Taking stock of the various conversations I have had with teachers and school leaders, I think there are some common threads that, when added together, might represent a solid school development agenda for a lot of schools in the coming year. Of course, in any specific context, there’s a need to filter and prioritise but here are the things I’m seeing as common themes:
|Classroom dialogue:||Most schools I know are at various stages of developing sound behaviour management systems so that teachers feel in control and lessons are orderly, calm, disciplined. However a common issue is that, at times, in places, there’s a phase dominated by a kind of passive compliance; a suppressed feeling where too many students opt out of dialogue and teachers can be reluctant to initiate it. |
The agenda is to move to the next level – to harness the systems and routines to change expectations and norms around student talk in lessons. As I explore in this post on everyday routines for student talk, it’s important and possible to provide multiple structured opportunities for students to rehearse their thinking, practise their use of key terminology and to listen to the ideas of others. Giving value to classroom dialogue as part of instructional teaching and part of excellent learning behaviour is a common theme. It might need some specific training alongside an initiative to promote more frequent switching between phases of teacher instruction (with questioning) and phases of student pair-talk.
|Agency and Motivation:||Related to this is the issue of motivating and supporting students to be proactive in driving their learning, taking more responsibility and being more conscious of what they need to do in order to progress. This agenda includes: |
> More explicit and extensive use of setting pre-reading tasks or requiring students to bring completed tasks to lessons.
> More explicit engagement of students with tracking progress through a curriculum – including, for exam classes, engaging with specifications and assessment requirements.
> Training students to use specific self-checking and retrieval routines rather than these things always being teacher led.
> Introducing more elements of choice e.g. in the form of response to a task or the specific selection of a case study, story or example to study further.
|Continuous subject development||There’s been a mighty wave of activity around curriculum review at year group and subject level with many schools now having recently-reviewed curriculum plans in various forms. However it’s far from complete and most schools recognise the scale of the challenge, tackling every subject in detail. Everyone talks about the need for more time! |
The next stage is to embed the process of curriculum review as an ongoing one – not a fixed completion-orientated task – with calendared review time set aside across the year and a sensible set of milestones to review the curriculum unit by unit, ongoingly, deepening teachers’ understanding of the learning issues inherent in the curriculum as they consider the rationale for each element within the overall framework.
Related posts: Curriculum + Pedagogy. And Sandcastles. Curriculum Review at KS3: Some common issues.
|Breadth of experience||Having spent time looking at core curriculum content over the last 2-3 years, I’m seeing more schools interested in looking again at the overview of students’ experience. Where, across the curriculum, do students get to: |
> experience the world beyond the school gates or beyond their normal environment,
> be creative, make something significant that they’ve designed, compose or perform,
> pursue a line of enquiry they’ve chosen,
> engage in a supported speech scenario;
> to demonstrate leadership or active citizenship?
In some schools it tends to be the same (already advantaged) children who snap up all the opportunities so some thought is needed to widening them out for everyone in a planned way. This level of thinking is probably rightly subordinate to core subject development but its time has come – especially post-lockdown where these things are an important element of closing the disadvantage gap.
|Diversity and Inclusion||It’s over a year since a fresh wave of discussion about diversity and inclusion was triggered in May/June 2020. I know lots of schools that paused to examine their current offer; some had some additional diversity training which they found enlightening – more so than they’d expected. However, the agenda now is to weave the ideas and ideals into something concrete – enmeshed in the curriculum content, supported by teachers’ attitudes and a whole-school ethos. |
It’s helpful if this forms part of continuous subject development, certainly not a one-off or a light tokenistic add-on. Normally someone – or a group – needs to champion the issue and have an overview. My go-to on this would be Bennie Kara and her excellent work on diversifying curriculum which suggests areas to explore including:
> Parallel narratives and perspectives in the history or geography curriculum – countering dominant victim narratives and representations.
> Text selection in English – attending to wider perspectives and positive representation within the choice of books students read and study.
> Expanding the universe – ensuring students are exposed to cultures and ideas beyond the Western-European tradition.
|Reading||Reading is always an issue but recently I’ve seen some common ideas being given more attention:|
> Reading across the curriculum: the selection of non-fiction texts to support delivery of core content so that students’ reading exposure is spread across disciplines and they are generally doing a lot more reading in a typical school day.
> Reading aloud programmes – or Drop Everything And Listen as David Didau described it in relation to his excellent recent work on a reading curriculum. This is delivered in tutor periods, or class reading time, ensuring all students engage with a curated set of texts over time in the school.
> More explicit focus on discussing how to run a reading session in a lesson – the need to model good reading and create a flow to the narrative by teachers reading to students – whilst also creating opportunities and accountability around students’ independent reading.
Teaching and Learning
|Shared evidence-informed frameworks||There’s an ever-growing interest in developing a shared framework for teaching across a school so that all staff in a particular context have a common understanding of the problems and solutions that form the basis of their professional discourse. Ideally these are what might be considered to be evidence-informed frameworks – as I’ve explored recently here. Some schools use Making Every Lesson Count or Teach Like A Champion; some use Rosenshine’s Principles or our Walkthrus. Other schools devise their own, taking ideas from multiple sources. |
It’s so powerful when colleagues can share ideas using language and concepts that they are all familiar with rather than each pocket or sub-group of staff doing their own thing. The important thing is go beyond the first step of deciding what the framework is – it’s to use it widely and often so that the ideas are lived, not just written down but ignored in practice.
|Teaching everyone; teaching them all better.||This is a theme I’ve discussed in multiple contexts. For many schools the issues for student learning lie in the fact that, whilst plenty of students are doing well and the teaching is generally sound, not all students are doing as well as they could be. This often links to the challenges of whole class teaching whereby it’s not always apparent how well each student is doing at any given time and over-optimistic assumptions are made. The solutions lie in: |
> adopting a mindset whereby teachers think ‘is anyone unsure?’ rather than ‘does anyone know?’
> developing more inclusive questioning and check-for-understanding routines – as explored in this post about reaching into the corners.
> being more precise about finding out what each student can and can’t do and responding accordingly.
|Repertoires not checklists:||An important development many schools are undertaking is encouraging and empowering teachers to develop their practice for their context, making good decisions as part of responsive teaching rather than leaders over-emphasising or mandating specific elements of practice. I see this as building teachers’ repertoires of known techniques and encouraging people to vary the diet – so that knowledge is explored and students participate in a variety of ways.|
> A repertoire of retrieval practice techniques appropriate to a range of knowledge areas – not a rigid, mandated ‘five a day quiz’, for example.
> A repertoire of questioning techniques so that teachers move between cold calling, pair share, check for understanding, show me boards – and more – making lessons dynamic and responsive, engaging all students in thinking to the maximum degree.
|Rigorous collaborative CPD structures||I have encountered an increasing range of approaches to professional learning – something I find interesting and inspiring. In between individualised coaching and all-in-the-hall whole-staff training lies a world of possibilities. Schools are looking at ways for teachers to support each other as they engage in deliberate, reflective practice over a sustained period – without it being a soft talking shop or, conversely, focusing too heavily on SLT judgement-laden observation processes. Some of the models are described further here. They include:|
> Guided triads: three teachers working in a tight group but regularly reporting back to a senior leader
> Coached pairs: two teachers working in similar contexts , supporting each other but also coached together by a third person
Regardless of the specific approach, there needs to be some process that teachers are engaged in week to week, month to month, that gives them safeguarded time to reflect on their practice, generate and discuss feedback and plan actions alongside their same-context colleagues.
|Instructional Coaching.|| Instructional Coaching is a high-impact process to support professional learning and, increasingly, schools are looking at ways to implement coaching systems instead of the top-down SLT ‘observation plus feedback’ model that dominates the system in general. It doesn’t pay to rush into this but I’ve set out some of the key steps in this post: 5 steps towards an embedded coaching culture. This includes|
> Removing the judgement culture
> Growing and developing a coaching team.
It takes a good couple of years just to get a system up and running with the right people acting as coaches and a workable frequency of teacher-coach interactions but it’s great to see so many schools going down this path.
The temptation is look at a list of good and sensible things and try to do them all. It’s so important to prioritise. However, it’s also true that, unless these areas are explored, important issues don’t get addressed. A good school plan will find the right balance so that all the elements are mutually reinforcing and don’t feel tacked on to an already too-busy agenda.