Practitioner based college improvement

I was interested to read the twitter conversation between two valued colleagues, Tony Cassidy and David Rogers on some of the issues surrounding teacher CPD.

As one of the few lucky schools who actually made it through BSF, it has become painfully apparent that to maximise the potential that a new school building can offer, you really need an exceptionally strong commitment to teacher development and CPD.

However, in our school the approach to teacher CPD offered within school had been predominately top down information sharing. I should point out I don’t criticize the school for this, rather the expectations and constraints placed on them by the LA/OFSTED. As a result, each academic year timetabled into the calendar are approximately six “College Improvement Meetings” (CIP). Historically, the quality, relevance and appropriateness of these meetings has been questioned by many staff. Indeed, there was a resounding feeling that they were things to be endured rather then genuine attempts to improve practice. (They were almost always directed at the entire staff and would usually take place on Monday after school… Ouch!)

With this in mind, following one of our teaching and learning group meetings, myself and Lesley Hall our Maths AST, threw some ideas around regarding how our CIP meetings could be enhanced for the coming academic year. What we proposed was a more teacher based approach to CIP meetings that was centred on teaching and learning and was not a one size fits all, top down approach. The presentation below was given to staff to during our proposal for next year. The notes accompanying each image are on the last slide.

When we presented the proposal to staff at the end this last academic year, we introduced them to the cycle of meetings. At that point we had no idea what the staff needed in terms of CPD so we asked them to consider what they felt were aspects of teaching and learning that they most needed assistance with. To facilitate this discussion and with contributions from many in  my twitter network, we created a “discussing teaching and learning presentation”

The slides here were designed to get the staff discussing some of the challenges we face as educators on a lesson by lesson or day to day basis. Members of staff were asked to comment and discuss the extent to which they agreed with the statements.

Following a lively discussion, staff were then asked to draw up a list of themes relating to teaching and learning they would like to investigate next year. These were collated and staff were offered two choices of groups they would most like to join. Groups were then formed around these themes. For this academic year we have groups of teachers investigating…

(1) Developing independence in learning

(2) Teaching an d learning strategies for positive behaviour management

(3) Approaches to promote achievement of students with limited English

(4) Differentiation, by questions, task and outcome

(5) Language development across the curriculum

(6) Effective feedback

(7) Learning outside the classroom

(8) Advanced uses of technology to enhance learning

(9) More advanced Interactive Whiteboard skills

(10) Basic Interactive Whiteboard skills

Each time the group meets next year it will be chaired by a facilitator. This individual is not an expert in that particular aspect of teaching and learning but has volunteered to steer discussions and chair meetings. The facilitator also needs to offer support and encouragement through a group email distribution list.

Meeting 1 (September 2010)

Meet other members of the group and share experiences (good and bad) of particular theme

What each teacher would like to achieve by the end of the year

What that might look like in terms of impact on students

Identify one change that you could make to your practice to help you move towards this goal in before the next meeting.

Meeting 2 (December- January)

Feedback on successes / barriers initiating first step

Offer mutual peer support and guidance

Identify a theme, resource or training need for meeting 3

Meeting 3 (January – April 2011)

Receive some kind of CPD from an “expert” This could be an external trainer invited in or a member of the staff team.

Plan further changes to practice following CPD input

Meeting 4 (April – June 2011)

Feedback on successes / barriers after making further changes to practice following CPD

Offer mutual peer support and guidance

Identify a method of presentation to communicate learning’s to whole staff

Meeting 5/6 (June – July 2011)

Group’s feedbacks to the entire staff on individual / group learning’s and suggest recommendations for changes to whole school policy based on teacher experiences within the cycle.

As the year progresses I’ll write up the successes and challenges the cycle throws up!

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The Power of Touch

“Touching students… Just don’t do it.”

This was the advice offered by many people in both placement schools and at University during my initial  teacher training (ITT). I understand why. Indeed, as ITT coordinator at my existing school I offer the same advice. However, with any advice that is black or white my gut instinct twinges and I hear myself say, “Yes… but, not ALWAYS!…”

Although, as new arrivals into the teaching profession, not touching student comes as sage advice. However after eight years working in schools and reflecting back on my own experience of teachers, I find myself returning to the importance of teachers being able to effectively communicate and would argue that touch is a key part of communication.

Outside education, touch is an integral part of courtship, comfort and childcare, it has a key role in all our lives and can add emphasis to what we want to communicate. Yet as educators we are told that the sensible thing to do is not touch students, ever. I question if this advice is always helpful in the role training of educators.

When students have achieved, alongside verbal praise I will occasionally offer them a high five. As I read that last sentence back, it does indeed sound like intensely cringe worthy behaviour from a teacher, but context and prior relationships is everything. I don’t force them to hi five me, but 99% of the time they do. The sense of accomplishment, pride and reward is clearly visible in their reaction.  Walks down the corridor at break, lunch or afterschool I am often met with requests to cuff or hi five students. Not prompted by myself, and more frequently that not, from students I don’t even teach.

Why?

What are these students looking for outside the classroom?

Why is a touch the method of communication?

Haptics refers to the study of communication through touching. Positive emotional reactions can be triggered by touch and this has profound implications for education, motivation and communication.

Generally in the UK, compared to other parts of the world, touching is a far less common part of communication. You may recall the Michelle Obama /Queen Elizabeth media drama that spilled out following Michelle’s touching the back of the Queen. Notice the reaction of the Queen to Michelle’s touch in the video. Welcome or not?


I can’t help feeling that in our sensitivity to political correctness, combined with a blinkered view that we are safeguarding young people, we have lost a potent way to connect with others. Sometimes the simple act of touching someone to show support, encouragement, agreement, sympathy or gratitude can add a warmth to our communication that is otherwise lacking.

I can’t think of a single day when I have not needed to communicate encouragement, agreement, sympathy or gratitude. Although certainly not the only way to do so, touching can add a significant asset to our communication toolbox with students and others. So, should the advice we offer to ITT students always be so back and white?

Perhaps not, but it would only be prudent to illustrate times when touching students can lead to undesirable communication. I recall a time in my second year teaching when I saw a student displaying some low level disruptive behaviour. He had his back to me and I touched his shoulder to draw his attention away from his attempts at disruption to refocus him on his work. His response was to loudly shout out “Don’t touch me!” In one masterful verbal communication he was able to expertly distract me from my attempt to refocus his learning and gain an audience.  At the time, I said nothing but shot him a look that told him I felt he was out of line. Although he cracked on with the work, his response troubled me intensely. The presupposition was that he was alleging was that I was in some way physically abusing him. I made it my business to point this out to him when he didn’t have an audience before I saw him again in class. However, this was obviously a strategy that had worked for him in that past and he was going to use it!

However, the bottom line was that I placed myself in that position by touching him on the shoulder and not using a verbal redirection. Indeed, what if he or another student had experienced darker interactions with adults in the past that prompted his response?

Despite this experience, I still hi five students. I believe that context, the values you communicate to students and the relationship you have with your classes allow you as a professional to judge when a touch will add sincere warmth and encouragement to your communication with students. Perhaps the discriminator should be that touch should be used in a discourse of reward rather than sanction (other than in cases where safety is risked).

Even when used for praise, touch can be used to reinforce boss/subordinate power relations and in most cases it is the “boss” that does the touching. It is quite common (and usually favourably accepted) that a manager touches the back, shoulder or arm of an employee while saying “well done”. However, as the episode of Friends reminds us, the place, site, proximity and strength of that touch is everything!

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