Like most of the headteachers I have ever met, I believe I have the best job in the world. And like all of the headteachers I have met, finding the time to focus on developing teaching and learning (our bread and butter!) often proves difficult given the myriad demands of this role.
When joining the Next Big 10, I was very happy to join the Developing Teaching and Learning Working Group as an antidote to this struggle. What a joy to devote time to debating ideas, looking at cutting edge research and negotiating with a passionate group of individuals to narrow down such a huge area and decide on a focus.
As a group, we know that we cannot develop teaching and learning without developing our practitioners. There are so many approaches to CPD (Continuing Professional Development) that we felt it important to delve into our own schools’ experiences to evaluate different approaches. At Churchfield, we were about to start a new and for us, very different, approach to CPD and half a term in, this is what we’ve learned.
We had a high turnover of staff this year and in September, were starting the academic year with 11 new staff members, including 3 ECTS (plus 5 second year ECTS), 3 new Assistant Heads and 4 new Achievement Leads (year heads.) We considered our main challenge was going to be to ensure that the behaviour for learning in our school remained strong and that new staff developed excellent relationships with their classes at the earliest possible opportunity. The concern was- if we focus all of our CPD time on this aspect- what happens to all of the other areas of teaching and learning that feel urgent? We had been chosen as a focus school for speech and language training the year before and still had to fit this in somewhere too.
The warm and friendly atmosphere at our school, the focus on staff and pupil well-being plus the retention of very experienced and dedicated staff were all elements we could build on. A lot of new staff can also bring new energy and an openness to experiment. We had built capacity within our SLT so that there could be a high level of support for less experienced staff.
Decide the direction
We decided to use Tom Sherrington’s Walkthrus training as a whole school approach because of the ethos it promotes: that all practitioners can improve their practice and that there could be a collaborative approach to achieving our objective. The four key areas we focused on within the Behaviour and Relationships training were: Positive Relationships, Positive Framing, Establish Expectations and Signal, Pause, Insist. This approach to CPD encourages a coaching approach and for us, an ability to reflect within teams on personal areas for development.
Teachers at all stages of their careers are videoing themselves using very specific strategies to develop our four focus areas. They are put in teams to coach each other and provide feedback for staff to then create concrete next steps. This has been repeated each fortnight to look for progress and build coaching relationships.
Create the culture
As a new SLT, we worked on connecting with each other (as inspired by Big Education’s Big 8) to create a sense of psychological safety within our organisation and we believed that this was important to do this with all staff in our school. We have used staff meetings and INSETs to do a range of connecting activities which apart from being great fun, have really helped staff to get to know each other and feel comfortable around each other. Well established staff have a growth mindset and this is continually promoted. Before our first coaching session, we co-created a contract (another Big 8 strategy) which detailed our expectations of each other’s behaviour and language and the purpose of this CPD.
Having invested so heavily in this methodology, it has been incredibly important to review the impact of the training regularly. Learning walks, feedback during staff meetings and from year teams and leaders has been hugely positive. Members of the leadership team have videoed and modelled coaching sessions and there is real buy in from staff. Most importantly, the culture of behaviour for learning in our school has strengthened. It makes me a very happy head teacher to pop into classrooms and see the smiles and progress.
When feeding back to our Next Big 10 working group, my main point would be that it really is worth investing in creating a culture which promotes collaboration, self-reflection and coaching. Narrowing the focus for our CPD felt like a risk but has really reaped rewards and I’m looking forward to continuing with our fresh approach to CPD.
Natalie Lorkins, Headteacher at Churchfield Primary School