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Year Two Practitioner Enquiry

In my last blog I wrote about our first year of engagement with practitioner enquiry as a means of developing individuals and schools. So what happened after this?
At the end of the first year we evaluated the impact of our work, closely focused on what had improved for learners. We spoke to teachers, pupils, support staff, parents, local authority colleagues and asked hard questions about what had improved. Out of this we built up appositive picture on the impact. This was backed up by the formal monitoring and observation activities we undertook in both schools, where we focused on impact for learners. Again the results were positive. We had a professional discussion with all staff, ourselves on the management team and our supporter Gillian. This was an open and frank discussion about what we had been engaged in and how useful all staff found this in developing their understanding and their practice.
I should state here that for the approaches we have adopted to work properly, having an open, supportive culture and ethos was crucial in encouraging everyone to be able to critically look at their own practice and development needs. Trust is crucial. Staff have to know that they are not being judged all the time when they are admitting what they don't understand, and when they try new approaches that might not work. this is how we learn!
As a result of our assessment and consultations everyone agreed they would like to continue working with Gillian into the next school session. The same conditions would apply, but now, having seen how crucial professional dialogue was to the whole process, we would create even more time in our development timetable to allow this to happen. If it was important and useful we had to make time for it to happen. By creating protected time for such dialogue we were showing, as managers, that we recognised this as a key component.
In the second year we again continued our focus on aspects of langue teaching. Now, however, we were asking all staff to carry out a detailed, and focused enquiry into an aspect of their teaching. To facilitate this we gave all staff input on data collection strategies and analysis, and helped them identify areas of their practice they might like to look at closely. We set up regular consultation meetings between staff, Gillian and ourselves so that they were well supported in their enquiry process. The expectation was by the end of the year staff would be able to share with ourselves and their colleagues the results of their enquiries. This was to include, their focus, why they chose this, reading around this, how they collected data, what this showed, changes they made to their practice, and identifying of their next steps. All achieved this aim, to differing degrees, by the end of session.
What we also began to notice, and as did many visitors to both schools, was the number of informal conversations around teaching and learning that were happening all over the school. These were observed in the staff rooms, in classrooms and in corridors. So not only were staff using the protected time we were giving them to discuss their work and their findings, but this was spreading out into general conversations throughout the schools. As managers we were delighted to see this and the obvious enthusiasm staff were displaying for the approaches we were taking.
Again, you should not think that this was all plain sailing because it wasn't. We still had to monitor and adjust the programme as the year developed and as we listened to the feedback, formal and informal, from staff. But the crucial point for all was that the direction of travel was overwhelmingly forward. Some moved forward faster than others, but we expected and accepted this as a normal part of any development process.
Another key point I would like to emphasise is that for any development or approach to be embedded in practice and to become a disposition amongst staff, we had to ensure we provided them with the space and time to allow this to happen. We consciously decided, and told staff, that we needed to slow down to assimilate our new learning and to evaluate new practices. We stopped the headlong rush from one development to another and focused much more on the depth of understanding and in changes.This is not a tick--box, formulaic approach to development. Ultimately our aim has been for our approaches to be so embedded in individual practice, and in the culture and ethos of the schools, that they are completely sustainable as 'this is what we do!'
In my next blog I will share how we stepped this up again in our third year, and how we changed key aspects of our focus. Feel free to ask any questions about this as we go.

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