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Year Three Practitioner Enquiry

Towards the end of year two we again evaluated the impact of the work using all the techniques from year one. This time we were able to include the observations of various visitors who had been in to the schools and were interested in the approach we were taking. These included officers of the local authority, other Headteachers and representatives of the GTCS, who had begun to support our work. The GTCS reps met with myself and my DHT, as well as teachers, to explore the impact of such an approach. They backed up our own positive evaluations and helped us evidence the impact we were having on individual teachers, their practice, and across the schools.
We again asked the staff if they wanted to continue and they all expressed the desire to maintain the momentum we were building up. There really was no turning back!
We wished to change the focus in year three and so we decided that our enquiry this year would be in the area of maths teaching. So in this third year Gillian was able to link us up with another colleague of hers, Susan McClarty, from Edinburgh University. Susan was a maths specialist and staff identified that they would welcome support with the teaching of problem solving within Maths. So, over the course of the year, Susan delivered a series of sessions for staff on the teaching and development of mathematical understanding in real life contexts. At the same time, Gillian continued to support staff with their enquiries into practice.
We put it to staff that this year we would like them all to produce a research poster based on their enquiry. This is common practice in higher education studies at university level and we thought it would be a good way to demonstrate to all staff that the work they were engaged in was at a very high level, and was approaching the Masters level study as recommended in Graham Donaldson's report 'Teaching Scotland's Future'. This looked at, and made recommendations for the development of initial teacher education, and professional development in Scotland. Through the support of Education Scotland, who had also become very interested in what we were doing, and the GTCS, we were able to arrange for the teachers' posters to be professionally printed when they were completed. This demonstrated to them all how their work was being valued and provided them with even more motivation for the commitment that was required.
All teachers, from nursery through to primary seven, decided to look at aspects of problem solving for their enquiries. Again, the same common and cyclical elements were involved in the enquiries that were carried out over the course of the school year. That is, identification of what they wanted to look at, reasons for this choice, professional reading, data collection information, explanation of what they evidenced, how their practice had changed and identification of their next steps.
We were absolutely astounded by the standard of the enquiry posters produced and the level of thinking and reflection they had engendered in all staff. As expected, there was a range of differing results across staff. Some were quite basic and other were worthy of publication at Masters level! However, the really crucial element for me as the leader of both schools, was that we could see and evidence that all teachers had moved on in their practice and in their understanding. Therefore, the learning and teaching experiences pupils in their classes had moved on also.
Like the previous two years, this was a demanding one for all of the staff. There were times during the year when we had to provide higher levels of support than others. Indeed, there were times when we were able to say to them, forget about your enquiry and your poster for now because we understand the demands that were being placed on them by all the usual school activities. These include the run up to Christmas, Parents' Nights, report writing times, etc. It really is important that school leaders recognise and acknowledge all of the regular and demanding activities that still have to happen as part of the rhythm of the school year,and adjust expectations when these are occurring. That is also why it is crucial if you adopt this type of approach senior managers and headteachers are thoroughly involved in all the work themselves. In that way it is so much easier to 'keep it real' for your staff and yourself.
In my next blog I will explain where we are now and what our plans for the future are. I will also identify all the benefits and health warnings that need to be considered should schools be looking to travel down similar paths of development themselves.

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