Otumoetai Intermediate - a review focused on improving teaching practice

This evaluation was part of an ongoing focus on teaching practice as a means to improve outcomes for all learners. Before 2007, internal evaluation consisted of annual curriculum reviews that had not contributed to significant changes for students or teachers.

We seemed to be going around and around in circles with maths reviewed one year and science the next without many changes seen in practice. We needed to change from a focus on specific curriculum reviews to a focus on learning and teaching.

Senior leaders

In 2007 the principal invited John Hattie to come to the school and speak to teachers at a teacher only day. The leadership team knew that they needed to have teachers motivated and on board if they were going to effect change. This was the starting point for a relentless focus on effective teaching to improve outcomes.

 

There was a sense of urgency to improve outcomes for students.

As an intermediate school, there is only a very small window of opportunity (two years) to lift student achievement.

The senior leadership team recognised the need to drive improvement. The senior leadership team was interested in why learning wasmore effective in some classrooms than others.

Noticing

We can do better?

What is happening in our classrooms?

What is the issue or problem?

The primary challenge was to shift teaching practice to a focus on student achievement through identifying learning needs and making teachers accountable for the quality of teaching. We are about being wise owls and not jumping on bandwagons. Everything we have done had been decided through looking at both qualitative andquantitative data.

− Principal.

Near the beginning of the development phase the principal attended a presentation by Dr Kevin Knight, whose research was in the area of teacher improvement. The decision was made to implement the teacher improvement model with support from Dr Knight. Teachers were initially quite anxious about this development and so they had a secret ballot to seek the views of teachers as to whether or not to proceed. All voted yes so implementation began in 2008.

Teachers were observed to gather evidence and give feedback. During the classroom observation students were asked about how they felt about what was happening for them.

After the observations each teacher was placed on a continuum that outlined several stages of teacher practice. In classes where teaching was identified to be at the highest level, students felt that all learning was necessary, meaningful and relevant for them individually. Observations showed that most of the teachers in the school enthusiastically managed whole-class teaching where students were engaged most of the time.

The small number of teachers that needed considerable guidance had many opportunities to observe and reflect on others’ practice. They received ongoing guidance from the more effective teachers and also met weekly to discuss their students’ learning and progress. An external expert then observed them a term later and gave feedback on their progress.

Changing to a deputy principal dedicated to teaching and learning was critical to improving outcomes for students. The deputy principal keeps up to date with education and leadership theory and research.

As part of the change management the leadership team used expertise of other New Zealand academics in areas they wanted to improve in, such as mathematics teaching and leadership development, to support real change in classrooms.

Investigating

What do we need to find out?

Whose perspectives do we need to ‘hear’?

Why are there better outcomes in some classes and not in others?

The senior leadership team analysed the data collected and noticed some trends across the school:

  • Some classroom environments were humming with a sense of urgency and focus. These classrooms had most students on task, and the teacher was often hard to spot. Other classrooms were noisy, with students off task or reading books unrelated to the topic at hand.
  • In the humming classrooms students clearly explained how they felt, they stated that their classes were organised, they knew what they were doing and felt their teacher knew what was going on in their classroom. In the noisier classrooms the opposite was reported by students.

Observations also indicated that the depth of questioning by teachers and the affirmation of students and their learning varied.

Some staff felt that professional learning and development (PLD) was relevant and some did not. As a result engagement levels with new ideas and practices differed. After professional development, some teachers had incorporated what they’d learned into their practice and others introduced only parts. In other cases teachers had adopted aspects of what had been learned but quickly reverted to their original practices.

It became obvious that teachers’ development needs were as diverse as those of their students. Members of the senior leadership team listened to what staff said in group discussions and their comments about professional development were noted.

 

The senior leadership team then made the decision to change their professional learning approach away from whole staff PLD to differentiated PLD for individual teachers. Leaders and individual teachers determined the PLD needs by identifying student needs from achievement data. They then investigated how to enhancestudent outcomes in relation to the identified needs. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Even with motivated staff, it became obvious they needed a coherent and clearly understood approach to this PLD model.

The school decided to “put all its money in one basket” and draw on external expertise in the professional learning and development process. Funding to do this was from money that had previously been allocated to curriculum development.

The school organisation was changed to accommodate the teacher improvement model. Leaders made a deliberate decision to move away from having curriculum leaders and having curriculum reviews drive teaching and learning. The curriculum reviews had them “going around in circles” with mathematics one year and science the next with no application in the classrooms.

The six team leaders are now seen as ‘mini principals’ with a strong student achievement and effective expert teacher focus. Their weekly meetings focus on student progress and achievement. They are working on building the capability of team leaders, especially in relation to having the hard conversations. Target students arekept to the forefront.

“Leaders have to have a motivational mindset.”

− Deputy principal.

Prioritising to take action

What changes do we need to make and why?

How big is the change we are planning?

What support do we need?

How will we resource this change?

Leaders recognised that students are an important source of information if you genuinely want to find out what is working and what needs to change. As a result, the school established a team of ‘learning detectives’ who were selected and then trained to observe teaching and give feedback about what they have seen and what could be improved.

Monitoring and evaluating impact

What is happening as a result of our improvement actions?

The sustained work on teacher improvement has led to a fundamentally different quality of teaching and learning that is being constantly refined and is reflected in the students’ levels of engagement in learning. Teachers have a buddy system whereby they observe each other’s practice (expert/novice).Although the school has moved from reliance on external expertise to a more sustainable approach, the external expert is still involved in the focus on teaching practice.Positive changes are evident for students, the board and staff.

Managing a group of students for some teachers has become more effective. This is not only improving the quality of the learning environment but is improving the quality of the teachers’daily experience.

The board of trustees also looked at how it could refine their practices. Now when the board meets, one hour is set aside to look into student achievement before general business is attended to. Storyboards are used to document and share achievement. This gives everyone an overall picture of achievement and progress across the school.

Assessment and evaluation used to be done to please me and because I asked for it. Now it’s done for learning. There’s a lot of buzz about data. People talk more about knowing how to use the tools, and gathering, analysing and interpreting the data.

− Deputy principal.

Outcomes for learners

The following information shows the achievement gains for students during their two years at Otumoetai Intermediate. It is based on entry to exit data for 2013 for reading, writing and mathematics.

This is a series of graphs shows that in graph one Reading 92% of all our year 8 students at or above the national standard. Graph 2 mathematics 90.4% of all our year 8 students are achieving at or above the standard and graph 3 Writing 86.1% of all our year 8 students are achieving at or above the national standard