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How We Have Used Practitioner Enquiry For School Development

I am Headteacher  of two primary schools in southern Scotland. One is a town school of some 260 or so pupils, and the other is a small village school of around 50 pupils. For the last three and a half years we have been using practitioner enquiry as an approach across both schools to develop individual teachers, ourselves as a senior management team, and both establishments
This has been an exciting and enlightening experience for myself as a school
leader and for all of the teachers that have worked in the schools during this period. These have ranged from a number of  NQTs and others with over twenty years of teaching experience and in a number of different schools.
I can honestly say that I have never found a better way of developing individuals, their practice, and whole-school development than practitioner enquiry has delivered over the last three and a half years.   Individuals have developed their practice and their understanding of how they can, and do, impact on learning. Both schools have developed and been able to use practitioner enquiry as an approach to connect up all the strands of development necessary in our implementation of Curriculum for Excellence. Most importantly, learning and teaching experiences, attainment and achievement have improved for all learners in both schools.
Our journey began three and a half years ago and came out of dissatisfaction around CPD activities, and their lack of impact, that had previously happened, and our own self evaluation activities which told us we could do better in the teaching of aspects of literacy. As a result of both of these indicators we decided to contact Dr Gillian Robinson from Edinburgh University to she if she could advise us and help us move forward. Gillian's specialism was in literacy but she was also very involved in the Chartered Teacher programme in Edinburgh, which used a practitioner enquiry approach.
Myself and my Depute Headteacher spoke to Gillian and explained where we wanted to get to and we discussed possible models of how she could support our aims. She felt that this was an opportunity to try practitioner enquiry as a whole-school, as well as individual, approach to deep and meaningful development. This sounded really exciting to us but we wanted Gillian and ourselves to meet with all staff and set out our proposals and to gather their views and thoughts.
Initially, we didn't even mention the term practitioner enquiry as I was quite anxious that this was not just seen as another 'thing' to do. What we explained was that Gillian would come in and support us, through training sessions and individual consultations, with the teaching and understanding of aspects of teaching language. This would also require staff to carry out professional reading around Gillian's input and also to begin to look really closely at their own practice in the classroom. I pointed out that if staff wanted to try this approach it would mean we would be using all our CPD budget and this would be our sole focus for development for that first year. We must have done a pretty good selling job, because all the staff were immediately on board and couldn't wait to get started!
We planned out Gillian's input and support over the school year and got underway. As planned her initial input was around aspects of language and literacy, so we started with reading and how to use miscue analysis to establish where children really were with their reading, and then how we could properly plan to build on their learning. This led us into considerations of genre, both in reading and writing and how we taught these. This in turn meant we had to consider pedagogy, planning and assessment of all these elements. Teachers looked closely at their own practice, they read and, crucially, discussed what they had discovered and how they might need to develop or change their practice.
I would be not be telling the truth if I were to claim that the first year was problem free and was a straightforward progression in what we did. It wasn't! It was challenging, complicated and messy. We had to constantly adjust our plans in the light of discussions between ourselves, Gillian and all staff. Sometimes we had to slow right down and go back in order to ensure the pace of development was not stopping teachers and ourselves from having a deep understanding of what we were doing and why. However, everyone was agreed we were moving forward and language teaching, in particular was improving. Indeed, one of the schools was inspected by the HMIe six months into our work and the lead inspector commented that he could see the impact in the children's work and understanding already. We could all see this ourselves but it was super to get some 'outside ' validation so early into all of this.
Throughout that first year it was really important that myself and my deputy were tuned in to the 'mood music' of both schools so that we could feed this into our discussions with Gillian and adjustments to our plans could be made.

In my next post I will explain how we evaluated our first year anddeveloped our new way of working into the second school year.

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