Richard Dufour, Research galore, and more. In this episode, Andy and Robin are joined by Rosie Ross to talk about Lesson Study, Coaching, and Professional Development. What should a Maths Subject Leader be doing in terms of coaching? Do some schools struggle to see training as an investment? Plus, Rosie speaks on the challenge of shifting the culture of a school.
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Hi. I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi. I'm Robin Potter.
Hi. I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast. Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Are you a maths teacher looking for CPD to strengthen your skills? Maths — No Problem! has a variety of courses to suit your needs, from textbook implementation to the essentials of teaching maths mastery. Visit mathsnoproblem.com today to learn more.
Welcome back to another episode of the School of School podcast. I am here with Andy Psarianos. Hi, Andy.
And we have a special guest today and she is fabulous. Hint, hint. No pressure. No pressure. We have Rosie Ross on today. Rosie, I just found out you've been teaching for 26 years. Wow. She says she's passionate about it, which just makes my heart warm at the thought. So Rosie, without further ado, why don't you introduce yourself and tell our listeners a little bit more about you?
Oh, okay. Yeah, I've been teaching for a very long time and it is absolutely still my passion, that moment in the classroom. I'm lucky that I've managed to do lots of different things in my career. I'm an assistant head teacher now, which is great, so I have that little bit of strategic input, but I'm still maths subject leader. I still have a class of children I teach. Over in England here, we have the NCTM. I do some work for them. I'm a mastery specialist and I'm able to support other schools with their maths as well as working on maths in my own school. So very much my passion.
That's incredible. You know how to pack a lot into your week is all I can say.
Yeah, busy lady.
Which probably is a good thing that we're talking to you today about lesson study. We're talking about coaching and professional development because I would think after 26 years, you're very, very familiar with all of those things.
Why don't you start us off by just talking about-
Go ahead, Andy.
Sorry, this is me interrupting again. What's the difference between lesson study coaching and professional development?
Oh. Well, it's all part of professional development, isn't it? So your lesson study and your coaching come under that umbrella of continuing professional development. I think it's interesting being at this stage of my career and you never know everything. You never ever know everything. There's always something new to learn. There's always something new to develop. I think one of the things for me that I've really noticed in my career, it's those relationships that you form with teachers and that best continuing professional development is relationship-driven and it's really focusing on the needs of your school. It's pertinent to teachers. They need to understand the relevance behind it. One of the things as well is if you are thinking about relationship-driven, you want to be comfortable working with somebody, so working site based in your school works really, really well.
One of the things that we've developed in our school is a coaching culture. We took the ideas of Richard Dufour and his professional learning community and we thought, okay, how can we be a professional learning community? So we had all the wonderful input that we've had for our maths over the years from Ban Har, from coming to the Maths — No Problem! conferences, from having that training. It's about, okay, so how can we pull all of this information back into our school, but do something with it, not just we've heard it and that's a job done? How can we always be getting better? So we thought, okay, so we want to be a professional learning community. What does that look like? Well, it looks about us as professionals working alongside each other. It looks at us as professionals valuing that we all have something to bring, but we all have somewhere to go as well. We have that development.
One of the things that we do in our school is we spend a lot of time in and out of each other's classrooms and that requires a lot of trust because you've got to trust your colleagues and you've got to trust that they're working with you for the benefit of the children. They're not there to make judgements on you or to criticise. It's a very positive and open experience. When it's like that, it works well. That doesn't mean you are not critical with it, that you don't find things that we can grow and develop on, but it's very reciprocal. For me, I was looking if I went to Shanghai, and I know that Ban Har has taught a lot about the study in development of maths in Singapore, I've sort of seen that culture firsthand and that's what I wanted to bring back really into our school.
So we'll have it as in phases. In the autumn term, I'll go round to every single person's class and I'll teach maths, so the tiny ones all the way through. The reason I do that is because as maths subject leader, it's really important for me to walk the walk, but it's also really important for me to really know by doing that progression of maths through the school. Across a series of weeks, I'm seeing across the school how the maths is unfolding. But while I'm teaching in somebody's lesson, I'll share my planning with them. We'll do the lesson study that we've seen Ban Har doing, the unpicking the lesson together. I'll share my planning. I'll ask for their input. While that lesson's taking place, we'll be talking about the decisions I'm making. We'll be talking about what the children are doing, involving our teaching assistants in that as well. We'll be shaping the learning and I'll do that because we are two-form entry.
I'll do that in one class before break and the same lesson after break. That's really interesting because you're taking the knowledge from one room through to the next. So that's phase one. I feel it establishes, well look, I'm not here to judge you. We are working together on this lesson. Watch how I do it and let's talk about that afterwards. So after the teaching, we'll sit and we'll talk about what worked, what might we have changed, what was curious, what surprised us, where do we go next time. Then our phase two, if you like, is working alongside colleagues, so working with teachers. We are sharing the teaching a little bit more. The class teacher maybe will take a little bit more of that focus and development on developing the maths.
Then our phase three is when teachers work with each other then. We've been doing that recently, working across the same year groups, just trying to make sure we've got that equity because that can be the downside when you are a multiple-form entry school. How do you safeguard that equity so that children are getting broadly the same experience, broadly the same diet if you like? Then we'll move that on later and we'll do some cross-phase coaching as well. It's been really beneficial in that as a subject lead, I feel like I really know the children in the school and I feel like I've really starting to know my teachers and their style. I've picked up so much as well as a subject lead. I've thought, oh, that's a really good way of doing things or that's a really interesting way, and yet you pick up things where you go, oh, I didn't think about that. Let's put some training in on this.
That's another way we use our continuing professional development because you pull little strands out and think, okay, that's something we could work on here. I'm very fortunate I've got a really supportive head teacher and he'll give us time. He'll do a longer assembly so the teachers can be together and we might work for 20 minutes, 30 minutes just on one aspect that we might have pulled out from the coaching. I think that also is important, having the support of your senior leadership team. That's absolutely crucial if you're going to have a professional learning culture and that no judgement . We're about the learning. We're about improving outcomes for children. We're about energising people in their job, energising people in the classroom and you can only do that if people feel supported, feel valued, and feel open enough to share that. It's important as well to keep that cycle going because people leave, they retire or whatever. New people come in. It's just making sure that everybody understands what learning looks like within our school.
It was quite fascinating, Rosie. Can you tell me a little bit or tell our audience a little bit about some of the obstacles you had to overcome when you were trying to change the culture of the school into this more open collaborative environment?
Yeah. I would say I'm very, very lucky with the colleagues that I have. People are willing, but everybody gets nervous, don't they, with somebody being in your room and being watched? I think because our profession has been so accountability-driven and we've been so scrutinised, so I think for me, the most-
That's an understatement by the way. I think-
I'm being polite.
For most teachers, when somebody's coming in to watch what's going on in their classroom, it usually has the word inspection attached to them.
Yeah. It's terror, isn't it? I think the first thing is obviously about if you are going to be the person leading that professional learning culture, if you are going to be leading the coaching, you have to put yourself out there. You have to be part of that. You can't do it to other people. So that's really important. Relationships are everything. I think people are on board when they know why as well. You've got to sell what's the why. Why are we doing this? We are doing this not to judge teachers. We are doing this because actually, we want to enjoy our job. We want to feel well about coming to work. When you know what you're doing, you actually do feel well. It's a sense of well-being because you feel you've got the tools that you need. You understand what a good lesson will look like.
And you know what? Teachers like children. They do want children to enjoy being in school. They do want children to progress and learn. If your colleagues get actually, we're doing this to make things better in our lessons, to make our lessons enjoyable for all of us, then that's helpful as well. So it's the why. So it's sharing and it's not doing something to other people. It's doing something reciprocally with people. And I think if it's research-based, if you are doing it using something of value. For us, obviously Maths — No Problem! was something of value to us. We knew that this was a system and structure of learning maths that was really powerful for our children, so why wouldn't you want to get better and better and better at it? Then the great thing is everything we've done with the maths, it's now impacting on other subject areas because we've got the English lead now going, "Do you know what? I'm going to go in and we're going to look at writing together."
So you start with one thing and then you've got this catalyst approach in your school and suddenly, there's a bit of a buzz and you feel energised by it and you are looking at learning and you feel good about teaching because actually, look what we are achieving together.
It sounds so exciting, really. This is your entire school working together and sharing and helping each other. I always think listening to it from a new teacher's perspective, how having that support to succeed and to help your students the best way that you can and already having that instilled in the school environment, I have to believe, would be such a positive experience. It might be a bit overwhelming at first because of the learning curve, but to know that there's all kinds of other teachers and heads of staff that are there that can support you.
Absolutely. I think in some ways, we are really lucky because our new and younger teachers, they were so used to, from their training, having people in and out of the room. So actually, they've been very, very open and they've been a very good model actually for maybe some colleagues who might have felt a little bit more scared about people being in their room because their experience is different, isn't it? Whereas our young teachers have been used to that flow of people and that critique maybe of their learning. So that's been really good. I think as well, the conversation in our senior leadership is always about learning. I think our head teachers would see himself as a leader of learning, not just an administrator. I think that's very helpful as well. I think it's also, we got really good at going, do you know what? Let's close the door. Let have people have a go. Just let them get on with it and have a go. Let's not always keep judging in. That's not to say that we don't pick up on things, but it's letting people have the time and the space.
Because, I can't remember who it was, I don't know whether it was Dan Sherrington, I think it might have been, or no, sorry, Tom Sherrington, but I think it was somebody said that your best lessons happen anyway when the doors often close. They're the ones that people miss and you think, oh no, if somebody had seen that, oh, they'd just seen I'm an amazing teacher. So I suppose that's what it's making. Because sometimes we do things as a teacher that are implicit to our teaching and it's trying to make those implicit things explicit to other people because we don't reflect on our own practise sometimes about what the good things we do. We're very good at picking up, oh, I didn't do that right. So it's getting someone else to go, "Do you know that was so interesting? Tell me a little bit about that." And it's that talk and that culture and time, having the time. That's a barrier.
You asked about barriers before, Andy, and time, and again, that comes back to your senior leadership. How creative can you be? Can you use those assembly times? Can you think about, let's have a longer assembly? Because actually, we could keep a class back and we could use that class and we could do some teaching there. We are all struggling with budgets and things like that, but it's about being creative, isn't it, about how can we move staff around a little bit? Just because actually, the value of this is so important because if you get it right, it costs you less in the long run because if all goes wrong in school, you're going to be spending money on consultants and this and that and the other things. So actually, it's worth that little investment now.
Yeah, and investment, I think, is the key word. Often, people think of these things as merely expenditure and they think, well, and CPD is one of the things that schools look long and hard at. They say, "Well, what's my return on investment going to be for this?" They're really viewing it as like, well, that's a lot of money I'm going to have to pay to send a teacher to, let's say to training, and then I have to pay to cover them while they're away, or I have to find a way to make space or time in my school. All these things seem rather expensive, but in the long run, they pay off. But how can you help schools justify or how should schools think about things like that? I think how can they shift from that sort of being worried about the expenditure and seeing it more as an investment?
Yeah. I think it's your vision, isn't it? I think you have to sit and think, okay, why do we come to school? Why do we work in the school? What's our vision? Schools all have a vision, they all have a mission statement, they all have a purpose for being, don't they? If you go back to that, you can guarantee in every school, there'll be something about helping children achieve potential for tomorrow, all of these things. If we really believe that, if we genuinely are sitting behind our mission statements or our vision or whatever you call it, or our motto, if we genuinely believe that, then we have a moral duty to invest in our teachers who are going to be...
They're the key, the most expansive resource in your school. They're the key resource in your school, so actually, you need to invest in your teachers. If you've got good stuff to work with, good resources, but your teachers are your most expansive resource that you're paying into. So you want to make them the absolute best they can be because we are data-driven as well and your data is going to be a lot better if you invest in your teachers. You want them to be happier.
It sounds so obvious.
... happier. Yeah.
It sounds so obvious. It seems like it's a no-brainer, but surprisingly, I don't know if everyone does that, invest in their teachers.
It's the mindset. It's interesting you talked about mission statements. There's not a lot of schools that will have a mission statement that says, "Save money." It's more likely that they'll say, "Do the best thing we possibly can for the children," right?
So it's just reminding yourself that that's what you're really there for and there probably isn't a better investment that you can make than investing in your teachers. The best investment you can make for your students is investing in your teachers.
Yeah, and it's just reminding yourself that that's actually true. But then you also have to be careful that you don't fall for things that are not going to give you the return. So how do you identify what's going to work in a school and what's not going to work?
Okay. I think it's the ground base, isn't it? It is what you are going to be doing. Is it really backed, really well-backed with research? If I use something like Maths — No Problem! as an example, we knew that is just research. You've got years and years and years of really high-quality research behind it in terms of thinking about building professional learning community. You've got all the work of Richard Dufour. You've got things like work of Deborah Ball on subject knowledge for teachers, all of that research. So you start with that and you go, okay, all these people can't be wrong. We looked at what was going on in other countries as well. Look at TIMSS and PISA. Why are they doing so well? What is it about their teaching? So it's all about grounding in the research and then you know you've got something of quality.
Fantastic. Well, there you have it.
Thanks for joining us, Rosie.
Oh, no, I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.