It is curious that with all the talk about teacher workload and the recruitment & retention crisis, taking place at the same time is a new phenomenon; the grassroots CPD movement. In towns and cities across the country, teachers are giving up their Saturdays to attend Teachmeets, ResearchEd, and BrewEd events. This is heartening because it confirms that it isn’t hard work that teachers are complaining about, but unnecessary work.
When we think of innovation in schools, we usually imagine a new piece of equipment, a new software programme that will change the way we deliver a subject, or track progress, measure attainment, something tangible that comes with a price tag. But actually, innovation is just about doing things differently; it's thinking about how and why we do what we do and trying out a way of doing it differently with a bit of imagination.
The novelist EM Forster exhorted us to “only connect”, and the poet John Donne observed that “no man is an island”. How can leaders at all levels in education make the most of the community around them, and use the power of collaboration to strengthen their leadership capacity? Whether you are a middle leader, a senior leader, a head, an executive head or a chair of governors, you can develop as a leader by working with and learning from others.
Working with individuals
Throughout your career, there will have been influential role models who have inspired and encouraged you. They may have been leaders or, perhaps, peers for whose professional practice you had admiration and respect. They may have been particularly significant as you developed your self-belief and recognised your own potential. Good mentors and coaches, for example, who could see nascent strengths in you before you even fully recognised those strengths yourself. Have you ever been ‘tapped on the shoulder’ by someone who has offered you the opportunity to take on something which has given you the chance to learn and grow? Perhaps you were initially hesitant or unsure of your ability to embrace the challenge but, with the support of these key individuals, you stepped up and saw it through, building your expertise and your confidence in the process.
And can you now do this for others? Are there colleagues you recognise have untapped potential and the capacity to go on to even greater achievements, within the classroom and perhaps beyond it? Are you able to spot and nurture their developing talents? You need to support them so that they can demonstrate their ability, rather than simply telling them they have that ability.
Working within and across teams
Consider the current teams within which you work. What is your specific contribution to each team? What do you bring that adds value, and how do your skills and strengths complement what others have to offer? How can you learn from those around you, and what can you contribute which enables others to build their leadership capacity so that the team becomes even more effective – the whole greater than the sum of its parts? It is perhaps too easy to see our specific areas of responsibility as the key focus of our professional activity, and not to take advantage of the opportunity to extend those parameters so that we widen our sphere of influence and develop new skills and areas of expertise.
Certainly if you are a middle or senior leader who anticipates moving to headship in due course, any opportunity to extend your knowledge of new aspects of how schools operate should be embraced – as a head, and the same is true of chairs of governors, you need the breadth of knowledge to take on the strategic responsibility for all elements of the school, to know what questions to ask and to understand the answers, while trusting others to manage the operational detail. That trust must be built on a confident grasp of the Big Picture. What can you learn from those within your current teams which will prepare you for this? And how can you encourage and facilitate the learning of others?
Learning from the wider educational community
Finally, do you look beyond your current school and identify opportunities to learn from members of the wider community? If you engage with educational Twitter, read (and perhaps comment on, and write) blogs, keep up with current education research and development through reading books and articles (organisations like The Chartered College are a good source of such publications, and offer helpful reviews to guide your reading), you should be well on your way to extending your learning by engagement with others from whom you can gain and to whose own professional development you can contribute.
By attending conferences and enrolling on programmes such as a Masters’ course, or one of the National Professional suite of qualifications, you secure for yourself entry into a community of educators, perhaps at a similar stage of their leadership journey, which can be energising and productive. As an aspiring or serving woman leader, have you considered what #WomenEd might offer in terms of support (practical and emotional), and could exploring #BAMEed, #DisabilityEd and/or #LGBTed widen your horizons?
So consider where you are in your career, where you might be heading and how you can get there, and what being part of a community of educators can offer both in terms of how you might benefit, and how you can contribute to the development and learning of others.
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It’s June 2018, and we’re due a teaching and learning observation week. Gauging the temperature in the staff room, after a hectic year, I felt that another round of observations from senior and middle leaders would have finished our teachers off! I wanted to boost morale, to create a feelgood factor in our last month. I wanted to encourage all to take risks in the classroom, to observe one-another, and come away with something tangible to use in our lessons the next day. This is how the BDB Dollar Challenge came about here at Bishop David Brown School.
Staff needed to feel empowered. In discussions with Darren Gould, my deputy head of school, we developed the notion of a low-threat, rewards-based system: Staff highlight an area they want to showcase, develop resources, plan the lesson and advertise their activities. In a staff briefing, everyone was given the opportunity to sign up to attend each other’s lesson. If cover was required, a member of SLT would cover for them.
The week arrived and we all visited one-anothers’ lessons, armed with our BDB dollars (pictured top). It was up to each individual to determine how many dollars they would pay in response to the lesson they had seen. Staff observed the delivery, looked at resources, and questioned students about the activity. The impact was palpable across the school, with 75% of students questioned highlighting that they felt lessons were more engaging. Additionally, many students responded to a survey stating they enjoyed the fact that other classroom teachers were showing an interest in their lessons.
#BDBDollarChallenge underway... active and collaborative learning with yr8s. Post it’s, info gathering, independent practical work with differentiated support, it’s all go today! @BDBSchool #ProudOfBDB pic.twitter.com/EXIHbvE8J2— BDB Science (@BDB_Science) June 21, 2018
“The Dollar Challenge helped me to focus on and showcase the strengths of my teaching. For me, it was an opportunity to display elements that I believe are fundamental to the foundations of 'outstanding' teaching, and share that vision with my colleagues. As a viewer of others, I saw it as a chance to witness lessons that are completely different to English, like Food Tech, and 'steal' ideas from the more practical subjects. I'm actually looking forward to doing it again!” - Jamie Foster, head of English
When we reflected on the week we knew we had made the right decision to change our practice. The whole school was really feeling the effect of a busy year, and that was not my aim in September. The Dollar Challenge created a buzz in the staff room, one which carried us right through to the end of term and made everyone excited for what was ahead. I was proud and hugely impressed by the level of creativity displayed, and the feedback from students and staff alike was great.
So what have we learnt? The key lesson, for 2018/19 and beyond, is that we need to do more to empower staff to visit each other’s lessons, encourage them to take risks, and give them the confidence to know that if it fails, no judgments will be made.
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As a school leader, I find myself wondering how to best utilise the resources we have: time and money. What should I focus on? How can we use our staff time in the best way possible so that our teachers can be prepared to lead learning-filled classrooms? Which technologies should we invest in? Which areas of learning research and development should we focus on? There are so many choices and limited resources.
In June, I travelled to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in Chicago. Along with nearly 17,000 other eager participants, I spent three days in workshops, lectures, visiting the expo, networking with teachers from around the world and reflecting on how all of this new knowledge could empower the students in my organisation.
ISTE is so much more than a technology conference. It is a pedagogy conference. It was like a giant discussion of what works best when and where and how to implement best practices. Information, skills and experiences were shared in every direction. Check out #ISTE18 to see examples of what I mean. Or even better, check out #NOTatISTE18 to see what you missed.
During my visit, some trends became very obvious:
The idea of students of all ages learning how to code and program was being discussed at every level. The idea of computational thinking extends well beyond the Maths classroom. A whole body of activities aimed at teaching students how to think in a logic way to solve problems were introduced, discussed and tested.
Further read: Students build coding skills block by block.
2. Professional development
Everyone was asking “how can we train our teaching force to be ‘ready’?” I noticed that in many settings, teachers were referred to as “learners”, and that professional development was no longer about workshops and lectures. It was more about professional learning where teachers had embedded training often administered in a need-to-know, personalised way. I could hear from many of the participants that “technology coaches” had now been replaced with “learning coaches”.
Further read: Great example of “shifting” to professional learning.
Very trendy in the gadget world, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are now becoming accessible and “buildable” by teachers and students. Finally, the price is right and the possibilities are endless.
Further read: Check out Google Tour Builder.
This body of research is now leading the choices we make in Instructional Design. How students take in information, remember and connect important ideas, spacing, chunking, looping - all technical terms for how we can more effectively organise learning in our classrooms.
Further reading: The Learning Scientists blog.
5. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The thought of robots in the classroom scared many people a few years ago. Today, teachers and administrators are starting to embrace the idea of an assistant. Many schools were talking about how they were piloting Alexa and Echo in the classrooms to answer routine questions. In addition, there were multiple examples of how AI when integrated with our digital teaching material could help tailor the learning path for just that student.
Further read: 7 Roles for AI in Education.
6. Design Thinking
Another trend evident throughout the conference was the idea of creating, designing and making ideas grow. Entrepreneurial thinking, idea-to-action and design lessons and activities were evident in many workshops. On a district-wide and state level, the discussions were focused on how to shift this exciting trend and problem-based way of working from electives and one time projects to a more systematic and integrated part of every classroom at every level.
Further investigation: My favourite speaker at ISTE was @thetechrabbi. Follow him on Twitter for great inspiration.
No longer is it about being careful who you connect with; the trends were much more about how to make your connections work for you.
“The focus is moving away from warning students about online risks or trying to curtail their activities and toward helping them leverage the power of digital media to work toward creation, social justice and equity. The new digital citizenship, also reflected in the ISTE Standards for Students, is about being in community with others and creating digital citizenship curricula that shows students possibilities over problems, opportunities over risks and community successes over personal gain.” - from Julie Randles
Further Read: Check out Be Internet Awesome with Google.
8. Personalised, student-driven, blended, instructional design
Many different words all baked into one idea... empowering the student to take charge of their own learning. How teachers design the learning activities, build the (face-to-face and online) environment, and manage the learning time determine the when, where and how our students will learn. No longer is it a pie-in-the-sky dream to personalise and tailor for each kid. With the right methods and tools, this is finally becoming a reality.
So, back to my original questions:
How can we use our staff time in the best way possible so that our teachers can be best prepared to lead learning-filled classrooms?
Model best learning practices - personalised, embedded, just-in-time learning
Which technologies should we invest in?
Across our organisation, our major investment is a powerful LMS. This is sort of our epicentre for learning. Other than that, tools that my teachers request and believe in. If they have a plan for how it will help their students learn more, I want to hear about it and try to make it happen.
Which areas of learning research and development should we focus on?
Brain-based science and motivational psychology … and, yes, edtech tools that can help us implement best practices.
These are the trends I am thinking about. What are you focused on?
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Your own continuing professional development (CPD) is absolutely vital to you as a teacher. Working in education is not a job that you just turn up and ‘do’: with ever-changing examination specifications, curriculum re-mapping and emerging research that causes us to revisit the way in which we teach, you cannot afford to disregard the importance of self-investment.
But training costs, right? Wrong! Granted, the squeeze on budgets grows tighter by the year, and schools often look to larger organisations to host or run their INSET, but this often has a whole-school focus, which may not always completely match up to or accommodate for your own professional development goals. However, there are a range of time-effective approaches that you can use to direct your own professional development this year.
Read for impact
I aim to read a small number of books with an educational focus each year, and this number has lessened with each year that I teach. I also look back and feel that perhaps a great deal of what I have read was simply wasted time. Why? I was not as focused, and I didn’t embed certain ideals or concepts within my own teaching as a result. In addition, some of the books that I picked up were perhaps not relevant to my role at the time. For instance, reading a book about leadership may be interesting at best, but if leadership is not an area that I want to pursue in the near future, is that the best way to spend my time?
Meek's take on reading is fascinating. Would be brilliant to collate a list of books based upon narrative experimentation for this alone: pic.twitter.com/aVr5LEpcvD— Kat Howard (@SaysMiss) February 15, 2017
Now, I try to use two strategies when selecting reading for professional development: What is the focus? How will I use it? Read with a specific aspect of your teaching that you want to improve upon in mind or become more informed towards. Consequently, consider the practical ways that you will implement what you have read. This doesn’t need to be a monumental change; it may simply be a resource created that uses a particular model. Evidenced-based teaching need not be a laborious piece of action research, but can just take the shape of trying something out then reflecting upon it afterwards. You will find that you have made the purpose of your reading meaningful, additionally weighing up how effective it is on a day-to-day basis within your practice.
When seeking out ways to improve as an English teacher, particularly when it comes to subject knowledge, I have found a secret treasure-trove of outlets locally to assist me. From visiting National Trust properties for contextual knowledge, to public lectures at local universities to broaden my authorial understanding, there are a range of ways to grow your learning bank without straying far from home or attending a large, costly conference.
Over and above that, setting up visits to local schools is a fantastic approach to specific CPD that will reap reward in both budget and time; in my experience, the professional discussions and relationships that evolve from such visits are so valuable. You may go with a particular focus related to the professional goals outlined by yourself at the start of the year, and walk away with so much more than that, with someone at the end of an email for guidance and support to boot.
Build a network
Working as a teacher lends itself easily to working in isolation: losing your days to planning, teaching and marking, with the interactions with colleagues being brief greetings in the corridor or directed meetings that have a specific agenda. However, collaboration is key to successful to personal progression, and if you have a particular goal in mind for the year ahead, share it with those around you. This will act as a starting point to exploring if others would like to team up in working on a project or research over the year ahead.
Collaboration will save the teaching profession! More here ⬇️ https://t.co/FIiqNlu3JK— Kat Howard (@SaysMiss) July 20, 2018
For example, as an English teacher, I enjoy connecting with Maths or ICT teachers when piloting a new idea; usually because their skills are useful, but to have a cross-curricular view of how a strategy or approach would work outside of my own subject is really beneficial when evaluating.
Alternatively, you may coordinate a whole-school role and would like to support in how others in a similar role approach certain challenges or obstacles. Twitter was a fantastic place to seek out other literacy coordinators when I first took up the post; sharing action plans or discussing how we could collaboratively work on initiatives was fantastic for time-saving, mutually advantageous CPD.
Source a coach - and coach in return!
Peer coaching is quite possibly the most valuable method of professional development that I have undertaken during my time as a teacher. As a result of the fantastic coaching provision that the MTPT Project provided to me during my maternity leave, I am nearing the end of my first year as a coachee and will shortly receive accreditation that I can then use to direct appraisal discussion for this year. When setting up LitdriveCPD, a free coaching tool for the approaching academic year, my inbox was full of nervous-yet-enthusiastic teachers, excited and willing to sign up but worried that they didn’t have the required skills. Yet, as teachers, we coach every day: students, feedback provided to colleagues, ourselves even.
Find someone, either within your own school or one that you may network with locally, and see if they would be interested in informal peer coaching for the year. This could simply be three discussions over the year, with the focus upon you both forming your own goals, then exploring how you may work towards achieving them. The coaching role could be as detached or involved as both parties feel is necessary or appropriate, but the process of sounding out ideas with someone else working within the teaching profession could be really powerful to aid both your growth as a teacher, but someone else’s as well.
Which preposition: just leading, or leading to, leading with, leading through or leading for? I do love a question that involves a grammatical concept, and this is one that I have been asking for some time.
The challenges of being a school leader are massive now. Our expectations of leaders are huge. I think that we have now reached a point where the rhetoric of leadership is becoming intimidating rather than encouraging. Writing about the matter has become a cottage industry. Indeed, if one read all the books aimed at school leaders, one would never actually have the time to do any leading at all. We are struggling to recruit school heads in many areas. Even during the period when I was a director of Children’s Services, we were having to re-advertise posts, sometimes combine schools, and go forward with very limited leads - I honestly believe that things have become more difficult since.
The demands on leaders are greater than ever. Young people are more complex, society more diverse and, at times, more fragmented. Other agencies and institutions are in decline through funding cuts and/or social changes. Increasingly, schools are more isolated, yet face even greater demands to make a difference. They are seen, more and more, as the engines of social mobility, regardless of your view on that (you can read mine in The Working Class edited by Ian Gilbert). Many colleagues argue that they have never felt more accountable, while also feeling less supported. I could go on, but I suspect that if you have read this far, you are already well aware of the pressures on school leaders.
The question, inevitably, is how anyone copes with the challenges.
The worst way to cope is to avoid the preposition. There are still examples of people who harbour ambition for its own sake. They want to be at the top of whatever pole they embarked on climbing and want to be successful for themselves. These sort of leaders tend to display the same patterns of involvement. They don’t stay anywhere long. Sometimes they have a dramatic impact in the time that they do stay and even appear to achieve striking successes during their brief tenure. In general, my experience of these sorts of leaders is that they are disruptive rather than constructive. The changes that they bring rarely turn out to be transformative and the successes are inclined to be short-lived.
Reluctant as I am to enter into political controversy, there is a strong argument that policy over Brexit has been bedevilled by leaders prioritising the preservation of power over making genuine progress. School leaders concerned with their own reputation and not driven by a clear sense of purpose are likely to fail over the longer term.
My argument would be that those who choose a preposition for leadership are far more likely to bring substantive improvement for young people. I love field marshall Montgomery’s quote:
“My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.”
He is clearly a “leading to” person. Purpose is all and, interestingly, that purpose has to be “common” so clearly he would entertain ‘with’ as another of his leadership prepositions.
There might be an argument that “leading to” could be seen as far too focussed on outcomes and data, or in achieving targets set for a school. If that was the interpretation one took, it would be a preposition to avoid. Real change comes from the drive to achieve ambitions, and the more dearly held the better, rather than to meet someone else’s expectations. That may be where “for” comes into its own. It relates so well to the idea of leadership as service, that one leads for the benefit of others and never for self-aggrandisement. Nelson Mandela was such a wonderful example of that:
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership”.
That concept of appreciating leadership is another which seems alien when we focus as strongly as we do on the idea of leadership being rooted in drive and challenge. That model is far removed from the idea of leading through.
We should lead through vision. That is implicit in the Montgomery quote; it is writ large in Max DePree’s comment:
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
It is a quote that captures so many elements of this discussion. The “reality” of which he speaks aligns with the idea of vision, of creating a way of seeing the context that you are in. That then creates the “for”. It certainly captures the sense of “leading with” and “through”. For me, the idea of thinking about the prepositions of leadership is neither indulgent or obscure. It is just another way of taking us into the fundamental questions about how we should lead. I tend to go with Fuchan Yang, when he says:
“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.”
We need to be doing more than just leading. The self-satisfaction of that will only sustain the most narcissistic. For any of us who have a shred of self-doubt and, more importantly, an ambition to add value to the lives of young people and their communities, it will never offer enough. Adding a preposition just might.
The overload of information on the internet poses a problem for time-strapped teachers, who have to trawl search engines for resources that are appropriate for their subject and class. It was this problem that, in Autumn 2014, we decided to tackle head-on with the creation of TeachPitch, a platform that curates free teaching resources and lets you search these for the perfect resource.
Since then we have had tens of thousands of users from over 130 countries, providing direct access to over hundreds of thousands of resources and with millions more available via our dedicated premium content providers.
We are so proud of the work we have done, but we have come to understand that dealing with information abundance is only one part of a wider issue; the digital capability of teachers. In a report in 2016 (page 9) the UK Government recommended that:
“Employers should ensure existing staff have the training to keep their digital skills updated, and develop active recruitment and development strategies to maximise the digital skills of their workforce at all times.”
We know that teachers are still not always offered this level of support, and we want to help solve this bigger problem with a resource that is relevant to them. This is why we are very excited to announce a brand new online teacher-training platform solely focussed on fully engaging teachers as professionals in a rapidly evolving new Digital Economy.
We are extremely proud to present: the Digital Skills Course.
This course consists of a series of 20+ webinars given by expert tutors over one year, accessible via our innovative, exclusive training platform. Registered teachers will be able to enjoy online training in a variety of topics, from video teaching & learning, using tech to identify and address student special needs, and digital educational content creation. The course also addresses tech matters that are further out there, such as virtual/augmented reality, the role of the blockchain in education, introduction to coding, and so much more.
With this course, we aim to improve teachers’ digital awareness and introduce them to the way that digital tools and methods will change how teaching takes place in the future. We want to provide the teachers of today with the skills to teach the students of tomorrow. We are working hard on the first release of the course; building the platform, testing it with real teachers and identifying the very best tutors to lead the webinars. We cannot wait to introduce the final product next month.
We have had great feedback so far. If you’d like to get involved with helping test the course, or keep updated about our progress, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about TeachPitch, visit www.teachpitch.com.
Innovate My School kindly invited me to ruminate on the theme of "edtech that schools might want to know about in 20/1819". Given that the Department for Education recently announced five areas where they think technology has the ability to create real positive change within the educational system, this seems like a useful starting point. With the usual caveats around implementation, training, and contextualised procurement, here are my suggestions:
The DfE states: "Technology has the potential to make assessment far more effective and efficient – while reducing the time teachers spend on marking."
The Edtech Podcast view: If you’re looking for assessment tools, make sure they do more than multiple choice questions, but less than a NASA control centre. The idea is that tools give a clear picture of ‘progress’, so that you can step in with your specialist knowledge of a student’s particular circumstances to support. Many assessment tools now use algorithms to ‘personalise’ learning for a particular student: see CENTURY, Third Space Learning, Watson Education. Assessment focused on identifying personal effort in group work is also surfacing as the demand for collaborative skills intensifies: see Cambridge Assessment and, more generally, Classroom Monitor, GL Assessment, Earwig Academic Timelines, Unio by Harness, Pobble (for Literacy) and HegartyMaths (for Maths) are just a few to review.
The DfE states: "We know that for many teachers, individualised training opportunities away from school can be hard won, but there are now more options to take up online training, which can be more flexible and more cost effective."
The Edtech Podcast view: We think this is a massive WIN area, offering continual support and learning for teachers and leaders in a fast-moving world. There are multiple tools and services out there (outside of Twitter, podcasts, Facebook groups, Medium blogs and YouTube channels). Check out the likes of TeacherTapp, Makematic, Spongy Elephant, The Chartered College of Teaching, TeachPitch, HES, BlueSky Education, Onvu Learning and many more.
Administration and saving teachers time
The DfE states: "Innovative new technology can reduce the administrative burden on teachers – saving time and money. Already, moving from server-based systems to the cloud has saved a number of schools thousands of pounds and hours of time.”
The Edtech Podcast view: We have visited schools where the focus on saving teachers time has allowed a laser focus on student support. This is usually driven from leadership with teachers and follows Dom Norrish’s ‘Implementation Effect’ (how the tool is implemented is far more important that the quality of the tool). Where this heavy lifting is done effectively, it allows for huge efficiencies to be made and for teachers to be spending their time. Services range from entire cloud-based VLEs, to niche products around school timetabling or communications. Check out the likes of Microsoft, Google, GroupCall, Wonde, Firefly, Show My Homework, Edval Timetables, and Airhead to get started.
The DfE states: "Technology can help access and inclusion for children with different backgrounds and abilities. This can be especially powerful in supporting students to learn alongside other children irrespective of their needs."
The Edtech Podcast view: The potential for technology to assist learners previously held back by more traditional learning is great. On the show, we have talked about how voice technology might enhance the learning opportunities for those with Dyslexia, and Microsoft has brought out some great tools and enhancements in this area. Many of the “famous” YouTube channels - like HegartyMaths, Khan Academy, and MisterWooTube - started as a way to allow students who were unwell to be able to keep up with their peers whilst in the hospital or in the home. Where class sizes or societal status are an obstacle to learning, personalised technologies allow students to progress. See Microsoft OneNote, Lyfta, Connect Design, Dolphin Assistive Technology, British Dyslexia Association resources, Mrs Wordsmith, Mister WooTube, Edovo, Digiexams, Xprize, One Billion.
The DfE states: "In an increasingly automated world, jobs are changing fast. Many adults want to learn new skills, but have responsibilities that make returning to a classroom or lecture hall difficult. That is why, as part of our National Retraining scheme, we will be offering online adult learning courses, including in digital skills."
The Edtech Podcast view: This is an area which is truly exploding, as we see the likes of WeWork ride on the back of a huge freelancer economy and become new global mega-brands - seemingly overnight. These freelancers are well aware that lifelong learning isn’t just a nice-to-have, but a necessity for continued employment. Juggling multiple roles, “gigs” and caring roles, these adult learners are embracing flexible learning opportunities. See FlatIron, WhiteHat, FutureLearn, General Assembly, Facebook with Freeformers, DigitalMe, Pluralsight, Lynda.com, Hub42, HowNow and many more. Knowing and understanding this world is a good starting place for preparing young people as they start to consider what to do after school.