Variations on success breeds success? Or “Love the ones you’re with”, Dylan Wiliam. Building Professional Capital, Hargreaves and Fullan?
This view was first put into print by Sir Arthur Helps, in Realmah, 1868: "Nothing succeeds like success." [Rien ne réussit comme le succès.]
And apparently even earlier in a different form:
As a headteacher entering my own school for the first time, one of the main tasks was to get to know the staff, as well as the children, to establish a view of the overall capacity of the staff and where each was in their personal development. This was an important first step, as I set to the task of creating out of the available “raw material” the future picture of the school. This did involve a significant amount of reflection, from the staff and me, as each challenged to other to clarify thinking, so that meanings were clearer, enabling reflection that supported development. Some of that reflection meant that a few staff chose an alternative route forward. Living with challenge is not always a comfortable position. The school needed to be challenged. It was happy with itself, had create a comfortable existence for the staff, who did “nice things” with children. However, the general expectations were slightly too low and needed to be extended.
Challenge, time to reflect, within an articulated timetable, with resourced time, appropriate external support and internal evidence of momentum, through sharing improved outcomes, began the process of regular review, which ultimately was supported by release time for shared research, which further supported the collegiate approach and team development.
Internal moderation, or just sharing outcomes, became a regular feature of staff discussion, as illustrations of what was being expected and achieved.
Over time, the notion of success nourishing the staff led to deeper, sustained challenge, to staff and to children, with a further increase in outcomes, the achievement of which established much clearer expectations and benchmarks. The rich curriculum became richer, as teachers tried out ideas, with children feeling the pleasure of achievement, so improving their attitude and motivation.
Teachers had to adapt ideas to the context of the school. We were an open plan layout and areas were set aside for specialist activity at different points around the building, but each was within sight of a classroom, so every area could be overseen by a teacher, even if children were from another class. The “independence” being fostered could be put to good effect in supporting challenge in tasks, especially as the children got older.
Over the past nine years of school visits through a variety of organisations and for different purposes, has allowed me to see a broader base of evident practice. Improving outcomes, so that both the teacher and the child can see what the next step looks like is essential. For the teachers, this has sometimes meant advice to go and look at years above or below, to better understand what quality outcomes can look like.
Only by having a deep understanding of progression within each subject, what success at different stages looks like and clarity in understanding where each child is in that continuum at any specific point, can a Primary teacher support incremental learning, as a combination of knowledge and capability.
It seems to me, after a lifetime in education, so based on many initiatives passing my way, that every piece of education research is interpreted to the profession through a filter that comprises national and press reviews, personal interpretation of the original material, or the ensuing book and inference from an existing practitioner, as the original ideas are adapted to the circumstances of a classroom.
By the time a teacher presents “how it’s working for me”, in a staff meeting, a Teachmeet, or some other external talk, it has been through several layers of interpretation. It has been adapted to the particular circumstance of that classroom teacher’s views. Copying, by a colleague, in another context, may not get the same result.
There are three main variables in teaching in a teacher control, even assuming a common knowledge base; space, resources and time. A classroom has a set size and shape that determines furniture arrangement for ease of working and movement. Organisation and availability of resources, for ease of accessibility and return will affect practice, to a significant effect. Limitations of timetabling, especially the need to move as a whole class for activity, is further compromised by grouping and setting for different aspects, all of which impact on working approaches, not least the need to complete tasks within a set time.
An inability to adapt can lead to teachers saying “I can’t do…” which impacts on children’s development. Self-limiting should not be part of a teacher make-up. The teacher who “prefers” to stay in year 6, or EYFS, for example, if they do not then have opportunities to explore practice across the school, can become entrenched in their working methods and expectations.
Self-limiting can apply to schools as well as individuals, where they do not communicate effectively, especially if there is a form of “competition” between phases and prior judgements are not fully accepted. Collaboration and excellent communication between professionals enables smoother transition and transfer.
Within the idea of adaptability comes the issue of “novelty children”, those with needs that the teacher has never encountered. The SEND specific need, the travellers, the EAL child with a never before met language, the extra-talented (gifted) learner, in a specific subject. How to deal with the new issue is likely to depend on prior experience and the base from which decisions are made. These will therefore range from rough-hewn, to refined. A self-aware teacher will admit to shortcomings and seek colleague advice, from within the school, as in the SENCo/ABCo, or through available language/specialist support, where the LA or Academy chain has access to expertise.
These “novelty children” extend the boundaries of teacher knowledge and expertise, which, over time, enables further adaptation to circumstance.
Adaptability and reflection is a precursor to personal growth. Adapting to new knowledge is a large part of how we learn, through reflection, adjustment to circumstance and a new balance point, based on knowledge and capability.
The more adaptable you are, the more adaptable you can become. Seeing the need to adapt is the first step. Getting better at getting better takes thinking time and a bit of effort, but getting better is positively reinforcing, for everyone, as teacher self-esteem can be a fragile beast.