Shaun Allison, assistant headteacher at Littlehampton Community School (LCS), explains a variety of ways to cross-pollinate in-house skills and expertise to meet each teacher’s training needs.

Helping schools to learn from their best practitioners is conceptually simple. It is practically easy – there is a much better chance of learning from someone in the next classroom than from someone 20 miles away.’
(David Reynolds, ‘So near but yet so far’, TES, 20 June 2003)

In January 2005 I took up the post of assistant headteacher, staff development at Littlehampton Community School (LCS), West Sussex. The school is a large (2,000+ pupils), mixed comprehensive that draws pupils from a wide and varied catchment area. The following article outlines how the staff’s perception of CPD at the school was analysed, and then how a number of CPD initiatives were put into place to address these issues.

Starting point

As we move towards a more personalised learning experience for pupils, it is important that we adopt a similar philosophy for the CPD needs of our staff. Like most schools, LCS has a very large and varied staff in terms of skills, experience and motivation – with this comes a wide range of development needs. With this in mind, it is important that staff are given a range of activities to address these needs.

To continue to be effective teachers in the classroom, we need to keep our own CPD as a key part of our thinking. At the moment there is a general move away from seeing CPD as an entitlement, to a view that CPD is the personal responsibility of all staff. This requires a shift away from the view that CPD is all about ‘going on a course’ and towards a view of CPD as a continuous, sustained and active process, which involves teachers developing each other from the huge range of skills and expertise that already exists in any school.

Although on starting my new role I was very clear about my own philosophy of effective CPD, I wanted to ensure that this matched the views of (the majority of) the staff. To this end, I issued staff with the questionnaire below. The responses are shown below.

Alongside this numerical analysis, there were also some interesting comments made by the staff:

  • ‘I feel that we have some excellent expertise in school and need more opportunity to share this between colleagues.’
  • ‘I think that working with other schools which exhibit best practice in your subject is a useful strategy for improving your own.’
  • ‘I would really like cross-school observations to see departments and classes across the county.’
  • ‘Sitting in the hall all day, being talked at is generally viewed as a waste of precious time. Even if the speakers are good, it is often repetitive. Could at least some of them be optional for those who wish to focus on that aspect?’
  • ‘Personally I would find it beneficial to visit similar schools in faculty.’
  • ‘Much more shared planning and observation of other staff would be excellent as would time to plan within faculties.’
  • ‘I would like more opportunity to observe and be observed by my peers – in a non-judgmental way.’

Next steps

Having looked through the responses to the questionnaire, it became quite clear that the majority of the staff at LCS wanted to be offered a range of CPD activities that allowed them to develop their own teaching skills from the existing good practice of their colleagues. It was also painfully clear that they did not want the ‘one size fits all’ approach, of all sitting in the hall for a day, being spoken to by an external speaker.

In order to address these issues, three CPD initiatives were planned and then put into place:

  • a peer coaching programme
  • CPD twilight sessions
  • early professional development (EPD) programme.

Peer coaching

LCS is recognised locally as a school that shows very good practice when it comes to ITT and NQT mentoring. It was therefore not surprising that the responses from the questionnaire showed that staff thought ‘mentoring/coaching with feedback on performance’ as a CPD activity was used very well. However, this probably highlighted a misconception concerning the differences between mentoring and coaching. There was little evidence to suggest that ‘peer coaching’ was taking place, in any kind of structured way. This was seen by myself and the deputy head (teaching and learning), Steve Nelmes, as a good place to start.

Steve and I gave ourselves the task of identifying LCS staff who we thought had shown the potential to be good coaches. The criteria we used to identify our coaches were:

  • good classroom practitioners
  • good listeners
  • positive outlook
  • reflective
  • professional.

We came up with a list of 13. We could have picked many more, but we wanted to keep this initial group small and manageable. They came from a complete cross section of the staff – ranging from those who were just about to complete their NQT year, through to heads of department – and everything in between! These colleagues were approached and asked if they would be interested in taking part in the programme. They all agreed, except one.

The next step was to give them some training in the skills of coaching. We were very aware that there were many people who were claiming to be ‘experts in coaching’, but in reality, very few people who have had a proven track record of success with it. In my previous school, which was in special measures, I had been fortunate enough to work alongside the independent consultant, Michael Harbour. Michael has been a driving force behind setting up coaching programmes in schools across the country – with a great deal of success. Michael came into school for two days in early May 2005, to train our group of prospective coaches. This was an intensive, but highly rewarding experience. It became very clear to the group that although many of the skills are transferable, coaching is not just another name for mentoring. Coaching is very much about drawing out, whilst mentoring is more concerned with input.

Following this training, the group were asked to pair up and practice their newly acquired coaching skills on each other for the remainder of the summer term. We met again as a group twice during this period to ‘catch up’. This was a very important part of the training, as it allowed them to consolidate their coaching skills, but also to highlight and discuss any issues, before ‘going live’.

At a whole-staff meeting at the end of June, the idea of peer coaching as a service was introduced to the staff. Flyers were left in the staffroom, with a ‘request for coaching’ reply slip. The response to this was very encouraging and, it has to be said, quite surprising. Within a few weeks, enough coachees had come forward, for most of the coaches to be paired up. When somebody came forward, asking to be coached I would set up an initial meeting with them. During this meeting, I would seek to clarify the issues and what they hoped to get out of the process, as well as discussing with them the best coaching match for them. The issues they wanted to address were wide and varied. Some staff wanted to look at general issues such as behaviour management, whilst others wanted to look at very specific issues such as ‘incorporating ICT into their lessons’. A middle manager who was changing roles within the school asked to be coached by an NQT in order to refocus on good classroom practice. Following this meeting, I would discuss the issues with the coach who had been selected. If coaches were happy to proceed, I would then leave it up to them to arrange a time to meet the coachee and get the process started.

When we were planning how the process would work, we were all very clear about one thing – very little, if any, paperwork would be involved. The process was to be centred around professional dialogue and it was felt that writing out endless meeting notes, action plans and target sheets would not help the relationship between coach and coachee to grow.

Three weeks into the new term, the process is very much in its infancy. However, the early signs are very encouraging. The coachees are really appreciating being able to set their own agenda with a view to addressing their own issues, but with the support of one of their peers. The coaches are also commenting on how the coaching process requires them to be very reflective about their practice – with very positive results.

CPD twilight sessions

The CPD questionnaire highlighted the fact that LCS wanted the opportunity to have a more personalised approach to their CPD that used the expertise of their peers. In an attempt to address this issue, we have disaggregated one of our Inset days for this year into twilight sessions which are held throughout the year.

These are being led by own staff and cover a range of topics. Each session lasts between one-and-a-half to two hours:

  • performance management for team leaders
  • behaviour for learning
  • starters and plenaries
  • setting and using lesson objectives
  • use of interactive whiteboards
  • boys’ underachievement
  • gifted and talented pupils
  • differentiation
  • how to observe lessons and give effective feedback
  • using online resources
  • preparation for middle management
  • using data for classroom teachers
  • using data for middle managers
  • EAL teaching methods
  • development of enterprise learning
  • literacy
  • restorative justice
  • action research
  • coaching
  • working effectively with LSAs
  • preparation for senior management.

Departments have also been offered the opportunity to run their own sessions on themes specific to their own needs and linked to the department development plan. Each member of staff has to choose a minimum of three sessions to attend, in order to get the disaggregated day off school.

The staff have responded very well to these sessions. Many staff have commented favourably on being able to choose the focus for their CPD. They also have a great deal of respect for their peers and have enjoyed hearing about how they have approached a particular issue. Having our own staff leading the sessions puts the issue into our context and allows staff to follow up any issues that are related to the session with the person who led the session. This is not possible when you attend an external training course – as the chances of seeing the person who led the course again is limited.

Another interesting aspect to this approach is colleagues from different departments are being brought together to discuss a particular issue and share ideas. This often gets followed up after the session.

Early professional development (EPD) programme

In 2004-05 we were fortunate enough to have a very strong group of NQTs completing their induction period at the school. The support available to NQTs at LCS is very good. We have a strong team of mentors and a highly effective induction programme in place. It always seemed unfortunate that this structured support was not available to teachers in their second year of teaching – a time of consolidation, when structured support would still be beneficial to the developing teacher. This was one of the key reasons for setting up the EPD programme. It was also hoped that this would introduce this group of teachers to performance management and link this process to some high quality CPD.

So what does the programme look like? At an NQT meeting in June 2005, the NQTs were asked to consider a particular aspect of their work that they would like to carry out some action research on. It was important that this came from them and was not imposed on them. At the next meeting, a colleague from University College Chichester came to speak to the group about how to plan and carry out their action research. This helped to clarify a number of issues – what did they want to find out? What evidence would they gather? How would they gather it? How would they analyse it? Following this, they were then asked to ‘firm up’ their proposals. A wide range of ideas were put forward (see panel on p7).

On return to school in September, each member of staff who was to be involved in the EPD programme was allocated an EPD coach from the leadership group. The purpose of the EPD coach is to hold an initial meeting with the teacher, in order to:

  • clarify the issues
  • identify what they really want to find
  • plan how they will do it
  • set up an action plan – with timings.

Following this, each pair will meet regularly (once a half-term) to check progress, offer guidance/support etc. The response to this has been very encouraging. Already one of the teachers who wants to look at supporting EAL pupils has arranged to spend a day at a school in Tower Hamlets, which exhibits best practice in this area.

The research that they carry out, will also inform one of their performance management objectives. This helps to support another target of the school, which is to raise the profile of performance management and link this to high quality and effective CPD.

In the summer term 2006, all year 2 teachers on the EPD Programme will present their work and findings to the current cohort of NQTs during NQT meetings – with a view to sharing their good practice, but also preparing the NQTs for the EPD programme. It will also come as no surprise to hear, that these staff will also be leading a CPD twilight session on their area of interest next year.

Other ways of sharing best practice

The three initiatives outlined in this article are all concerned with sharing best practice at our school. Other things we have set up to meet this aim include:

  • CPD newsletter – a termly newsletter which summarises the CPD activities of teachers within the school
  • CPD faculty representatives meeting – meet termly to discuss what CPD is being carried out in each faculty
  • September Inset days – this year the focus was assessment for learning. Instead of using an external speaker, representatives from three faculties, who have developed good practice in this area, presented their approaches to the staff.

The author would be happy to hear your views on these approaches and any other related initiatives that have been set up in your school. Email sallison@wsgfl.org.uk

CPD questionnaire

CPD Activity

Faculty

How well used is this type of CPD?

Very good

GoodOKPoorI would like to be offered more opportunities for this type of activity
Attending external course/event
Closure day: external trainer (whole school)
Closure day: sharing of LCS staff expertise
Closure day: working within faculties/departments
Sharing expertise
Self-evaluation
Observing colleagues at work
Collaborative planning, teaching and review
Reading literature
Mentoring/coaching with feedback on performance
Working with colleagues from other schools as part of a project
Working with colleagues from other schools as part of a network
Developing resources with colleagues
Shadowing colleagues
Sharing good practice at meetings
Working with the AIS/consultants in schools
Carrying out small scale research
Working alongside an ‘expert’

There was also space available for staff to add a written comment.

CPD activities ranked by how well they were being used at LCS

CPD actvityRating
Attending external course/event3.0
Self-evaluation2.6
Mentoring/coaching with feedback on performance2.6
Closure day: external speaker (whole school)2.6
Collaborative planning, teaching and review2.6
Observing colleagues at work2.5
Developing resources with colleagues2.4
Reading literature2.3
Sharing good practice at meetings2.3
Closure day: working within faculties/departments2.3
Sharing expertise2.2
Working with colleagues from other schools as part of a network2.2
Working alongside an ‘expert’2.1
Working with colleagues from other schools as part of a project2.1
Closure day: sharing of LCS staff expertise2.1
Carrying out small scale research1.9
Working with the AIS/consultants in schools1.9
Shadowing colleagues1.8

Key: 1= poor 2=OK 3=good 4=v good

CPD activities ranked by the percentage of staff that wanted more opportunities to engage in that type of CPD

CPD Activity% More Opps
Developing resources with colleagues31.9
Closure day: working within faculties/departments31.9
Attending external course/event29.8
Sharing expertise27.7
Closure day: sharing of LCS staff expertise27.7
Collaborative planning, teaching and review23.4
Mentoring/coaching with feedback on performance21.3
Working with colleagues from other schools as part of a project21.3
Observing colleagues at work17.0

Working with colleagues from other schools as part of a network

17.0
Shadowing colleagues17.0
Working alongside an ‘expert’14.9
Carrying out small scale research12.8
Sharing good practice at meetings10.6
Reading literature8.5
Working with the AIS/consultants in schools8.5
Self-evaluation4.3
Closure day: external speaker (whole school)4.3

Proposed areas of focus for the EPD programme at LCS

  • Developing a linked maths curriculum for the pupils in the intervention programme and researching current best practice for KS2 scores below L3.
  • Introducing an active policy for G&T pupils around the school for academic subjects.
  • Involvement of school clubs, national competitions etc.
  • Raising achievement for EAL students in English at KS3/4.
  • Cross-curricular numeracy in science.
  • Addressing the needs of gifted and talented pupils.
  • The impact of single sex classes in science at KS4.
  • Teaching and learning styles at post-16 level in physical education.
  • Individualised learning within the business and enterprise faculty.
  • The impact of the national strategy on raising pupil achievement in KS3 English.
  • Alternative curriculum and art therapy for disaffected pupils to boost confidence and self-worth.
  • How subject-specific key words can provide barriers to pupil progress.
  • Identify levels of achievement in mixed ability classes and set classes and draw comparisons
  • Coaching disaffected pupils in KS4.

Editor’s comment: the national framework for mentoring and coaching

CPD Update has frequently referred to and produced articles on mentoring and coaching. Following Shaun Allison’s article it might be useful to remind ourselves of the national framework. This was commissioned by the DfES and produced by CUREE, led by Philippa Cordingley. It involved considerable consultation with a wide spread of stakeholders. The framework provides what is very likely to become the language of, and process for, CPD that will be used in a variety of professional contexts.

The 10 principles for effective mentoring and coaching involve:

  • a learning conversation
  • a thoughtful relationship
  • a learning agreement
  • combining support from fellow professional learners and specialists
  • growing self-direction
  • setting challenging and personal goals
  • understanding why different approaches work
  • acknowledging the benefits to the mentors and coaches
  • experimenting and observing
  • using resources effectively.

The core concepts of mentoring and coaching are defined in the framework as:

  • mentoring: ‘a structured, sustained process for supporting professional learners through significant career transitions’
  • specialist coaching: ‘a structured, sustained process for enabling the development of a specific aspect of a professional learner’s practice’
  • collaborative (co-) coaching: ‘a structured, sustained process between two or more professional learners to enable them to embed new knowledge and skills from specialist sources in day-to-day practice’.

The framework also outlines the kind of skills needed by mentors, specialist coaches and co-coaches. Clearly there are overlaps between the roles and equally clearly they all require mutual professional trust and sensitivity. Schools that have for many years participated in initial teacher education/training programmes will have built up considerable experience and expertise in these areas. The national framework helps us use this in CPD.

You may also have noticed that professional risk taking and experimentation are by no means forbidden. But for this to work it is essential that professional relationships are supportive as well as challenging.

For further information go to www.curee-paccts.com

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