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Opinion14th June 2018

A whole-school approach to improving teaching and learning

Jamie Parkhouse is the Teaching and Learning Lead at Ark Brunel Primary Academy, which joined the Ark network in 2013. Jamie started as an NQT at the school six years ago and has a successful track record leading Key Stage 1. In this blog, he talks about how he now works to improve teaching and learning across the whole school, and how getting all staff to accept change can sometimes be a challenge. In September 2017, I walked into school and instinctively wandered into my former classroom. The new class teacher reminded me that, as teaching and learning lead, I was no longer classroom-based, which felt very strange. It would have felt more comfortable to prepare lessons or put up a display. However, I have always aspired to lead and now I had been given the opportunity to challenge myself and have a greater impact across the school.

At Ark Brunel we ‘choose brilliance’

Ark Brunel is situated in an area of high deprivation, despite its location within an affluent borough. Pupils who attend our school typically have English as a second language and come from a range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Our school motto is ‘choosing brilliance’ which reflects the values we want to instil in our pupils, promoting strong learning behaviours so that all pupils can achieve, regardless of their circumstances. Knowing the personal struggles that many of our pupils go through and the huge strides they make emotionally and academically fills me with admiration. It reminds me of why I chose to enter the teaching profession and why our pupils deserve excellent learning experiences. With this in mind, I was on a mission to make a real difference. I focussed on a series of initiatives at different points in the year. To begin with, I prioritised ensuring that the climate for learning in each class was consistent and that the routines allowed for learning time to be maximised. Training was run for our NQTs, new teachers and staff – where there was an identified need. We focused on non-invasive behaviour management techniques and role-played how this would look in a classroom environment.

We wanted to make learning more active

In January, I decided to make increasing pupil participation a key focus, and together the team shared ideas for making learning more active. Throughout the year, we further developed an existing structure of instructional lead teaching, where teachers were coached in-class. Feedback was given either on the spot or through a follow-up feedback session. Any shared development areas that we noticed in class became the focus of our whole-school personal development (PD) sessions. For example, some teachers were missing opportunities to stretch pupils, so PD sessions were used to share best practice and give practical ways in which they could improve this. We reinforced and supported these techniques using in-class coaching. This year Ark Brunel is promoting ‘critical thinking’ as a way to develop our pupils’ written responses, so we used some PD sessions to develop the teachers’ understanding of critical thinking. Rather than just telling the teachers what good practice should look like, we worked together to analyse examples of critical thinking tasks and gave feedbackback to each other.

Sometimes teachers are resistant to change

I have found that, sometimes, colleagues will contest changes that I believe would be of benefit to pupils. How to diplomatically convince those that are more resistant to change is an important part of my role. However, with the pupils in mind, being brave and resolute in what you believe in is really important. I think that delegating and understanding the capabilities of others is also essential. There is a danger that you can become so focussed on achieving the goal on your own, that you fail to tap into the surrounding wealth of experience. This role has allowed me to see the strengths of teaching and leadership in our school and showed me how to utilise the experience of others to support my aims. To have the greatest impact, you need allies! True buy-in from colleagues begins when an initiative is introduced. The goal is not superficial agreement, but action from others – and PD sessions are the place that will make or break the opinions of what you are trying to achieve. I’ve found that interactive sessions, with tasks designed for teachers to take ownership of the initiative, have been the most successful. The sessions should be about real classroom issues that teachers face, with practical solutions discussed and modelled. Teachers appreciate actually having a go with resources that can be taken away and used. If the teacher is not able to start implementing it the next day, how useful will it really be? If you have staff who are more resistant, maintaining your vision and passion and ‘living’ the culture you want to establish will earn you credibility. For any initiative introduced through personal development, it’s crucial that you are positive in your support for others, and that you regularly reaffirm the reasons why you are doing this. The silent majority will be glad that you became this role model.

Everyone is responsible for teaching and learning

In reality, everybody is responsible for the quality of teaching and learning. My role has allowed me to prioritise the key needs of pupils and to support teachers in implementing changes that will benefit them. For effective change to occur, I have learned that following up in classes is absolutely key. I hadn’t realised at the beginning of the year that this role is very classroom-based after all! Interested in working for Ark? View our current vacancies here. Want to see more like this? Sign up to Teach – our monthly best practice newsletter featuring tips and practical advice from Ark, our partners and our friends. Teach – teaching tips direct to your inbox.