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Reflecting on: Working and developing together as a team

Created on 26 April 2011 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 10 April 2013 by ncetm_administrator

Reflecting on: Working and developing together as a team
Key Elements: Curriculum and lesson planning/Assessment/Professional Development

The expert subject leaders’ own professional development
It is notable that the expert subject leaders all identified key people in their careers – colleagues who have encouraged, inspired and believed in them. This has been significant in their own professional development, which has often been very rapid. Some subject leaders may feel that in their own school there isn’t anyone who can be this mentor and guide for them. This is perhaps a further reason to develop wider networks and to seek out like minded people.

Through her work with the NCETM’s Professional Enquiry Group project, Jan Hillman established contact with a primary mathematics specialist from a higher education institution. He was able to work with her PEG to introduce the group to current research on areas such as the significance of talk in classrooms, the nature of exploratory talk, of dialogic teaching, and how these might be applied in a primary classroom. This gave the group’s work an added depth.

From going on a course about the lesson study approach to staff development, Sarah Russell was also able to forge a link with a specialist in the field from higher education, David Burghes at the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching (CIMT) at the University of Plymouth. He has helped her develop the lesson study approach with her staff, which she started in Years 5 and 6 as she felt that it could have most initial impact here. When two colleagues collaborate on a lesson she is unfortunately not able to participate as well, as she has to teach the other class, but she sits in on the subsequent feedback discussion. She considers this to be important as it helps to keep the discussion sharp and focused as well as giving her valuable insights.

It is also apparent that the expert subject leaders have had high quality training opportunities to develop their leadership skills, in several cases through the National College’s Leadership Pathways programme. They all recognise the significant impact that this has had on developing their understanding of leadership and enhancing important inter-personal skills. Working as a lead teacher for his local authority has given Rob Waiting excellent opportunities to develop his ability to work in a wide range of contexts where he has to quickly evaluate situations, establish productive working relationships and identify appropriate development priorities. He has also found that this outreach work has been an excellent way of further developing his own subject knowledge.

Helen Ashe finds that being a member of a mathematics partnership group with teachers from other schools is hugely beneficial to her own continuing development. The group is facilitated by a mathematics specialist, and they meet for half a day a month to discuss topics of interest, for example looking at what happens when you give children more choice in mathematics lessons and why this might be a good thing to do. From these discussions they develop small scale action research projects with their classes, bringing back their findings to subsequent meetings.

Time is often considered to be the resource that is in shortest supply. Sarah Russell recently used some extra funding to give herself some quality thinking time, for example taking the time properly to read and absorb the implications of Mathematics: Understanding the score. Even subject leaders can find it hard to prioritise such tasks when there are so many immediate pressures on their time.

School approaches to CPD
Ensuring long lasting impact of development projects in larger schools can be difficult. Serena Hemmings approached this in a way which she hoped would also ensure continuity with new staff given that she knew there was going to be a higher than usual amount of staff turnover at the end of the school year. Her two-form entry school had already been working with the Improving Teacher Programme. Building on this, she worked closely with five colleagues who had shown an interest in mentoring colleagues and who had the aspiration to be outstanding teachers. Her aim was to develop the quality of the children’s learning opportunities in mathematics, for example by developing rich cross-curricular links and enhancing outdoor learning in mathematics across the whole primary age range. There was also a need to address the fact that progress across Key Stage 2 was not consistent. The intention was that this smaller group would then work with their year group partners on an ongoing basis – at her school each pair have shared PPA time and so they are able to discuss their planning in detail together. She was able to have a whole day with her project team and used materials from the EiML microsite to audit current provision and plan development strategies. Her evaluation of the work is showing impact, for example Year 6 children doing coordinates work in the playground.

As part of her leadership work, Serena has also developed the use of ‘drop-in’ visits to classrooms, rather than just focusing on formal observations. These may just be to see the start of the lesson, or to observe a plenary. Her rationale is that improved pedagogical practice needs to be embedded and regular. This has been received favourably by colleagues.

One area Jan identified that needed developing was her school’s calculation policy. She used resources from the EiML microsite to support her in this, and then undertook what she describes as a ‘rolling audit’. Over the period of a day she first discussed approaches being used with Reception staff. Then Year 1 staff joined the discussion. After this the discussion continued with Year 1 and Year 2 staff together, then Year 2 and Year 3 staff and so on. This brought to the surface important issues that needed airing and clarifying in order to develop coherence and continuity (for example, resisting the pressure to introduce formal recording too early). The school’s numeracy governor was also involved in these discussions. From this, Jan was able to draft a new policy which colleagues had further time to contribute to before it was finalised. Staff appreciated the way that they had been closely involved in this whole process, and Jan has valued the way that discussion between staff is now more about pedagogical approaches. Further training for teaching assistants has followed. This raised further issues, for example staff who were not clear about the rationale behind using empty number lines, which has helped Jan identify future staff training needs. Having gone through this process Jan was then able to run workshop sessions for parents. 

Helen Ashe has built on her experience as a member of a mathematics partnership group with teachers from other schools to develop a paired lesson study approach to development with her own colleagues. The aim is to develop a collegiate and collaborative approach, not a top-down approach. Staff have flexibility of choice of topic to investigate through this approach, but Helen ensures that there is a clearly identified focus to this work. As a relatively new member of the staff at her school, Helen wants to use this work to develop the strong professional relationships that she knows are the essential foundation of effective staff development.

Sarah Russell likes to keep reminding staff about aspects of practice and policy, perhaps highlighting one section of the calculation policy in a staff meeting or the use of a particular resource, ensuring that colleagues have hands-on experience. In training sessions with teaching assistants she will focus on, for example, ten things you can do with number cards or a bead string. In this way support staff can develop their understanding of the resources that they are regularly using in class. The school’s calculation (a deliberately straightforward document) is displayed in every classroom to help ensure that staff remember key messages.

All schools wrestle with the issue of how to make assessment really useful, to ensure that it has an impact on learning.

Serena Hemmings has worked with colleagues to develop the way they use Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP) materials to inform planning, rather than just using it as a summative assessment tool. Staff worked together looking at and analysing examples of planning from across the school. What emerged was that teachers were not always able to put into order plans from different classes within a particular mathematics topic (for example, shape and space). Progression in terms of learning objectives was not sufficiently clear. This led to valuable discussion about how outcomes from APP can be used to develop greater clarity about appropriate learning objectives that then inform planning. Staff have then found that the next cycle of APP assessment is much easier. Serena has also moved from sampling children for APP to assessing all children. 

Rob Waiting is sceptical of some practices described as AfL, for example the use of traffic lights or thumbs up. He asks himself whether they give valid information and whether they have a real impact on learning. He feels that it is essential always to go back to the deeper rationale – why are we doing these things? He sets great store by discussing the children’s learning with them during the lesson, and considers this to be more valuable than written marking, even with the older children he teaches. He argues that it is essential to get the children to verbalise their learning, and that by doing this it is possible to get them to reflect on their learning.

Helen Ashe’s workshop at the Conference was on ‘Developing a Common Purpose and Shared Culture and Working and Developing Together as a Team’. During this she reminded delegates of some of the key features of Assessment for Learning, that teachers must:

  • find out systematically where the students are in their learning
  • provide feedback that moves the student’s learning forward
  • make sure that students understand what success looks like
  • activate students as learning resources for one another – using not just peer-assessment but also collaborative learning and reciprocal teaching
  • activate students as owners of their own learning – not just using self-assessment but also developing their ability to manage their emotional response to feedback and their resilience and to use meta-cognition.

She emphasised the importance of subject leaders exemplifying these in their own practice, as well as monitoring their use in colleagues' practice.

Lesson planning
The expert subject leaders all have clear ideas of what they consider to be some of the most important elements of lesson planning, and hence what they look for when monitoring planning across the school.

Sarah Russell, for example considers the following to be important:

  • coverage of objectives, correct pitch for the year group
  • clarity about how the maths concept will be taught, including prompt questions. Not just what the children will be doing
  • reference to models and images – this is a big current focus in her school
  • clear reference to assessment – links to APP
  • clear use of teaching assistants – also which children the teaching assistant and the teacher will focus on
  • plenary – clarity of purpose.

Rob Waiting wants to be certain that teachers have a clear idea of where their children’s learning is heading, that children are challenged with tasks and activities that are stimulating, engaging and dynamic. Because of the importance of adjusting planning in the light of the children’s response lesson by lesson, he does not consider it possible to prepare a whole week’s detailed mathematics planning in advance. Teachers’ own subject knowledge is of course a critical underpinning of high quality planning. The Self-evaluation Tools can be used to support this.

For Simon Allen, an important consideration is the extent to which the children’s learning needs are being met, the extent to which there is a focus on learning rather than just teaching in teachers’ planning. In his very small school with mixed age classes he has been keen to ensure that planning is based on learning need not age, and has worked with colleagues to develop ideas about more flexible groupings of children within each class.

Using the NCETM Self-evaluation Tools as a stimulus for developing teamwork
The NCETM Self-evaluation Tools are a tremendous resource for developing teachers’ subject knowledge and understanding – especially the content knowledge tool. Teachers can evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses against each area of the National Curriculum for Mathematics. On viewing the summary of results they can then look at their personalised next steps. These are organising under the headings of:

  • What this might look like in the classroom: this aims to give examples of good practice in a particular aspect of mathematics
  • Taking the mathematics further: this aims to show ways of extending the aspect of mathematics beyond the normal curriculum, or into other subject areas
  • Making connections: this shows where the mathematics has come from and where it will progress and often makes connections with the age-related expectations of the adjacent Key Stages.
  • Links: to resources on the portal, and to resources elsewhere on the internet.

If you register a school username with the NCETM, you can complete the NCETM Self-evaluation Tools as a team and find out where the next aspects for development are.

Another way to use the Self-evaluation Tools is to rate the team as ‘not confident’ and then explore the recommended next steps in a staff meeting.

When you are thinking about working and developing together as a team you may also want to look at other items of interest on the NCETM portal such as:


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