Leaders have a critical role in promoting equity and excellence for all students. The leaders in the schools in this report positioned internal evaluation as a valued activity for improvement and recognised the importance of building evaluative capability and capacity at every level. The quotes below came from school leaders during ERO's visits to their schools.
"Internal evaluation is a 'line of sight' to student achievement and wellbeing."
In these schools, internal evaluation was an indispensable part of school life. Leaders, teachers and trustees had the capacity and capability to engage in robust evaluative discussions.
"Leaders have to have a motivational mindset."
Leaders believed in the usefulness of internal evaluation and championed evaluative reasoning as an essential component of their improvement efforts
Leaders focused on disparity and sought excellence for every student. Improvement actions were strategically planned so teachers were not overwhelmed and could focus on what needed to improve the most.
"Everything we've done has been decided with data-both quantitative and qualitative."
Leaders and trustees prioritised resources based on information coming out of the evaluation processes. This prioritisation included allocating resources to access external expertise and funding release time for teachers and leaders to spend on tasks related to inquiry and evaluation, such as analysing data, working in professional learning groups, and accessing research and evidence about effective practice.
Leaders deliberately built capacity and capability in evaluation by extending participation in internal evaluation to all levels of the school. They drew on both internal and external expertise to do this. Building capacity in evaluation was not just about developing technical expertise, but also about creating the conditions and opportunities to engage in robust internal evaluative discussions.
"We want to know what's good but also what's not good enough."
Leaders successfully extended good internal evaluation practices already evident in the school. They recognised when others in the school had relevant expertise and experience and deliberately gave them opportunities to lead specific reviews in those areas. They also identified where effective evaluation and inquiry practices were happening in their school and impacting positively on the students whose progress most needed to be accelerated. Opportunities were provided for those involved to share practice and new learning with others through collaborative school or syndicate-wide activities, and professional learning groups.
This distributed leadership approach built capacity for those leading evaluation activities, and also helped to improve the quality, analysis and use of the data collected.
Careful planning and clear guidance also extended evaluation capacity. Leaders expected widespread participation during the early stages of an evaluation and introduced new ideas incrementally to scaffold teacher and trustee participation. Leaders also provided explicit guidance around process and in many cases, templates to structure evaluative reasoning. Teachers were involved in identifying the changes necessary to reduce disparities and improve outcomes for students and collectively developed an understanding about what 'good' looked like.
"To really effect change teachers needed to be on board - it was not going to be a two-meeting process."
Leaders in these schools also judiciously used external expertise to build capacity in evaluation by making sure any external professional learning and development specifically targeted what needed to improve.
"Prioritising is based on having capacity - you can't stretch yourself too far."
A high level of collaboration was evident in the schools in this report. Providing opportunities for professional learning and collaboration supported the development of evaluative, teaching and leadership capabilities. External professional development was often facilitated through existing groups or teams. Group discussions helped to show the learning contexts and approaches that would support student success and assisted with embedding new learning to support change and improvement. Participation in these groups also enabled the sharing of practice to mobilise the experience, skills and knowledge which already existed within the school.
"Leaders take a step back in these groups - we're all learners."
Collaborative knowledge building and inquiry was not always straightforward. Leaders were aware that increasing opportunities for teacher collaboration had the potential for conflict, as diverse views and beliefs surfaced. Respectful disagreement and conversation were, however, a powerful driver for new and improved insights. Relational trust was a pre-requisite for productive inquiry, collaboration and sustained changes in practice.
"It is about trust and relationships."
Leaders promoted relational trust through respectful interpersonal interactions, and by modelling collaborative and improvement- focused relationships. Teachers trusted their leaders as they saw them as leading learning and able to 'walk the talk'.
"If teachers are not feeling safe about you being in their classroom you won't see actual practice."
Leaders, trustees and teachers increasingly engaged in evaluation and reflected on their practice, both individually and collaboratively, in a professional learning environment. Systematic review continued in parallel with an increasing level of day-to-day evaluation. Leaders, teachers and trustees were constantly scanning for issues, while also focusing more sustained inquiry on what they had decided was important to commit time and energy to. Leaders carefully supported teachers' participation in formal evaluation activities. They developed the systems and processes to support systematic documentation of the data gathered, interpretations made and actions taken, ensuring a robust and transparent process.
"Success is still fragile - if you have a group that is failing in your school you focus on them and keep focusing on them."
Leaders recognised that embedding an inquiry habit of mind entailed shifts in thinking. They knew that these shifts did not happen overnight. Sufficient time was allocated for teachers, leaders and trustees to become accustomed to and comfortable with school evaluation.
"Self-review needs to become embedded in schools as a way of thinking, a culture, a state of mind."
This time was made available through focusing solely on what needed to improve and judiciously selecting only the professional learning and development opportunities that contributed to the priorities selected.