Lead Practitioner: Creating agents of change

Lead Practitioner: Creating agents of change
What is an SSAT Lead Practitioner? What do they do? Ultimately, everything an LP does can and should enhance the daily lived experience of learners in their school and beyond, but just as important (particularly at this time of a crisis in teacher retention) it enhances the daily lived experience of colleagues, raising morale and fulfilling our moral purpose in education.

Of course, the answer to the question “What is an LP?” depends on the questioner. A senior leader who is thinking about developing a cohort of LPs who will action a series of school improvement priorities, wants to know that an LP is someone who can take those improvement priorities, make them their own and effect positive change. The individual aspirant LP who is a support staff member is more likely to want to know whether they have the right level of expertise and opportunity to effect meaningful positive change. Other questioners will have their own context when thinking about LP – but in all cases, part of the answer will be ‘…an LP effects positive change’.

So is the answer then, ‘an LP is a change agent’? In part yes, but of course it is more than that. In our LP materials , we largely focus on three main aspects of the programme – recognising, valuing and celebrating the impact of those gaining accreditation. One of the difficulties with anyone setting out on the accreditation process to becoming an LP, is the identification of what they will do to gain accreditation – I think we can look to the EEF’s implementation guidance to help us here.

In the Explore phase, the guidance states we should:

  • Identify a tight area for improvement using a robust diagnostic process.
  • Make evidence-informed decisions on what to implement.
  • Examine the fit and feasibility of possible interventions to the school context.
  • Make an adoption decision.

In the Prepare phase, the guidance sates we should:

  • Develop a clear, logical, and well-specified implementation plan:
    • Specify the active ingredients of the intervention clearly: know where to be ‘tight’ and where to be ‘loose’.
    • Develop a targeted, yet multi-stranded, package of implementation strategies.
    • Define clear implementation outcomes and monitor them using robust and pragmatic measures.
  • Thoroughly assess the degree to which the school is ready to implement the innovation.
  • Once ready to implement an intervention, practically prepare for its use:
    • Create a shared understanding of the implementation process and provide appropriate support and incentives.
    • Introduce new skills, knowledge, and strategies with explicit up-front training.
    • Prepare the implementation infrastructure.

In the Deliver phase, the guidance states we should:

  • Adopt a flexible and motivating leadership approach during the initial attempts at implementation.
  • Reinforce initial training with expert follow-on support within the school.
  • Use highly skilled coaches.
  • Complement expert coaching and mentoring with structured peer-to-peer collaboration.
  • Use implementation data to actively tailor and improve the approach.
  • Make thoughtful adaptations only when the active ingredients are securely understood and implemented.

For the aspirant LP, this is where the LP framework of standards and the process of gaining LP accreditation guide them to answer the right questions about themselves and their expertise on driving impact.

The LP framework of 10 standards is broken down into three main categories:

  • Personal characteristics and attributes: Standards 1 to 4
  • Professional knowledge: Standards 5 to 7
  • Process and impact on others: Standards 8 to 10

The personal characteristics and attributes standards raise self-awareness of communication skills to a range of stakeholders (LP standard 1), emotional intelligence and its effect on others’ motivation (LP standard 2), the approach to change and responsibilities (LP standard 3) and the intrinsic drive for excellence in self-development (LP standard 4).

Lead Practitioner – Discover

The professional knowledge standards focus on robust research, be that academic or other such as parent/pupil/teacher voice (LP standard 5), understanding how all learners learn – including colleagues as well as pupils (LP standard 6) and how we transfer specialist knowledge and pedagogy including the resources we may have trialled, evaluated and refined with our own classes (LP standard 7).

The process and impact standards essentially combine the personal characteristics and attributes with professional knowledge standards to demonstrate how the LP leads using high quality coaching methods (LP standard 8), their approach to change management and collective responsibility (LP standard 9) and the professional learning networks they have developed (LP standard 10).

One of the first things an aspirant LP will do is complete the self-assessment on the LP portfolio site. The beauty of the site is that it is confidential to the LP, consisting of the self-assessment and a private portfolio space where an LP builds up their narrative and supporting evidence for moderation. Many LPs have commented that having a space to simply explore the self-assessment questions, the resulting coaching questions such as ‘Have you thought about…’ in an environment where you can test out your thinking, is invaluable. The self-assessment asks the LP to consider four levels of influence, Beginning, Developing, Extending and Transforming and leading. For moderation, the LP should have achieved at least Extending when submitting their application.

This in itself enables the LP to push the boundaries, to consider how far their influence stretches. An LP who is a contributor to the ideas, strategies and learning resources within their own year group or subject team for example (Developing) is prompted to consider how they transfer their expertise, resources or techniques to another team in school (Extending) or another school or schools (Transforming and Leading). As one LP commented; ‘I can see the impact I have made as a Lead Practitioner because colleagues have been using my shared ideas and have commented on how effective and useful they have been in making a real difference to enhance the quality of the teaching and learning within their classrooms to the benefit of their pupils.’

Many implementation plans fall down because they lack sufficient thought and rigour in the Explore phase. The Goldilocks principle applies here – the focus for an LP journey should be neither too big nor too small, it should be just right – including considering whether this is the right focus for the school. Many LPs start by considering school improvement plans and selecting an area for their initial focus. LP standard 5: undertaking research to improve specialist knowledge can be a great starting point. This usually leads to further research by the LP in the selected area, such as literacy, phonics, the engagement model, feedback – in short anything that will benefit pupils and the community a school serves. LPs are advised that ‘one single project should not address all ten LP standards’ – at this early stage it is better to have a defined focus which can be built on later stage.

In the Prepare phase, identifying the key ingredients of the implementation can be challenging as they require some predictions about ‘the key consistent activities and behaviours that will occur when it is working well’ (to quote the EEF guidance). If we consider that we do this regularly with pupils: i.e. a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like) then we can apply the same principles to the improvements we wish to drive. If we have taken our focus from school improvement plans, we can be fairly confident the school is ready for the changes, and if not then we go back to our research to determine the conditions for our implementation to flourish.

Then we are ready to prepare for implementation, including providing up-front professional development for colleagues and creating a shared understanding of the process we will follow. The personal skills and attributes (LP standards 1 to 4) are particularly pertinent here. LP standard 3 (challenging, developing and innovating) examines the LP’s approach to change management – do they show confidence in their ability to make well-considered decisions?

Do they accept responsibility and take ownership of the improvement? In LP standard 2 (negotiating and influencing) we see the emotional intelligence of the LP come to the fore – do they consider others, and can they demonstrate how they motivate others to achieve excellence? How does the LP utilise their own practice and that of those around them to serve as a model for professional development? Identifying and in most cases exceeding agreed and appropriate goals for their own professional development informs LP standard 4 (always a learner). In creating a shared understanding, the LP will share their vision, mission and values, presenting their ideas and approaches to teams beyond their own, neatly informing LP standard 1 (communicating and presenting).

This is not to say that the Prepare phase is limited to the personal skills and attributes LP standards though, in fact the professional knowledge standards can guide the LP in determining how they provide professional development for colleagues. Many LPs find LP standard 6 (knowing how all learners learn) a little tricky, largely because they often deliver high quality PD without always unpacking what they do that sets it apart from other PD. Consider the LP who plans for a twilight on the subject of phonics: the LP is knowledgeable and has ensured they are thoroughly prepared with the relevant academic research to reinforce the key messages (perhaps even a quote or video from a specialist in the field). During the session, the LP provides a quiz to check where colleagues are in their understanding, followed by some knowledge sharing from the LP, discussion/debate activities and an exit ticket asking their audience to evaluate the session and commit to a change in their practice. In considering LP standard 6 (knowing how all learners learn), the LP provides the narrative about why the session runs in this way – from retrieval practice at the start, constructing personal meaning and translating to one’s own practice, to the call to action in the exit ticket, the LP is demonstrating that not only do they have a solid understanding of pedagogy (and andragogy) but they can guide their colleagues in what is transferable and can be adapted to other contexts.

The PD session may also serve to refine aspects of pedagogical research that have been utilised (LP standard 5) or has modelled resources that have been trialled, evaluated and refined in the LP’s own classroom (LP standard 7) so you can see that the LP standards truly provide a framework that defines our LP as a ‘change agent’, with one LP describing their plan’s impact: ‘The impact of creating a tailored long term plan as part of my LP work, was that teachers could access resources all year round, specific to the changing needs of the pupils.’

In the Deliver phase of implementation, the LP adopts a flexible and motivating leadership approach, using LP standard 9 (negotiating to lead) as a guide, promoting collective responsibility and ownership amongst others, and in many cases impacting beyond their school in ensuring change is sustainable and provides a model for use nationally (or internationally).

Coaching is utilised to challenge and stimulate colleagues as well as form the basis of peer-to-peer collaboration, demonstrating the LP’s application of effective questioning, active listening and relationship building. In considering LP standard 8 (coaching to lead) the LP ensures to provide a sustainable model for coaching through ensuring they enable colleagues to evaluate and replicate their high-quality coaching skills to enable the next generation of coaches in the school.

Plans are not fixed and inflexible, and once again the LP ensures adaptations are based on robust data, building upon colleagues’ understanding of the active ingredients. In many cases, the LP looks to their professional learning networks, informing LP standard 10 (networking to lead), perhaps investigating how other schools have implemented something similar in their context and the lessons they have learned. As many schools are part of multi-academy trusts, other schools within the trust may be part of the LP’s professional learning network too which can be a great source of support and guidance for a project implementation.

Hopefully, this brief narrative has given an insight into how the framework of LP standards can guide the LP on their implementation journey, but conversely that the evidence collected along the implementation journey can be used to support an application for LP accreditation – recognising, valuing and celebrating the achievements of individuals in school whether they are support staff, teachers or leadership.

Join our free webinar on 11 July to find out more about Lead Practitioner accreditation.

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