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Learning From Each Other: In-house professional learning
February 21, 2014
Image by flickr.com/photos/torres21Image by flickr.com/photos/torres21

According to the new Career-Long Standard for Professional Learning from the GTCS, teachers should…

lead and contribute to the professional learning of all colleagues, including students and probationers.

However, long before the new standards, a group of us at my school have been saying that we need to develop an in-house programme for professional learning. Not just to provide more opportunities for professional development, but as a mechanism through which we could develop learning and teaching in the school. This has been especially so as we’ve taken forward the development of the learning cycle in our lessons. Increasingly, we need to look to ourselves to find the professional development opportunities we’re looking for.

After much debate as to how best to go ahead with such an in-house programme, we’ve now arrived on a structure we’re happy with and launched it as a pilot this week. Essentially, we’re looking for members of staff in our school community to offer to run twilight sessions which other members can then sign up to attend. However, we had two issues which we wanted to address before proceeding:

  • How to add progression to our courses without becoming prescriptive and/or complicated?
  • How to manage the logistics of such a programme?

For the first of these we’ve devised a scale for our courses which facilitators can choose to use to indicate the level of the course and to provide progression for the staff attending courses. This consists of four levels with a descriptor for each level as follows: 

1. Updating: Updating courses are one-off refresher sessions on previously learnt content. These are largely technical and not aimed particularly at changing classroom practice. Updating courses normally consist of just one session. For example, refreshing on child protection, SQA procedures or IT systems such as Evolve are probable examples of updating courses.

2. Introducing: First encounter with the content. Two sessions with gap task.

Session one primarily based around sharing new information.
Gap task requires participants to find out more about the content and/or reflect on its possible uses. Teachers not required to change their practice.
Session two brings together reflections from gap task and concludes with a discussion on possible next steps.

3. Applying: Teachers have knowledge of the content but want to apply it in their classrooms. Three sessions with two gap tasks.

Session one involves brief recall of prior understanding, more in depth sharing of information if appropriate and discussion of possible purposes and uses in the classroom.
Gap task one requires teachers to plan a class they are going to try the approach with and how they are going to use it.
Session two requires teachers to share their plans with peer feedback and discussion. This session concludes with each teacher having a clear plan for what they are going to change, with whom, when and why.
Gap task two requires teachers to try the approach out with a class.
Session three involves teachers sharing the outcomes from their trial and concludes with a discussion of possible next steps.

4. Enquiring: Teachers have tried the approach out but wish to now explore it in more depth and evaluate its impact. Although sessions will need to be facilitated by one/two individuals, the aim should be to try and reach a point where the sessions are a coming together of colleagues. Flexible number of sessions depending on the nature of the content, but should broadly follow these steps:

Literature: Facilitators start off by introducing academic literature relevant to the content and leading a discussion on this. Participants should be encouraged to search for their own literature and bring this back to the group.
Purpose: Although the course will be structured around addressing a particular problem, facilitators should lead a session which discusses the learning purpose of the approach. For example, rather than trying a certain web tool with a class, at this level we should be thinking in terms of the learning outcomes we hope the pupils should be achieving through the use of the tool/approach.
Evidence: A session will also be required on evidence. The purpose of this course is to evaluate the impact of the approach and so valid approaches to evidence gathering should be discussed and decided upon.
Intervening: Each participant will need to plan out what they’re going to do, with whom and when. This could be planned out and peer feedback provided before progressing.
Evaluating: Once each participant has tried out the approach and gathered the evidence, there should be sessions facilitated which bring together the outcomes of the group for both the students and teachers.

Our hope is that as time progresses, the courses on offer will develop in line with the needs of the school as informed by our PRD process, feedback and informal conversations. We also hope that the structure will provide individualised progression for those attending courses without excessive complexity for those delivering courses.

The other issue which we wanted to overcome is the logistics of managing such a programme. We’re really keen to make it as easy as possible for staff to sign up to attend and run courses and so we’ve set up a wordpress site as a one stop shop for all our courses: www.edubuzz.org/plpl. Thankfully, we’ve also got a member of our fab admin team to deal with all the incoming courses and bookings!

We only launched this new approach this week, so it’s early days yet…but we already have the following courses in the calendar between now and June:

I’m really excited by what we’ve come up with and think it has a real chance of providing a process which allows teachers to learn from each other but in a coherent, challenging and progressive manner – without being too complex or burdensome. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Cross-posted from Fearghal’s Blog

Learning Rounds
Image by flickr.com/photos/thurmImage by flickr.com/photos/thurm

I love watching other teachers in action. Their environments are usually quite different from the bedlam of the Drama class, peaceful, quiet and studious. I delight in the mix of academic and creative learning that is possible in a school and the way this is managed by professionals from a wide range of curricular areas. Yesterday I prepared for the visit of “others” into the Drama studio. They often find it alien as it is generally devoid of furniture and most written work takes place whilst lying on the floor. I think they liked what they saw. I hope they did. I did. I have always found it challenging to teach essay writing to senior pupils. I am not from an English background, as so many Drama teachers are nowadays, and need to approach these tasks practically. The pupils have explored the texts practically and then have to write essays – I think they need to see the link between the two disciplines, instead of viewing them as disparate entities. So, some flip chart paper, colourful pens, post it notes and the 5 plays being studied for Contemporary Scottish Theatre, the aim to work co-operatively to create the perfect 20 point essay in one 50 minute period. Pupils found quotes on destructive relationships in 4 groups (different coloured post it notes for each group) then chose went round marking the doublers and the best ones (hearts for Valentine’s Day!). We were then able to agree on the best 20 points and have, thus, created a pretty good exemplar essay for Higher Drama. It was the quickest period of written work ever. The best bit – 17 year olds getting excited about the texts, talking to non specialists about the themes and issues and then fighting over a praise sticker.

Ofsted Prep: How 5 good habits can lead to excellent teaching and learning

I recently had an observation with my line manager. I used to dread observations, especially when being judged by an expert teacher. I think the thing that even the most experienced teachers fear is an Ofsted inspection. Having received positive feedback for my recent lesson observation, I looked back on what I did and realised that most of it was automated, I do these things every lesson without thinking.

I came to learn about these techniques through our head of CPD (@HFletcherWood) whose numerous techniques come from the books of Doug Lemov and also talks and inset by Dylan William (See Youtube for a taster). By automating these good habits, we can free ourselves (literally and mentally) to address student’s queries more effectively. Since the beginning of the year, I have managed to automate 5 techniques which have had a huge impact on my teaching:

1) Start the class with a “Do Now”

This should have a low threshold for entry and plenty of room for growth. My example was simply to state what you like/dislike about the following posters and to suggest improvements.


2) Positive framing (Catching them when they’re good)

By using positive framing; only announcing names of people who were doing the right thing, it encourages those who are slow to start. “I can see James has started jotting down some ideas…I can see Megan has put one point for improvement”. Within 30 seconds, everyone is settled, they all have opinions and are scribbling away. This is the most challenging class in the school. Those who looked like they had finished were asked to suggest improvements to the posters or think of general rules to make the posters better.

Compare that to negative framing where you call out people’s names for being slow to start, “Ryan, you’ve been in here 5 minutes and you still haven’t got out a pen…Janet, why are you walking around?”. This type of framing adds a negative vibe to the lesson and may also lead to confrontation.

3) No hands up and no opt out

Asking only students who put their hands up is probably one of the worst habits you can get into according to Dylan William. The shyer students never get to contribute, those who are feeling a bit lazy will simply opt out and those with their hands up will get frustrated when you don’t pick them. Using nametags or lollipop sticks on the other hand keeps the class on their toes.

Source: goddividedbyzero.blogspot.com 

In combination with Doug Lemov’s “No opt out”, it ensures that all students will contribute when asked to give an answer. If a student answers “I don’t know”, you can respond with “I know you don’t know, I just want to know what you think”. Every student has something in their head. If they’re still hesitant, simply reinforcing that there is no right or wrong answer will build their confidence and even the shyest students will usually contribute an answer.

Extra tip: There are times when the question is so difficult that there is a good 30-40% of students who do not know the answer and do not even know where to start to think. In these situations, it is a good idea to do a “Think-Pair-Share”. A think pair share with a written outcome means you can quickly see if the majority now have an answer to give or if you need to go from pairs to fours to widen the pool further.

4) Student routines

All the aforementioned are teacher routines. As a Computing teacher, you will appreciate that we have one big distraction in front of every student, their own screen. For some teachers, they dread laptops or a lesson in the Computer lab as it just leads to students going on Facebook. Social networks aren’t even blocked in our school, but a student has never gone on a social network in any of our classes as far as I can recall simply because the consequences are so severe. Some teachers also find it difficult to get students attention. I would recommend asking students to close their laptop screens to 45 degrees on a countdown of 3-2-1. Some people call this “pacman screens”, I’ve heard of teachers literally holding up a hand in the shape of a pacman which seems quite novel and efficient. I just call it “45″-efficiency in routines is important!

Source: itnews.com.au

By having routines for handing out folders, getting students’ attention, you make your life as a teacher much easier. Expectations are clear and students do not need to think about their actions, they just do it and in turn you’re making their lives easier. By having clear consequences for not following the routines, most students are quick to latch on.

5) Ending with an exit ticket

Ending with an Exit ticket is the quickest way to find out what students have learnt in your lesson. No student can leave the room before giving you their exit ticket. With these little slips (No smaller than a Post-It Note and no bigger than A5) you can quickly spot misconceptions and it also helps plan the start of your next lesson. It’s one of the most efficient forms of assessment. Some teachers sort these exit tickets into piles, one for those who will be rewarded with housepoints next lesson, one which is the average pile and the last pile is the one where students simply “did not get it”. The last group can also be pulled up for a quick lunchtime mastery/catchup session before your next lesson with the class. As mentioned earlier, these piles go directly to inform your planning. Very quickly you can plan for the top and the bottom.

Closing thoughts

When you get the dreaded Ofsted call, remember that there is no way that any teacher can change their teaching style for one lesson observation without seeming un-natural about it. The kids spot it, your observer spots it and you just end up running around the classroom sweating whilst trying to do a load of things you’ve never done before. Yes, I’ve been there loads of times, in fact probably for every single observation in my first 6 years of teaching! It took a school culture which does not believe in “performing for observations” or “pulling out an outstanding lesson with lots of gimmickery” which really changed my practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year (mainly from my amazing head of CPD), is that in order to be excellent, you have to practice (and practise) excellence everyday. As your good habits become automated, you end up freeing up some of your mental capacity and therefore you are able to do even more for your students.

Project Based Learning and Critique
Image by flickr.com/photos/w_dechantImage by flickr.com/photos/w_dechant

Last week I was lucky enough to represent my maths department in a session about project based learning and critique. The session was led by John who works in a high school in America and is currently in the UK doing some working on PBL. In the session we focused on how we can use critique (effective peer assessment) to help all students to improve their work and be successful.

I have had an interest in PBL for a while but there’s one big problem – I’m a massive control freak! The idea of letting students take their own direction on a project and side stepping all those learning objectives that we need to tick off every 13 minutes is hardly comforting for me, especially as an NQT. I did try a project earlier in the year which I have previously blogged about, and I concluded that I hadn’t structured the project effectively. Another consideration that I would now have is that of incorporating critique. It is very powerful to train students how to effectively do this as they will be able to generate success criteria independently, evaluate work against success criteria, set targets for how to improve the work and, most importantly, have the opportunity to improve their work.

In the session we discussed what good critique is and a central theme was how the feedback given must be kind, specific and helpful. Students must be comfortable in the process of giving and receiving feedback and have structures in place for them to do that. John provided us with some ideas around “warm and cool” feedback to help students use sentence starters to say what they liked and why, and what they would improve and how.

I must admit, I am still cautious around introducing PBL into my teaching. I do believe that it is a very powerful and engaging way for students to learn. It is relevant to their lives, their futures and yes, the curriculum! It makes links between various topics and if organised, between various subjects. However I am as guilty as anyone for being tied to the schemes of work that we have in schools. I have to say here that I don’t blame the schools. We have an education system where results talk and so the pressure on teachers is on progress and covering the content. The government plans to increase the “rigorous” content of the maths curriculum won’t help either in my opinion.

John said: “we teach a mile wide curriculum an inch deep”. That really resonated with me and it makes a clear point. Taking maths for an example, I could spend 2 weeks on area and perimeter, 1 week on measurements, 1 week on plans and elevations, 2 weeks on rounding numbers, estimating and basic calculations, all scattered throughout the year. Or perhaps we could incorporate them into a project over 6 weeks where students design a house/kitchen/building and put together a cost for the construction. This would answer the questions of “why are we doing this sir?” as students would see the links between topics and their relevance in the real world (which would go a long way to engagement as well…).

PBL would give students ownership over their work and they could take it in a (guided) direction of their choice. As teachers we could create a demand for new information from the students as they wanted to develop their project and needed more skills for it. We would also have the time to build in regular critique and have plenty of opportunities for students to review and improve their work.

I decided to write this blog to cement my enthusiasm for PBL. I am worried that the pressures of getting through the curriculum and showing progress will scare me away from PBL so hopefully this will commit me to at least trying it a few times! I have already begun to incorporate critique into my lessons and after just one session using warm and cool feedback the students’ feedback has already improved.

Using pupil feedback to improve teaching

At the end of every lesson, I try to evaluate my teaching. Sometimes I manage to do this, othertimes, there’s simply not enough time. I’ve even thought about giving myself DIRT on my timetable so that it’s not just the students who are doing explicit improvement and reflection. Towards the end of a major unit however, it’s difficult to evaluate how effective your teaching has been. Of course, I could look at test results, but sometimes the test doesn’t catch everything. It may tell you that your teaching of x, y and z was ineffective but it won’t tell you why. This is where pupil feedback can help.

Laura Mcinerney once asked the daring question, “Should teachers publish the test scores of their classes” . I wondered what would happen if I published the pupil feedback of all my classes. It has certainly forced me to reflect more honestly and openly about my own practice.

You can find the original pupil survey here: http://goo.gl/W2mRPk . I have been selective with the publishing of my results, generally ignoring repeats and responses where students replies were too general and not actionable e.g. “Mr Lau was great”.

What could Mr Lau have done differently / better:

    - let us figure out what has gone wrong with our code.
    - Maybe give us more time to actually try ourselves rather than watching the board quite often. I also think it would be useful to sometimes have a quick break from python and try something else like scratch for one lesson
    - Explain coding simpler and talk a bit less so we have time to get the work done better.
    - he could have showen a demo of what he wants us to do
    - Mr lau could have simplified the technical language.
    - come round to every one
    - Maybe explain in more detail.
    - Explane more clearly
    - put more computing lessons on the time table.

Analysis and Response: Students have raised the issue that I help them too readily. Whilst a growth mindset and persistence is abundant in the majority of our students, it appears that in my teaching, I could demonstrate these learning habits more by helping students less, offering more waiting time and responding with questions rather than answers. Several students also thought that explanations could be clearer; teaching computer programming for the first time, I think this is to be expected but I will try to observe more experienced Computing teachers. Key words and language was also raised as an issue, so I think a Vocab list for each unit would be helpful. On the positive side, many students replied with “nothing” on the improvements list with the last comment of putting “more computing lessons on the time table” brightening up my day.

What would you like Mr Lau to do more of:

    - Letting us work on our own, a bit more .
    - more of prasing people
    - Demonstrate code before sending us to do work.
    - more work on your own
    - come round to more people
    - explained things and use more visual things like pictures

Analysis and Response: Firstly, Praise praise praise, it’s an invaluable currency. Secondly, many students preferred working on their own. I think I have done paired programming for several reasons, firstly because the research suggests it can be the most effective way of coding:




The second reason is because our laptop trolley rarely has a full class set of working laptops. However, I will certainly pilot more independent working and solo tasks next term.

What would you like Mr Lau to do less of:

    - Speaking to the whole class about something a few people have got wrong.
    - work sheets
    - stop showing people what to do if they are stuck.
    - Keep on showing us the board
    - To do less talking when teaching and to pick people to come and try the code on the interactive smartboard.
    - canstant doing hardcore lessons may be sometimes we could fun lessons
    - I would like to get on with the work straight away on the and have a learning objective on the table
    - stopping the how class when only a few people need to know things
    - speaking less at the start and giving us more time to practical work time.
    - dont explan to fings at wons

Analysis and Response: Early on in my career, I had a lot of helpless handraising. This was partly to do with my teaching and partly due to the culture of the school. I decided to combat this by judging when it would be appropriate to stop the whole class. If a student asked a question that I thought the whole class could benefit from hearing the answer to, I would stop them. No teacher likes repeating themselves afterall. It appears that my students don’t like this strategy as I am stopping the majority in order to help a small minority. I therefore plan to get around this by helping Student A with their problem, then when Student B asks me for help on the same problem, I could direct them to Student A. If Student C asks the same question, the chain continues. Whilst there are clear literacy issues (perhaps distorted by the use of computers and their association with txtspk), the last student makes a point about working memory and helping students remember. This reminds me of Willingham’s work on helping students remember and learn.

Any other comments

    -stop 5 minutes early to put the computers away
    - computer science is fun
    - Thanks Mr Lau I am getting Better .
    print(“Thanks Mr Lau again”)
    I think i need a new account sorry :( i will try to remeber please dont give me a detention soryy

    - It was very useful to work in partners and also rate and and have your own work rated.
    - my mum is impressed
    - Computing is such a unique subject to learn in a secondary school and I am so happy to participate in it as it is intresting, inspiring and useful if you want to have a future career in game making or something like that.
    - I have really enjoyed computer science this term I have had fun playing and exploring around laptops. Making chat bots and having challenges I have learnt a lot about computers and how they work. I am looking forward to doing more work this term and learning different things.
    - I have really enjoyed codeing i really like it some times i do it at home with my dad because he enjoys it to just like me.
    - PLEASE show us how to do spreadsheets through the medium of dance like in your old school.

Analysis and Response:
Timing is an issue for me. I need to fit in an exit ticket, house points and packing away. That’s a good 10 minutes before the end of a lesson. To close on a bright note- clearly computing is having a positive impact on many of our students. The highlight for me is the student who wrote a print command in Python in her comment!

How useful was this process for improving my teaching in general? I think it provided a great deal of stimulus for reflection and improvement. Using Google forms, I also managed to sneak in an exit ticket, which I quickly evaluated using conditional formatting.

As a result, some students will be due housepoints, whereas others will need mastery classes.

After all this analysis, hopefully I can put some of these ideas into practice and feedback on the process.

Nurturing a Love of Learning #PedagooWonderland

Once again it gives me great pleasure to write about the brilliant Pedagoo event #Pedagoowonderland held at Joseph Swan Academy on Saturday 7th December. For me it can only be described as an incredible Saturday in so many ways, but mainly because of my wonderful year 11 students!

I can’t actually believe it is a full six months since our last event, #Pedagoosunshine which was a resounding success. With this in mind we really didn’t want to rest on our laurels and were determined to build upon Sunshine and make it bigger and better. So we took all of the lessons that we learned from Sunshine and #Pedagoowonderland was born. Our primary aim in the true spirit of Pedagoo was to create a high quality professional learning event in a relaxed atmosphere where educators could collaborate, share, develop and grow. We wanted to inspire both ourselves and others and as always, learn exciting new ideas to take back to our schools and academies. We wanted it to be fun, social and the kind of event that people talk about for a long time afterwards and I hope I am not mistaken in saying that this is what transpired. I was truly humbled by the messages of thanks and congratulations across the weekend, yet for me it was the generosity of spirit and commitment of every single workshop presenter that made it so special.

One of the best educational books I have ever had the pleasure of reading is Sir John Jones ‘The Magic Weaving Business’ and in this he explores the fact that teachers are powerful script makers inside a child’s head. What we say to them makes all of the difference. This book made me cry (if you read a bit further, you will see this is a common theme!) It made me want to be a better teacher and actually a better person. I knew therefore when planning Wonderland that for me it was about making a difference, to each other, to our staff back at school and most importantly our young people. The central theme of the day had to be about, not just nurturing learning, but nurturing a love of learning and I think that this is what we saw on Saturday 7th December at Joseph Swan. In ‘The Magic Weaving Business’ Sir John talks about going the extra mile for the students and he says it should be for the love of it, because you care. How many extra miles did you see on Saturday? I know that I saw a lot; I know that I saw many ‘magic weavers’ on Saturday and I’m not just talking about the workshop presenters, but they were present everywhere. This is what I aspire to be- a magic weaver.

I’d like to share with you my experience of my own session, particularly for those who didn’t attend. The session was led by 7 students from my year 11j2 class. Every day that I teach them, they make me proud, but on Saturday they were simply outstanding, in the true sense of the word. I was blown away by their enthusiasm, right from the minute that I asked who wanted to be involved and most importantly questioned them about why they wanted to be involved. Their response ‘Well Miss we get to tell a load of teachers how they should be teaching us, why would we not want to be involved?’ Maybe the lure of hoodies and pizza also provided an initial appeal but I have to say they took charge of it all, right from the very beginning!

I feel that before I tell you where they ended up on Saturday, I should describe our very first meeting. I vividly remember almost skipping to their first English lesson, thinking great, they are a set 2 class, they’re going to love English (how naïve, for a teacher of 15 years!) One of the first questions I asked them was ‘Who loves English?’ and guess what… not a single person put their hand up. The second question I asked was ‘well who likes English?’- two students raised their hands. I remember being gutted and in full on panic mode arrogantly told them- ‘Well I can guarantee that by the end of year 11, all of you will like it, some of you will love it and a few of you may even want to become English teachers’ After the lesson, with clarity of thought, I may have sworn a little and thought, how am I going to pull that one off and why did I say it??? But I did and I knew I couldn’t let them down. I suppose looking back that was the day that I really began to consciously develop as a teacher. I had been in my last school 15 years and needed a new challenge (anyone that knows me, knows how much I love a challenge!) and here it was. I can honestly hand on heart say that I have learned so, so much from them- they have made me a better teacher without a shadow of a doubt. They are open and honest with me; they tell me when something’s not working or it is rubbish or they’d rather do it a different way. They keep me on my toes!

So we come to Pedagoo and their role. We met initially on a rainy Wednesday afternoon and I simply asked them 3 questions- what would your dream teacher look like in your eyes (and not physically!!!) what strategies have we used in class that have made you love learning and how have your attitudes to learning changed since Key Stage 3? I couldn’t shut them up! They had loads of ideas, discussions and Little Miss Bossy (Emma) took control of how it would be structured. After the initial planning stage, I met with them a few more times and have to say was surprised at their nervousness. However, I needn’t have worried, as on Saturday they were amazing. They absolutely took control over the session and absolutely ‘taught the teacher’ They dished out ‘Bank of Hutch’ money to the teachers they thought gave them a deserving answer, they questioned the teachers present and implored them to improve their vocabulary in ‘Pass the Paragraph’ They very strictly awarded and deducted points in ‘Hutch’s Hotspots’ They were passionate, confident, articulate and just amazing! I was so very, very proud of them (and again I had a tear in my eye) They may think I’ve taught them well, but I know they’ve taught me more than they will ever know. This post is therefore dedicated to my wonderful students- Emma (Little Miss Bossy), Logan (Mr Hungry) Levi, (Little Miss Sunshine) Amy (Little Miss Neat) Lidia (Little Miss Perfect) Billie (Little Miss Splendid) and Ursene (Mr Forgetful) who showed me not only who I am and what I do, but what I might become.

Here’s some feedback for you guys:
‘Thanks for such a wonderful session- what an amazing set of pupils’
‘An inspirational set of students. Thanks for your advice’
‘One word- fantastic! – forget the perfect teacher, you guys are the perfect students’
‘What an incredible bunch of students…’

Jane Hutchison (Assistant Head Teacher- Teaching for Learning)
Joseph Swan Academy

Pedagoo & TeachMeets

This week has seen my introduction to pedagoo and also presenting at teach meets. I was originally going to blog about how I think consistently good is outstanding, but I’ve had to rethink!

My school hosted a teach meet this week and I was asked several weeks ago if I would present. I had thought about presenting at a teach meet since I attended one earlier in the year and this was a great opportunity to do so. It was also lovely to be asked! (I made sure that I was doing a 2 minute nano presentation rather than a 5 minute one at the front of a lecture theatre). Although I found out closer to the teach meet that I had to present 11 times in 22 minutes! I was nervous prior to the event but afterwards it felt great to have been one of the few to present – I look forward to the next one! I didn’t really feel proud of what I had done until the following Saturday…

This Saturday I went to Pedagoo Wonderland at Joseph Swan Academy. I must admit, at this stage of the term I’m flagging considerably and I was very tempted to spend that Saturday wrapped up watching Soccer Saturday. However, I did find the energy to go with a friend who I trained with last year (lovely to catch up!) and not only am I glad that I went, I feel extremely grateful to all the effort put into the day by some very talented and enthusiastic people. I’m sorry I ever even considered not going!

At Joseph Swan they have a beautiful learning environment and they had gone to great lengths to put on a spectacle for us – sleighs, balloons, turkey sandwiches, Christmas cards and even Father Christmas himself made an appearance! I attended four workshops which were all very different but all equally brilliant. My workshops (which were personalised!) included a differentiation carousel, foldable fun, independent reindeers (or learners if you prefer) and enquiry based learning (specifically for maths).

I gained so many ideas from the day but I have to say that they weren’t the reason why I’m thrilled that I attended. At this winter wonderland were masses of people who had given up their Saturday to attend and some incredible individuals, teachers and students, who had put a huge amount of effort into creating such a fantastic afternoon of CPD. I thought as the afternoon went on that there is probably no other profession in the world where the professionals volunteer to train one another and do so at such a high level. The passion and commitment was brought to the day by NQTs all the way up to people who have been teaching for longer than I’ve been alive! I found the enthusiasm and passion again that brought me into teaching which had begun to fade away as I struggled through my NQT year. I feel re-invigorated again and I can’t wait for more teach meets and pedagoo wonderlands!

Many of us are worried about where the government is taking our Country’s education system. I think we should take comfort in how our profession, through teach meets, blogging, twitter and pedagoo, has shouldered the responsibility of developing each other in order to give children the best education we possibly can. We should all be very privileged to be part of such a passionate, talented and giving community.

GTCS Professional Update

Our SoE Wednesday Seminars are proving to be a really interesting and useful source of research provocations for me – you get a “taster” of some colleagues’ work and a robust discussion with others in attendance, all within an hour. This week’s was presented by Cate Watson and Alison Fox and was entitled:
Professional re-accreditation: constructing teacher subjectivities for career-long professional learning
It offered a critical interpretation of the Professional Update system which has been introduced recently to the teaching profession by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

Cate started by explaining what Professional Update was and how it was closely linked to the Professional Review and Development systems already in existence. The PRD process is an annual review which takes place between a registered teacher (HT, LA manager etc.) and his or her line manager. The purpose of this review is developmental and self – evaluation is supposed to drive the process; professional learning and developmental needs are supposed to be discussed, previous PL experiences evaluated in terms of the impact on learning and future ones planned. We know from previous experience (National CPD team survey, Teaching Scotland’s Future survey) that in 2011 when this data was gathered less than half of teachers interviewed had had a PRD within the previous year. There is a feeling that in general terms, PRD has perhaps fallen short of expectations.

Professional Update (PU) is a 5 yearly re-registration process which will be required of all teachers and educators if they wish to maintain active GTCS registration which is necessary if they are to remain eligible to teach. The PU process will be based on what happens in PRD.

The thrust of Cate and Alison’s argument is that:

  • There has been discussion and visibility of the processes but not the principles of PU
  • The underpinning principles of PU seem to have emerged from prevalent managerialist discourses around professionalism and teacher learning and they have not been articulated
  • There has been a surprisingly uncritical acceptance of this new system by the profession
  • There are tensions between the developmental and accountability functions of PRD.
  • Coaching and self- evaluation are central to the process (not so much an argument – maybe more of an explanatory statement).

The data they gathered through interviews with participants in an introductory pilot of the PU system suggest that the message about the separation of PU from competency procedures has been successfully communicated.

The GTCS has been consistent in its approach to dissemination of the policy; in early stages its leaders introduced it carefully as a process with a reverse perspective of “what it is not” in an attempt to emphasise the distance between it and competency or disciplinary procedures which the organisation also oversees for the profession.

The uncritical acceptance of this message seems to indicate that some aspects of what is going on in PU are being overlooked. For example, these two processes might be described as being completely separate and unconnected but essentially they are being conducted by the same people and this may present a less than distinct separation between them. In a school, it is one’s line-manager who performs PRD which will feed into the PU process but it is also the line manager who will raise competency issues should they emerge, thus unfolding a course of action which leads back to the GTCS via the local authority. This raises the question of how open can participants be in their approach to the process?

Self-evaluation is at the heart of the process of PRD, but how useful is this in these circumstances? In spite of frequent exhortations to encourage this as a practice at the heart of professional learning (see GTCS advice on PRD; Education Scotland’s pages on career-long professional learning),self- evaluation is not a universal good – it can only be as good as the person self-evaluating, regardless of whether or not the shadow of eligibility to teach is looming.

The mainstay of the argument here about teacher subjectivities is aimed at the use of a coaching approach in the PU/PRD process (according to those present at the discussion this emanates from the discourses of Total Quality Management, first raised in the late 80s some of its values have helped shape the new managerialism in education) which directs teachers back to the new suite of professional standards. It seems like we may be operating in a closed loop whereby our entry to the profession is controlled by the authority whose systems also manage our performance and whose standards impose a structure for learning and development which is impossible to ignore if we wish to remain eligible to teach. Some might see this as a managerialist reconstruction of teacher subjectivity and an attempt to ensure teacher compliance. Whichever way there does seem to be acceptance that PU is all about development and not our eligibility to teach, that coaching and self-evaluation will make it work and we will all be better teachers as a result of it. Much of the work I did with the National CPD Team was on PRD – then I might have been more convinced of the connection between PRD and teacher improvement, now I’m not so sure.

Cross-posted from Cat’s Eyes

The Professional Enquiry Process

In case you missed it, the revised GTCS Professional Standards came into effect this month. Professional enquiry features highly in these new standards and yet many might not quite feel confident enough to engage in professional enquiries without significant external support, which might not be forthcoming.

Whilst I hope that support will be forthcoming, I thought I’d share my own experiences in the meantime in the hope that they might prove useful to others to help them get going or to enhance what they’re already doing. I was planning on doing something like this in my own school to support the expansion of the process anyway, so why not share it on here as well. I’ve found Professional Enquiry to be such a powerful process that I’d like to do everything I can to encourage others to go ahead and give it a go.

Basically, I’ve created a very brief downloadable guide to carrying out a professional enquiry, either individually or as a small group. This is based on my experiences at my school and on my MEd. I don’t claim that this is in any way authoritative or perfect, but I hope it might prove useful to some. I suspect there will be some teachers, or groups of teachers, out there who are keen to engage in this sort of process but would just like a little support to get started…this guide is not much, but perhaps it might just provide that little support.

You can download the guide by clicking on the image above or by clicking here. If you’d like to ask any questions etc then please of course feel free to get in touch. If you do find it useful, please feel free to pass it onto others.


Zoe Robertson has drawn my attention to this great Practitioner Enquiry resource on the GTCS website which you might find useful also.

Cross-posted from Fearghal’s Blog

Action Research – splash, ripple and growth

In Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson, 2010)1, there are repeated references to the need for ‘research-informed teaching’ and ‘practice-based research’ to underpin a 21st teaching profession.  This post is an account of my engagement in both.

My first action research project was an investigation into Vertical Groups, a new mixed age grouping practice that had been introduced at my primary school and that involved all P1-P7 pupils.  It was carried out in 2011, as part of my Masters in Teaching, and without this explicit requirement to undertake an investigation, I would never have engaged with a specific aspect of my classroom practice so deeply.

University tutors suggested readings and gave guidance about research design and a range of data collection methods.  Supported by a critical friend at school and my fellow Masters students, I launched into the research process: reading books and articles, collecting and analysing visual and written data from staff and learners.  The need for rigour and credibility made the action research process a challenging undertaking but, the opportunity to properly explore an element of my practice that had been niggling at me for a while, proved highly motivational.  The chance to stop walking forward and pick the pebble out of my shoe, as it were.

For my Masters, I was expected to create a research poster, write up a commentary and present the project to an audience of peers and university assessors, and it all could easily have stopped there.  The research process brings about profound learning, as opposed to simply skimming along the surface, and the following quote chimed strongly with me.

‘… you are enticed to create some type of movement or change in the water … You reach down, pick up a stone, and toss it as far out into the center of the pond as your strength allows you.  Lying beside the pond, the stone had no chance of impacting the water.  But once tossed in, the stone not only disturbs the stillness of the water in the immediate vicinity of where it landed but also creates ripples of water that emanate out from the stone’s landing place and that eventually reach the perimeter of the pond.

An unshared teacher inquiry is like the stone lying beside the pond.  Unless that inquiry is tossed into the professional conversation and dialog that contributes to the knowledge base for teaching, the inquiry has little chance of creating change.  However, once tossed in, the inquiry disturbs the status quo of educational practices, creating a ripple effect, beginning with the teacher himself or herself and his or her immediate vicinity … and emanating out to a school, a district, a state, eventually reaching and contributing to the transformation of the perimeter of all practice – the profession of teaching itself.’ (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2009: 187-188)2

While practice-based action research is context-specific and not generalisable, if carried out rigorously then it has something contribute to the wider pool of knowledge about learning and teaching.

Though my action research project was ostensibly carried out for a university assignment, my Head Teacher asked me to present findings to my colleagues at school. Staff had been involved in the practical side of vertical groups on a weekly basis and most had taken part at the data collection, however, at the start of my presentation to school colleagues, there was some definite resistance.  Vibes from some, were along the lines of ‘I know all about Vertical Groups, I did them all last year.  I’d much rather have more time in my classroom today before the kids start back tomorrow’.  However, during the session, as I highlighted the evidence-based findings, and was able to respond to queries and questions with facts derived from familiar sources, then much of the reluctance was replaced by a grudging acceptance and respect.  Following on from the presentation, practical changes to Vertical Groups were agreed by colleagues for the next academic session, and soon after I was commissioned by my Headteacher to carry out action research into Vertical Groups 2.0.

My research into Vertical Groups research have been on to be shared with local, national and international educators at various events over the past 18 months.  Both cycles have been written up and published in recent issues of the Scottish Educational Research Association’s Researching Education Bulletin.

Reflecting on the personal impact of these professional learning experiences, the profound thinking and learning around my own practice resulted in a much increased sense of agency.  The confidence derived from critically investigating an aspect of my own teaching in such depth helped me understand that, as a teacher, I can affect change. The process infused me with self-belief.   ‘[A]legitimate and essential purpose of professional development is the development of an inquiry stance on teaching that is critical and transformative, a stance linked not only to high standards for the learning of all students but also to social change and social justice and to the individual and collective growth of teachers.’ (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001: 46)3

I have found action research to be one of the few truly transformational professional development activities in which I have engaged during my 14 year career. A practitioner enquiry is never truly complete, you don’t fully solve the problem you began researching; more likely you will have raised yet more questions, but, you will certainly know and understand more about the aspect of focus.  It is empowering to find yourself genuinely better informed about your teaching practice and your learners’ experiences.  The inquiring, critical mindset becomes part of your practice, ‘[a]gency … is not something that people can have; it is something that people do.’ (Priestley et al., 2012: 3)4

I believe that ‘research-informed teaching’ and ‘practice-based research’ should underpin learning and teaching to a greater degree.  I have just started on research for my Masters dissertation, I hope to be making more ripples in the educational pond in the near future.  Splash, ripple and growth.


1 Donaldson, G. (2010) Teaching Scotland’s Future: Report of a review of teacher education in Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Government

2 Dana, N. F. & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2009) The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research: Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn Through Practitioner Inquiry, Second Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, SAGE

3 Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S.L. (2001) ‘Beyond certainty: Taking an inquiry stance on practice’ in Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (Eds.) Teachers caught in the action: Professional development that matters (pp. 45-58). New York: Teachers College Press.

4 Priestley, M.,  Biesta, G. & Robinson, S. (2012) Understanding Teacher Agency: The Importance of Relationships. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Vancouver, 13-17 April 2012