This much I know about…keeping the main thing the main thing.

I have been a teacher of English for 24 years, a Headteacher for 9 years and, at the age of 48, this much I know about keeping the main thing the main thing.

Can we really structure our school so that increasing the impact of teaching on students’ learning is at its very heart? I don’t know, but over the next three years we’re going to have a bloody good try!

John Hattie’s comments at the London Festival of Education are driving my thinking. He said that, We are the first to deny our expertise as teachers and it is killing us as a profession; where is the Royal College of teachers? I am interested in creating up to a dozen internal AST posts at our school; postholders would be responsible for developing pedagogic practice across the school and would be meaningfully involved in shaping future strategic developments.

SLT have to be great practitioners. There, I’ve said it! And I really mean it. As a leadership team we are all working really hard on our teaching. I observed students learn in a Deputy Headteacher’s lesson today as part of our coaching initiative in the Mathematics department. We’re working on developing students’ deeper understanding of mathematical concepts so that they actually grasp, for instance, why the add-divide-multiply hoop-jump approach to ratio questions works. Near the end of the lesson Phoebe explained to me the relationship between ratio/percentages/fractions with utter clarity. It was easy to see the impact of teaching upon students’ learning; Hattie would have been impressed!

At last week’s SSAT National Conference Dylan Wiliam said, Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better. Exactly. That’s why CPD and R&D have to be central to the job, not an optional add-on you can ignore once you’ve closed your classroom door behind you.

Every school a teaching school; now, that would be an exciting prospect! Who needs the official NCSL/DfE Teaching School badge?

The Teachmeet initiative is, perhaps, where the future of school improvement lies. It seems to me that it has the energy of the most interested practitioners magnified ten-fold through collaboration. Ideas in teaching are often disseminated using a ‘top down’ model.  We need a ‘bottom up’ model of joint practice which finds solutions through collaborative working. The synergy of Twitter-Blogging-CPD-R&D is so powerful. I think it is at the heart of facilitating the bottom-up approach to improving classroom practice.

Fullan and Hargreaves claim that teachers develop their practice very little beyond their second year of teaching. David Didau (http://learningspy.co.uk/2012/11/24/is-there-a-right-way-to-teach/) and Geoff Barton (http://blog.geoffbarton.co.uk/site/Blog/Entries/2012/11/27_Just_Another_Day.html) both recently blogged about the effectiveness of traditional classroom practice. There are many teachers at our school who deliver no-frills good lessons, lesson after lesson, day after day. What they do is ingrained in their professional practice so deeply that they would struggle to explain why they are so effective. A challenge for Headteachers is to engage with these seasoned practitioners so that they can surface what it is special about their pedagogy; if we can do this, then those teachers can contribute to developing younger colleagues.

Inside the Black Box was published in October 1998. Wiliam and Black’s modest pamphlet was given a 100 words-column-filler mention in the TES, but has done more than any other research publication in the last two decades to change classroom practice for the better. It’s a great example of how effective R&D can significantly improve students’ learning experiences and their outcomes.

Professor David Hargreaves spoke at last week’s Teaching School R&D conference about developing an evidence-based profession. He said, We have much to learn from the medical profession, in which the question is continually asked, ‘What kind of evidence do we have for what we are proposing to do?’ I think an R&D commitment should be woven into the job description of all teachers. Let’s shape teacher training so that R&D is an integral and explicit element of all ITT programmes; Paula Mountford, who leads ITT at the University of York, is tentatively exploring this idea with me as a pilot at our school next year (http://www.york.ac.uk/pgce/). If we are going to raise the professional integrity of teaching then we must head in the opposite direction to Gove’s anyone with common sense and a military background can teach nonsense.

Our school is within walking distance of the Institute of Effective Education. It is the leading educational R&D organisation in the country. I’m going to their conference in March 2013 http://www.york.ac.uk/iee/conference2013/index.htm – you should come too, if it’s just to meet Dr Jonathan Sharples who’s supremely knowledgeable about what works best in schools. I’ve co-opted him onto the Ebor Teaching School Alliance R&D committee which I currently chair.

The other thing we have to do at our school is liberate students’ belief in what they can achieve.  I love Tom Sherrington’s belief in his students’ ability to do more than they ever imagined (http://headguruteacher.com/2012/07/01/vignettes-from-the-kegs-rainforest-1/). I have always claimed that the biggest barrier to what our students can achieve is what they themselves think of themselves.

I read Michael Barber’s The Learning Game years ago; one line from the book stayed with me, where he talks about how arrogant it is on our behalf to talk about students fulfilling their potential, because we don’t know what their potential really is and nor do they. That’s why I loved the liberating tone of Tom Bennett’s recent blog about students having target grades set them the moment they walk into school. http://behaviourguru.blogspot.co.uk/#!/2012/11/this-engine-runs-on-hope-why-schools.html. His final lines are irresistible to anyone who dedicates their lives to children: I can’t fix the world. I can’t smash the time barrier with my bare hands and save Abraham Lincoln. But I’ll cease to exist before I stop trying to show every child in my room that they can rewrite the book of their own lives.

There is a huge fork in the road for Headteachers: one route leads to executive headship and the other back into the classroom, teaching, coaching, mentoring, supporting, being the Headteacher. If the Headteacher’s day-to-day work is not engaged in improving practice in his or her school or someone else’s then s/he is missing the point.

About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
This entry was posted in School Leadership, Teaching and Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to This much I know about…keeping the main thing the main thing.

  1. 3arn0wl says:

    Good teachers always reflect on their work – finding ways to do things better, because at the end of the day teaching is the only thing that matters. All the Levels, and League Tables, Alis Stats and Good Grades are just the Emperor’s New Clothes. Hector: Pass it on, boys. Alan Bennett, The History Boys.

  2. behrfacts says:

    If only all Heads and schools were thinking the way you are John! I agree 100% that teachers need to be convinced about the value of research evidence by actually doing it themselves. This is why when at the Royal Society myself and colleagues (also since departed) pushed for a research, policy and practice strand of work aiming to engage more intelligently with teachers on science and maths education policy-related issues. This began to merge with the work of the co-ordination team for the Targeted Initiative on Science and Mathematics Education based at King’s College London where Paul Black still is and Dylan Wiliam used to be. The IfEE work is also being helpful in this area especially in terms of leading the secretariat of the Coalition for Evidence-based Education: http://www.cebenetwork.org. Andrew Morris has some interesting ideas in his ‘Evidence for the Frontline’ project.

  3. DrMacBatts says:

    Ill head back to the classroom, thanks…and I agree, with everything you say.

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  6. I entirely agree, and feel very uneasy that your time may be soaked up by negotiating salary levels rather than focusing relentlessly on the core purpose of your school – improving teaching and learning to be the best that it can be. I agree that the Teachmeet movement has been a breath of fresh air, but I am persuaded to look beyond, to the next step. My presentation “CPD to JPD” which I will deliver at the ICT in MFL conference in Southampton on the weekend of 8-10 February, is at http://youtu.be/UXovJRZC_FY

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