Last week I had my first lesson observation for a while, with the Head Teacher. I was very pleased to receive an “Outstanding” grade, the first time I achieved this under the new OFSTED framework.
I had reached the point before this, where I was consistently hitting “Good, with outstanding features” in my observations. Not bad, and I’m a firm believer that it is better to teach good lesson on a consistent basis, than to pull out the stops when the dude with clipboard is in the room and coast in the meantime. However I felt that I had stopped improving – even worse, I wasn’t sure HOW to improve and I remember coming out of the (very fair) feedback meeting from my previous observation, thinking “that’s the best I can do!” I had started to think that I was going to have to dramatically change the way I taught.
This post isn’t about high-fiving myself – far, from it (especially on the basis of one observation) Instead I wanted reflect on some of the things that have enabled me to move my teaching forward over the last 12 months or so and share some of those things with you, gentle reader. I am still practising, changing, learning and failing and picking my jaw off the floor on a regular basis at what I see others doing but I now feel that I CAN continue to get better at this. And here’s the thing. I haven’t radically changed my teaching style. I’ve just pimped it a bit…
So where did I begin? My school was in the middle of its 3 year plan to focus on teaching and learning. There were to be no other “initiatives” and we adopted “the main thing, is the main thing” – as a kind of mantra. (Though an unspoken one – all of us sitting cross-legged in briefing chanting it, would be a tiny bit weird) AFL was at the heart of everything, with a huge focus on embedding it in teacher’s practice
The AFL was something I became increasingly interested in and started to focus my burgeoning use of twitter on searching out different practice and new ideas. I guess I found out quite early that you can start looking for something on Twitter and end up finding something totally different but even more useful. It was a kind of chain reaction – I was searching for inspiration on sharing learning objectives and I stumbled across this from David Didau (@LearningSpy)
www.slideshare.net/didau/51-ways-to-introduce-learning-objectives-9929425 As a true ideas-magpie, I saw something glittering in here – the contribution from Kristian Still (to whom I also owe a debt of thanks for Interactive Fiction, more of which another time) led me to Triptico (via http://www.triptico.co.uk/) a free (can I just repeat that? Free.) set of downloadable teaching tools that have had a huge impact on my teaching and, I hope, student learning. I think I must use Triptico every single day. The beautiful design and innate simplicity of the apps make them a joy to use and exemplify the principle of minimum effort for maximum impact. I highly recommend trying the software and also following creator David Riley’s blog as there are exciting developments in the offing for Triptio.
I have recently discovered Zoe Elder’s excellent blog, with her fascinating work on “Marginal Gains”. I am finding much of interest here, especially her piece on creating more meaningful learning outcomes by using the words SO THAT when setting objectives;
I have started to employ this technique in my own lessons and while I don’t have scientific evidence to support the view that it is making them better, I am thinking more about what I want the learning to be when I am planning. It is providing a clear focus for what I want the students to achieve in my lessons. There is so much more than this that makes Zoe’s blog a must follow and I recommend it highly.
So.. into the final phase of the three year plan and I am now co-leading a TaLK Group within my school along with my colleague, co-collaborator and friend Mike Gunn and continuing to learn from teachers in my own establishment. So what’s a TaLK group I hear you ask? Well for a start they are really TaLC groups – Teaching and Learning Communities were born from an idea by Dylan Wiliam and are, in a nutshell, small groups of teachers within a school, working in a mutually supportive group to share best (and develop next) practice. http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6025223
Russell Plester put these together in my school (and swapped the C for K at the same time) and they have been running since September. The principle is, again, that the TaLK groups will enable staff to achieve the “marginal gains” that would move them forward. It is still too early in the year to be talking about outcomes, but people are prepared to try things and they are HAVING A GO. Hearing experienced technophobes talk positively about their experiences of Socrative and listening to head-smackingly fantastic ideas from NQT’s has been inspiring so far.
My school’s TaLK groups all have blogs of their own (you can find my group’s blog here redtalkgroupblog.blogspot.co.uk and I will also reflect on what we are doing in this blog from time to time.)
I guess what I am saying is that I believe that if you make teaching and learning a real – and I mean real – focus in your school for long enough, you will start to change the culture. You will make people curious about learning and help establish a climate where sharing best and next practice becomes as normal as leather elbow patches. And if people become curious they will take that further, seeking new answers and asking new questions, connecting on Twitter, going to Teach-Meets. People will believe that becoming “better” is important and is achievable by everyone, without the need for binning everything they know and starting over. In summary, I am a huge believer in Tweak to Transform and will continue to seek new ways of doing so to improve my practice. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some more tweaking to do – I’m teaching tomorrow..