Developing teaching across a school: Creating a shared language of Teaching and Learning.

When I was appointed as the Lead Practitioner for our school in January my first job was to create a shared language for our schools teaching and learning policy. A lot had been achieved from September to January by the Assistant Principal in charge of Teaching and Learning; there had been a push on consistency at the starts and ends of lessons, key techniques that were considered highest leverage were shared and the lesson observation system had been upgraded to allow for easier tracking and increased praise.

However we were running into a few problems:

  1. Some staff had responded to the call for consistency by misunderstanding the message. They responded to it by assuming no autonomy was required and they applied all techniques all the time and saw them as performative steps required to avoid scrutiny. 
  2. Lesson observation feedback demonstrated that not all staff meant the same thing when they used a certain term.
  3. It was also clear that sometimes the most effective strategies were not well understood by all leaders. We were missing the debate about which strategy to use when and WHY. Nuance had been lost in the journey towards greater consistency.

So leaders identified the need to formalise the techniques we used. “If we do it, write it down and if we write it down, we better do it” became a bit of a mantra for the project.

The other mantra was “Does this document help teachers understand the nuance of each technique?” We wanted a format that helped clearly define what each technique was and also why and how to use it. It seemed like a monumental task but luckily for us we could stand on the shoulders of giants. Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion (TLaC) is the greatest gift to teachers. Whether you like the terms he uses or prescribe his techniques to an educational philosophy you disagree with, you cannot deny that TLaC provides the best attempt at trying to catalogue actionable teaching strategies. It’s a gift from the gods (the old and the new) for me and not a day goes by when I don’t find myself using it in my lessons and when helping other teachers. Its influence is so strong that even if you haven’t read it you will have seen its techniques referenced in many great books by heavyweights like Tom Sherrington and even lightweights like myself! 

So our T&L shared language is heavily influenced by TLaC. We don’t have every technique in the book, just the ones we use most often. To this we have added other techniques that we find useful, including aspects of our behaviour and reward system. At time of writing we have 35 separate techniques outlined. I can’t share the whole document, it’s not mine to share and takes from sources that deserve your custom. I will share one example to demonstrate how we decided to break it down so it helps you get started if you want to do something similar.

Here is the guide to Show Me, a TLaC technique that aims to check all students’ understanding via mini-whiteboards or gestures.

Front page of each technique follows a standard format.

The idea was to consider all the things teachers might want to know and distil them into distinct sections. We thought it was important to be clear about what a technique wasn’t as much as what it was. This was to try and avoid any misunderstandings that could lead to lethal mutations. We also wanted to carefully outline how and why a teacher might use this technique before finishing off with further reading and links to other techniques. Over time groups of techniques came together and we decided to call these flows. The idea was that teachers could see how techniques could be chained together, one flowing into another. They could then explore these as they gained confidence and proficiency. 

Some techniques are very procedural so we accompanied them with flow diagrams in a Plan/Deliver/Respond model, seen below. All techniques needed exemplification. This was achieved through scripts and video. Each technique has a series of example, and sometimes non-example, scripts to support teachers. I’ve written before about the way we capture lesson content in a cheap and secure way. I have begun building deliberate practice video guides for each technique, a 10 min outline of the technique with deliberate practice tasks built in. We are also capturing lesson content video clips to exemplify what this looks like in our classrooms. Over time this will build to include a wide range of subjects to show how techniques are adapted for different contexts like drama and PE. 

The flow diagrams all follow this model aim to link planning with process.

Throughout this process middle and senior leaders were involved in the evaluating of early drafts. Each week I would deliver a new technique and invite the leaders to offer comments on the text, diagrams, scripts or examples. This would help me ensure I was representing the consensus and also allow me to find pockets of good practice. Our AP in charge of T&L did a fantastic job identifying teachers who were great examples from a whole range of subjects. This gave me potential video participants.

We are now at the position where on inset day we can fully launch our toolkit and begin to create this common language.

We hope this will help teachers by:

  1. Giving them clarity about what the most effective techniques are
  2. Giving them autonomy to choose the right technique for their context
  3. Upskilling new staff into the “TRS Way”
  4. Provide leaders with a useful tool to aid instructional coaching and feedback conversations
  5. Provide greater impact of each technique from increased consistency and student familiarity
  6. Reduce teachers cognitive load within the classroom to free up capacity for them to focus on their crafting of explanations and being responsive. 

I’m sure over the year we will learn a lot and adapt everything, but I am excited to see the impact it can have.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on twitter.

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