This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School, and his work can also be found here.
This post is to unpick some of the ‘replacements’ for traditional school inspection (branded as improvement) after having explored PART 1, 2 and 3 of my series on Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism.
Collaborative design of the instructional program is a pivotal piece. However, complacency with an approach and a rigidness to change is a great way to destroy trust in any school. In addition to this, we know that teachers learn incredibly well when they are dialogic – supported to use their social nature to discuss, dissect and debate learners and learning, pedagogy and practice. So – what frameworks or systems do you have in place in your school to facilitate this type of focused conversation. How are teachers connecting about your instructional programme? Do they have a voice in refining it? Improving it? Changing it? What about the impact of your instructional programmes on learners/learner groups? Is there a mechanism for teachers to lead on that process? How are teachers encouraged to contribute to the improvement of the school?
Building frameworks of social capital is another way to build trust in your school. You’re already hiring the very best people, growing and developing them in meaningful ways, designing your instructional program with them. Now it is time to support their growth through social networks – collaborative learning. And while I think spaces like Twitter have scope for this, it isn’t really what I am referring to. I am talking about practices like:
a – Learning & Lesson Study
b – Teacher Research Groups
c – Open Lessons
Learning & Lesson Study is a model of collaborative development and social capital that comes from Japan. It involves a team of teachers (usually 3) creating a wave of research lessons (usually 3) that have research questions, case pupils, a knowledgeable other (often a person, journal article, or resource), and teachers directly focussed on the learners and learning rather than the teachers and teaching. It allows teachers to have a view into the learning they don’t often get. When the research lesson is complete, teachers interview the case pupils for their views and then retire to a review and planning session for the next lesson. This is a brilliant way to focus conversations on learning, allow new teachers to have a surgical view of a teaching approach/program, refine accepted instructional practice, and try out new ideas based on their experience or research.
Teacher Research Groups (TRG) are often a group of teachers involved in a collaborative learning team. They are usually from different schools (but don’t have to be) and contexts, exploring an instructional approach or strategy together through dialogic facilitation. The facilitator is a knowledgeable other – or very experienced in the subject matter being discussed. This supports facilitating and managing the conversations. There will typically be ‘gap tasks’ for each group member to be exploring in their own setting, some form of observation, a debrief by the teacher, a facilitated conversation about the learning and the collaborative planning for the subsequent ‘gap task’. There would usually be 6 meetings per year (sometimes more, if it is within your own school). Another great way to expose teachers to thinking, reflectivity, the instructional programme, and help them defend against misconceptions or common ‘malpractice’.
An Open Lesson is very similar to a TRG, but as a ‘one-off’. There would be a pre-lesson discussion hosted by a knowledgeable other, where they may be outlining a focus of study for the observers or the particular approach the observers will be seeing today. Then an observation – often in the classroom, but other times through video feed or recorded lesson – followed by a facilitated talk and plan for action afterwords. THe teacher of the observed lesson will often discuss their own views on the learning and research before participants can engage them in discussion about next steps and learning. This is not a critique of the teacher or their teaching. This is an open opportunity for learning.
There are many other forms of social capital (collaborative development). Learning Rounds and Spirals of Inquiry are examples of evidence-based practices that are collaborative and developmental rather than evaluative.
The key questions here are which frameworks of social capital do you have? And how do they facilitate cultures of trust? You can also see how lesson observation becomes to school improvement as marking is to feedback – it’s a way…but probably the least effective in comparison.
True school improvement is a social enterprise – when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It’s called synergy. One of the most powerful catalysts in a school. If we want our classrooms to be filled with enquiry, collaboration, discovery, courage and creativity, we must put our professional people in those same conditions.