Right now, I’m in Washington DC to take part in a two-day event sponsored (all expenses paid) by the Gates Foundation and the Sutton Trust. I’m one of 24 British Heads taking part, alongside my Heads Roundtable partner-in-crime John Tomsett, the legendary Alison Peacock and Sir Alasdair Macdonald, former Head of Morpeth in Tower Hamlets. Altogether there will be 80 people involved including delegates from Finland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, Singapore and the U.S.
The hashtag is #globaleduchangemakers. This bit of un-British, unabashed hyperbole is an indication of the cultural exchange that’s about to take place. I’m ready for something “awesome”. I’ll settle for ‘decent’ or ‘reasonably good’!
This is the agenda:
I was invited to join the planning committee or Advisory Board by Sir Alasdair who has coordinated the UK end of things. Together with Jemima Reilly, current Head at Morpeth, Tracy Smith from Seven Kings and Alison Peacock, we’ve had some fascinating trans-Atlantic conference calls with our US counterparts, chaired by the Gates and Sutton Trust officials. Despite our different perspectives, there is significant common ground. All members of the Advisory Board are meeting face-to-face tomorrow, a day ahead, to fine-tune the event – it’s all very professional and detailed.
In recent years, both sponsoring organisations have published reports identifying problems with their respective school systems in the US and in the UK and are now keen to be associated with the process of finding solutions. The aim of this event is to generate ideas for a practical toolkit that could support work in schools anywhere. Our discussions during the conference calls have been geared towards finding a mechanism to tackle teacher development at both macro and micro levels: issues relating to school culture and leadership as well as practical ways to observe practice and give effective feedback. As a result, each day has a different focus.
Two major inputs will be delivered during the event. Robert Coe will share the findings of the Sutton Trust Report ‘what makes great teaching?’ published on Friday to coincide with the summit.
He’s going to provoke people to question basic assumptions about good teaching and how we can evaluate the quality of teaching in a credible way. The other main speaker is Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of State for Education. In theory he is there to listen and learn as much as to promote his policy – but we all know how these things work in reality.
The pre-conference prep has been impressive. A number of us took part in recorded interviews via Skype to generate stimulus material. All delegates took part in a survey and uploaded their ideas onto a web-platform called Collaboratory. We were asked to submit a summary of one major effective strategy we have experienced around teacher development. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is significant overlap across submissions from different so they have been grouped together in a number of common themes:
-Building a Culture of Leadership and/or Trust
-Collaborative Problem Solving
-Peer Observation, Feedback, and Coaching
-Rubrics, Standards, and Student Work
A few people will share their ideas in detail during a ‘Deep Dives’ session. My Deep Dive input will be about the process of engaging all teachers in drafting a shared statement about the kind of teaching we believe in, based on evidence, professional judgement, shared values and contextual experience; a collaborative process leading to a document that forms the core reference point for curriculum development, lesson observations and feedback. It’s based on the work we did at KEGS that lead to our Zest for Learning jigsaw.
International comparisons are always complex – there are just so many variables – but there is a strong sense that we share a common agenda. The need to understand the processes that underpin effective teacher development is critical to all of us and this event is an excellent opportunity to learn from other people and to share problems and solutions. Hopefully the toolkit that emerges from the event will be something that is genuinely useful.
I’ll report back after the event. And you can follow the live-tweets. Remember the hashtag: #globaleduchangemakers.