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Work - load, Work - life balance and Well-being

For anyone who believes that teaching is the most worthwhile and wonderful career possible the current crisis the profession is engulfed in is alarming. There is a general consensus that work-load is leading to the unprecedented haemorrhage of teachers leaving the profession.  The TES reported recently (6th April) that there is a shortfall of 47,000 teachers in our system at the current time. They rightly comment that this is unsustainable. I am no longer a teacher at the chalk face but I was and I loved it. I suppose for me when I started it was perhaps a golden age where teachers were trusted, the staffroom was somewhere to go to be a part of the school community, OFSTED was yet to be invented and accountability was perceived to be less pernicious.  Things did change while I was still following my own career path but never was the pace of change as great as it has been recently.

The issue for me in my current role working closely with schools who are facing a relentless and unremitting set of circumstances that seem to be insurmountable is that we need as a profession to look for solutions that will be relevant to the individual school setting, the needs of staff and the outcomes for pupils from all ability ranges. OFSTED seem to agree although my impression is that there is a high level of suspicion that what they say is not what they mean.  What is the point in expecting teachers to work till midnight to mark books or papers, prepare pupils for tests and examinations too early or use their own time for extra revision where pupils and students are not taking responsibility for their own learning? If this only leads to burn out and more staff absence or resignation it is counterproductive and destructive.

This crisis is so high on the agenda that I thought this newsletter should reflect the concerns.  However, in the spirit of my own beliefs and that of the outstanding team I work with we must find solutions rather than dwelling on the problems and become much more focussed on what we know is the right future for our profession.  We must stop being done to by those who do not have the expertise or professional status to create an education system that is quite frankly broken and not fit for a 21st century purpose. I may be breaking my own rule of not being political but my concerns are so great and my vantage point so far reaching and privileged that I feel I must be at least critical in my response. Therefore, the articles below focus on what can be changed and what can create space, time, co-operation and communication in order to restore our faith in the profession we all love. Teaching is still the best job there is!

Glynis

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How to Create a Seamless, Knowledge Rich and Skills Focused Curriculum

So often, I hear that the curriculum is such that there is too much content, too much to teach in too short a time.  This seems to apply in both the primary and secondary phases especially in year 5 and 6 and at Key Stage 4.  This may be so if we take each year as a separate entity in relation to how the learning is sequenced and the content planned.  The curriculum needs to be seamless and dovetail from year to year in order that there is an emphasis on building on prior learning and ensuring that there is a careful eye on how pupils are developing the generic skills they need to access knowledge and understanding, make comparisons and have the unconscious ability to apply their learning from one context to another.

The issues are sharply focused at times of transition when schools from different phases don't share what content has already been covered and in what depth. There continues to be little opportunity for a collaborative approach to ensuring the curriculum is seamless from one key stage to the next or, in fact, from one year to the next. 

Another fundamental issue is the teaching of Maths and English in isolation of learning in every other subject or topic across the curriculum range.  Teaching the fundamental concepts is the role of the Maths or English subject expert, however there is no subject or topic or task or assignment that does not require some element of English or Maths, literacy or numeracy. The need to create opportunities for teachers from across the curriculum spectrum to identify which skills their learners are using and applying and how competent they at mastering them in a context is utterly fundamental to progression and achievement both within school and later in life and work.

Now is a good time to focus on how to be more creative with the curriculum and build a tapestry that weaves knowledge into a cohesive whole where pupils can make comparisons, use their skills to problem solve, take risks, moralise, evaluate and innovate.  Here are a few ideas for a more collaborative approach to creating a seamless curriculum that will give teachers from across phases, departments and schools opportunities to have the evidence that their curriculum is about deepening knowledge, acquiring and mastering skills and ensuring pupil outcomes that emphasise that learning comes first and that inevitably lead to positive and enviable data sets.

  • Share schemes of work across year groups and transition phases so that teachers from the next phase can build on prior learning
  • Ensure all teachers across the school and subject spectrum have access to the programmes of study for English and Maths so that they can see that what is being taught in English and Maths is also a part of the learning in other subject or topic areas (this applies at KS1,2 and 3)
  • Create cross curricular CPD opportunities for teachers from different subjects to share good pedagogical practice, exam or test papers and curriculum content so that they can see where there are similarities, opportunities to collaborate, plan together or to team teach
  • Give back one PD day to staff and ask them instead to informally observe five lessons across the learning spectrum as part of their PPA. (5 hours of their time over the year) to see teaching and learning in a variety of different contexts
  • At KS4 use CPD time for cross curricular groups to have a look at different subjects' exam papers and mark schemes, this is a very enlightening process and reveals a striking number of similarities with what is being taught across different specialisms

Read the DfE's report Eliminating unnecessary workload around planning and teaching resources.

Join us for our curriculum specific training days and build a seamless curriculum that weaves skills and knowledge and builds on prior learning

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Assessing for Learning First and Data Second

One of the major issues cited as fundamental to the problem of teachers' workload is marking. The pressure to produce data for reporting and accountability weighs heavily on teachers and negates their confidence in using formative assessment to support learning, progression and understanding. Read the DfE's report Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking. It outlines the problem and provides a few pieces of good advice.  Teachers tell us that time in the classroom with so much else to do, particularly linked to curriculum content and this negates opportunities for formative assessment time. There is some evidence from a recent piece of research from Pearson's Testing the Water – ‘How assessment can underpin, not undermine great teaching’ that teachers are unsure how to use formative assessment as part of the learning process and how to actively involve the pupil in the process of assessing their own work and defining their own next steps. See Mark Esnor's post on his approach to minimising marking workload.

Assessment is seen as a fundamental part of the accountability system in England and Wales and unfortunately this seems to manifest itself in leaders, managers and teachers believing that evidence of marking of books is what is needed to show progress and learning.  This is not what OFSTED, ISI or ESTYN are saying they want to see. The process of effective formative assessment is much more likely to provide the evidence that pupils have a profound understanding linked to the quality of their work, how they are learning and what they need to do to progress, attain and achieve their full potential. The process is underpinned by effective and positive dialogue between, teacher and pupil, pupil and pupil, TA and pupil and maybe parent and pupil. This cannot take place as part of a marking strategy where the teacher takes the books away to mark them in isolation of the pupil. 

"Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning" quote from OFSTED April 2018

Below are some of our suggestions for developing a strategy that leads to formative assessment being an integral part of the school culture which will significantly reduce the workload for teachers.  (Taken from a Learning Cultures Newspost)

  • Increase the confidence of teachers to use formative assessment as an integral part of their pedagogy and provide the relevant training to support this
  • Access training that covers both the theory and practice of assessment that is relevant to those with different roles from senior leaders to Governors and parents
  • Reduce the burden of summative assessment and focus on assessing the deepening of knowledge and understanding of curriculum content in all subjects
  • Ensure the data that is collected as a result of assessment is diagnostic and granular and allows teachers and support staff to define the gaps in pupils’ knowledge or where they need to be challenged and stretched to fulfil their full potential
  • Create a culture that ensures there is meaningful communication and a professional dialogue about assessment, how it is undertaken, how consistent it is across all classes, year groups and subjects, its accuracy and the results that inform planning and intervention across all learning
  • Focus on how pupils learn and how developing learning skills as part of accessing a deep, rich and broad curriculum is far more likely to see them succeed in summative statutory tests or GCSEs than ‘teaching to the test’.  Reflect on the quote from Alison Peacock’s CEO of the College of Teaching ‘If the input is right the output looks after itself’.
  • Review the school’s marking policy and testing strategies, focus on their efficacy for pupils learning and the devastating impact too much marking has on teacher well-being
  • Celebrate learning, effort and achievement in the classroom and build the confidence of pupils to take risks with their learning, tackle the unfamiliar and challenge themselves, their teachers and their peers to seek and find out more
  • Use a variety of assessment strategies and decouple pupils’ test and exam results from the assessment of teacher performance in the classroom
  • Create a classroom that is about sharing and collaboration so that peer to peer assessment is a fundamental aspect of planning the lesson
  • Use Teaching Assistants to support formative assessment and train them well to engage with independent learning strategies and self-directed learning

Teachers and Teaching Assistants do need to have a range of skills in order to develop a classroom where formative assessment is an integral part of the learning process.  The Learning Cultures' curriculum and assessment team have designed two programmes, one for primary teachers and one for secondary teachers that provides a valuable opportunity to learn some highly innovative techniques and strategies for assessing learning in the classroom. We also have two coaching courses that will also help to strengthen skill, foster confidence and develop the pedagogical skills to support formative assessment.

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 Rethinking Performance Management - Focusing on professional development and quality assurance

OFSTED changed their handbook ever so slightly in early January.  The only significant amendment was the change from the phrase performance management to professional development wherever it occurred throughout the publication.  One of the casualties of the current 'crisis' is professional development, funding is one issue but more fundamentally perhaps is recruitment and retention.  There is so little capacity in some school settings that heads are reluctant to release staff for training. However, in order to create an environment where staff feel valued and where there is an inherent belief by the senior leadership team that as professionals we must have high quality continuing professional development schools are more likely to retain and motivate their staff and see them perform in a more positive and proactive way. The most recent OFSTED handbook has several references to professional development and they clearly want to see a link between performance management and professional development. 

The main points in the OFSTED handbook can be summarised like this,

Appraisal is an integral part of the performance management process and where it is part of a wider focus on professional learning and development and continuing improvement it is a potent tool in creating and maintaining an outstanding school.  Where individuals are able to focus on their strengths and successes rather than gaps in their ability or failures to achieve the right results then they are more likely to rise to the challenge and improve. Where appraisal is part of a two-way process for the teacher and their line manager so that the focus is on self-belief and self-improvement and an opportunity for an open and focused coaching approach there is so much more chance of a positive outcome.  Individuals are far more likely to respond to the positive than the negative. The appraisee will be much more receptive to taking risks or being innovative if it is an idea that has come from them and has not been imposed or suggested by someone else.  Allowing an individual to articulate what he or she does well, what needs to be improved and what their professional development needs are linked to their own, their teams and the school's improvement plan can make a significant difference.  The principles here are fundamentally those associated with coaching.  The outcomes are measurable and are proven to make a significant difference. 

Join us at our very creative and positive training course Rethinking Appraisal - Influencing learning, empowering people and creating a culture of positive change

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Designing a Coaching School - Redefining professional accountability, inspiring innovation and influencing change

A good school is one where the focus is on learning at all times.  Everyone is part of the learning process and decisions made have to be linked to how they will impact on learning and achievement within and across the whole organisation.  In order to make this happen it is essential that every member of the school staff can and does share their own reflections on what they have learnt and how that learning has taken place.  The focus needs to be around professional and positive dialogue that leads to a process of continuous improvement. The sharing and cascading of good and outstanding practice is embedded in all meetings and discussions and the focus of lesson observation is for both the observer and the observed to learn from and reflect on the process.  There is no pre-judgement or pre-conceived directive, there are no grades and the onus is on the observed to focus themselves on what he or she needs to do to improve. The observer is there to create a dialogue that will evoke reflection and opportunities to focus on self-improvement.  Looking inwardly at what has gone before especially what has gone wrong before will demoralise, demotivate and dissolution and may contribute to feelings of depression, lack of self-worth and a de-motivation. Instilling in someone that you believe they can and will improve through their own understanding of their strengths and gaps is highly motivating and does influence positive change.

We have many examples that totally reinforce this as the way forward.  It is fundamentally about using coaching skills and attributes to make positive changes to school policy and strategy that will make a difference and will impact on learning, well-being and staff morale.  Learning how to use a range of coaching skills such as highly effective listening and questioning skills, the ability to provide others with the opportunity to find their own solutions, challenge themselves and their pupils and be receptive to trying out new approaches is powerful and can reignite the most doubting and unhappy members of staff. OFSTED have cited coaching as a powerful tool in the box of school improvement, never our training specifically but certainly in schools where we have introduced coaching and continue to play a part in their ongoing success. See our Case study page.

We have a range of coaching courses which cater for all roles within the school and acknowledge that there may be different starting points. The list of courses gives senior leaders an opportunity to plan a programme or simply nominate someone to attend one or more individual courses.  We receive outstanding praise for the content of our courses and we generate such excitement and enthusiasm for coaching.  Start your journey now and you won't look back. The list is here or have a look on our website.

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The pivotal role of the Middle Leader - disseminating and delivering the vision

I wrote a news post for our website not too long ago called Delegate, Disseminate, Deliver – develop a coaching culture that cascades outstanding learning and teaching where I focused on the importance of creating a strategy that ensures leaders play their part in defining the vision and creating the conditions and resources to realise that vision. The role of the middle leader or manager is to disseminate, interpret and translate that vision for teams across the school to deliver with clarity.  The middle leader, such as the phase leader in a primary school, the head of department in a secondary school or the pastoral lead play an important role in motivating and guiding their teams to set their own goals and targets and shape the objectives that will allow them to achieve what they have set out to do. 

The capability of those who lead from the middle is a factor in determining what helps to create an outstanding or even a good school.  Defining the qualities of effective management and leadership are essential and a deep understanding of how teams are built and work together well really can help to make the vision a reality. 

We have designed a one-day training course for middle leaders which is challenging and practical in its approach.  It can stand alone or be a part of a wider whole school coaching training programme.  It can also be delivered as an INSET where all middle leaders work together to create a cohesive whole school strategy for middle leadership.

Join us at our Coaching from the Middle - how to influence change and aspire to leadership

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Coaching as a Powerful Pedagogy in the Classroom

We have, up until now, focused primarily on coaching for staff in a school or college. However, what inevitably happens is that those who attend and learn how to coach talk about how they will use the skills as part of their teaching repertoire in the classroom.  Most good teachers are doing this anyway and what we do when we train is to raise awareness that coaching is fundamentally about good and outstanding practice and is easily replicated as part of highly effective teaching.  Creating opportunities for pupils to learn some coaching skills and techniques is a new course we have recently designed. We have now delivered it to groups of teachers from several schools and the response has been very positive.  Teaching pupils how to listen effectively, use the right questions as part of peer review and focus on their own strengths and gaps in learning is all part of highly effective pedagogy.  Putting coaching into practice in the classroom is highly motivating and uplifting for the teacher. It creates far greater opportunities for pupils to be independent and self-aware and positive about taking risks and embracing challenge.

There are profound opportunities for pupils to take control of their own learning and be less dependent on the teacher. This will lead to teachers feeling less stressed and give them more time to work with those that need their expertise the most. Problems with behaviour diminish and pupils feel much more in control of their own learning and achievement.  If you are already using coaching this is a must for your next steps, if you are new to coaching it might be your preferred starting point. If you are not yet ready for coaching it is still powerful CPD linked to coaching that is without doubt the most successful pedagogy you will ever use in the classroom.

Coaching as a Powerful Pedagogy in the Classroom A practical and innovative training experience for all teachers

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Time is finite - defining the priorities, working together and building a shared understanding of impact and learning outcomes

" There isn't time," is the phrase most easily uttered by us all.  What do we mean when we say that? What lies behind that phrase? It is, in fact, a pointless and meaningless phrase that masks what we are really feeling.  When someone says "I haven't the time," what he or she is really saying is I haven't clearly defined what my priorities are and I have let other issues, problems and actions cloud those priorities.  Alternatively, he or she is saying, "I have not clearly defined the steps I need to take and carefully assessed how much time I will need to complete the task in hand." There is a library shelf of books about time management which fundamentally say the same thing. Be organised, planning is key, focus on the task in hand and don't procrastinate, create a set of steps with rewards along the way and so on.  All are good advice and for those in the business world probably work. 

What happens when there is simply no time, You teach three A level English groups and have 35 essays to mark alongside year 8 reports and year 9 parents evening; or you are a year 6 teacher with 30 pupils and they are simply not ready for the forthcoming SATs so you know you need to focus on specific and targeted intervention, anything else will have to wait; or you are a SENCO with appraisals to complete for your team of TAs, you have paperwork for a range of pupils with specific learning needs and you still have to attend parents evening and write reports for a whole year group as well as a nearly full teaching commitment.

What is expected of many teachers working in the teaching profession seems at the moment to be unrealistic and if the stories from some schools are to be believed need to be addressed. Senior leaders must take a holistic view of what is actually the priority and create for teachers sensible and clearly defined tasks that are essential and that will not overwhelm.  It is essential that leaders focus on how much time certain aspects of the job take such as marking A Level English papers of designing a whole year or key stage History Curriculum.  The focus must be if the time issue begins to overwhelm the overwhelmed individual may well end up ill or depressed or both and then the issue becomes even more time starved as someone else will have to take over to complete the tasks now left unfinished.

We need to re-focus and assess what eats into our available time, what is essential and what makes an impact on learning. Does the marking of 35 essays until midnight without the presence of the students support their learning, what kind of feedback will they receive when the papers are given back and how much learning will come out of the comments written the previous evening?  Why not self-evaluation or peer to peer evaluation and a focus on general misconceptions or an opportunity for six-week tutorials timetabled in lesson time so that individual students receive the undivided attention of the teacher.

Ask yourself "What is reasonable?" What is my acceptable work-life balance?" Set out a weekly timetable for what is your preferred working schedule and what you consider to be your own me time with family, friends, time to be alone or to pursue a hobby or simply to sleep soundly.  Ask your boss "How is what you are asking me to do reasonable?"  "What are the alternative approaches we could take to achieve the same end in a shorter space of time?"

Focus on the learning, make sure everything you do is linked to learning and where the outcome does not impact on learning change your plan and abandon time consuming tasks that lead nowhere. We have a new training course looking specifically at the issue of time management in a school or college setting.  We have also designed a new training course focusing on teacher well-being and how building resilience and having a strong sense of well-being impacts positively on learning in the classroom.

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Resources

I am reading Iris Murdoch's The Message to the Planet written in 1989. I also read her first book Under the Net published in 1954. It is interesting to see the difference in style and the changes particularly in relation to technology and transport.  I love her writing and her observations of the human condition, she is a sharp observer!

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Policy

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