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I have spent the best part of two days just doing what we call at Christ the Sower a spot. The name comes from an acronym too cheesy to reproduce here, and which I learnt from a secondary school not a million miles from us. However, what it involves is a learning walk that focuses relentlessly upon the positive aspects of what teachers have accomplished in their lessons and in their children’s learning, as reflected in random 10-minute observations. It makes teachers feel much more welcoming about the process if they know that there will be no negative or developmental points raised. I simply record in my day book the answers to two questions:

  • What did I see? (This provides the evidence base for the observation)
  • What impact did it have on learning or learners?

I really do not need to know anything else. The evidence base comes from what teachers say, how they say it, the level of pastoral care, the peaceableness of the learning process, the level of understanding of learning by the learners, the way display contributes to learning and the direction and cohesion of the learning in the 10 minutes I am there, I don’t grade lessons in an OFSTED way, although my professional judgment enables me to make a pretty good guess as to where any lesson is going. 10 minutes is fine for this. Sometimes the lesson changes direction (or even changes room!) so I stick around until I get enough evidence to help me understand the process. I like this process. I did 8 lessons yesterday and 15 today. It is a lot of fun and because all teachers are working on a particular teacher development target (part of their craftsmanship) I get to encourage them in that too, if there is evidence of it during the 10 minutes. Often there is.

Afterwards, I e-mail each teacher with a summary of the impact I saw on learning and learners. It is infinitely rewarding and feels like what I should be doing more of, more often. Much has impressed me, and it is a privilege to see what is going on in classes simply in the craftsmanship and intentional purposefulness of what is happening in each room. All of it is so honouring of our school vision and desire for learning. So what has stood out?

  • Teacher language: some teachers are so precise, careful and thorough, that not a word is wasted. I saw three lessons this morning where not a single opportunity to teach, correct, reinforce, encourage or instruct was missed.
  • Learner language: from where we were at our 2014 OFSTED, I was amazed at the quality of the understanding of learners of the learning process that they were engaged in. More than at any time since I have been here, learning was truly visible. Children could see what their teachers were driving at and could explain it to me. Teachers could see how and where their children were learning and where they needed help to get over a hurdle or stretch them.
  • Variety of approach: lots of teachers are using our agreed theory of learning, but many use it in different ways and in every place, the heart and instinct of the teacher was more obvious than anything else.
  • Skill memory: so much of what I saw enabled me to see a long way behind what the teacher had done for this particular lesson – through the lens of the children’s recollection of skills and their memory of previous learning.
  • Work-rate, especially in writing: after a batch of less-than-desirable outcomes in writing last year, we have prioritised writing of all sorts across the curriculum. What was really pleasing to see was not just the precision in the writing process, but the amount the children had achieved in the lessons I observed.
  • The many fantastic uses of display: not everyone has this nailed, because it is difficult and not all teachers are as visual as others in their conception of the display of learning, but where it is good it is really good. The way that the approach to learning is reflected in the display and the displayed material was a feature of half a dozen of the observations.
  • Clarity of teaching direction: in nearly every lesson it was clear how the teacher wanted to move, and the direction of travel for each lesson was not just consistent with our theory of learning but was strong enough so that I as a professional colleague could easily imagine and approve what was coming next. This gave a completeness to the experience that was very encouraging.

Since September last year we have tried hard as a leadership team to enable a greater level of teacher autonomy to their craft. It has been mostly successful – all teachers have taken their teacher development very seriously and have availed themselves of a coach, learning partner, film technology or mentor. At some stage I will publish here the philosophy we have used to help us. The experience of the last two days has encouraged me enormously that we have done the right thing here. This in turn should give encouragement to parents, children and any other member of the public interested in what we do….

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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