An investigative approach to improving teaching and learning

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant programme: Lead Practitioner Accreditation

Lead practitioner Abby Chivers, assistant principal in charge of teaching and learning and CPD and assessment, Bristnall Hall Academy, identifies the key element of her role

In 2014 I had the opportunity to join Bristnall Hall Academy as a lead practitioner of English. This was one of two brand new posts; the other being in mathematics. I have always been a firm believer that excellent teaching is the bedrock of excellent progress. As such, a role that enabled me to devote my time to promoting great outcomes through ‘quality first’ teaching seemed hugely satisfying. Fortunately, the principal also saw the benefits of having lead practitioners in his school and, following his appointment at the academy, prioritised the recruitment of lead practitioners in the core subjects.

As soon as I learned that my application had been successful, I started to do further research into how lead practitioners were deployed in other schools – and found an overwhelming range of interpretations of the role. This was echoed in conversations I had with colleagues, who asked ‘Is a lead practitioner another name for a head of department?’ and ‘Does this mean you get paid well to teach well?’ My answer to both questions was a resounding ‘no’. But I was struggling to articulate a clearly defined description of my individual roles and responsibilities.

In hindsight, these now feel like fruitless questions. In fact, I very quickly learned that the role cannot be quantified, nor should it ‘look’ the same in every school.

Standardise the role?

In the first instance, the lead practitioner in mathematics and I were keen to standardise our role. This proved to be one of our greatest challenges, as we learnt that the development priorities of the mathematics and English departments were different. Moreover, so were the development needs of individual staff members. Returning to the initial belief that great outcomes are born in the classroom served as a helpful reminder. It was at this point that I decided to start shaping my role through observations, evaluation of planning and marking and talking to colleagues and students. Involving others in conversations about teaching and learning in English provided a much richer source of information and it was through this process that I was able to define my role.

What was most helpful was to use the information we had collated to form an action plan that delineated what we would improve and how I would facilitate and support necessary improvements. This was produced in collaboration with colleagues in the English department, which helped to embed my role in a shared vision and commitment to school improvement. Inevitably, this became a fluid document that changed at points to respond to the evolving needs of the department. However, it was a useful tool to drive improvement and benchmark progress.

Collaborative investigation

The investigative approach to improving teaching and learning has worked for us at Bristnall Hall. The action plan was crucial in developing a dialogue about raising standards in the classroom. Termly development planning was calendared as part of our CPD offering and the department collaborated to discuss outcomes, teaching and learning data and their own professional development needs. This filtered into the action plan and evaluation of its success.

Encouraging staff buy-in in this way was a critical part of the success I experienced in my role. Development felt non-threatening, and staff shared that they felt more supported this way.

The professional dialogue also helped to open up CPD opportunities I had not thought of. For example, staff requested collaborative planning opportunities – which led to weekly planning drop-in sessions. These were well attended, and highlighted to me that the hallmark of a great leader of learning is one who places collaboration with colleagues at the heart of what they do.

Staff requested collaborative planning opportunities – which led to well-attended weekly planning drop-in sessions

We have expanded our team of two to five so that we have lead practitioners in the EBacc subjects. Lead practitioners now also work beyond their curriculum areas, driving whole school and trust-wide improvement through quality assurance and conversations with staff and students. Thus, staff are able to reflect on these findings to clearly communicate and shape what lead practitioners are doing and why they are doing it, which has been instrumental in cementing their roles within the academy.

This approach is now beginning to extend beyond our academy walls, through engagement with SSAT’s Lead Practitioner Accreditation programme and in collaboration with Sandwell local authority. This has provided a vehicle with which to think creatively about how we can increase school to school support and celebrate practitioners who lead others to have a positive impact in the classroom. We are establishing a lead practitioner centre to coach local colleagues who seek to complete the accreditation programme.

The process of becoming trainers of this professional development programme has been instrumental in developing our own leadership skills. We’re excited by the prospect of creating a collaborative culture with colleagues in other schools, to develop plans that are challenging, evolving and innovative through excellent teaching and leadership in the classroom and beyond.

Lead practitioners work beyond their curriculum areas, driving whole school and trust-wide improvement through quality assurance and conversations with staff and students

Lead Practitioner (LP) Accreditation will help empower and develop your best practitioners, to reward and inspire them to make a difference where it really counts – in the classroom. Find out more about getting involved.

Read on the SSAT blog: School improvement stories: Creating the right ethos for teaching and learning improvement

Abby Chivers, Bristnall Hall Academy

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