Monday 11 February 2013

Canons High Student Pedagogy Day: Impressions from the Outside

Last Wednesday was out first-ever Student Pedagogy Day at Canons.  I don't want to say too much about it in this post as there will be other posts in the next week, but suffice it to say that the day was in essence an INSET for students.  During it we introduced them to much of the same professional learning undertaken by adults in our staff INSET days since June 2012. 

Whilst all this was going on I welcomed some visitors to the school to share with them our work over the past three or so years in developing a bottom-up pedagogy of which the Student Pedagogy Day is the latest achievement.  As well as hearing from me and others about the nature of our work these visitors also took part in the day, visiting classrooms to observe and participate.

The purpose of this post is to share with you the feedback we received from some of these visitors.

Thank you for your invitation to attend the Student Pedagogy Day at Canons High School. The concept of such a day as "INSET for Students" is innovative and one where the students can engage with the concept of Accelerated Learning and be able to understand this method of pedagogy within their education.

I was very impressed with the detailed background that you provided on the Canons Outstanding Pedagogy Project and the impact that this has had to date at Canons High School. It certainly has inspired me to think about introducing some of these ideas into my own school.

The work that the Pedagogy Leaders have out towards creating the day from its planning to creating its resources and implementation is fantastic. 

I would also like to extend my thanks to the teachers and students who welcomed me as a visitor to see the work that they were doing in their workshops.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the student Inset Pedagogy day at Canons High School.  I have to admit to attending out of curiosity - but also out of a longstanding interest in what a school that puts pedagogy first might look like. Coming from a different age cohort setting, I going to say from the off that I found such young learners engaging in teaching and learning discussions pretty amazing.

I was lucky to sit in on a class where the learners were thinking/discussing questioning. They looked at several way to find out the answers to their questions without asking the teacher. This involved not only individual input but also peer assessment which at one stage involved a young man saying in response to why he shouldn't ask direct questions:

"Because then I won't know how to work it out for myself.
I won't understand how to do it again."

I was pretty amazed at children being able to appreciate the value of learning as a journey, rather than a destination, and his mature reflections will stay with me as I go on to teach and answer, or not, questions from much older learners. He was not afraid to take risks, which I think is fair to generalise to the whole class. They were resilient learners, and we're not afraid to offer wrong answers under the skilled supervision of their teacher.

In the second session I saw group evaluations of how to ask effective questions - again employing techniques I had never seen outside PGCE training. All in, I skipped out of the class amazed at the high level of professional language being used and the extent to which the learners not only understood this language but also took it on board. Ladies and Gentleman, this is what we call buy-in.

I understand there were some issues with this being a new programme. However, the planning of the day was impressive and quite an undertaking. How amazing is it to be in a place of learning as the learners take the teachers along with them rather thn the other way round? I left feeling very inspired. Yes- the staff are amazing. Yes- SLT have had to TRUST that these changes would happen. But do you know what? From an outsiders perspective I saw innovation and resilience at its best, and I feel a better teacher for it. 
Thank you for the invitation to the Canons Student Pedagogy Day.  The day was a fascinating insight into the innovative and original work you are doing at Canons to develop a school-wide outstanding curriculum.
The highlight of the day for me was seeing the engagement, confidence and knowledge of the students with the Accelerated Learning Cycle, which they had clearly consolidated from their morning session. Their enthusiasm for the ‘desert island’ activity was also infectious, their creative solutions to the problems facing them while stranded on a desert island without a teacher were both impressive and entertaining.
It was lovely as well to see the passion from the teachers delivering the sessions who were knowledgeable and equally enthusiastic with their presentation of the student-led lessons. The day has left me with many ideas and much inspiration for how the pedagogy of a school can be improved and adopted from a truly bottom-up approach.
Firstly, thank you so much for being so generous with your time, it was wonderful to listen to you tell the story of how you have 'organically' developed teaching and learning at Canons as so often people want to take the sparkly things from outstanding schools without understanding the hard work and strategy behind it.
Several things have resonated strongly with me about your approach: one is the amount of investment there has been in growing not just outstanding practitioners but the leadership of teaching and learning in the school; from the sub group of SLT, to the Outstanding Pedagogy Project group, the Teacher Learning Community groups and the Pedagogy leaders. Though you describe your approach as growing from the bottom up rather than being all mapped out, the structures of leadership which support it seem very coherent.  I am very keen to develop an OPP group and perhaps Ped leaders at my school.
I also really like the way that you have broken down the outstanding criteria and then analysed phrases in your lesson observation feedback, as a way of feeding back both to teachers, but also on the observers. I'm definitely going to do this with our most recent set of feedback forms as I think sometimes teachers see 'outstanding' as unobtainable and the marginal gains approach seems like a brilliant way to support teachers to develop their own practice.
Finally, inviting us in to see the first go at a student Pedagogy INSET day was great, it shows great confidence to share 'a work in progress' and I enjoyed it very much.   We continue to try to find ways to involve student voice in teaching and learning, but I had not considered this approach myself.  It was great to see the word 'pedagogy' on the student timetables for the day (something which I perhaps shy away from using, even with staff) and there were high expectations of the level of language about learning which the students  were expected to access.  The students and staff were all welcoming, please thank the Ped Leaders who shared their experiences and the teachers whose sessions I sat in on.
It is always lovely to get warm feedback from visitors, but I'm sure that you will agree that this is glowing praise in a number of places:  "innovative", "inspired", "fantastic", "amazing", "will stay with me", "impressive", "resonated", "coherent", "brilliant", "high expectations", "welcoming", "infectious".
If you are reading this and wanting to know more about the work we have done in developing a Canons Pedagogy then have a trawl through the posts on this blogsite.  If you like what you read there then give us a call or send an email to We are always happy to share expertise and these contacts give Canons an opportunity to learn from your work too, making the sharing mutually beneficial, which can't be a bad thing.

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