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…
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.
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.
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.