Cashmere High School - building professional capability through learning walks

A vision to take the school from good to great is the driver for improvement at Cashmere High School. As part of achieving that vision, the principal has focused on developing a culture of evaluation and inquiry that involves scrutinising data to identify strengths and weaknesses, discussing solutions openly and critically, and improving the effectiveness of professional practice. The principal wants to know "what's good, but also what's not good enough.”

Professional learning walks provide an opportunity for teachers to observe and reflect on effective teaching strategies that will assist, challenge and improve their practice - leading to increased engagement and achievement for students in their classes.

 

A critical catalyst for a range of school improvement activities at Cashmere High School came from the realisation that students were not performing as well as other students in similar schools.

The school had a ‘soggy middle’.

The development and implementation of a coherent approach to enhancing the effectiveness of teachers as leaders of learning was identified as an important focus to improve the quality of curriculum provision and the effectiveness of teaching.

The primary purpose of professional learning and development provision at Cashmere High School is to:

  • encourage more professional self reflection
  • improve teaching practice
  • develop a learning community by sharing and improving good teacher practice with colleagues.

Learning walks are one part of a suite of professional learning and development opportunities to enable teachers to better engage students in learning for achievement. Other opportunities include professional learning mornings and change inquiry teams.

The Learning walks involve teachers in observations of teaching and learning, followed by reflection and feedback. The process leads to inquiry into aspects of individual practice.

Noticing

Is what we are doing good enough?

The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) definition of pedagogy which states that “teacher actions promote student learning” provides the context for the learning walk. To improve practice teachers needed opportunities to discuss and debate their understanding about effective pedagogy and what effective practice looks like.

Groups of 10 teachers took part in a half-day programme that started with establishing protocols and clarifying the specific focus of the observations. This included enhancing the relevance of new learning or making connections to prior learning and experience. The observation focus is determined on a school-wide needs basis. Teachers then pair up and visit five or six classes. The in-class focus is simply on observing. Notes are only made outside the classroom.

Investigating

What are we looking at? Why?

Opportunities are provided for group and individual reflection. Each observation pair has a short discussion following a classroom visit. Follow up group and individual reflections focus on the guiding questions established at the outset:

  • What strategies did I see the teacher using to encourage learning to take place and how have students reacted to the strategies?
  • What challenged my thinking about my own teaching?
  • What impact might this have on my teaching as a result?

Teachers who are observed can ask for feedback.

Collaborative sense making

What strategies did I see the teacher using?

How did students respond?

What challenged my thinking about my own teaching?

Participants complete a written reflection within a week of the observations. The analysis and collation of the written reflections in relation to the questions is undertaken and an overview of the findings is presented to all staff. These findings provide detailed insights into the dynamics of effective classroom practice and theprovision of a responsive curriculum and opportunities to learn for every student. Teachers participating in the process identify a range of significant follow up actions to improve student learning in their classrooms.

Prioritising responses

What impact might this have on my teaching?

The learning walks initiative is reviewed and refined each year. Teachers’ feedback about the value of the learning walks process is very positive.

This initiative has improved the calibre of learning conversations and enhanced team work across the school.− Professional Practice Leader.

The number of students achieving NCEA Level 2 is improving steadily. Percentage of students achieving NCEA Level 2:

This is a small table for all students in line 1 and Maori students in line 2. For all students the numbers are 2012 - 72.6% for 2014 - 84.1%. For Maori students for 2012 - 54.5% and for 2014 81.5%

Monitoring and evaluating impact

What is happening as a result of these ‘learning walks?

What do we know about the impact they are having?

How do we know this?