Now, next and beyond: thoughts on continual improvement

Yesterday, I delivered a session around strategic consideration of teacher wellbeing and workload, exploring some of the key aspects of how we can take steps to improve systems and process in schools to ensure teachers feel a strong sense of job satisfaction.

One of the aspects I discussed was the impact of change fatigue: that whilst any system change may seek to improve processes, even the very best of processes and policies can fall on its face if we don’t consider a series of factors in our approach.

Viviane Robinson asserts that we must begin by ascertaining that what we perceive to be an issue, is in fact an issue; beyond this, we need to agree this as a collective pursuit with teams. Spending time working to understand the issue, whatever it may be, ensures that we have mutually identified the knot that needs to be unpicked. Once identified, the individual or team overseeing this aspect of school strategy can then start to consider the possible solutions, and then, pose the two following questions to provide a litmus:

– does this improve student learning?

– does this ensure workload levels are the same or less for staff?

Once the issue is identified, it is the implication of time that then becomes a factor- and this can be applicable for a pedagogical issue with a current cohort, all the way through to a whole- school approach or system. To ensure change is gradual, incremental and most importantly sustainable, we might consider what successful implementation of the solution will look like after the immediate change; in a term; in a year.

To take an example at classroom level: a teacher hopes to introduce retrieval practice as a strategy to aid and monitor what has been learned. Immediately, that might be actualised by trialling a series of low-stakes quizzes. In a term, it may be to collate a series of quizzes to establish the efficacy of design, to what extent the knowledge required matches with the knowledge tested. In a year, it may be to consider how to measure evidence of memory through the use of that knowledge in the current unit, or how to scale up the process up a year group, should the refined approach be deemed successful.

At subject level, it may be that academic writing has proved to be a cohort- specific issue that hinders students when formulating responses in history. Immediately, it may be that the subject lead looks to blogs or other subjects to determine what established academic writing may look like. After a term, they may work with key stage leads to prepare a series of training or discussions with subject teachers to share how they might refine the way students are taught to write academically. At a year, it may be that a select form of strategies that proved effective are then integrated within aspects of the history curriculum to ensure that students are regularly exposed to an approach that they can familiarise with over time.

At whole- school level, where stakes are higher in regard to change fatigue, the same principles can by all means apply. A senior leader may have identified that behaviour systems are not always being used to their full capacity, yet a great deal of subject lead feedback is that subject meeting time is being used to discuss behaviour. Immediately, it may be that they establish the barriers to the current system- administration perhaps, or teachers have not received training that shares clear clarification of how the systems can be used to support teaching. A term on, it may be gathering a working party to evaluate post- training as to how supported teachers feel to use the system, or where logistical elements of using the system as a teacher on a full-time timetable may have been overlooked. A year on, the senior leader may want to pull data to see utilisation in comparison of the data from a year prior, to further inform to what extent any changes have made to teachers feeling empowered to use the system.

Time is such a key aspect to our roles in schools, and to our endeavour to continue to get better, that we cannot afford to overlook it as merely a conduit of the process, but instead, it is integral to our capacity to improve. Once we start to spend time on the thinking- the pre-plan of what success looks like, in advance of improvement itself- then we may find that improvement becomes a far more forensic and sustainable exercise.

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