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The Power Within

I sent a tweet the other day which seemed to generate a deal of resonance with some on my PLN. What I said was that meaningful school development can only come from within and cannot be imposed from outside. Now 140 characters on Twitter does have benefits but, as anyone who tweets regularly knows, it also has huge limitations in what you can say. So what I would like to do here is offer some further explanation of what I was trying to convey in my tweet.

For many years well meaning and informed people have increased our understanding and have made constructive suggestions  on how schools can develop and move forward. We also know that there have been lots of other suggestions made by less informed but vocal contributors to this debate! As all in education and schools know, everyone has an opinion or view on what should be going on in our schools. The media loves to feed on all of this and much of it stokes the fires of debate and gives oxygen to some of the wilder suggestions.

As someone who has worked for many years in schools, the last 16 years in management, I have learned how to keep developing those schools, and myself, in the face of constant assaults on my profession and what we do, and to manage and make sense of a whole plethora of research that has increased our understanding of what we do.

What I have learned in that time is that schools and the individuals within them are the best people to really know, and decide, what they need to do to develop and keep improving. They are the ones who have to recognise what they need to do for development and change to become embedded in practice. It really is no good for outside commentators or agencies to be constantly telling schools and staff what they need to do to improve, they really do need to see this themselves. Only then are they likely to make the changes necessary in practice. Agencies from outside the school are not unimportant or unnecessary. But their role should be one of providing support that schools and staff need to develop practice and understanding in order to move forward.

In my experience, we have had for year after year people coming into our schools telling us what we need to do to improve. We have tried one 'thing' after another to bring about desired improvements. Schools and staff have embraced these with various levels of enthusiasm and have achieved some successes, but these have not been great in impact and have had low levels of sustainability. What tends to happen is that schools and teachers will try things out, whilst not being given the time to really understand the theory or research behind them, if there is any. Often with new developments comes a timetable for implementation, which seems to assume all schools are in the same place, they aren't! The one size fits all approach to school development just doesn't work. All development needs to be tailored to the schools and staff within them, they are all different.

New developments or initiatives are often reduced to techniques or gimmicks that they are told if SMT or others can observe in classrooms or schools, this will provide the evidence that developments have happened! Then what happens is that over a period of time the observed 'changes' diminish and disappear, or are replaced by the next 'thing' being introduced. In such circumstances, staff then revert to their usual embedded practice as this is comfortable to them and known.

What I and others have come to realise over the last few years is, that if you give staff and schools the time and space to really self-evaluate and identify where they are, and the impact they are having on children's learning, and give them the tools and support to do this, they begin to recognise changes they can make themselves to bring about improvement. I have described these as light-bulb moments for them all. These insights are really powerful and bring about sustainable and embedded changes in pedagogy and practice. Individuals improve their understanding and take steps to move on, and when this is done in a collective and connected way schools themselves move on. Most importantly, the experiences of pupils and the impact on their attainment moves on as a result.

Isn't this what we are all aiming for?  So what is stopping us from commonly adopting such an approach? I have views on that as well, but perhaps that is for another post!

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