I was motivated to attend the Research in Education in partnership with National Teacher Enquiry Network Conference in York on 3th May (#NTENRED) after some chatter on Twitter. Looking at the speakers who were lined up to deliver workshops, they were mainly educators who inspire me on Twitter. I was not disappointed. I left excited and fired up with ideas and thoughts on how I could make changes to my own practice and other ideas that I could take forward into other areas of personal and professional interest.
The Keynote speaker was John Tomsett (@johntomsett) who is the Headteacher of Huntingdon School, who was hosting the event. The other educators whose workshops I attended were Kenny Pieper (@kennypieper), David Weston (@informed_edu), Keven Bartle (@kevenbartle), Jonathon Haslam , David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) and Andrew Old(@oldandrewuk).
I have tried to collate my ideas from all of the sessions under headings to distil and condense my learning.
The first session I attended was delivered by Kenny Pieper, entitled “An eight word manifesto – Scotland’s attempt to change everything by changing everything”. Kenny delivered a witty and entertaining session as David Cameron (@realdcameron) tweeted “whatta a man..worked in everything from Edwin Morgan to Partick Thistle to his breakfast”.
Kenny started with a brief outline of the implementation process of CfE and where we are now in terms of the final stages of the ‘all through curriculum’. His main point, which I agreed with, is that CfE was written as a vision statement with poorly defined terminology and no particular rationale as to why the 8 words – successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens – of the four capacities are in the order they are.
Another idea was that the curricular change needs a new name as “Curriculum for Excellence” is a misnomer as the terms are undefined. “What is excellence?” was the question posed by Kenny and answered thus “excellence is being consistently good”. As a profession we have to reinvigorate our “tradition of pride in what we do”, to take the lead and not wait for permission because what we are being asked to do is lead societal change and this takes time and effort.
This linked to the question: What is education for? This was asked by Andrew Old but unfortunately not answered. However, if there is not agreement on the purpose of education and clarity of the definition then how can we discuss and argue points of practice if we don’t have a shared understanding.
Andrew talked about how in education we use “weasel words” which allow for differing definitions which can also vary in differing contexts. Some “weasel words” given by Andrew were ‘engagement’, ‘understanding’, ‘skills’ and ‘child centred’. To this list I would also add ‘professional’. The notion of teachers being professional and having autonomy over their working practices leads me to think about how can we facilitate professional learning of teachers.
The concept of teachers learning from and with other teachers is an interesting area for me as I am currently undertaking a Master level research on Supporting Teacher Learning through Strathclyde University. I believe that teachers need to be “fluid in classroom management skills, pedagogy (know what to use/when and why!) and be reflective practitioners (adaptive to making changes)” as discussed by David Weston.
A powerful tool that could support teacher learning is Lesson Study. I have heard about this practice but do not yet fully understand it or whether it can be used in my own situation but would like to consider its use in working with student and probationer teachers. However there is a caveat in working with ITE students and early career teachers in connection with Lesson Study, which is: Do early career teachers have enough tacit knowledge to truly engage in lesson study? Will early career teachers be able to articulate why one strategy will work with one pupil better than another? Perhaps not but worth researching I think.
Feedback (why doesn’t feedback stick?) delivered by David Fawcett was an opportunity for me to engage in some professional learning and I was lucky enough to find a seat in the well-attended session. I have been working on improving my feedback to pupils for the last two sessions after reading John Hattie’s book ‘Visible Learning’. David used four statements to show that what most teachers think is feedback is really advice on how to move forward only, and does not take into account prior learning. For feedback to be effective it must link learning (feedback) with next steps (feed forward).
The next question posed was when is feedback most effective? As with so many strategies in teaching and learning it depends on circumstances of the learning environment, of the learner and of the relationship between teacher and pupil – know your own class is really the best advice for teachers. Dylan Wiliam was quoted as saying “feedback should cause thinking” (2011) and if it does not and time is not given to make improvements then it will not contribute to improve outcomes for pupils. I am still thinking about this and how I can continue to evolve my practice to improve the quality of feedback I give and how this supports pupil outcomes. I have been using reading and research to improve feedback so was interested in the concept of ‘knowledge transfer’ that was a focus for a workshop delivered by David Weston.
During the workshop a question that came to mind early in the session was prompted by data on effective “knowledge transfer”. The least effective modes are one-off courses or events or asking teachers to read related documents. If this is the case then why do we as a profession persist in using these models? Do we lack creativity to do this other ways? I don’t think so. Is it the case that reality gets in the way of a good idea and the precious commodity of time is not devoted to ‘knowledge transfer’? We spent more time considering the ethos needed to support learning, such as motivation to learn, resilience in learning and making connections, and less time considering the impact on pupil outcomes, trying to make the strategies fit. The time is given to improving practice in the hope that this improves pupil outcomes rather than what practice should I adopt in order to improve pupil outcomes.
Which leads into David’s second key idea around CPD and research. A question from the floor asked “When should you reflect on the CPD, immediately after the session (happy sheets as David named them) or after some time lag to allow ideas to embed?” The answer given was before you go. The questions you should ask yourself before you undertake any CPD are: What is the improvement I want to see/be? Who will benefit from this CPD? Is it my practice or pupil outcomes – should/could it be both? Is this CPD going to make a difference to pupil outcomes? To make CPD effective these are the questions you should know the answer to before you undertake any CPD. Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson, 2010) mandates teachers to be more autonomous in directing CPD that is appropriate for them in their current situation which can improve pupil outcomes.
In discussions around CPD undertaken by teachers in Keven Bartle’s session, the following resonated with me: “SLT decide INSET opportunities, but who has least often been teaching and whose knowledge is most recent? So maybe it is time for teachers to use CPD to seize their own agenda and be proud of their knowledge and abilities to set clear goals for their own CPD and professional learning and become enquiry practitioners.
At Huntingdon School, John Tomsett has set up a position of “Director of Research”. In my view this would also link very well into the aspirations of the Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson, 2010) which recommends that teachers become enquiry practitioners. This “Director of Research” could become the key person in a school who links the needs of staff, identified by the PRD process, with the opportunities to be involved in research with Universities or other partners to create rich data to inform practice and sustainable improvement. As John states it is the SLT’s job to “get conditions for professional growth right”, allowing staff to be reflective and support enquiry learning of practitioners. John went on to discuss the work of the Education Endowment Foundation and their recent blog post in which “James Richardson discusses whether ‘Randomised Controlled Trial results can be expected to have the same impact in your school’” and the idea that what works can be a localized phenomenon and “‘What works’ is really shorthand for ‘what has worked in the past and gives us the best indication of what is likely to work in your school, with your particular cohort of pupils.’”. I need to consider this more and the impact of this on the enquiry practitioner model and transference of results from research into a school or classroom.
This idea of a ‘Director of Research’ would allow the SLT to have an overview and links to the idea of Masters study as outlined in Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson, 2010) where academic rigour is the norm and all teachers have an open Masters account which they can add to throughout their career to build into a Masters profession. The Masters profession aspiration is worth considering in terms of whether we mean, Masters level in terms of academic rigour or Masters level (Masterliness) in terms of practice. However, one possible advantage could be that as a Masters profession we could, as Kenny put it, “attract the smartest people in the room” into the profession.
Another interesting idea from John’s keynote address was the notion of learning observations which “remove the culture of fear and judgement from learning observations”. The key question which excited me was staff being asked “How can I best observe you?” By allowing staff professional autonomy to make decisions around how to engage in a learning observation as a means to facilitate professional dialogue and impact on outcomes for pupils is a fundamental aspect of an improving school. However, when learning observations become merely a quality assurance measure which is done to staff to allow SLT to tick a box as part of their self-evaluation procedures, we lose a powerful tool and opportunity to engage with each other to improve life chance of the pupils in our communities.
My first teacher conference has left me wanting more. The quality of speakers, the atmosphere of like-minded professionals and the conversations with interesting people from around the country has really opened my eyes and mind. Bring on the next Pedagoo event!