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Creating sustainable change

Created on 21 February 2013 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 20 June 2013 by ncetm_administrator


Creating sustainable change

Key questions

  • What are the most effective ways of creating sustainable change?
  • How can I help colleagues to support each other, to become a ‘community of learners’?
  • Is the ‘Lesson Study’ approach one that is worth considering?

Things to think about

“A key feature of the best practice is that schools make sure that all staff (teachers and teaching assistants) work together on mathematics to develop their expertise and understanding of progression in aspects of mathematics. Several schools supplement such collaborative approaches to professional development with joint lesson-planning time between teams of teachers or teachers and teaching assistants. All of this underpins the professional understanding that supports effective planning for progression day by day and over time.”
Good practice in primary mathematics: evidence from 20 successful schools, (Ofsted, 2011, p. 32)

Creating sustainable change is difficult and takes time. As a subject leader your monitoring and evaluation may have identified aspects of your colleagues’ mathematics teaching that need to develop, but unless colleagues fully commit themselves to the change it is unlikely to be deep change and is unlikely to sustain in the future. If you are asking a colleague to change some aspect of the pedagogical practice you are asking them to change teaching behaviours which they have developed over time and which they may well rely on. Colleagues can feel threatened by this.

Excellent subject leaders recognise these issues and they tend to use their evidence from monitoring and evaluation activities to focus on areas of greatest need and to maintain a steady and consistent focus on their priorities over time. They also ensure that they have already tried out anything that they are asking colleagues to do – they lead by example.

They also recognise that there are times when a collaborative, collegiate approach may not be appropriate. If an inspection has identified weaknesses in a school or if a teacher is consistently teaching poor quality lessons, urgent action is needed.

What does research tell us?

In her NRICH article Rich mathematics, rich CPD – is there a connection? Jennifer Piggott suggests that there are five levels of response to professional development:

  • Familiarisation - inset research - learning by doing' getting to know more about the issue/area you are interested in
  • Utilisation - trying things out in practice (once or twice) sometimes the change goes no further. You see then you do (recipe approach to teaching and learning)
  • Integration - at this stage you find that what you have been doing is making you think more deeply about the classroom learning environment in fairly limited contexts but you might find yourself adapting the experiences and they become part of a bigger picture and not just bolt on
  • Reorientation - the experience is considered in terms of enriching the learning experience more generally and makes you shift in the way you operate more generally (schemes of work are adapted and new ideas are introduced)
  • Evolution - you begin to grow and change as the needs of your learners and the learning context changes.

and concludes that ‘It is not until you have "evolved" that you have truly developed.’ This framework gives a powerful way of assessing the longer term impact of professional development activity.

Everett Rogers sees the process of how individuals respond to innovation in an organisation as one of ‘social construction’,

‘When a new idea is first implemented in an organisation, it has little meaning to the organisation’s members…Through a process of the people in an organisation talking about the innovation they gradually gain a common understanding of it. Thus the meaning of the innovation is constructed over time through a social process of human interaction.’
(Rogers, 1995, p.428)

Excellent subject leaders are sensitive to this dynamic and, without losing sight of their strategic leadership priorities, ensure that colleagues have ample opportunities to discuss innovations in both formal and informal contexts. They recognise that some see change as a threat, not an opportunity.

Lesson study

Many schools have found that the ‘Lesson Study’ approach, where teachers work collaboratively on planning, teaching and observing lessons, is a powerful way to help colleagues develop their practice and to develop colleagues as a ‘community of learners’.

“Lesson Study consists of a detailed study or examination of the practice of teaching. The process was developed in Japan and is built on the premise that the best way to improve education is to get teachers together to study the processes of teaching and learning in classrooms, and then devise ways to improve them. Teachers who engage in Lesson Study undertake a cycle of activity together intended to investigate and improve a specific aspect of classroom technique so that pupils’ learning and progress improves because pedagogy is better designed and delivered.

Improving subject pedagogy through Lesson Study DfE 2009

The CfBT report Lesson study: enhancing mathematics teaching and learning identified many potential benefits to lesson study, but cautions that while the idea is simple, effective implementation is complex. Central to the process are

  • backing by senior management in order to create time for teachers on a regular basis;
  • teachers being open-minded about different strategies and prepared to experiment and innovate;
  • schools need to form links with ‘knowledgeable others’.

Leadership styles

Excellent subject leaders recognise that there are different styles of leadership. Daniel Goleman describes six styles and argues that excellent leaders are able to match the style they are using to the context:

Visionary: Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks

Coaching: Coaching works best with employees who show initiative and want more professional development.

Affiliative: this style emphasizes the importance of team work, and is particularly valuable when trying to heighten team harmony, increase morale, improve communication or repair broken trust in an organization. But it may lead to the perception that mediocrity is tolerated.

Democratic: this style draws on people’s knowledge and skills, and creates a group commitment to the resulting goals. It works best when the direction the organization should take is unclear, and the leader needs to tap the collective wisdom of the group.

Pacesetting: in this style, the leader sets high standards for performance. He or she is obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone. But it can undercut morale and make people feel as if they are failing.

Commanding: this is classic model of ‘military’ style leadership and can be effective in a crisis but because it rarely involves praise and frequently employs criticism, it undercuts morale and job satisfaction.

(The Wall Street Journal, n.d.)

Working with colleagues

Perhaps the most important thing that a subject leader needs to do is to lead by example – try things out in your own classroom first, see what works, see what doesn’t work. If you can show that a new way of teaching works, colleagues will of course be much more prepared to try it themselves.

There are various ways in which you can work with colleagues to develop a collegiate approach to development of teaching and learning, for example:

  • discussion with colleagues about aspects of mathematics teaching and learning, such as teaching high attaining pupils, with colleagues agreeing to try new ideas out in their classrooms and reporting back on what they found;
  • discussion with colleagues about particular aspects of their teaching, i.e. for high attaining pupils, in order to develop consistent practice and embed clear progression through the school;
  • coaching and mentoring colleagues in order to improve practice in teaching high attaining pupils;
  • setting up opportunities for colleagues to spend time in each other’s classrooms with a specific focus for the observation around the teaching of high attaining pupils;
  • setting up opportunities for team teaching;
  • create opportunities for colleagues to observe you teach. This can be particularly effective if they observe you teaching their class;
  • develop more formal systems such as Lesson Study;
  • work with a small group of enthusiastic and innovative teachers who are prepared to pilot new approaches prior to wider dissemination;
  • develop wider links, for example setting up opportunities for Y6 teachers to visit Y7 classrooms, inviting expert teachers from other schools to lead CPD sessions.

The In-Depth Study Modules (from Excellence in Mathematics Leadership) for primary mathematics subject leaders give a wealth of ideas to develop your understanding of your role as the subject leader. There are units on:

  • leading the curriculum;
  • leading learning;
  • leading personalised learning;
  • leading CPD;
  • leading improvement.

Resources to use

You can use What do I believe makes for effective CPD? to develop your own thinking about the nature of CPD. This may be especially useful if you are fairly new to your leadership role.

The Taking a Lead section of the ‘Digging Deeper’ papers (from Excellence in Mathematics Leadership) is another excellent resource to help you develop your understanding of how to work successfully with colleagues.

How well do I provide a good role model for others? encourages you to reflect on the way you think about your own professional development, a key aspect of your work if you are to be a lead learner in your school.

Use What are the different leadership styles? to find out more about Goleman’s six styles of leadership and to reflect on your approach to leadership.

Professional Development discusses features of effective practice. Use the case studies to reflect on your own approaches to supporting development with colleagues.

Working and Developing Together as a Team will help you consider important issues about creating effective sustainable change. Use it to reflect on how well your staff team work together and how you could improve this.

Coaching and mentoring and What does it mean to work with others and what skills will I need? will help you to develop your skills in these key areas.

Working with a single teacher - Giving a demonstration lesson is an account of one teacher’s experience of doing a demonstration lesson and things that need to be considered to help make this a valuable experience.

Who do I need in my change team? will help you think further about working with smaller groups to pilot new initiatives.

Promoting teacher research discusses a range of ways that you can encourage teachers to research their own practice.

Schools working together – scenarios offers a rich range of support materials to help you plan how to give effective support in a range of different contexts, for example running staff meetings, observing colleagues, giving a demonstration lesson

Professional learning discusses a range of ways you can encourage the development of a community of learners:

  • Lesson Study
  • peer-to-peer lesson observation
  • reading research
  • exploring a mathematical topic
  • doing mathematics together
  • talking to pupils about their learning

Use sections of the Self-evaluation Tools with groups of teachers as a way of prompting discussion about aspects of their practice.

Watch the Teachers TV video Lesson Study: Improving Writing with colleagues and use as the basis for discussion about this approach. This is about developing the teaching of writing, but the issues about Lesson Study are generic

Three useful documents that help develop understanding of Lesson Study are:

Improving learning in mathematics: challenges and strategies by Malcolm Swan has a wealth of practical ideas for active learning which you can adapt to make staff meeting sessions active, fun and more effective.

If you want to explore in greater detail a range of ways of working with colleagues, spend time looking at Strengthening teachers' mathematical knowledge.


Burghes, D. (2009) Lesson Study: Enhancing Mathematics: Teaching and Learning.

DCSF (2009) Improving subject pedagogy through Lesson Study.

Dudley, P. (2011) Lesson Study: A Handbook. Lesson Study UK.

Goleman, D, The Wall Street Journal (n.d.) Leadership Styles [online].

Ofsted (2011) Good practice in primary mathematics: evidence from 20 successful schools.

Rogers, E. (1995). Diffusion of innovations. New York: The Free Press, Simon & Schuster.


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