Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to
This is the penultimate blog of our Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to series. During the series, you will hear from practitioners and leaders who are presenting at this year’s Achievement Show – giving you a preview of what to expect from their presentations.
Presentation: Strategies to raise standards of teaching and learning across a maths department
School: Horndean Technology College
Presenters: Jon Colebrook, Assistant Headteacher
‘Putting a smile on everyone’s face’ is not what most people would imagine to be among the main aims of a mathematics department. But that’s one of the key themes Jon Colebrook, AHT and head of maths at Horndean Technology College, will be discussing at the Achievement Show.
‘As cheesy as that sounds, it is what we try to do,’ Jon confesses. For example, on the first day of term, he and his colleagues might play hide and seek with learning materials around the department for 15 minutes (this is especially good for NQTs in the department).
‘It’s just an ice-breaker, but I strongly believe it’s a good thing to do. Maths teachers are hard to come by and if they don’t enjoy working with us they’ll go somewhere else.’
Maths teachers are hard to come by and if they don’t enjoy working with us they’ll go somewhere else
Similarly, each week the department team’s meeting includes five minutes in which, for example, someone is put in the spotlight and a pen is spun to determine who can ask any question they like.
In an informal way, this gradually builds up greater understanding among colleagues. As a result, they collaborate and work better.
Another example, used with students in class, is a knapkin-folding contest – how many different ways can you fold it and what do they represent?
The person running the session has to identify the intended purpose, such as mopping your brow, or making a stand for a hands-free mobile perhaps.
‘I know time is precious, but if we don’t enjoy ourselves in our work, we won’t do very well,’ Jon Colebrook insists. And it seems to work: for the last four years the staffing of Horndean’s maths department has been stable, and results have been strong.
The department went from 56% A*-C to 82% in three years – and Jon puts this down to the quality of teaching, which is determined by the wellbeing of his staff.
Seemingly trivial games build up greater understanding among colleagues. As a result, they collaborate and work better
Such brief games are easier to run in maths lessons than in some other subjects because so many questions can be made quick and easy to answer.
Nevertheless, Jon believes any subject leader could – and should – use similar approaches to make sure their teams have fun: ‘people understand each other better and collaborate better in work when they’re able to have a laugh sometimes. Then they don’t mind staying until 5pm occasionally to plan a brilliant lesson.’
To minimise administrative work, the department covers all such things in a weekly newsletter, so departmental meetings can focus on teaching and learning.
Each newsletter also includes three themes, for which a different staff member has to contribute items, such as examples of good practice, ‘wow factor of the week’, ‘eight assessment practices’ or ‘hipping, hopping, happening homework.’
With the latter, the designated teacher has to describe in two minutes a really good thing they have recently done with homework, and how it worked out.
The designated teacher has to describe in two minutes a really good thing they have recently done with a class, and how it worked out
Observation in Horndean’s maths department is broadly based on the Japanese lesson study cycle. Teachers in pairs (usually with varied levels of experience) agree a topic and a level and then share relevant resources and develop new ones.
The experienced teacher then delivers a lesson using these resources, while the less experienced observes. Afterwards they discuss how it went and how it might have been improved.
Two days or so later, the less experienced colleague delivers the lesson while the other observes, and a final discussion on this particular cycle takes place.
‘The philosophy,’ Jon explains, ‘is that no-one is observed more than they observe. We believe you learn more from observing than from being observed.’
You learn more from observing than from being observed
The observations are not graded: their sole purpose is to inform the colleagues’ teaching, and the form used to document the observations and discussions makes this clear.
‘This is a more effective way (than grading) of moving staff forward in their teaching,’ says Jon. Throughout his session, he adds, he will be ‘dropping in’ information about the resources they use, which delegates can take away. ‘Hopefully, this will engage them. And hopefully it will be fun!’