Tag Archives: school improvement

Making best use of … Leadership; Coaching & Cooperative Learning.

Cooperative Learning makes learning visible. But, perhaps more importantly to senior leadership teams, it also makes visible their key area of responsibility, namely the teaching.

Were I to sum up Cooperative Learning in one word, it would be empowerment. Empowerment first and foremost of every pupil; self-confidence, courage, curiosity, choice, to name a few; empowerment of teachers (and their support staff) by making all the tick-boxes of outstanding teaching available in a simple, manageable manner; and empowerment of senior leadership teams (SLT) by facilitating their key role as guides to good teaching.

It may be obvious that empowerment of teachers is a prerequisite for the empowerment of pupils. But I venture here that empowerment of leaders in their role is in some ways a prerequisite for the empowerment of teachers themselves.

The responsibility of leadership

This article discusses how Cooperative Learning may empower all levels of your school community by working from the top down. Counter-intuitive, perhaps, and certainly something which needs to be tweaked to reflect the ethos of each school.

The fundamental assumption in this text is that 1) you are a leader because you have more to give – perhaps a more comprehensive educational background, more experience, better communication skills, patience, or decisiveness, to name some – and that 2) most of your staff could actually benefit from you, and actually wish to.

Empowerment via the top-down approach has several aspects. School leaders struggle with an overload of tasks which push the focus away from the raison d’etre of any school: every-day excellent teaching and learning in the classroom:

 

Headteacher's priorities.PNG

For those who use the Eisenhower/Covey matrix.

 

Given schools only exists for the sake of teaching and learning, and the documented positive impact of coaching on teachers professional development,* you would think that weekly lesson observations of every teacher by an experienced leader would not just be a given, it would be a right, the violation of which could bring the NUT down on the school’s head.

However, learning walks/lesson observations are often draining because outcomes seldom match the effort; objectives are not clear and feedback is not practical and, as a consequence, observations often result in vague hints which are seldom followed up, rather than instantly applicable advice that actually improves life for teachers and pupils from the next day and onwards. (Which only increases the sense among teachers observations are not about them being raised, but being judged).

We have previously discussed how Cooperative Learning has the capacity to effectively turn fluffy concepts of “secure more pupil engagement”  into practical reality. The question is, how does the school take ownership of this capacity?

Why coach leadership

The answer is to turn leaders into just that: Trusted, inspiring guides, who master Cooperative Learning enough to take the torch from the consultant and drive their school’s vision. So, rather than having me come into classrooms following CPD to observe and coach teachers, I began coming into classrooms to observe and coach school leaders doing the same.

There are numerous benefits to this, four of which are listed below.

 

1. Improve Cooperative Learning and basic teaching skills

Teaching becomes visible through Cooperative Learning. Here it is important to grasp that weakness in the understanding of teaching is not the same as weakness in the execution of the Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs).

I specifically coach to maximise the benefit of Cooperative Learning – a clear objective with clear outcomes that I feel confident I can secure during one lesson/feedback session, and although I deal with matters which impinge on the quality of Cooperative Learning (e.g. timing and directive modelling) any underlying deep or subject-specific issues (e.g. misapprehension of objectives, or inappropriate levelling), is best dealt with in an ongoing process with responsible school leaders.

So by coaching SLT rather than the individual teacher, the benefit of the coaching is much more ongoing, comprehensive, and cohesive; and here, the clarity of Cooperative Learning will not only disclose gaps in teaching skills but will give very practical tools to close them, presented in a respectful, and perhaps less direct, manner.

2. Put victims at peace

Most teachers are used to being masters of their own classrooms and, as do most people, dislike the sense of being observed and judged, even if they are brilliant. By focusing attention on the performance of leadership in the role of coaches, it is possible to secure accountability and improvement while being more respectful of teachers’ integrity.

executive-coaching

 

3. Fast-track to independence

By turning SLT into capable Cooperative Learning coaches, the school becomes independent of further external consulting, which is, of course, the ultimate goal for the school – and for me a sign I have done my job right.

4. The learner becomes the master

The practical coaching of SLT will enable leaders who are so disposed – there is at least one of those in every school – to move Cooperative Learning to a whole new level, tweaking, experimenting, combining, Stalham Academy being an obvious case study. But this cannot be done without mastering of the basics. “Wax on, wax off,” for those who remember the Karate Kid’s ordeals (Youtube).

Stages of lesson observations

There are several ways to approach Cooperative Learning lesson observations. The following discusses options of (A) Before, (B) During and (C) After lessons – with (B) obviously being indispensable.

(A) Before the observation

Ideally, the teacher presents the rationale behind the lesson plan prior to the observation (whether to me directly, or to a member of SLT being trained by me). This presentation includes shared reflections on pacing, choice of materials, assumptions about previous learning, securing evidence, as one normally would, but specifically how the CLIPs support this. “Why this CLIP and not that? Which sub-tasks fit in the objective? What target language are you requiring them to use?” For practical reasons, we usually do this in a break immediately preceding the lesson.

A special benefit of this approach is that I can confirm that the teacher grasps where and how to use the CLIPs in the context of the lesson, so that the observation may focus solely on the execution of the CLIP itself. By coordinating when CLIPs are used, it is conceivable to observe up to three separate classes within the span of a lesson slot.

 

 

(B) During the observation

With the coach(es) present in the classroom as the lesson takes place, there are two options: one is passive observation for later feedback, the other is active guidance as the lesson proceeds. As Cooperative Learning turns the focus away from the teacher, it is possible to have a real-time conversation about what is happening in the heat of the moment. For example, a reminder to monitor the whole class and not get sucked into the individual pupil’s issues is a classic.*

(An alternative version of this is to watch a video recording of the lesson together, where the teacher can see himself from the outside and discuss his observations with the coach. However, there is a risk that too much detail is lost in a video, as the coach cannot direct attention to individual pupils or teams).

(C) After the observation

It is crucial that the feedback following the lesson is a two-way process, respectful, yet honest. When coaching leaders, I usually run the feedback in the following stages.

1. Alone with me, the senior leader gives her own take on the Cooperative Learning within the lesson, and I fill in the gaps, add to the precision of language, or correct errors. Where relevant, we discuss the relationship to teaching skills and we use a checklist to make sure bases are covered. This checklist is provided to all staff during training (and every teacher is expected to laminate it and chain it to his wrist). Sometimes, the oral feedback is prepared with me playing the role as the teacher.

2. The observed teacher enters and gives his own subjective perspective. (“God, I was horrible!” is not an uncommon – and incorrect – opening statement, which reflects the strain of being monitored more than anything else). What is important that the teacher is allowed time and space to reflect on himself, and come up with his own solutions, first and foremost.

3. The leader being coached then uses this as a sounding board for the feedback, rephrasing it as needed to match, tweak, or correct the perspectives of the teacher. There is, of course, no reason to repeat problems that the teacher flagged up himself, except to note his insight, as realistic self-assessment is one of the single most valuable skills one may have.

4. Now comes the important part: the practical application of the feedback. This means picking the most important few issues, and presenting solutions in an actionable form. An example is given in the following section.

5. The teacher is offered time discuss with me directly, with or without the leader present.

6. I give the leader ia set of final comments on her interaction with the teacher. This will usually focus on the clarity of her message. Hence the extreme example below.

 

Exemplary feedback

Here is an example of what that could look like, with the wrapping peeled away:

“You pointed out yourself that you find it difficult to connect back to previous lessons. So, what we have agreed is that, starting tomorrow, every lesson will begin with a such-and-such CLIP, staged just like this, using these metacognitive questions about their prior knowledge, and securing this type of written evidence. The CLIP will last minimum five minutes, excluding staging, and you will use a on-screen timer to make your two Asperger’s pupils feel safe. You will dedicate yourself to monitoring, leaving the overall control of the class to your TA, who you will have carefully instructed in this task. A specific target for you is to stop waffling and to bring your modelling down to 45 seconds, giving more time to put the pupils in control of their own learning. So next week, I will pop in and have a look. We’ll take it from there. Any questions?”

 

Soddin’ Growth Mindset!

I intentionally stripped the fluff of the example above, because I want the content of the feedback to be crystal clear. Two points here: Number One, the “action plan” is the result of a dialogue between the teacher and the leader during the coaching session. Number Two, I do not, and I do not ask leaders to, speak that way to staff. However, behind the coating, that is the level of specificity you need to arrive at. If you find it a challenge to empower yourself in your role as leader to do that, consider asking other leaders in your hub or trust on how they do it.

Because, as uncomfortable and un-British as it may feel to risk stepping on people’s toes (I’ve actually had people apologise to me about the English weather!) just remember that you are doing the teacher and the pupils, both entrusted to your care, a severe disservice by not bringing out the very best in your staff.

As a Dane, I come from a very direct culture where many a casual conversation would be considered extremely rude by the British. Yet, one benefit to this obnoxious forthrightness is that it negates the confusion between what is professional, realistic feedback and what is a personal judgement to which one is entitled to respond emotionally. Those two are not the same.

On that note, ponder this: With smiling faces, we teachers drill into a pupil standing nailed to the whiteboard and feeling utterly humiliated in front of their whole class, that “It is GREAT to make mistakes because we can learn and grow!” Yet, some of us flatly refuse to rectify our shortcomings with a trusted colleague in a private setting, though we affect the futures of thousands of children over the course of our careers?

There is no real reason to feel judged in learning from colleagues, and certainly, there is no shame in learning from a colleague with superior skills or more experience. So, in summary, a trusting, collaborative ethos is not just a requisite for children to learn, but for adults as well. Coming full circle, the capacity to learn and improve is the basis of all empowerment. For pupils, teaching staff, and leaders.

 

Recognise this?

 

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NB: This article has been in the pipeline for a while, and was inspired by a novel take on coaching by a school I am now working with. Here, rather than sending leaders on learning walks, teachers are paired up with a sparring partner, who take turns observing and coaching each other. This opens an opportunity to dedicated use of Cooperative Learning to share practice and experience between those pairs and keep leadership informed in an informal and non-threatening manner. I am hoping to write an ongoing series on this theme. (And learn something new in the process).

You can follow on Twitter or join the mailing list for updates.

Also, benefit from related articles written for leadership on best-practice.

* * *

 

 

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*) “The reflection promoted by effective mentoring and coaching approaches in turn encourages a collaborative learning culture in organisations. For schools, this is particularly important, as it may alleviate some of the sense of professional isolation….”

From Mentoring And Coaching For Professionals: A Study Of The Research Evidence, P. Lord, et al., National Foundation for Educational Research, 2008, p. viii,  https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/MCM01/MCM01.pdf  (accessed 17 September 2017).
**) Because the learning is so in-your-face, it is almost impossible not to step in. But unless the (indispensable!) TA is present to keep a bird’s eye view, this is not advisable.

 

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Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#2: Dive in Head first.

This is the second instalment of the Stalham Academy series, which investigates how a reeling Norfolk primary in special measures could reach UK top-500 in two years – for a £900 CPD investment.

In the previous post, we discussed the importance of knowing what you want. This second post examines the steps from the first CPD session to effective deployment of Cooperative Learning in the classrooms.

The Skills & Mastery course was delivered in three blocks of two hours after school, rather than one big, mind-numbing 6-hour inset. Not only does this mean there is no cost for cover, the bite-size format helps ensure no-one chokes.

It also distributes the cost over several months. At Stalham Academy, we did three CLIPs per session, 24 September 2014, 3 December 2014 and 11 February 2015, starting with the more versatile and working towards the more targeted, complex  CLIPs as teachers found their footing between sessions. My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day.

My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day. Because Andrew Howard had a vision for his school, and had taken the time to attentively go through the “instruction manual” with me, he was way ahead of the curve on this.

Mr Howard had, and has, a fundamental understanding that the Teaching & Learning is the core product of any school and that nice buildings, interactive whiteboards, intelligent assessment and budget systems, etc. are mere ancillaries to this.

Rather than sit in his office meeting out orders like some Lord Kitchener he did what real leaders do. They lead from the front. He actively used the CLIPs in his own teaching, working with Ms Gillespie and other SLT to quickly establish the best practice that would drive the vision he had already outlined to staff. He used what he learned from his own classes, and based on experiences he and his team demonstrated and observed lessons, coached, advised, and supported teachers, creating not only an engaged and excited shared learning environment, but a ditto teaching environment. And don’t teachers deserve that?

Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns are comprised of very simple steps, but precisely therein lies their complexity. Consider Think-Pair-Share, often attributed to Frank Lyman. Many, many teachers use it all the time – but most could massively improve the outcome of this activity by being aware of their timing of the stages, their modelling of specific outcomes, written evidence, and language, their use of sub-tasks, etc.

180 seconds of well-executed, targeted Think-Pair-Share – 30 seconds to think in absolute silence, jotting down 2-3 key terms, 60 seconds to discuss in pairs and 90 seconds minutes to share, directly with one partner only to secure accountability – will get you more than fifteen minutes of the sloppy, slippery and nebulous  version of the exact same activity.

This is why the more experienced members of senior leadership need to be in the classrooms. Not to micro-manage, judge and spy, but to give brief feedback that is practical and applicable.

Because Cooperative Learning is “instant coffee” outstanding teaching (just add pupils and stir) it does not take complex feedback to get really amazing results from teachers – even those who were on the verge of leaving the profession.

Essentially, observing SLT members simply draw attention to the checklist issued to everyone during the CPD – in 95% of the cases, the reason things are not optimal is because the simple basics were ignored, e.g.  the task is unsuitable for the CLIP, such as asking a closed question in a Think-Pair-Share: “What is the answer to the first task on your paper; 45 minus 56? Just turn to your (A partners) when you are done, and then to your (B partners)” 

Try this instead:

“You have one minute to work out as many of the tasks as you can on your worksheet, then you have 30 seconds to compare your method and results with your (A partners) and 30 seconds to share with your (B partners). Resolve any disagreements. If your team has resolved any and all differences when we finish, the whole team puts your hands up. I will time you. Go!”

Differentiation, because HAPs can keep working in Think stage – with written evidence. Then compare results, to promote language, higher level thinking, peer learning. Same result, good, next one. Not same, why?! Your partner didn’t do a single one? Help him work it out as best you can, or help each other (“Bob, the negative number is the larger of the two, you see? So the answer should be negative”) generating automatic, personalised and highly differentiated peer learning and feedback -across the whole class simultaneously.

The higher ability especially benefits from the metacognitive element, as s/he reflects on her own understanding to make it accessible to struggling peers, but in order to ask a relevant question, the lower ability pupils need to formulate what precisely they don’t understand. Feedback and Metacognition give 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year, according to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit.

The “hands-up” add a sometimes beneficial competitive element. In the end, the teams that have their hands down are the ones you need to support. (But then you already knew that because you were monitoring, weren’t you?)

That took about 30 seconds to stage, and two minutes to execute. And all the observer needs to say is: “Always let Think-Pair-Share task volume be open-ended, and make sure they investigate why there is sometimes a difference between results. Otherwise good.” 

Quoting the Toolkit, “…it is important to get the details right.” And this is where SLT and the (acting) head stepped up at Stalham Academy in the weeks following the CPD.

Coming up: Ordered deployment or everything at once?  Stay updated on Twitter.

Interviews with Stalham Academy staff here. Reflections from senior leadership from Stalham and elsewhere here.

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werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.

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Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#1: Getting your Head straight.

Even in a Formula One racing car, it all comes down to the driver. If they weren’t so skilled, Stalham Academy’s senior leadership should be wearing fireproof suits and crash helmets.

This is the first in a series of articles discussing how Stalham Academy used Cooperative Learning to get from special measures to top 500 with nothing but the 6-hour Skills & Mastery course.

Cooperative Learning will always generate very, very good teaching if you follow a few basic rules in your classrooms. However, before we get to what these are, there is the issue of Senior Leadership.

(For schools in the  Norfolk Better to Best network especially – given the increased focus on leadership in relation to teaching and learning – this first article is a must).

Make sure to help us pick the right content for the upcoming webinar on Cooperative Learning, fill out this 60-second questionnaire. Link found at the bottom of this page.

 

What to do with something that can do everything?

As an external visitor to schools, I don’t walk in and tell teachers what to do. I believe they know their strengths, styles, learners, subjects and resources far better than I. Rather, I give a hands-on demonstration of how a set of content-free Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) generate instant outstanding student-centred learning. I then hammer home that they are not required to – and indeed should not – use Cooperative Learning all the time in every lesson. I do everything to avoid delivering a straitjacket system. Cooperative Learning will only, in fact, do what you want it to when you want.

But precisely this “what you want” may be the head’s Achilles heel; what Senior Leadership chooses to do with Cooperative Learning after the training will in most cases determine what your school gets out of it. This holds true for Cooperative Learning as much as for any other CPD. We all know about bad habits and the gravity pull towards default. So what did Stalham Academy do right to avoid the black hole of bad habits?

Getting to grips with gravity

Andrew Howard, then acting head of Stalham Academy, decided to bring the school out of special measures virtually overnight, and so he did. But certain other schools have not achieved lesser goals in spite of running more CPD.

The advice that follows is based on certain assumptions that I hold:

First, I assume you want to work with me because you have some recognition of what Cooperative Learning can do. On the surface, it is true Cooperative Learning is “simply another strategy among many to get students talking.” But in fact, this is similar the now-famous 1943 statement by the then Director of IBM, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” That was not one of IBMs finer moments.

Second, I assume that Senior Leadership is to be held entirely responsible for the school – its ethos, results, staff retention, materials, the lot. If anything goes wrong, it is on them. Not poor teachers, not misbehaved children, not the lack of an IT-guy. At the very end, it’s all on the head.

Have you got a head on your shoulders?

If the school is the body, SLT is the nervous system. But what is the nervous system without, precisely, the head.

If yours is like most schools, the head navigates the complex role of soul doctor, mediator, and visionary, while constantly risking having its higher level thinking side-tracked by tasks it should really not be doing. When you drive, you do not consciously give commands to your foot to press the clutch or to your hand to shift gears. Bits of the nervous system do that for you. Rather, your head has the overview of the direction and potential traffic jams – It makes the life-and-death choices at the wheel.

Thus the first condition of Stalham’s success is the front line leadership of Andrew Howard.

From our first conversation, even without understanding in detail what Cooperative Learning was, he knew what he wanted it to do. Once we had outlined and delivered the first 2-hour slot of CPD, he followed it up with stick and carrot, guiding, nurturing, and challenging his teachers, observing them and coaching them, refining their use of the CLIPs, identifying lesson plan objectives, producing and organising targeted resources, etc.

Parent meeting Andrew Howard lesson presentation

Mr Howard in action, Stalham Academy, 2015.

Right for Success Trust hit the jackpot when they secured Glenn Russell to head the school. I know many an incumbent headteacher who would have walked in and made his mark by undoing all current programmes to make way for his own ideas. Not so with Glenn; for him, the children came first, and he correctly assessed, as he said in an interview “…the teaching is very, very good.” He simply brought his superior education and experience to bear, further refining and integrating data tracking and assessment, complementing and strengthening Andrew Howard’s in-class initiatives.

Problems & Solutions

In summary, this is Lesson One for schools wanting to copy Stalham’s success:

  1. Know what you want to achieve and tell me.
  2. Follow up the deployment of the CPD in the classroom.

As for number one, aside from the initial meeting, which is part and parcel of any budding relationship, I have begun to offer headteachers help to turn vision into flesh and bones. Not necessarily because they are not good heads, but because they are busy, swamped, and I should make their life easier. One of the brilliant things about Cooperative Learning is that once experienced, its application is so practical and its outcomes so delineated it’s almost like working with lego brick (or just “legos” as they say here in Norfolk). It very quickly gives SLT and governors a roadmap, with clear signposts to guide direction and measure the progress of roll-out.

As for number two, I assume that observing and coaching the men and women directly responsible for teaching is an embedded routine, and if not, it should be. Because the CLIPs are all about practical application, it is very easy for an observer to check they are being deployed in classrooms.  Remember that delivery is usually in short twilights so you can focus on one or at most two CLIPs per time. However, because of the incredible versatility of CLIPs, you need to break up the first couple into manageable chunks. Each one is a Swiss Army Knife in its own right. You need to distinguish all the tools, to pull them out at the right time and in the right order for the job. Are you looking for assessment? Do this. Formative or summative? Do that. Do you want written evidence? Do this. Etc.

So, in response to the needs of specific schools, I have spent time developing a “Deployment Plan” to further help SLT secure successful deployment of Cooperative Learning without having to do extra work. Rather than doing everything at once all over the place, this plan presents objectives with crystal clear success criteria which allows SLT to track each teacher and give him or her the support needed. By making sure teachers experience success, the element of empowerment is sufficient motivation for the teacher and the students to fuel success.

Small successful steps where everyone feels on board are preferable to arm-waving ambitions with big failures. But even the greatest journey starts with small steps.

So if you choose Cooperative Learning, trust you have made the right decision, work with people to feel safe getting onboard and press the speeder – gently, but firmly.

For next instalment follow on twitter.

werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.

For video interviews with SLT and staff, visit the Gallery.

 

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