Fundamentals for getting back on track.

Earlier this week I posted this tweet:

This was partly in response to hearing various proposals from official folk and the normal Big Voices suggesting schools extend their days and offer all kinds of extras. It was also a response to my sense that schools already have their plates full regrouping after the lockdowns and there’s plenty of scope for just focusing on delivering what they’re already doing, aiming for it to be the very highest quality they can manage.

So, my sense is that there are four fundamentals that might drive leaders’ and teachers’ thinking – before there’s any room for adding even more.

Positive mindsets

This is about ensuring there’s a can-do spirit around the place, free from unhealthy catastrophising, looking for children to be more badly affected by the Covid19 year than they actually are. However difficult they’ve found things, the most useful thing everyone can do is project a sense that they have the capacity to succeed.. to excel… to thrive. I explore this more widely in the blog post Comfort vs Strategy. (Don’t project anxieties; make things possible). There’s a lesson to learn from this.

Strategy-focused, can-do approaches not only actually help students to be more successful – they actually provide more comfort than explicit ‘comfort-focused’ strategies; they communicate a deeper sense of belief that students can achieve and succeed, despite their challenges. An important element of this is to focus on student agency in relation to reaching learning goals, giving them the resources, working on study habits including reading – and generally being demanding of them (yes, you can do it!), not selling them short with lower expectations because it might have been a struggle.

Framework for teaching

In my experience, there’s not much point in fussing over extra classes and intervention strategies when there is plenty of mileage in trying to teach everyone more effectively – which is nearly always the case. I explore that in this post: To address underachieving groups, teach everyone better. It’s not about being a better teacher in some general nebulous sense – it’s usually a case of trying to reach even more students, making them learn even more, making them even more fluent, even more confident, understanding concepts even more deeply, performing to even higher levels.

The answers to this lie in applying well-understood techniques from a teaching framework that is widely discussed across a school and within each team. It’s not about devising new techniques; it’s about being more precise and rigorous in applying known techniques so that students are not falling through the cracks or muddling through only reaching mediocre standards. So, the task for leaders is to keep going with this agenda, making sure that the students’ learning challenges are being addressed with appropriate approaches – that are clearly articulated.

Curriculum development

Curriculum development is an ongoing process. However, given where people have been over the last year, it’s more important than ever to make sure these processes are happening and have that sense of being continuous, with manageable medium-term and long-term goals. You can’t hope to get too far in any deep sense by chucking a ton of initiatives at people and hoping they’ll be sorted. It can be helpful to survey the landscape to see consider what lines of development are important and where priorities lie:

  • Ensuring depth of understanding of the conceptual sequencing and standards within existing units of work vertically through the curriculum – and, where appropriate – across the curriculum
  • Reading: increasing the overall volume and quality; which texts; in which subject areas; approaches to reading
  • Diversity; anti-racism: periods and themes in history; text selection in English; representation in arts and science – etc; specialist content in PSHE/Citizenship
  • The Mode B curriculum: trips and visits; oracy; individual projects; hands-on experiences – making sure the curriculum has these elements woven in to the right degree in the right places to make it all knit together.
  • Response to the OfSTED/DFE publications eg on science, music, RE, languages. What lessons are there to learn?

You need to set a reasonable timeframe. What must be sorted for the start of the next school year; what might we aim to address within that year; what should be be working on over 2-3 years. What’s just not a priority in the foreseeable future. That’s the pace and mindset that’s needed. All these things are important.. but they can’t all be dealt with properly in a hurry.

Teacher development

To manage all of these things, a fundamental area is a school’s CPD system. It’s got to be a priority to plan the programme of when teachers will meet across year, establishing how each of the agendas will be progressed over time – at each level, as explored in this post: Planning Professional Learning: One system; three streams. Unless that is done, the other agendas can’t move forward. Get the calendar out and map it out. Time for curriculum; time for teaching; time for building alignment around key whole-school values and priorites.

Part of this might be looking longer-term at the idea of introducing instructional coaching but, again, that’s no quick fix -there are stages to work through: Five Steps Towards an Embedded Coaching and CPD Culture. Give yourselves the time it takes to do it well.

When you’ve devoted all the time you can muster to these fundamentals… there’s not really time for much else! But, happily, by focusing on these areas you will deliver all the change and ‘catching up’ you will ever need or be able to manage and sustain.

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