Jennie Giovanelli, Teacher of English at The Duston School, writes…
‘Productive tinkering’ with good practice can transform evaluation and quality of teaching.
As a school, we have never sought to make excuses or have less than the very highest aspirations and expectations for teachers and students. We have also never thought that these aspirations and expectations are realised by measurements.
Over the last six years we have transformed the way we both evaluate and develop the quality of teaching in our classrooms.
2010: triangulating evidence bases
In 2010, we developed a cycle within school that did not base the evaluation of the quality of teaching on lesson observations alone. At the time, this was a significant shift from previous school policy. We recognised that it was inherently flawed to evaluate teaching based on one-off lesson observations; it didn’t promote a developmental or rigorous approach to improving the quality of teaching. Nor did it improve outcomes or the learning experience for our students. Instead, we moved to a system of using a range of evidence to come to a decision about how teachers were graded.
2013 – Driving the quality of teaching from where it matters most
Another significant shift came in 2013. Three years on, we had removed lesson observation grades and the underpinning principles of coaching and collaboration still existed, but it was clear that the whole school coaching approach was not having the impact it could. We knew that to really drive change, we needed to involve the most important layer in the school – the middle leaders.
- We believe it is through coaching, continuous learning and a collective responsibility that we will promote the very best standards of teaching and learning within our school.
- Quality teaching for learning takes into consideration all aspects which affect the outcomes for our students.
Over the year we worked together, meeting each week for a TLR breakfast to discuss, share, trial, collaborate, refine and adapt the way we both monitored and developed the quality of teaching.
During the next two years we made this consistent approach and shared set of values and beliefs underpin our faculty work on learning and teaching. In reality, this approach embedded the coaching cycle in a way that never happened with the whole school approach. And the expectation that the fundamental role of our TLR holders was to develop teaching in an individualised and collaborative way is just part of how our faculties operate now.
But a problem remained. In 2013, we still reported and attached notional teaching grades to teachers although we had become much more refined at the evidence bases we used to arrive at these judgements.
This meant that there was a discord between the whole school evaluation of the quality of teaching and our actual day-to-day practices in developing it. We used a forensic approach to explore the quality of teaching based on our agreed common language and this enabled us to share good practice and create directories of expertise, but it still ‘felt’ inauthentic.
2015 – Squaring the circle
In 2015 a resolution was finally achieved and we believe we have an authentic model that puts into practice the following set of principles:
- All students deserve access to teaching which enables them to make at least good progress.
- Development is more important than measurement.
- Teaching expertise doesn’t emerge from simply being evaluated.
- Exemplary teaching looks and sounds different across different classrooms but builds on common elements that enable effective learning to occur.
- Teachers, like students, learn best when there is ownership, engagement and the opportunity to reflect, implement and reflect again.
Principles of the model
The principles behind our evaluating teaching cycle are straightforward:
- We are evaluating the quality of teaching, not teachers. There is a subtle but important difference.
- It is a flawed methodology to judge the quality of teachers through lesson observations.
- The best schools promote a collaborative and shared commitment to improving outcomes for students.
- There is no prescriptive approach to quality teaching – what’s good is what works.
- Data is merely the starting point – it gives no answers, just enables hypotheses to be generated.
- The most important aspect of any evaluation cycle is the input – the quality and personalisation of research, actions, and strategies which recognise that different approaches work differently for different teachers, departments and students.
The data collection forms the basis for directors of learning and line managers to draw hypotheses. We ask them to consider:
- What are the trends for key groups across the subjects?
- How are the students performing in relation to their prior attainment?
- Is there a difference between performance at key stages?
- Is there in-subject variation?
- Where is there good practice?
Cause and effect
Our directors of learning are constantly evaluating the quality of their departments’ work. In addition, following the generation of hypotheses from the data collection, we devote a week to a consistent cross-school review for quality assurance; joint work between middle and senior leaders tests these hypotheses.
If the data is suggesting, for example, that in year 8 maths the high prior attainment disadvantaged students are underperforming in comparison to the advantaged students, we will make this a focus for further investigation on top of our everyday evaluation.
We visit lessons, look at schemes of learning, look at books, talk to the students, look at parental engagement, compare attainment of these students in maths with other subjects, and so on.
Once we have interrogated the data and our initial hypotheses, we discuss as a department team, and as a team of middle leaders, what our priorities are as a whole school, as well as highlighting any in-school variation.
Making the difference
Once these have been identified, we move to the most important part of our cycle – how we use what we know to ‘productively tinker’ with our practice. We tackle this from both teacher and student perspectives. Some of the strategies we have found effective for us can be seen in the image below.
The work now really begins as students, teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders work together to implement the actions, with an emphasis on shared ownership and collaboration.
Our data scrutiny meetings have completely changed the emphasis. Rather than focusing on the numbers, they are driven by a discussion and commitment to the changes that will take place in the classroom in schemes of learning, teaching approaches, assessment approaches and department work.
Data collection then enables us to ‘temperature check’ the impact of the work we have been undertaking. And so the cycle begins again – in all likelihood, we will need to continue with what we are already doing as sustainable improvements don’t happen overnight, but ‘checking in’ allows us to track progress against priorities and alert us to anything else which may need investigating.
We no longer report faculty percentages of the quality of teaching. Instead, we use the teacher standards to identify where each of us has strengths and areas for development in our teaching practice. This is used to inform PPD (personalised professional development) and cross-faculty collaboration.
It allows us to articulate strengths and areas for development across the school, and gives us all the evidence we would ever need to show any external scrutiny that we have a real handle on the quality of teaching in our school.
For me, the real beauty of evaluating teaching not teachers is that I can finally see a process which is fit for purpose for leaders, teachers and students.
It was worth the wait.
The Duston School is part of the SSAT network – find out more about membership here.