Just Visiting – Twinkl Flasks and Jelly Babies

IMG_20160616_171445I take Monday and Tuesday off this week. We have a foreign exchange student staying with us and I need to be around to drop her off and collect her from school.

Wednesday begins with a compliment from a wonderful new primary teacher. This gives me a great boost. She thanks me for giving her an idea for differentiating a lesson that was being observed by her PGCSE tutor. She tells me that she has been graded outstanding and I am delighted for her.

I grab a blue flask to go with the pink one that I already have at home and scoff the jelly babies.

Continuing with the SEND report that I started last week, I observe learning support in four lessons and interview two staff. The highlight of the day is the opportunity to witness a thoughtfully planned 1 to 1 intervention lesson with a Year 6 pupil who is demonstrating dyslexic tendencies. The teacher uses play dough, visualising techniques, spaced and mixed retrieval, precision teaching and creative art to reinforce the learning objective: the correct formation of the numbers 3, 5 and 9. We chat for a short while afterwards and I offer a couple of books and articles for her to check out.

IMG_20160616_180323Thursday I spend most of the morning researching and writing up my interview notes from the previous day before heading down to West Sussex for a Teachmeet. On the way, I meet up with a former colleague (Mike Allen @lowfordlegend) to watch the England v Wales Euro 2016 match before heading on to Durrington High School.

Sean Allison has done a great job organising the Teachmeet and the school hall looks great. It feels more like a wedding reception than a teaching conference; each table is draped and adorned with gifts from the sponsors: pens, sweets, pet hair lint rollers and the obligatory ‘Twinkl’ flask. I grab a blue flask to go with the pink one that I already have at home and scoff the jelly babies.

The presentations begin with a keynote speech from Sir Tim Brighouse and I settle down to take some notes. I’m not presenting this evening so I’m feeling nice and relaxed – unlike Mike who is due up shortly.

Sir Tim opens up with some inspirational words. He talks about the role of the teacher and quotes Haim Ginott:

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” (Ginott, 1972)

We hear from a range of excellent speakers and there are lots of ideas for me to take away and share at the schools that I will be visiting in future. Dave Rogers has designed his own ‘curiosity glasses’ and is trying to convince us all that Iceland doesn’t exist! Jason Ramasami @jasonramasami reminds us of the importance of support networks and Mike Allen shows us how his school uses a Friday afternoon forum to identify ‘marginal gains’.

I resolve to put together some videos using office mix for the leadership area of my blog following an enthusiastic presentation from inspirational art teacher, Emma Modder. Thank you to Durrington High School and the inspirational teachers that shared their ideas with the audience.

At the end of the week I get a message from a Head Teacher who would like me to ‘just visit’ his school. I know him well and look forward to supporting him with his school improvement.

Next week, I look forward to two exciting days at the education festival (Wellington College) where no doubt, Shaun and Andy will do all they can to convince me to buy their book again!

I look ahead to visiting some more schools this week. Hopefully, I’ll be invited to come and visit yours soon. #justvisiting

 

 

 

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Just Visiting – SEND

The Matrix

Special-Needs-EducationI’ve prepared well for a Skype meeting on Monday: brushed my teeth, scanned my notes and trimmed my nasal hair. Too much detail? I throw on a shirt, just too look a little more professional. Video conferencing frightens me a little bit to be honest; no idea why. However, it all goes well and I am delighted with what is agreed.

Square eyes…I should have listened to my dad; he said this would happen.

I spend so much time on Twitter over the rest of Monday that my eyes start to go square! I should have listened to my dad; he said this would happen. I am saved from further mutation by the people of Twitter who tell me that I can’t follow anyone else (for a whole day) because I am guilty of ‘aggressive following’. It’s not at all what it sounds like and I am relieved to learn that I have just followed too many people too quickly.

I turn my attention to my Master’s Degree work and, just to surprise my tutor, I hand in my assignment a day early. It’s a leadership plan designed to close the reading gap for disadvantaged children in rural areas. I’m really pleased with it and I print a copy for my consultancy files. It will be something worth sharing when I am ‘just visiting’ schools in the future.

In the evening I write a post about facilitating effective professional learning communities drawing on the excellent work of Wiliam & Leahy (2014) into teacher learning communities. I decide that this will need to be a 3 part blog and publish it immediately. It’s available in the CPD section of this blog site.

On Thursday morning I am asked by a Head Teacher to review their SEND provision in his school. He wants me to start that Friday!

I update the SEF for a school that I have been working with. It takes me into the early hours of Thursday morning and I drink too much coffee. I’m like that sometimes with a job: occasionally it just has to be finished in one sitting.

I’m pleased with what I have written and I hope that the school will be too. This school is using the new version of Derventio’s school improvement software (SchooliP) to record its SEF and it takes me a little time to adjust to the layout of Version 8. Once I’ve mastered it, I am pleasantly surprised by the extra level of detail that I can add and its ease of use.

Thursday morning I am asked by a Head Teacher to review their SEND provision in his school. He wants me to start on Friday! We discuss the purpose of the report and he commits to five days of my time. I spend the rest of Thursday preparing and updating my quality assurance ‘matrix’ for SEND and then get distracted looking for quotes from the Matrix film. Just for the record, here’s my favourite.

Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?

Morpheus: You’ve never used them before.

Friday morning comes around surprisingly quickly and I am up early in anticipation of an hour commute. After a brief pit stop at the ‘golden arches’ for coffee, I arrive on time at my destination. It’s a school that I’ve worked at before and it’s really nice to see a few familiar faces.

The SENCo is prepared for my visit and very positive about working with me again. We meet for an hour and she describes some of the challenges that she has faced and how she has tackled them. I listen, ask probing questions and take some notes. We look at the matrix and I commit her to a provisional self-evaluation of the department.

After our meeting, I plan my schedule. I will be observing the quality of teaching, interviewing learning support assistants(LSAs), interviewing pupils with SEND, meeting teachers with their LSA’s to discuss how they adapt planning, analysing the available SEND data, evaluating resources, observing 1-2-1 interventions, appraising action plans; scrutinising the allocation of support, examining the curriculum provision and writing my report. It will be a hectic five days.

We really get into challenging some of the misconceptions around who is responsible for the progress of children on the SEND register.

I catch one of the HLTA’s in the afternoon and we get into a great conversation about the way that she works together with a science teacher to plan for one of the children that she supports. He joins us in the meeting and we really get into challenging some of the misconceptions around who is responsible for the progress of children on the SEND register. I offer a couple of ideas which challenge their thinking further.

I read lots of tweets and blogs about exam stress and can’t make my mind up at all. I learn from a medical research paper that exam stress can reduce nasal symptoms of allergy sufferers! If that’s true, I’m booking myself in to retake GCSE Geography next Summer.

This week I have learned: not to fear video conferencing, coffee keeps you up too late, aggressive following is not a crime, and we have a lot of work to do to challenge some teachers’ thinking about children with special education needs and disabilities.

I look forward to the weekend and ‘just visiting’ some more schools next week.

Hopefully, I’ll be invited to come and visit yours. #justvisiting

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A responsive collective accountability model for solving complex education problems

Schools are highly complex adaptive systems, (Garmston & Wellman, 2013). Being highly complex, there is rarely a simple solution to any problem that arises within a school. In this lengthy blog, I propose a list of 10 indicators to guide you as you respond to complex education problems in your organisation. The indicators are listed in suggested chronological order and I advise that they are considered as such.

In order to illustrate what I mean, let’s take a problem commonly experienced in schools in the UK: a reading gap that exists between children from low socio-economic families and those from middle and higher socio-economic families.

In almost every school that I visit, in my consultant role, there is an attainment gap in Third-Grade-Reading-Photoreading that widens as children get older. This is a complex problem, not only for individual schools but also for school boards, governors, authorities and national administrations.

Administrations in Europe and the USA have responded predictably by prioritising decoding strategies such as phonics and close reading (DFE, 2015; Motijunaite, 2015; Snow & O’Connor, 2014) whilst ignoring the conclusions drawn from a broad range of research (Kintsch, 1998; Willingham, (No Date); Motiejunaite et al., 2014; McNamara [ed.], 2007) and studies into parental engagement with school-based literacy programmes. Meanwhile, the reading gap continues to widen and we find ourselves no closer to a solution to the problem.

Not for one minute do I assume to know the solution to this very complex issue, yet it is clear that the response described above is not an adequate solution.

The following research based responsive indicators are designed to assist you in approaching the most complex of problems in a structured, responsive way. The model incorporates strategies common to a number of leadership theories including authentic, transformational, path-goal theory and servant leadership, (Northouse, 2013).

Having successfully applied the following indicators to a range of scenarios, I am now happy to share it with you for further refinement and testing.

Responsiveness indicators

  1. Definition of the problem and related problems
  2. Shared values and vision
  3. Research informed solutions
  4. Effective structures for collaboration and decision making
  5. Political influence: opportunities and constraints
  6. Community Alignment
  7. Planning for measurable impact
  8. Innovation and change management
  9. Action, support and collective accountability
  10. Redefinition of the problem

1. Defining the problem and related problems

What precisely is the problem and what are the related problems? To what extent do these problems exist and what are the causes? What might happen if the problem is not solved?

Establishing the current reality through structured data analysis should enable you to understand the nature of the problem and its causes more fully.

Gathering the views of a range of stakeholders must be part of this process as it allows you to view the problem through a range of lenses. Both complex and dynamic problems require an explorative interaction with the problem situation to generate the information needed to solve the problem, (Wirth & Klieme, 2003).

tumblr_inline_n5wunqY0l41rd9i5uThe use of data is integral to the process of defining the problem but this should be approached in a structured fashion. Murray, (2014) warns that ‘current attempts to use data have lacked depth and have been too focused on accountability and meeting state and federal requirements than on systematically investigating the factors that support and hinder the teaching and learning process.’  

2. Shared values and vision

Has a clear vision been articulated in relation to the problem? Does this vision contribute to the overall vision for the school? Are there a set of values that are shared in relation to the problem?

Sinek, (2009) stresses the importance of establishing clarity about what an organisation believes in as it establishes why it does what it does. In our earlier example: closing the reading gap, we might agree that ‘we believe that all children should be able to read to a high standard so that they can comprehend fully and articulate responses to others’ ideas.’

The importance of the vision being a collective one is symptomatic of authentic leadership. Steffens et. al., (2016) discovered that ‘a leader who advances the interests of a collective is (a) perceived as offering more authentic leadership and (b) more likely to inspire followership.’ and ‘findings suggest that leaders are regarded as more authentic to the extent that they are true to the collective identity of the group that they lead’ [ibid].

3. Research informed solutions

Does sufficient knowledge and expertise exist within the organisation to be able to propose a range of solutions to the problem? Is this knowledge research informed?

Where possible, leadership responsiveness should be informed by research as this is most likely to lead to effective solutions to education problems. 

Decisions will need to be taken locally as to whether meta-analysis tools (such as the Teaching and Learning Toolkit) should be used or organisations should employ their own researchers. Research capacity will most likely vary across organisations which may impact on the quality of the research accepted and the solutions proposed in response to findings. 

4. Effective protocols for collaboration and decision making

Do group members collaborate effectively? Do they pose questions to each other to reveal and extend thinking? Do they listen actively and deeply, paraphrasing to summarise? Do they provide data to structure conversations? Do they put ideas on the table, modify them and remove them if appropriate? Do they pay attention to themselves and others in order to adjust their way of working in the group? Do they presume positive intentions in a non-judgemental way? Do they pause to allow time for thought?

Collaborating in a group requires both skill and authentic purpose. The 7 norms of collaboration identified in the above list of questions, when used alongside structured processes for facilitating groups, lead to effective group outcomes. This is vital as potential solutions are tabled and discussed. Reaching excellent decisions about which solutions to prioritise will require effective collaboration.

5. Political Influence

Politics within and beyond the organisation will certainly have an influence on the solutions that you are able to implement in response to your education problem.

National education policy may impose certain restrictions on you as may other national legislation and local school policies. It is important to become aware of potential barriers to your proposed solutions at this stage to avoid time and resources being wasted.

6. Community Alignment

In order to be culturally responsive, it is important to align the school and its community. This could be through sharing the vision, communicating the solutions and actions to involving stakeholders in the decision making and recruiting parents to support initiatives.

(Wilson et. al., 2007) stresses the importance of two-way communication using accessible communication channels. Opening up these channels of communication using technology that is accessed by even the poorest stakeholders in the school community would encourage effective communication where all stakeholders are informed and have a voice.

7. Planning for measurable impact

Fullan, (2007) ascribes to the idea that action is more important than planning. Therefore, short-term (6 week plans) are likely to be more effective than long term plans in inspiring action.

Consider how the success of each action point on the plan will be measured and ensure that targets are SMART.

Much has been written about effective planning and there is little more that I feel I need to add at this time.

8. Innovation and change management

An important step toward achieving success is managing change successfully through a positive approach. In order to achieve this, I suggest using the 8 step change model developed by Kotter, (Mind Tools, 2011) as a structure for change. Clement, (2014) is extremely positive in her case study as she finds that ‘it is possible for mandated change to be managed in positive ways’ through ‘taking charge of the change’ in innovative ways.  Empowering teams and individuals to be innovative about how they respond to change appears to be an influential factor in change management.

Appreciative leadership helps to build a culture in which innovation and transformation can be supported (Orr & Cleveland-Innes, 2015). This indicator is included in response to this premise and is used to measure the extent to which individuals are given the autonomy to be creative within the parameters of the solution provided.

9. Action, support and collective accountability

Collective accountability reinforces the shared responsibility and commitment to solving complex education problems that underpins this model. Individual accountability is considered to be counter-productive to achieving collective goals and democratic decision making, (Jacobsen and Young, 2013).

The effectiveness of servant leadership is tested by Grisaffe et. al., (2016). The conclusions drawn establish the hierarchical conceptualization of servant leadership in relation to other forms of leadership.  The concept of servant leadership remains a key aspect of this indicator which has been extended to include action and collective accountability. Action is included in response to Fullan, (2007) who suggests that action is as important as planning.

Support encompasses all aspects of coaching, training, emotional support and individualized consideration.

10. Redefinition of the problem

Fullan, (2007) warns against a preoccupation with measurement results that are too complex, highly subjective, or miss important elements of performance. Therefore, the review should employ structured conversations about data, (Garmston & Wellman, 2013).  
 
I decided on using a  leadership indicator here which avoids the preoccupation with subjective measurement for individual accountability. Therefore, I decided to focus on ‘redefining the problem’ at this point. Avoiding a blame culture and maintaining a solution focused culture is central to this collective accountability model and this new indicator supports this idea. 

References

Averso, R. S., (2004) A Phenomenological Study of Leadership: Developing a Shared School Vision, Norman: University of Oklahoma

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Clement, J., (2014). ‘Managing Mandated Educational Change’, School Leadership & Management, 34, 1, pp. 39-51

Department for Education, (2015) Reading: the next steps.

Fullan, M., (2007). The New Meaning of Educational Change, New York: Teachers College Press

Garmston, R. J., & B. M. Wellman, (2013) The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups, 2nd edition, [eBook], Carrboro: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Goldman, S. R., Varma, S., & Cote, N. (1996). ‘Extending capacity-constrained construction integration: Toward “smarter” and flexible models of text comprehension.’ In B. K. Britton & A. C. Graesser (Eds.), Models of understanding text (pp. 73– 114). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Grisaffe, D, VanMeter, R, & Chonko, L., (2016). ‘Serving first for the benefit of others: preliminary evidence for a hierarchical conceptualization of servant leadership’, Journal Of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 36, 1, pp. 40-58  

Jacobsen, R, & Young, T, (2013). ‘The New Politics of Accountability: Research in Retrospect and Prospect’, Educational Policy, 27, 2, p. 155 

Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A paradigm for cognition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Mind Tools, (2011). Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model: Implementing Change Powerfully and Successfully, Available at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM
_82.htm, (accessed: 15/05/2016)

Motiejunaite, A., Noorani, S. and Monseur, C. (2014), Patterns in national policies for support of low achievers in reading across Europe. British Educational Research Journal, 40: 970–985.

Murray, J., (2014). ‘Critical Issues Facing School Leaders Concerning Data-­Informed Decision-Making’, Professional Educator, 38, 1

Northouse, P. G. (2013) Leadership: Theory and Practice, 6thedition, Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications (first published: 2006)

Orr, T, & Cleveland-Innes, M., (2015). ‘Appreciative Leadership: Supporting Education Innovation’, International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 16, 4, pp. 235-241

Poocharoen, O, & Wong, N., (2016) ‘Performance Management of Collaborative Projects: The Stronger the Collaboration, the Less Is Measured’, Public Performance & Management Review, 39, 3, pp. 607-629

McNamara, D [Ed.] (2007) Reading Comprehension Strategies: Theories, Interventions and Technologies. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Savage, R, Burgos, G, Wood, E & Piquette, N., (2015). The Simple View of Reading as a framework for national literacy initiatives: a hierarchical model of pupil-level and classroom-level factors, British Educational Research Journal, 41:5, (pp. 820-844)

Sinek, S., (2009) How Great Leaders Inspire Action [Video]

Snow, C., & O’Connor, C. (2014) Close Reading and Far-Reaching Classroom Discussion: Fostering a Vital Connection, California Reader, 47, 4, pp. 27-34

Snow, C. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R& D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Steffens, N, Mols, F, Haslam, S, & Okimoto, T., (2016). ‘True to what We stand for: Championing collective interests as a path to authentic leadership’, The Leadership Quarterly.

Vitale, M. R., & Romance, N. R. (2000). ‘Portfolios in science assessment: A knowledge-based model for classroom practice.’ In J. J. Mintzes, J. H. Wandersee, & J. D. Novak (Eds.), Assessing science understanding: A human constructivist view (pp. 168– 197). San Diego, CA: Academic.

Vitale, M. R., Romance, N. R., & Dolan, M. F. (2006). ‘A knowledge-based framework for the classroom assessment of student science understanding.’ In M. McMahon , P. Simmons, R . Summers, D. DeBaets, & F. Crawley (Eds.) , Assessment in science: Practical experiences and educational research (pp. 1– 14). Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.

Van den Broek, P., Virtue, S., Everson, M. G., Tzeng, Y., & Sung, Y. (2002). ‘Comprehension and memory of science texts: Inferential processes and the construction of a mental representation.’ In J. Otero, J. Leon, & A. C. Graesser (Eds.), The psychology of science text comprehension (pp. 131– 154). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Willingham, D., (No Date) http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/spring-2006/how-knowledge-helps (Accessed: 27/04/2016)

Wilson. M., Warnock, K., and Schoemaker, M., (2007), ‘At the Heart of Change: The Role of Communication in Sustainable Development’, Panos Institute, London

Wirth, J., & E. Klieme., (2003). Computer-based assessment of problem solving competence Assessment in Education, 10 , pp. 329–345

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Just Visiting – Half Term

Life as an Education Consultant

corfe-castle

Who invited Cromwell round for dinner!

Despite it being half-term, I find plenty to do. I start by revamping my official website and then my hosted WordPress blog. It takes ages to migrate the website but it looks better now it’s done.

I’m really surprised to get a great reaction to last week’s blog post and it gives me the boost I need to write another.

I have a couple of exciting projects to prepare for and I make a start before we head off on a short camping trip in Dorset. The first project is a Skype meeting that I am having with an education software company on Monday. I’m hoping that the discussion will go well and I will be able to add value to their excellent product. I start by listing what I might be able to do for them and how we might work together to develop the software further. The next project is a senior leadership planning weekend that I have been asked to facilitate by an ex-colleague. I re-read a couple of extracts from ‘The Adaptive School’ (Garmston, 2013) in anticipation and jot down a few notes about how I might structure the two days.

I muse about writing a book called ‘Leading from the Bottom’ subtitled ‘Talking out of my arse…’ but I decide against it.

The following morning we are off to Dorset and I take a little light reading with me. I’m interested in the concept of teaching leadership, having mentored a couple of ‘Teaching Leaders’ this academic year so I print off a copy of Teacher Leadership in (In)action by Muijs & Harris, (2007). It’s an interesting read and really drives home some themes which resonate with me: trust, collaboration, partnership, positive no-blame cultures and the importance of structure. I jot down my conclusions and wonder how I might help school leaders to involve teachers in decision making and initiating leadership activities in the future. I muse about writing a book called ‘Leading from the Bottom’ subtitled ‘Talking out of my arse…’ but I decide against it.

Our trip to Dorset is lovely and we enjoy our trip to Corfe Castle and Swanage. I lose at Monopoly and eat too many sausages for breakfast!

When I get home, I read a number of posts and write an essay about a Principal who has banned playtime because her school’s English and Maths results have dipped for the second year in succession. This is apparently becoming more common in the USA as high stakes testing and accountability puts pressure on school Director’s to do ‘whatever is necessary.’ I read an article about how outcomes for children under Obama’s presidency have not improved and that high stakes accountability is not having the expected impact on driving up standards in American schools.

My business cards arrive and I’m delighted that they look really professional.

A couple of edu posts catch my attention this week and I think long and hard about each of them. It’s good to see SEND provision at the forefront of Tom Sherrington’s thinking in ‘Send is Mainstream, but it is complicated’ while David Didau gets maverick with his ace ‘Top Gun for Teachers’ post.

I read a chapter from Doug Lemov’s (2106) excellent ‘Reading Reconsidered’ and reflect on a busy and enjoyable week. I look forward to the weekend and ‘just visiting’ some more schools next week.

 

 

 

 

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Just Visiting

Two weeks in an independent school

kids in schoolThings can move pretty quickly as an education consultant. One minute you find yourself in a rather wild suburban school, ducking the half-empty cans of Monster flying about your ears like petrol bombs at a 1980’s city riot; and the next you find yourself in a high achieving rural independent school with smart, gentrified children (who all look about 20 years old – even the primary kids) calmly carrying their tomes of ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ accompanied by sweet birdsong whistling Für Elise in the magical early morning sunshine…you get the picture.

I have spent these past two weeks in a small independent school in Surrey; it’s an idyllic setting. The pupils are smart, conscientious and high achieving. 100% of pupils achieve A*- C Grades at GCSE and more than half of those grades are A and A*.  I have been tasked with evaluating and reporting on the ‘quality of education’ across this all through school and I am well prepared.

After a short announcement in briefing that I would be in school for a few days looking at the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, it’s not long before I’m out and about. It’s great observing quality teachers at work and I get to see a number of these on my first day.

Dipping in and out of classes, it isn’t too long before I get a sense of what the school has been working on and what needs to happen next to improve things further.

Some teachers are a little unsure of me and a couple of them ask who I am. I want to tell them that I am unsure myself: does anybody truly know thyself? But, I figure that’s too deep a conversation for a first meeting. I resist. And I resist suggesting that they should pay more attention in briefing; that would be hypocritical.

One teacher even stops to ask me if I am a teacher. I say, “no, I am an education consultant.” He looks at me quizzically, so I smile and ask him if he wouldn’t mind if I came and had a look at his lesson. Afterwards, I reassure him by saying that I enjoyed the lesson very much and I ask him a couple of questions which he seemed to enjoy answering.

It’s important to me to respect teachers in the schools that I visit and the pressures that they are under. Building a rapport quickly is essential.

Even in a high achieving independent school like this one, kids will be kids. Give them an inch…as the saying goes…and they’ll take 1.6093 kilometres! There’s this one class…there always is…that’s giving a few teachers problems around the place and I opt to follow them for half a day. I learn enough from this class to fill a blog post but that’s one for another day. I spend the afternoon in the Sixth Form and even get to see an accounting  lesson taught via video conferencing. This is a first for me and I was impressed with how well it was managed.

In the primary school I come across a teacher who is clearly nearing retirement and she is teaching Year 3. This is the highlight of my visit. The lesson is simply beautiful: patient, nurturing and effective. I tell her how I feel and I realise that this is too much for her. The tears – of pride (I hope) – are welling in her eyes. I learn later that she is at the end of her contract and that it won’t be renewed, so I make a point of speaking to the board about what I have seen. They are surprised and I suggest a coaching role for her with the incoming NQT. It would be a shame for all that experience to be lost.

It’s not long before teachers and learning support assistants are seeking out my advice and I give them plenty of time. A science teacher asks about a girl in his class that he is finding difficult to connect with and I coach him into coming up with a few strategies. I offer a couple more and he says that he will try one out in his next lesson. Another teacher is eager to share her planning with me and I offer some guidance which is well received.

I learn most on this visit from the learning support team who don’t hold back and are very honest and open. I share some of my views with them but I refrain from telling them that I used to be a SENCO. I hear later, from another teacher, that they were really impressed by my knowledge. I smile to myself, enjoying the feedback.

Eleven days later, I have observed 42 lessons and met with a wide range of staff and pupils. I am ready to file my report and present it to the board.

The meeting goes well and I am asked to come back after half-term for another 12 days to help with some planning and to facilitate a Senior Leadership Team away day.  How could I resist?

Before I leave, the science teacher rushes to catch up with me and tells me excitedly, “I tried what you said, it really worked!”

“That’s great,” I reply. “But…it was your idea.”

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Just Visiting – Life as an education Consultant

Two weeks in an independent school

kids in schoolThings can move pretty quickly as an education consultant. One minute you find yourself in a rather wild suburban school, ducking the half-empty cans of Monster flying about your ears like petrol bombs at a 1980’s city riot; and the next you find yourself in a high achieving rural independent school with smart, gentrified children (who all look about 20 years old – even the primary kids) calmly carrying their tomes of ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ accompanied by sweet birdsong whistling Für Elise in the magical early morning sunshine…you get the picture.

I have spent these past two weeks in a small independent school in Surrey; it’s an idyllic setting. The pupils are smart, conscientious and high achieving. 100% of pupils achieve A*- C Grades at GCSE and more than half of those grades are A and A*.  I have been tasked with evaluating and reporting on the ‘quality of education’ across this all through school and I am well prepared.

After a short announcement in briefing that I would be in school for a few days looking at the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, it’s not long before I’m out and about. It’s great observing quality teachers at work and I get to see a number of these on my first day.

Dipping in and out of classes, it isn’t too long before I get a sense of what the school has been working on and what needs to happen next to improve things further.

Some teachers are a little unsure of me and a couple of them ask who I am. I want to tell them that I am unsure myself: does anybody truly know thyself? But, I figure that’s too deep a conversation for a first meeting. I resist. And I resist suggesting that they should pay more attention in briefing; that would be hypocritical.

One teacher even stops to ask me if I am a teacher. I say, “no, I am an education consultant.” He looks at me quizzically, so I smile and ask him if he wouldn’t mind if I came and had a look at his lesson. Afterwards, I reassure him by saying that I enjoyed the lesson very much and I ask him a couple of questions which he seemed to enjoy answering.

It’s important to me to respect teachers in the schools that I visit and the pressures that they are under. Building a rapport quickly is essential.

Even in a high achieving independent school like this one, kids will be kids. Give them an inch…as the saying goes…and they’ll take 1.6093 kilometres! There’s this one class…there always is…that’s giving a few teachers problems around the place and I opt to follow them for half a day. I learn enough from this class to fill a blog post but that’s one for another day. I spend the afternoon in the Sixth Form and even get to see an accounting  lesson taught via video conferencing. This is a first for me and I was impressed with how well it was managed.

In the primary school I come across a teacher who is clearly nearing retirement and she is teaching Year 3. This is the highlight of my visit. The lesson is simply beautiful: patient, nurturing and effective. I tell her how I feel and I realise that this is too much for her. The tears – of pride (I hope) – are welling in her eyes. I learn later that she is at the end of her contract and that it won’t be renewed, so I make a point of speaking to the board about what I have seen. They are surprised and I suggest a coaching role for her with the incoming NQT. It would be a shame for all that experience to be lost.

It’s not long before teachers and learning support assistants are seeking out my advice and I give them plenty of time. A science teacher asks about a girl in his class that he is finding difficult to connect with and I coach him into coming up with a few strategies. I offer a couple more and he says that he will try one out in his next lesson. Another teacher is eager to share her planning with me and I offer some guidance which is well received.

I learn most on this visit from the learning support team who don’t hold back and are very honest and open. I share some of my views with them but I refrain from telling them that I used to be a SENCO. I hear later, from another teacher, that they were really impressed by my knowledge. I smile to myself, enjoying the feedback.

Eleven days later, I have observed 42 lessons and met with a wide range of staff and pupils. I am ready to file my report and present it to the board.

The meeting goes well and I am asked to come back after half-term for another 12 days to help with some planning and to facilitate a Senior Leadership Team away day.  How could I resist?

Before I leave, the science teacher rushes to catch up with me and tells me excitedly, “I tried what you said, it really worked!”

“That’s great,” I reply. “But…it was your idea.”

 

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A responsive collective accountability model for solving complex education problems

Schools are highly complex adaptive systems, (Garmston & Wellman, 2013). Being highly complex, there is rarely a simple solution to any problem that arises within a school; a structured responsive approach could be what is required.

I propose, in today’s blog, a list of 10 indicators to guide you as you respond to complex education problems in your organisation. The indicators are listed in suggested chronological order and I advise that they are considered as such.

In order to illustrate what I mean, let’s take a problem commonly experienced in schools in the UK: a reading gap that exists between children from low socio-economic families and those from middle and higher socio-economic families.

In almost every school that I visit, in my consultant role, there is an attainment gap in Third-Grade-Reading-Photoreading that widens as children get older. This is a complex problem, not only for individual schools but also for school boards, governors, authorities and national administrations.

Administrations in Europe and the USA have responded predictably by prioritising decoding strategies such as phonics and close reading (DFE, 2015; Motijunaite, 2015; Snow & O’Connor, 2014) whilst ignoring the conclusions drawn from knowledge based research (Kintsch, 1998) and studies into parental engagement with school-based literacy programmes. Meanwhile, the reading gap continues to widen and we find ourselves no closer to a solution to the problem.

Not for one minute do I assume to know the solution to this very complex issue, yet it is clear that the response described above is both reactive and not well thought through.

The following research based responsive indicators are designed to assist you in approaching the most complex of problems in a structured, responsive way. The model incorporates strategies common to a number of leadership theories including authentic, transformational, path-goal theory and servant leadership, (Northouse, 2013).

Responsiveness indicators

  1. Definition of the problem and related problems
  2. Shared values and vision
  3. Research informed solutions
  4. Effective structures for collaboration and decision making
  5. Political influence: opportunities and constraints
  6. Community Alignment
  7. Planning for measurable impact
  8. Innovation and change management
  9. Action, support and collective accountability
  10. Redefinition of the problem

1. Defining the problem and related problems

What precisely is the problem and what are the related problems? To what extent do these problems exist and what are the causes? What might happen if the problem is not solved?

Establishing the current reality through structured data analysis should enable you to understand the nature of the problem and its causes more fully.

Gathering the views of a range of stakeholders must be part of this process as it allows you to view the problem through a range of lenses. Both complex and dynamic problems require an explorative interaction with the problem situation to generate the information needed to solve the problem, (Wirth & Klieme, 2003).

tumblr_inline_n5wunqY0l41rd9i5uThe use of data is integral to the process of defining the problem but this should be approached in a structured fashion. Murray, (2014) warns that ‘current attempts to use data have lacked depth and have been more

2. Shared values and vision

Has a clear vision been articulated in relation to the problem? Does this vision contribute to the overall vision for the school? Are there a set of values that are shared in relation to the problem?

Sinek, (2009) stresses the importance of establishing clarity about what an organisation believes in as it establishes why it does what it does. In our earlier example: closing the reading gap, we might agree that ‘we believe that all children should be able to read to a high standard so that they can comprehend fully and articulate responses to others’ ideas.’

The importance of the vision being a collective one is symptomatic of authentic leadership. Steffens et. al., (2016) discovered that ‘a leader who advances the interests of a collective is (a) perceived as offering more authentic leadership and (b) more likely to inspire followership.’ and ‘findings suggest that leaders are regarded as more authentic to the extent that they are true to the collective identity of the group that they lead’ [ibid].

3. Research informed solutions

Does sufficient knowledge and expertise exist within the organisation to be able to propose a range of solutions to the problem? Is this knowledge research informed?

Where possible, leadership responsiveness should be informed by research as this is most likely to lead to effective solutions to education problems. 

Decisions will need to be taken locally as to whether meta-analysis tools (such as the Teaching and Learning Toolkit) should be used or organisations should employ their own researchers. Research capacity will most likely vary across organisations which may impact on the quality of the research accepted and the solutions proposed in response to findings. 

4. Effective protocols for collaboration and decision making

Do group members collaborate effectively? Do they pose questions to each other to reveal and extend thinking? Do they listen actively and deeply, paraphrasing to summarise? Do they provide data to structure conversations? Do they put ideas on the table, modify them and remove them if appropriate? Do they pay attention to themselves and others in order to adjust their way of working in the group? Do they presume positive intentions in a non-judgemental way? Do they pause to allow time for thought?

Collaborating in a group requires both skill and authentic purpose. The 7 norms of collaboration identified in the above list of questions, when used alongside structured processes for facilitating groups, lead to effective group outcomes. This is vital as potential solutions are tabled and discussed. Reaching excellent decisions about which solutions to prioritise will require effective collaboration.

5. Political Influence

Politics within and beyond the organisation will certainly have an influence on the solutions that you are able to implement in response to your education problem.

National education policy may impose certain restrictions on you as may other national legislation and local school policies. It is important to become aware of potential barriers to your proposed solutions at this stage to avoid time and resources being wasted.

6. Community Alignment

In order to be culturally responsive, it is important to align the school and its community. This could be through sharing the vision, communicating the solutions and actions to involving stakeholders in the decision making and recruiting parents to support initiatives.

(Wilson et. al., 2007) stresses the importance of two-way communication using accessible communication channels. Opening up these channels of communication using technology that is accessed by even the poorest stakeholders in the school community would encourage effective communication where all stakeholders are informed and have a voice.

7. Planning for measurable impact

Fullan, (2007) ascribes to the idea that action is more important than planning. Therefore, short-term (6 week plans) are likely to be more effective than long term plans in inspiring action.

Consider how the success of each action point on the plan will be measured and ensure that targets are SMART.

Much has been written about effective planning and there is little more that I feel I need to add at this time.

8. Innovation and change management

An important step toward achieving success is managing change successfully through a positive approach. In order to achieve this, I suggest using the 8 step change model developed by Kotter, (Mind Tools, 2011) as a structure for change. Clement, (2014) is extremely positive in her case study as she finds that ‘it is possible for mandated change to be managed in positive ways’ through ‘taking charge of the change’ in innovative ways.  Empowering teams and individuals to be innovative about how they respond to change appears to be an influential factor in change management.

Appreciative leadership helps to build a culture in which innovation and transformation can be supported (Orr & Cleveland-Innes, 2015). This indicator is included in response to this premise and is used to measure the extent to which individuals are given the autonomy to be creative within the parameters of the solution provided.

9. Action, support and collective accountability

Collective accountability reinforces the shared responsibility and commitment to solving complex education problems that underpins this model. Individual accountability is considered to be counter-productive to achieving collective goals and democratic decision making, (Jacobsen and Young, 2013).

The effectiveness of servant leadership is tested by Grisaffe et. al., (2016). The conclusions drawn establish the hierarchical conceptualization of servant leadership in relation to other forms of leadership.  The concept of servant leadership remains a key aspect of this indicator which has been extended to include action and collective accountability. Action is included in response to Fullan, (2007) who suggests that action is as important as planning.

Support encompasses all aspects of coaching, training, emotional support and individualized consideration.

10. Redefinition of the problem

Fullan, (2007) warns against a preoccupation with measurement results that are too complex, highly subjective, or miss important elements of performance. Therefore, the review should employ structured conversations about data, (Garmston & Wellman, 2013).  
 
I decided on using a  leadership indicator here which avoids the preoccupation with subjective measurement for individual accountability. Therefore, I decided to focus on ‘redefining the problem’ at this point. Avoiding a blame culture and maintaining a solution focused culture is central to this collective accountability model and this new indicator supports this idea. 

References

Averso, R. S., (2004) A Phenomenological Study of Leadership: Developing a Shared School Vision, Norman: University of Oklahoma

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Clement, J., (2014). ‘Managing Mandated Educational Change’, School Leadership & Management, 34, 1, pp. 39-51

Department for Education, (2015) Reading: the next steps.

Fullan, M., (2007). The New Meaning of Educational Change, New York: Teachers College Press

Garmston, R. J., & B. M. Wellman, (2013) The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups, 2nd edition, [eBook], Carrboro: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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Grisaffe, D, VanMeter, R, & Chonko, L., (2016). ‘Serving first for the benefit of others: preliminary evidence for a hierarchical conceptualization of servant leadership’, Journal Of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 36, 1, pp. 40-58  

Jacobsen, R, & Young, T, (2013). ‘The New Politics of Accountability: Research in Retrospect and Prospect’, Educational Policy, 27, 2, p. 155 

Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A paradigm for cognition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

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Motiejunaite, A., Noorani, S. and Monseur, C. (2014), Patterns in national policies for support of low achievers in reading across Europe. British Educational Research Journal, 40: 970–985.

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Northouse, P. G. (2013) Leadership: Theory and Practice, 6thedition, Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications (first published: 2006)

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Savage, R, Burgos, G, Wood, E & Piquette, N., (2015). The Simple View of Reading as a framework for national literacy initiatives: a hierarchical model of pupil-level and classroom-level factors, British Educational Research Journal, 41:5, (pp. 820-844)

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Snow, C. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R& D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Steffens, N, Mols, F, Haslam, S, & Okimoto, T., (2016). ‘True to what We stand for: Championing collective interests as a path to authentic leadership’, The Leadership Quarterly.

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Vitale, M. R., Romance, N. R., & Dolan, M. F. (2006). ‘A knowledge-based framework for the classroom assessment of student science understanding.’ In M. McMahon , P. Simmons, R . Summers, D. DeBaets, & F. Crawley (Eds.) , Assessment in science: Practical experiences and educational research (pp. 1– 14). Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.

Van den Broek, P., Virtue, S., Everson, M. G., Tzeng, Y., & Sung, Y. (2002). ‘Comprehension and memory of science texts: Inferential processes and the construction of a mental representation.’ In J. Otero, J. Leon, & A. C. Graesser (Eds.), The psychology of science text comprehension (pp. 131– 154). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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Wilson. M., Warnock, K., and Schoemaker, M., (2007), ‘At the Heart of Change: The Role of Communication in Sustainable Development’, Panos Institute, London

Wirth, J., & E. Klieme., (2003). Computer-based assessment of problem solving competence Assessment in Education, 10 , pp. 329–345

 

 

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