Friday, 24 May 2013

"Are we there yet?": Pedagogy Leaders & The Art of Backseat Driving

I have a number of words for it:  Organic is my favourite, but I also like Bottom-Up, and Classroom-Led is always a winner too.  Recently I have begin to conceptualise it in terms of Guerrilla Teachers and Trojan Mice, but for the purposes of this post I shall call it Backseat Driving.

What I am referring to with all of these terms is an approach to the development of teaching and learning at Canons High School that doesnt come top-down from one or more members of SLT with an 'AMAZING IDEA!!!' but instead emerges from the experiences and insights of those true classroom-heroes who teach around 4 out of 5 periods every day.

This backseat driving vision was spearheaded from 2010 onwards by our Outstanding Pedagogy Project (OPP), a group that identifies an area of pedagogic focus that they wish to explore in order to pave the way for an eventual whole-school approach.  OPP is a self-nominated group of teachers whose aim and membership changes annually based upon what the focus for innovation is.  So far they have looked at 'Pedagogy as an art, craft and science', the 'Accelerated Learning Cycle' and 'The use of tablet devices to improve collaborative learning'.

All was going well with this organic approach to T&L but then in April 2012, as part of an action plan about building the schools' capacity to fully engage with the Teaching School movement, we decided to light the rocket boosters under the process and created the posts of Pedagogy Leaders.  Designed to mimic the structures of Teaching School Alliances and Challenge Partnership Hubs we wanted Pedagogy Leaders to function as pivotal figures within the school leadership structure, providing expertise in teaching, to fashion a coherent whole school approach and to demonstrate skills in coaching to support colleagues in implementing this whole school approach: the Canons Pedagogy.

We advertised the five fixed-term, outcomes-oriented, project-management Pedagogy Leader posts in time to appoint and deploy them from Easter 2012, and were astonished with the level of interest that they generated.  Rewarded with a significant allowance but no weekly time (we choose to cover more utilitarian blocks of time as necessary instead), eighteen of our colleagues elected to apply for the post.  There were only two qualifying criteria: that they had been outstanding in a recent observation (or teach an outstanding lesson on demand for the post) and that they submit a letter of application explaining an area of focus for teaching and learning that they wanted to implement.  The selection process was simply an analysis and evaluation of whose personal visions for pedagogy at the school were most compelling and how these visions might be able to interlock or dovetail most effectively for the benefit of the school.  It was the hardest selection process I have been a part of, and yet the most rewarding.

And then they were in post: six of them (why stick at five when you can have six?). Comprised of two NQTs, an AST, a Key Stage leader and two Heads of Department their first term's task was to build on the work of the OPP group, bringing together a coherent and compelling pedagogical model for the school, and introduce it to the staff. After an introductory day offsite to really think through their work - a day in which they ejected SLT members from the room whilst they chose to ignore the task we had asked of them - they wove together the Accelerated Learning Cycle, their own priority themes and some specific teaching strategies to form the core of our Canons Pedagogy. Then they constructed and delivered their own INSET day to introduce staff to their pedagogical model, showing the whats, the hows and the whys in a way that was indeed compelling if the startlingly positive freeform evaluations were anything to go by. 

Their second term in role saw them outshine the irrepressible Alistair Smith whilst running a second INSET day that deepened staff understanding of the Canons Pedagogy through the use of cross-curricular planning time saw some of the Ped Leaders (by now the shortened form of their titles had stuck) robustly challenged by their peers, as school leaders should be. They rose to that challenge as they have risen to all challenges and persuaded or adapted as appropriate. Nobody bailed them out, partly because nobody needed to but mainly because distributive leadership requires the distribution of both professional autonomy and professional accountability: they needed to face the flak for any unpopular actions or ideas. 

In this second term in role the Ped Leaders also took on the responsibility of leading our Teacher Learning Communities.  These TLCs are small-scale action-research peer-to-peer groups which we aligned with the six areas of focus identified by the Ped Leaders in their application letters. Amongst these are groups looking at 'Language for Learning', 'Interdependent Learning' and 'Questioning for Learning' and it is in these groups that the Ped Leaders have been able to practice and develop (in themselves and others) the coaching skills that underpinned the third  of our pedagogy focused INSET days. 

After the Christmas break the Ped Leaders created their third INSET day, but showed great awareness of the needs of their colleagues in devising a programme (on the theme of in-class evaluation of learning) that was all about staff choosing what they wanted to do, rather than being subjected to a one-size-fits-all day. In order to make this possible they had to do what I and my Assistant Head colleague had had to do with them; LET GO. For the first time they (by now the front seat drivers) had to invite their back seat passengers to become drivers. That INSET day saw over twenty colleagues deliver sessions to their peers and the introduction of our first mini-Teachmeets. I suspect pedagogy-focused INSET days at Canons will never be the same again. 

That Spring term also saw the Peds (as they had by now become known) put together our first Student Pedagogy Day, something like an INSET day for students in years seven to ten. This involved them creating a rich and varied programme, to be taught by all of our staff, that introduced our students to the same pedagogical structures, themes and techniques as our staff had been introduced to on their INSET days. The day was a great success but not without it's challenges. It is to the credit of the Ped Leaders that they were brutally honest in their own analysis of the day and incisive in their evaluation of what will need to be retained and what will need to be changed in any future student learning days. 

All of which brings us careering to the current term and the work of the Peds that is happening now. Because we had front-loaded our INSET provision this term is about the consolidation of the work that has been done across the year. This involves our no-longer-backseat-drivers drawing together the work of their TLCs, engaging with new processes for peer-coaching and sharing of best practice, evaluating the impact of their work this year, responding to an ever-increasing amount of requests from colleagues who have seen how good they are, and beginning to show to the outside world what they have done this year through blogs on this site. 

Later this term, on June 21st, they will be presenting their journey (and our school's journey with them at the steering wheel of teaching and learning) at the prestigious Keynote Zone of the SSAT's Achievement Show at Twickenham. In the continued spirit of fully distributed responsibility they have complete autonomy over what and how they present on that day. We hope to see many of you there. 

But what does the future hold for our Pedagogy Leaders?  Their term of office is coming to an end but they have done such a fantastic job for Canons Hogh School that the role is now seen as invaluable for us. We have just advertised for a second generation of Peds with a new brief that will build upon the work of the first generation by extending it and deepening it. The current postholders will all be more than welcome to apply and I've no doubt some of them will do so. Four of the six current postholders have achieved substantive promotions in the meantime and may choose not to do so, but if that is the case it will be regarded as a success of the strategy not a failure. 

There will, however, be others that apply to become our new Pedagogy Leaders and it will be good to see who they are, what animates them and how they want to strike out in new and unexpected directions and how these are reconciled with the work that has been done so far. The one thing that will remain certain is that once the new team are formed they will continue to have significant freedom to drive teaching and learning forward from the front seat rather than be seen as passengers to be carried along. It is a model of staff development, deployment and influence that I can't recommend highly enough to any and every school leader with the will to make it happen. 

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