What Really Matters: let’s do what works.
This is my third year at what I still think of as my “new school”. After a couple of challenging years involving long-term staff absence, some very dodgy supply teachers (a couple of really good ones too I should add), and a lot of help from a retired member of staff, I’m now happy that we have a fantastic team in English that will achieve great things with our students. We had some very pleasing results in the department in August and I’m confident that the only way is up (baby).
It’s also my first time starting the year as an Assistant Head. This wasn’t a job that I was looking for when I joined the school as Head of English and MFL (AKA the Faculty of Communication) two years ago, but a new Head meant a restructure of leadership and I’ve (fortuitously) ended up with whole school responsibility for Teaching and Learning. This couldn’t be better for me; I get to watch lots of my colleagues doing marvellous things in many different subjects that I can then synthesise and share with others. It’s a serious privilege to be able to do this and to have influence over the school’s direction in this area.
Unsurprisingly, the key aspect of this role is shaping the school’s T+L approach. Last Monday, on our Training Day, I had the opportunity to deliver a 30 minute presentation to staff on T+L expectations and then to run a T+L workshop with new staff. The best bit of this was to be able to say that, although SLT would be dropping into lessons as much as possible, nobody would be pulled-up for not taking “learning styles” into account when planning lessons, or for speaking at length to a class, or for having a class working in silence. And (I’m not ashamed to confess) I beamed when I told them that there is no target to ensure that 90% of the talk in lessons is carried out by students, or to have “busy”, noisy classrooms. Talk to them – you’re the expert; tell them what they need to know.
In fact, all I want to see is curious students working hard in interesting and challenging lessons where what they do is assessed regularly and accurately by subject experts so that they can achieve the best results possible. I will definitely NOT be looking for different students in the same class carrying out different activities; I’d rather see them all working towards the same very challenging goal and being given the supporting nudges they need to get there. I won’t be scouring Schemes for PLTS and SEAL and all that fuzzy nonsense (in fact, if it’s there I’ll probably politely suggest it’s removed). Just ensure your lessons are challenging and fascinating for all our students and you won’t go far wrong.
It is interesting to note that the GCSE subjects that perform the best in our school are the ones in which teachers use more traditional pedagogical approaches. MFL, Geography, PE, English and Science are all subjects in which around 75%+ of students make expected progress and around 45% make better than expected progress. They’re also the subjects that students say they enjoy the most, feel they’re best supported, and respect the teachers the most highly. In those lessons they behave well and strive to achieve the best they can. They like the fact that their teachers give them exactly what they need to acquire the keys that allow them to move successfully on to the next stage of their lives.
In the last two years I’ve begun to see a pattern emerging: teachers that teach students well, create great teacher-student relationships, and make challenging, academic topics accessible and fascinating get the best out of the students in front of them. Who’d have thunk it?