in Key Stage 2 and 3. We are offering a one day training course for teachers to work with a horticulturist to plan or develop ideas about creating a garden plot outside or a plant area in the classroom.  There are so many benefits for both pupils and staff of working with plants and flowers and it is the perfect time of year to plan for summer and for next year.

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Vocational learning as an integral part of curriculum planning at Key stage 4

There is now an option to include three vocational options in the third 'basket' when offering pupils their choices at Key Stage 4.  There is value in looking at this closely especially for those pupils who would benefit from a different approach to learning.  The value for some of a curriculum offer that has a vocational element within it is that they can choose something very new and different which can be linked to their own goals for the future. The opportunity to work more closely with local industry, use practical approaches and build evidence of their learning through the development of a portfolio can re-invigorate their learning.

Much of the research into what pupils want from school suggests that a more relevant curriculum linked to their next steps in education is the best way forward for many learners who are disaffected with the normal academic diet. 

Our training course Vocational Learning Pathways provides an opportunity to look at what is available, how to create the right learning platform for delivering the new vocational suite of qualifications and how to teach this different approach to learning.  It is most definitely time to re-think the wider offer to pupils at the end of Key Stage 3; it may have a positive impact on your Progress 8 scores when the next cohort of Year 10s take their GCSEs.

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Coaching, Action Learning Sets and building a dialogue for successful leadership - working with a group of leaders to talk your way to finding the right solutions

Coaching is the most powerful tool in the CPD box.  There is profound evidence that this is the case.  Read the recent research from the EEF, have a look at what CUREE have to say and read the latest newsletter from the Teacher Development Trust.  Here at Learning Cultures we continue to use coaching as an integral tool in everything we do. The overwhelming theme that comes out of all of the research is the need to collaborate, use professional dialogue to develop themes and ideas that will help the organisation to achieve its goals and realise the vision.  

We are introducing Action Learning Sets into our coaching programme. Action Learning Sets are a simple and powerful way for individuals to learn from each other. Using the knowledge and skills of a small group of people, they involve explicitly stopping to reflect back on actions taken, drawing out learning from that reflection and applying the learning to planned practice.  One of our trained coaches can work with groups of senior leaders of those involved in the development of a project, task or strategy and support them using coaching techniques to move towards solutions that take account of the risks, eventualities and barriers to success.  

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  • Another excellent addition to the coaching shelf is The Growth Mindset Coach - A teacher's  month by month handbook for empowering students to achieve
  • I was telling a friend how we had designed a course that looked at learning through growing and she sent me a book by Julie Warburton called Teaching with Flowers.  
  • Also for those of you who work with A Level students Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin have written a book called the A Level Mindset - 40 activities for transforming student commitment, motivation and productivity
  • Differentiated coaching - a framework for helping teachers change by Jane AG Kise looks at a coaching model based on teachers' learning styles and how this can impact on student success
  • Leverage Leadership - a practical guide to building exceptional schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo is a practical guide which offers tools and systems that successful leaders have used to create outstanding schools. It has a disc with 30 videos of successful leaders in action
  • The Psychology of Coaching, Mentoring and Learning by Ho Law looks in detail at the psychological principles upon which coaching is based

I am reading John Steinbeck's East of Eden which is wonderfully written and sharp. The best book I have picked up in ages.

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A general election on June 8th does mean that policy, as it stands, will change. Whoever leads and with whatever majority there will be an opportunity to revisit and exert influence on the schools' agenda.  So, in the absence of any real policies at the moment, I thought it would be a good idea to state what my policies might look like if I had a say in the future for education in this country.

  • Take the politics out of education in the same way as the Bank of England now makes decisions about interest rates.  The education profession knows what learning is and how to deliver the best education for our learners
  • Build a system that focuses on the quality of learning in the classroom that is formatively assessed from within and not simply judged at the end of year 6 and year 11 through summative testing.  Progress is an ongoing process and every teacher should be accountable for ensuring pupils are making progress, developing and mastering the skills they need for life and becoming resilient, enquiring and independent
  • Ensure that CPD is a mandatory requirement for all teachers linked to their own vision for their professional future and that of the school or organisation they work for
  • Give the Chartered College of Teaching the role of ensuring all educational professionals have the skills and ability to create outstanding outcomes for their pupils so that regulation and inspection is by the profession for the profession
  • Create a seamless school system where the cut-off point at the end of year 2 and year 6 are less dramatic and all pupils are able to follow a programme of study that is a true continuum of learning
  • Ensure every child has an equal opportunity to thrive in the school they go to and where there is no arbitrary selection at any age based on a single test

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