The Notebook- Implementing a Whole School Approach to Teaching and Learning

Implementing a Whole School Approach to Teaching and Learning

When I was appointed at my last school to take a lead on developing a whole school approach to teaching and learning, I was really excited by the challenge of it and I have to say that my three years of developing this were absolutely joyous and a great learning curve for me.  I’ve outlined my journey below to share my experience, which may or may not be helpful.  If you happen to find yourself in the same position as me, developing a whole school approach from scratch, then I hope you have as much fun as I did and learn as much too! This isn’t meant to be a ‘holy grail’ but simply a ‘these are my experiences, they may or may not be helpful’  Feel free to contact me, should anyone require anymore detail…

A white dry erase board with shiny metal frame and the words To Do List - Learn on it, symbolizing the importance of education and training to succeed in life and reach your goals

The Background

Like many schools, we knew we could make improvements, yet initially weren’t quite sure about the direction to take.  We had embraced the new curriculum and rolled out the assessment for learning national strategy materials amongst other developments, yet practice didn’t really appear to be changing. It quickly became apparent that we needed to move towards a world where we stated exactly how we were going to approach teaching and learning, rather than a one which suggested that staff might like to try a new idea.  Initially we were attracted to the TEEP model, but we soon became aware of a similar model through the Inspirational Schools Partnership.  This had a greater appeal because of the local dimension, and thus, in the summer of 2010 work between our school and another local school began; the approach was to engender a whole school approach to teaching and learning.  Initially the term before I started in post was used to plan a comprehensive approach, develop the model and initially introduce these plans to staff.


The partnership started with an assessment of the current situation with regards to teaching and learning.  Colleagues from our support school visited our school to undertake a series of learning walks across subject areas and feedback findings to the leadership team; the main area of development from this was to develop a student led approach to learning, where students were encouraged to play a more active part in their own learning. Staff were therefore introduced to a six-part teaching and learning model at a staff meeting at the end of the summer term to raise an awareness of where the school planned to go with regards to teaching and learning.  An introduction was provided by the Head Teacher (who I have to say was absolutely brilliant in giving me both the autonomy and support to develop teaching and learning and always listened to my ideas.  He always challenged me to think in new directions, but was always there to support with any difficulties I may have had) and then aspects of the model were modelled by the Heads of English, Maths and Science who had previously attended a conference to enable them to gain a deeper understanding of the framework.  I was also asked to speak at this, more as a way of introducing myself to staff, as I hadn’t yet started to work at the school. This light touch initial session served to engender curiosity and paved the way for a fresh approach to be launched in the new academic year.

 The First Year

The new academic year started with a two-day bespoke training course led by four trainers from our partner school.  The aim of this was to introduce staff to the six-part lesson cycle and familiarise them with new terminology.  Staff engaged with exciting activities which at all times modelled the new approach.  Staff were also provided with time and support on these days to begin to plan their own lessons using this cycle.  These two days were followed up with a third session at the beginning of the January term to help develop practice even further.  This third session focused upon engaging learners and one of the ‘touchstones’ of the framework- Assessment for Learning.

In conjunction with the three whole school days of training, the school created time for further development by enabling CPD time for all staff from 2.15-4.15 every Wednesday afternoon.  This time was crucial to the success of the development of teaching and learning.  Staff began to work in ‘buddy pairs’ or triads to develop creative, engaging lesson plans.  Sessions often began with an input from middle leaders to highlight an aspect of our bespoke teaching and learning cycle, then staff moved on to work with their partners before returning for a mini review to share ideas at the end of the session.  This was interspersed throughout each term with a more formal input of bespoke training within departments and the showcasing of new ideas as a whole school.

In addition to this a small voluntary teaching and learning group was set up with keen staff who created resources to support their departments. These twelve members of staff were brilliant and also worked further with partner school trainers to develop additional ideas and resources to support development in school. Furthermore a Teaching and Learning area was created on the VLE as an additional resource for staff.

This first year demonstrated an increased ‘buzz’ about teaching and learning, as well as encouraging more professional discussions and sharing of resources than had ever gone on before.  This initial year saw the majority of staff willing to trial new ideas and want to learn from each other. Learning walks in this first year revealed a growth in collaborative working in the classroom and a desire to try activities that would really ‘hook’ students.  At the end of this year, a survey was carried out with Heads of Department and staff and revealed the following:

Percentage of HODs who agree Percentage of whole staff who agree
The new teaching and Learning programmed is improving the quality of teaching and learning in my department/classroom 100% 74%
The majority of staff are regularly sharing and using each others’ lessons 100% 68%
No member of my department is reluctant to embrace the new teaching and learning culture. 72% 82%
Students are more engaged with their learning, this year than last year. 93% 80%
Classroom behaviour in my department is better than last year. 85% 26%
There is a growing culture of openly discussing teaching and learning in my department 100% 77%

The Second Year

The following year, we continued with the collaborative working, but also introduced the concept of Teaching and Learning Communities which enabled staff to share ideas across subject areas, allowing for further growth.  In addition we also created time for HODs to rewrite their schemes of work with an overarching ‘big question’  A coaching programme was introduced for staff who were new to the school or in their second year of teaching to enable them to further hone their skills.  We also introduced the classroom observation tool Iris which enabled staff to examine their own classroom practice and reflect upon how they could improve further.  We appointed two Advanced Skills Teachers who along with myself began to have regular meetings with HODs to discuss areas that they would like support with. Some of our staff also began to attend Teach Meets and bring further new ideas and good practice into school.  Furthermore we encouraged staff to sign up to Twitter which provided a wealth of new and creative ideas. At this stage we also surveyed students. 66% of students agreed that lessons had improved over the past 2 years.  Departments felt that more engaging and vibrant schemes of work had been created which were relevant to today’s society. There was also a growing interest in pedagogy with the advent of Twitter and Teach Meets.






The Third Year

At the beginning of the next academic year we introduced a more rigorous monitoring and evaluation schedule. We also introduced a teacher learning journal whereby staff were encouraged to reflect on the lesson before being given feedback on formal observations. In addition, hosted our own Teach Meet with over 150 attendees.  Workshops were delivered by teachers from all over the country as well as staff from our own school. Feedback was extremely positive and included the following comments, amongst many

  • What a fantastically inspirational day
  • Outstanding Teachmeet.  Excellent opportunity for a trainee teacher
  • Fantastic – a great atmosphere from the moment you stepped inside
  • Lovely hearing other teachers talking so highly of our school.  Makes me feel very honored to work here.










The impact of this was that more of a dialogue was created with regards to lesson observation feedback through the learning journal.  Rich lesson observation data was collected which was used to feed into appraisal.  We were also seeing a growth in good and outstanding lessons and fewer inadequate lessons.

The final year that I worked on this saw a growth in the team, with an appointment of a Teaching and Learning Coach and the Head of MFL/AST taking on a role in developing departments.  Each member of the team worked with individuals and departments to develop areas as identified in departmental SEFs.  These areas for development were identified from feedback from learning walks and lesson observations.  This data was passed to HODs regularly (every half term) in order for them to continuously highlight areas for development.  More staff than ever attended our own national Teachmeet which again generated very positive feedback and a wealth of new ideas to bring back into school.  Many of our staff were involved in this, including some fantastic members of our governing body. We also started to drill down into specific areas such as differentiation with our ‘Seven Approaches to Differentiation’ model.  Support became much more specific to individuals and departments rather than generic pedagogy.

Final Thoughts

I honestly believe that this approach to changing the nature of teaching and learning brought about many successes including a revived passion about teaching for many staff. Staff would openly speak to me about the progress made, whereas I think if you asked staff about this in the early days there would be grumbles.  With many staff it was difficult and remained difficult (we didn’t convert everyone willingly to our new approach) but the majority of staff were absolutely fantastic.  It was an absolute honour for me to work with them (along with a very supportive Head) and even though at times it was difficult (think several interesting challenges from members of staff!) they honestly made it very easy for me and I will miss many of them immensely as I move onto a new role in a different school.  The majority openly embraced what we did, trialed new ideas and invited me into their lessons to see what they were doing.  In short an open door policy was created, whereas before there was a reluctance about this. Wednesday afternoons became really precious in enabling departments to develop their curriculum and schemes and off course this was always supplemented by visiting speakers such as the amazing Hywel Roberts and the much loved Paul Ginnis to enable staff to have access to new materials and ideas; a real culture of learning for all was created. Teaching and Learning was on every agenda.  Finally, whole school results improved moving from 43% to 59% A*-C inc English and Maths between 2010 (the start of our journey) and 2012.

Note to Self- what did I learn from this experience, that would help me if I was to do it again?

  • Having a supportive Head and SLT who believes in you and listens to your ideas was absolutely key (Thank you Allan Fuller and the LT of 2010) I’m sure at times they probably thought I was mad, but were always willing to listen to what I had to say.
  • Not trying to do too much at once was important. I refer to this as the ‘layering’ approach and making ‘the main the main thing’ We started first of all with staff creating engaging lessons.  This was further developed by focusing on subject specific needs, as well as instigating training for middle leaders to be able to challenge and support their teams. At a later date we introduced a more rigorous monitoring schedule.  In the latter stages we became much more focused on individual issues such as differentiation.  All of this ‘layering’ led to us being able to showcase our successes nationally through the wonderful Pedagoo and host visits from several schools who were interested in emulating our journey.
  • Building a team of core, enthusiastic staff who literally sang and danced teaching and learning made developments so much easier.
  • Listening to feedback from students was crucial.
  • Balancing internal expertise with external support was critical.
  • Ensuring that teaching and learning was on every single agenda was central to all that we did.
  • Creating time to develop teaching was key.
  • Remaining eternally patient was a must- like students, everyone develops at their own pace and some staff needed more support than others.
  • And finally, the ability to be flexible was necessary. As Robert Burns said ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley’ And actually, this is fine- if your truly listen to your staff they will guide you, but you must encourage them to be honest and tell them what you need to hear and not what you want to hear.

Best laid schemes


Thank you to everyone I worked with during this very special period.  I’ll never forget it and will treasure these memories of one of the most important learning experiences of my career.








The Notebook- A Journey of High Expectations

The Notebook- A Journey of High Expectations

There’s no greater lesson on the importance of having high expectations than moving to a new school. I’m reminded of this when I recently visited two inspirational schools (at very different stages of a journey) where high expectations are evident in all that they do- Goole Academy and Wakefield City Academy.  It prompted thoughts of my first year in a new school and a year 10 class in particular where high expectations were key to their success. I clearly remember the first lesson with them; someone had kindly timetabled me into a room with round tables (which the students thought was permission to sit and chat to each other, with their backs to me and ignore me) AND shock, horror chairs on castor wheels! Needless to say it was chaos and not in a good way!  Here’s a few things that I have learnt on the way that were helpful in dealing with these kinds of situations…

High expectations

Seek support when you need it and remember to listen to and act upon great advice no matter how adverse the situation seems!

I vividly remember having many conversations with my other half which went along the lines of ‘ I’ve duped them; I’ve led them to believe I can lead teaching and learning across the school and I can’t even lead my own class’. Full of dread and horror at the thought of my next lesson with them (I had been in my previous school 13 years and had no such trouble in ‘controlling’ my classes) I realised quite quickly that I needed to really reflect and hone my classroom practice. Here was a new situation and a new environment and I had to reinvent myself. In the first place the castor wheel chairs were ditched (luckily the head agreed to replace them immediately, probably recognising by my frantic appearance at his door begging for money that not all had gone well in my first lesson and the fact that they were in a worn state anyway) and I set about getting to know my class. I learned their names quickly, learned their EMGs (estimated minimum grades) off by heart and most importantly held onto the best piece of advice given by the deputy head. What was it he said? Jane, you’ve come from a school with very high standards and this is a challenging class but don’t lower your standards for these students.  This piece of advice stuck with me and I believe that amongst many other things, high expectations were integral for the success of this class. As I got to know other teachers in the school, lo and behold, I soon discovered that guess what, I wasn’t the only one in this boat! Whilst it can feel like a lonely place sometime, there’s always someone else facing the same struggles. A brilliant teacher called Lisa was faced with similar issues and it was really helpful to work with her on these.

Always remember that there’ll be others in a similar situation- you are not alone.

Lisa and I spent many a night after school discussing what we’d done with our classes, how they behaved that day and what progress they were making and I firmly believe that the successes that we eventually achieved were down to our continued high expectations and belief that all our students could achieve. Our conversations developed from initial panic- we’re never going to get ‘C ‘grades out of them, to ok how are we going to ensure we do? Many of the blogs I read reiterate that optimism is a habit of a highly effective teacher and I couldn’t agree more. I was optimistic that this class could achieve so much more and with this in mind I began to use a lot of model responses to encourage them to write at a higher level and to show students how to structure an essay so they could see exactly what is expected of them. I remember finishing such a response for this class in particular and sitting back reading it and thinking ‘mmmmm is this too difficult? This is perhaps an A grade response and my class are working way below this. Will they get it? Will it turn them off or worry them or confuse them?’ Hell no- the vast majority rose to the challenge and had a go. This was a long way from ‘ Miss I’m stuck.’ or ‘Miss I can’t do it’ or ‘ Miss I’m not doing it’ .

Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfect all of the time- life just isn’t like that and teaching definitely isn’t!

Not everything in the garden was rosy; they still had days when they doubted themselves; there were individuals who were still capable of poor behaviour; A handful of students openly insisted on telling me every now and again that they hated poetry, but I never gave up, I remained optimistic, kept my expectations high and believed in them. The result- every single one of them achieved their ‘C’ grade or above in English (even though a third were predicted ‘D’ grades) But for me, most importantly, they’ve ran with challenges, developed as individuals and began to believe in themselves. The key to this, for me anyway, was holding on to the advice of the deputy, not lowering my standards but instead every time setting the bar that little bit higher. A number of them went on study A level English (which they told me they would never have considered in a million years earlier in the school) and every so often one of them would say- ‘Miss I really enjoyed that lesson today’ or ‘eeeeee miss we were horrible to you last year- weren’t we awful!!!!’


Celebrate and be proud of your achievements

Another proud moment was when I invited them to participate in the interviews for the appointment of a learning coach. Here’s what they said ‘Miss she just told us about that poem; she didn’t ask us for our ideas and opinions- that’s not right is it? We had lots of ideas that we wanted to share.’ Believe me that’s a long way from the very first lesson on those chairs with the castor wheels! I’m not the best teacher in the world (by a long shot) but I’m proud of the success of this group (and others) and I honestly believe that it was the optimism and never giving up that got us there in the end.




Look at the difficult times optimistically- you’re always going to learn something from these situations aren’t you?

And then there was a lesson of a different kind in high expectations.  I also vividly remember almost skipping to another year 11 class, a year later, thinking great, they are a set 2 class, they’re going to love English (how naïve, for a teacher of 15 years!)  One of the first questions I asked them was ‘Who loves English?’ and guess what… not a single person put their hand up.  The second question I asked was ‘well who likes English?’- two students raised their hands.  I remember being gutted and in full on panic mode arrogantly told them- ‘Well I can guarantee that by the end of year 11, all of you will like it, some of you will love it and a few of you may even want to become English teachers’ After the lesson, with clarity of thought, I may have sworn a little and thought, how am I going to pull that one off and why did I say it???  But I did and I knew I couldn’t let them down. The optimism and high expectations remained (sometimes through difficult times) but I can honestly hand on heart say that I learned so much from this class- they made me a better teacher without a shadow of a doubt.  They had equally high expectations of me. They were open and honest with me; they told me when something was not working or whether (sometimes brutally) that it was rubbish or they’d rather do it a different way.  They kept me on my toes and became one of my favourite classes ever because of how much their attitudes changed in two years and how they constantly raised the bar.

Share your experiences with others- you never know who they might help!

Note to self- and what should I do with these experiences? I believe that I should share them as much as possible with others. Be open and honest that just because I’m a senior leader doesn’t mean I don’t have difficulties like every other teacher in the classroom. I think that too many senior leaders think that it isn’t right to share that they too can have difficulties with challenging students, but why not?  We are all human aren’t we?  Unless you’re Derren Brown and can hypnotise your students into behaving, then I think it’s perfectly normal and actually healthy to admit that you too can be challenged but can overcome this. I personally think it makes you more approachable as a senior leader. I also think this is particularly useful for the NQTs and ITTs that I work with. Hearing that it’s hard for even the most experienced members of staff shows them there’s light at the end of the tunnel. So even though it might be blindingly obvious that optimism and high expectations are important habits in achieving success, sometimes it’s easy to forget this or lose your way. Next time I hear a teacher say about their class, ‘they can’t do this they’re bottom set,’ I’m going to challenge them to think otherwise!







Hold onto your beliefs and keep your standards high

It was clear from my visit to both Goole and Wakefield, that high expectations and standards are evident in abundance.  It was an inspiring experience to spend time with such wonderful educators and acted as a reminder that this is what teaching and leadership is all about. It really was a pleasure to spend time there and my only wish is that I lived closer…Jackie Beere (another wonderful educator) says the following about high expectations-

‘There is a four-letter word that is more important for learning than ‘exam’ and that is ‘hope’.  Teachers must believe that their pupils can succeed in something… I once delivered an INSET at a school where everyone seemed to have a deeply held belief that any pupil can achieve an A grade- no matter how long it takes them- if we find the right way to teach them.  That school had the best value added results in the country’ (The Perfect Ofsted Inspection 2012- Jackie Beere)

I also remember reading about some experiment in a school that told a group of maths teachers that a class who were lower ability were really a high ability set; apparently the results went through the roof!   Getting teachers into the mindset of thinking big is probably the first and most important step in believing that we can all achieve.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year everyone.  I know that I’m really looking forward to the challenges that 2016 brings!


December 2015