This a guest post from Stirling Mackie, Head Teacher of Irvine Royal Academy
“The secret of management is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided”
(Casey Stengel, former manager of the New York Yankees. All other quotes are from Yogi Berra, former player with the New York Yankees)
One thing about learning rounds is that it delivers the exact opposite of Casey Stengel’s advice. In fact it positively rejoices in doing the opposite and mixing everyone up!
I was fortunate enough to attend the conference addressed by Professor Richard Elmore at Hampden Park in Glasgow in 2007(?). It was being able to hear first hand from Elmore which really inspired me to look more closely at this way of aiding school improvement.
My next step was to buy his book ‘School Reform from the Inside Out’. It is a surprisingly ‘easy’ read and confirmed my initial thoughts that there was something in this. However, like so many other ‘good ideas’ other things got in the way of taking it forward (like an HMIe inspection).
However in 2008, North Ayrshire decided to volunteer to be part of the national learning rounds pilot. The journey of everyone involved in that part of the journey is recorded elsewhere. What I want to share is Irvine Royal Academy’s individual journey, which has already taken a somewhat different, or quicker, route (perhaps Virgin Express rather than …well a slower train company).
We were first to welcome the mixed group of headteachers, deputes, authority staff, academics etc etc into our school to observe learning and teaching. It was on a volunteer basis, and for a variety of historical reasons, we had more than enough volunteers.
This brings me to point 1.
Irvine Royal Academy was a school at a stage in its development where staff were anxious to invite ‘outsiders’ into their classrooms. Two years earlier I think I would have struggled to get more than a handful of ‘guinea pigs’. In other words much preparatory work had been done (‘inadvertently’ and for other reasons) to create an ‘ethos of openness’ in the school. So in asking yourself, will learning rounds work in my school, the first requirement is, “how open is the school culture currently?” In my opinion learning rounds can considerably help the further development of a culture of openness, but to implement it without it, could potentially lead to conflict and have the opposite effect.
‘You can observe a lot by watching’
I was committed to the learning rounds model and wanted to pilot it. I decided to approach Principal Teachers, on the basis that they already had experience of classroom observation as part of the school’s quality assurance procedures. Only two declined the opportunity.
We put them into groups of two/three and set up observations for them in departments that were not their own. A member of the SMT was also attached to each group, and in one case Margaret Orr of the National CPD team joined one of the groups.
Principal Teachers adapted to the learning rounds model quicker than the HT/DHT group. They adopted the descriptive voice, and came up with an impressive list of observations, which can easily be turned into an agenda for action.
They thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and interestingly, their observations also caused them to reflect on their own practice, and lead to immediate changes in their own pedagogy and methodology. Is this powerful CPD or what?
‘If you don’t know where you are going you will end up somewhere else’
We always had a clear idea of where we were going. I wanted to involve ALL staff in the learning rounds model. Would staff want to be involved? Overwhelmingly yes. Approximately 80% of unpromoted staff have volunteered to join a learning rounds group. They may not express it exactly as I do, in the big picture of school improvement, but they have real clarity about two things.
- That this is powerful CPD.
- That the object is to improve learning and teaching and thereby more fully engage students and raise attainment.
We have planned to set up the next round of observations by unpromoted staff during ‘SQA time’.
‘The future ain’t what it used to be’
Thank goodness! The future used to be a ‘done to’ model. This is a ‘done together’ model. It works for us because of the climate which had been built over the last two years. It might not work in other places. However;
- I have no doubt as to the advantages that this model can bring to the process of school improvement.
- I have no doubt that staff are correct. This is powerful CPD
- I have no doubt that the impact is immediate.
- I have no doubt that this is real collegiality.
- I have no doubt that we will continue to develop the model further.