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Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Road to Outstanding Part One - Know your Cohort

I recently attended a course at The Early Excellence Centre in Huddersfield hosted by Jane Golightly entitled 'Putting Outstanding into Teaching and Learning at KS1.' It was, as good courses should be, useful, informative, inspiring and most importantly left me with a huge to do list. 

In the past when I have heard the words 'Outstanding Teaching' I have like most teachers bristled! What is Outstanding teaching? It seemed the goalposts were moving constantly. Buzzwords ruled the waves on Twitter, in the press and in schools. Outstanding, Progress,  
Book Scrutiny, Lesson Observations. All of this led to pressure and confusion. How could it be possible to show you are an Outstanding teacher in one lesson? Is it possible to demonstrate progress in that same lesson? Add into this the mention of Performance related pay and stress levels rise!

Jane Golightly though soon answered most of these questions. She began the session by handing out and discussing Why do Ofsted inspectors observe individual lessons and how do they evaluate schools?  which gave some clarification. She went on to give advice for Senior Leaders about how they should both observe their teachers and in addition what other things they should look for to assist them in arriving at a grading for teaching in their school. In the past all of this would have left me at best cold and at worse feeling stressed, however everything that Jane suggested made absolute sense. There was nothing that in fact most teachers either are doing already or cannot be supported to do. 

Therefore in order to address the fears of fellow teachers and hopefully to pass on her wonderful recommendations to SLT I will over a series of blog posts pass on Jane's guidance and advice for putting outstanding into teaching and learning. I also must emphasise that this advice is the same for KS1 and KS2.

Step I Knowing Your Cohort

Effective teachers know all of their pupils inside out. They understand their needs as learners, where they are now, where they need to be next, what they need to do to enable them to get there and any barriers that may prevent them. 

For the teacher, to achieve 'outstanding' or meet your own performance management targets you can use this knowledge to plan effectively, enable your pupils to 'progress' and if necessary argue your case about why you did not focus on that group in an observed lesson or indeed if Sue, Ahmed etc have not met their end of term or year target.   

So your first step is to plan a transition meeting with the teacher of the pupils you are receiving next year and another with the teacher you are sending your pupils to. Often when teachers and S.L.T hear the words 'Transition Meeting' they assume this means a meeting for parents and more specifically a meeting for parents of pupils going into F2, Year 3 and Year 7. However, this isn't or shouldn't be the case.

Transition meetings are absolutely vital for all teachers as knowledge is power. Our pupils are more than a series of data typed into Target Tracker they are children, human beings with problems, issues, needs, fears, desires, likes, dislikes, skills, talents etc.........

A teacher that has taught and nurtured a class or group of pupils for a year is therefore the font of all knowledge when it comes to those pupils. Often she or he will know things about those pupils that even their parents don't. So plan a meeting, sit down and have discussion, take notes and get to know your new pupils. I know that lots of teachers will think:

'I haven't got the time'

'I can look at the data, I.E.Ps , Home School Agreements and some of their books, that will do' 

You have got the time, an effective transition meeting, planned before hand should take no more than a couple of hours after school. The data, books etc will not give you all of the information that you will need in order to teach that pupil effectively from that very first lesson. The more information you have will enable you to hit the ground running in September! 

The information you will need to discuss at this meeting will obviously be, in some cases very sensitive so you will need to use your professional judgement about what information to record and what you will just need to remember.

Some ideas:

Home life - Are parents supportive of school policy? Any family break downs? Will parent attend parents evening together? Siblings in and out of school?

Pupils as learners - Do they listen well? Can they sit still? Work in a group? Co-operate with others? Prefer to work alone? Manage classroom routines?  What do they excel in? Any areas of concern? Why? Do they prefer the classroom to be quiet? Noisy? Do they chat a lot? Lack confidence? Which topics have they enjoyed the most? Which would you you not teach again?

Pupils as individuals - Friendship groups? What do they do after school? Beavers? Football? Dancing? Any particular talents or interests? 

Data - Look at and analyse the data together, having a professional dialogue about the reasons some of the pupils have not met targets and likewise why some have exceeded. This will provide you with far more information than looking at the data alone.

Meeting to discuss the pupils will assist you in:

Planning your first series of lessons for the new term to directly meet the needs of your new cohort. There is little point planning lessons for your new space topic and including a series of lessons about aliens when your new class are overly sensitive and would respond better to information about the astronaut or the rocket. 

Communicating well with parents based upon the information you have been given will prevent you putting your foot in it and inquiring about Grandad only to be told he died at the end of last term.

Meeting the pastoral needs of your pupils - you will be able to sort effective groups avoiding problems with pupils who clash or will chat too much to their friends etc. Set your classroom routines to directly meet the needs of the class.

Target setting for your pupils.

Professional dialogue with your SLT during your first performance management meeting where your personal targets are discussed. You will know some of the potential barriers to learning for your pupils immediately. 

The next couple of weeks is the ideal time to meet and discuss your new cohort so be proactive and go ahead and set a date convenient to all concerned!