Norfolk School - a writing review

Previously the principal had a year's study leave to work on a postgraduate qualification. The opportunity enabled him to read deeply, research and re-shape his vision for the school and extend his leadership approach. When he returned to the school he decided to introduce a whole-school approach to review and development.

I wanted my leadership approach to shift to a more strategic, self-renewing and sustainable one focused on three things: what is best for children, the change process and the importance of involving all players in that process.

Principal

This example is an evaluation triggered by leaders taking a close look at student achievement data as part of developing and introducing a new approach to school evaluation. Although both writing and mathematics were identified for review and development, the example below focuses mainly on the developments in writing.

 

The National Standards data was showing a decline in performance and board trustees were asking hard questions. When the data was analysed by year level and for individual students, issues were evident in maths (in the shift from advanced additive to multiplicative thinking), and for boys’ writing. Although some students showed significant progress, the progress of others showed a plateau or decline. Overall there was insufficient progress.

The principal used the analysis as an opportunity to involve the staff in setting targets and to develop specific outcomes in the annual plan.

We needed to be thinking systematically about the evidence byasking the important questions. What are we doing well? What can we improve on? How can we enrich and accelerate the learning of our students? We also needed to know more about each of the children we were focusing on before we could be clear aboutwhat we were focusing on as a school.− Principal.

The analysis and interpretation of the data provided a starting point for building capability and getting staff to think at a higher level. The aim was to distribute leadership and generate ownership of school improvement by all teachers. The principal shifted his emphasis to building “human systems by listening and hearing.”Opportunities for discussions were increased.

The principal also realised he needed to be more direct with staff to ensure expectations were clear and applied. Time was invested in clarifying principles and beliefs about teaching. Staff meetings became a mechanism for structuring how to work together as professionals, focused on building professional capability through, for example, the sharing of readings, research and practice. External expertise was identified and used to build leadership capability and mentoring approaches through challenging and extending approaches to classroom practice.

The principal took a strong instructional leadership role, leading collaborative brainstorming, working in classrooms and modelling approaches to teaching and professional learning, such as the use of video to analyse what could be done differently. He fostered vertical and horizontal connections in the quality of learning, teaching, professional learning and leadership. He also focused on changes to support those students needing to progress faster in mathematics.

Noticing

What’s going on here?

Should we be concerned?

As part of leadership development the principal asked the deputy principal (DP) to lead an evaluation focused on writing that would engage teachers to talk about their practice and improve outcomes, particularly for students of concern.

The DP began by analysing the data more deeply to identify who the students were that needed support. She was interested in what their strengths and needs were, what support they had now, their current goals and what support they had already had. The DP visited these students in their classrooms. She also spent time reading research and guidelines about effective practice. This helped her to identify what good practice looked like.

The DP undertook classroom visits in Term 2. Teachers identified the focus for the first visit, choosing something they had been working on that they wanted DP feedback on. They completed a pre-observation reflection that included an area of personal focus and an area of school focus. They also identified what they thought was an effective strategy they were using and their least effective strategy. During classroom visits the DP talked to children about their goals and howthey thought they were doing with them.

The Deputy Principal became a risk taker, taking others with her, and focusing on lifting the bar.− Principal.

The external mentor assisted with the ‘how’, emphasising dialogue and coaching strategies such as using reflective questions, thinking about practice, and collaborating. During the year leaders and teachers participated in an ongoing process of collaborative sense making that also gave teachers multiple opportunities to discuss their practice and how it was influencing children’s learning. There was an emphasis on open-tolearning conversations.

Relationships were a big part of the process, especially things like showing a genuine interest, listening and having really good conversations. If teachers are not feeling safe about you being in their classroom you won’t see actual practice.− Deputy Principal.

A further round of classroom observations early in Term 3 followed a similar format with a pre-observation sheet that identified the focus for the observation. A focus was identified from the work staff had been doing to improve practice. An analysis of mid-year data showed some gains for the boys in the target group.The pre-observation sheet for Term 4 classroom visits had a sharper focus. “Are we doing what we say we should be doing?” Visits to classrooms again included discussions with students about their goals and their progress to find out what was working for them and what wasn’t.

The emphasis on student voice involves talking with the children,asking them about their goals and the associated evidence, and whether or not the pace of teaching is helping them.− Leaders.

What do we need to know to help understand the issues behind our data?

How are we going?

Are we getting the shifts in practice we want?

Does our practice reflect our new learning?

An analysis of the discussions with the boys showed that it was the surface features of writing that were getting in the way. The DP shared with teachers what she had found and they discussed how teachers might make changes to their practice to “hook the boys into writing”. The teachers brainstormed approaches and focused on interest, structure, using child voice, modelling writing, prompts, drawing on real experience and using technology.

Systems and approaches were changed to support what mattered.There was a need to be clear about the students who were being focused on and how to accelerate their progress.− Deputy Principal.

Data from subsequent classroom visits and discussions with students was shared with individual teachers and analysed by the DP to provide a picture of what was happening across the school. That analysis was then shared with staff.

Collaborative sense-making

What is the data we have collected telling us?

How are we doing?

Are we making the changes to practice we expected?

The DP was clear about the steps in the change process, framing up questions for teachers to ask about their practice and developing tools to support the process. External expertise was sought to assist the DP to develop a structure for teacher reflection and for the DP to provide teachers with feedback on the strategies they were using in their classrooms.

Prioritising to take action

What do we need to do and why?

Towards the end of Term 2, leaders and teachers looked specifically at the boys’ achievement and saw an improvement. Through this monitoring, they identified that some of the senior girls were not performing as well as expected so this group also became a focus.

At the end of 2013 a questionnaire was used to get specific staff feedback on how they were feeling about the changes to their teaching practice.

Outcomes for the students in the target group

National Standards data for writing

In 2013, 14 (58 percent of) students in the target group moved from ‘below’ to ‘at’ the National Standards for writing. 1

Monitoring and evaluating impact

What is happening as a result of our improvement actions?