In September 2011 our self-evaluation judgement – that we were an outstanding school with outstanding teaching and learning – was confirmed by Ofsted. It was a great endorsement of the work of the school, but was pretty quickly followed by the question, “what now?” We were facing the same problem that John Tomsett has so eloquently blogged about in “the tricky issue of planning the development of an outstanding school.”
Our priority – as at Huntingdon – is to keep the main thing the main thing and continue to develop our outstanding teaching and learning. I believe it is essential that every teacher in every school should aim to be outstanding – what David Didau calls perfection. The approach we have taken is partly born out of the “grace period” that the outstanding judgement has given us; we know that inspectors won’t be knocking on our door this academic year. We are able (to a certain extent) to disregard Ofsted’s definition of outstanding teaching and learning (though even Ofsted struggle to agree on that) and make our own minds up about what constitutes outstanding.
If there was no OfSTED, no league tables, no SLT… just you and your class..what would you choose to do to make it GREAT? Do that anyway…
— Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) February 28, 2013
This was the task we set each department back in October. Ignore what you’ve been told and define for yourselves what an outstanding lesson looks like in your subject. Nobody is going to tell you what it should or shouldn’t be. There is no set format. It’s up to you. Then plan and teach a lesson that deliberately sets out to meet that definition.
For this to work, teachers had to be empowered to take risks. We insisted that the “outstanding lesson” did not need to be observed by anyone. If teachers felt it would help to be observed, however, they could choose a colleague to observe them. If cover were required, a member of the senior team would provide it. The notes from the observation would remain confidential between the two colleagues, unless the observed teacher chose to share them. The only requirement was that a self-evaluation of the lesson was offered (verbally – no paperwork) in a department or faculty meeting. You can read the guidance we issued to staff here: Outstanding Lessons Introduction.
The great thing about this initiative was that teachers finally owned the definition of outstanding teaching. They weren’t being told that their lesson had to have four parts, that they have to have WALT and WILF on the board, that they had to start with brain gym, that their lesson objective had to be linked to an assessment focus and include a literacy, learning to learn, building learning power, citizenship, SEAL, and cross-curricular theme element. Instead, it was up to them. And when I collated the definitions, I found some really reassuring common threads across the school. Apparently, outstanding lessons are about:
At the end of an outstanding lesson, students and teachers should leave the room feeling “proud of what they’ve achieved”, “energised, enthused and informed”; this is the intangible x-factor that makes an outstanding lesson outstanding.
The feedback from the process was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers engaged with it, and the discussions across the school in agreeing the definitions brought teaching and learning to the fore in a lamentably rare way. The self-evaluations offered in faculties were helpful and reflective. Did everyone teach an outstanding lesson? Of course not. But the honest dissection of why a lesson which was planned carefully to be outstanding ended up not being so was exceptionally helpful.
So, every teacher had a go at teaching one outstanding lesson. We still have the same question: “what now?” James Heale hit the nail on the head in a recent #SLTchat:
#sltchat ensure staff know there is a difference between teaching an outstanding lesson and being an outstanding teacher. Not the same thing
— James Heale (@Heale2011) February 24, 2013
Here, the Heads of Faculty really took the reins. Energised by the professional discussions of what made an outstanding Art, English, or Science lesson, they were keen to generalise it. If we can decide what makes an outstanding PE lesson, can we go on to define what makes an outstanding PE teacher? Or Technology teacher? Or Drama teacher? Inspired again by John Tomsett’s blog, this time his post on becoming a “truly great school”, and by Tom Sherrington’s post “what makes a great teacher”, we ditched the “outstanding” tag and replaced it with “great”.
Over the coming terms, faculty teams will be discussing what makes a truly great teacher in their subject. And then, critically, each teacher will be self-evaluating and trying to develop their own practice to meet the definition they’ve agreed on. There won’t be a paper trail, it won’t be part of performance management, their line manager won’t be following them around with a checklist to see how they’re doing. It is every teacher’s professional responsibility to continue to improve their teaching and the learning in their classroom. This approach puts the emphasis firmly on that professionalism in the spirit of building a trust culture, and, hopefully empowers teachers to aspire to greatness day by day by day. I am certainly looking forward to discussing and collating the definitions, which will almost certainly be the subject of a future post!