Getting your message across

This month, I would have been presenting at ResearchED Rugby. I planned to present on some of the analogies (or analogical models) that I use to communicate my ideas regarding school improvement, CPD and curriculum.

When it comes to school improvement, so much is based on the relationships between leaders within the school. Senior leaders and middle leaders need to have a deep understanding of each other’s thought processes and have a shared understanding of what is required deliver the best outcomes for the pupils we teach. I have been lucky enough to hear Kat Howard speak about the symbiotic relationship that must exist within a school to ensure that all staff are singing from the same hymn sheet. This type of relationships ensures that staff have the best conditions available to allow them to perform to the best of their ability. When talking to leaders, I has previously thought of this relationship more as a mutualistic relationship. These relationships are often found in nature, like with the oxpecker and the rhinoceros. The oxpecker eats parasites off the back of the rhinoceros and is therefore well fed.  The rhinoceros get free pest control and is kept parasite free. When comparing mutualistic to symbiotic relationships there is a key difference; mutualistic relationships are two way and both parties benefit with minimal communication, however, in symbiotic relationships there is constant communication. This demonstrates a crucial point to consider when using models to communicate ideas: they must be constantly reviewed and evaluated to ensure they’ll fit for purpose.

So what makes a good model to share with staff;
• Is the model being used one that all staff can easily relate to?
• Does it effectively communicate the point you are trying to get across, dovetailing in seamlessly with the knowledge that your staff have?
• Does the structure of the model allow it to easily create questions to analyse the situation being modelled?

When I started talking to my staff about curriculum I wanted a strong relatable model for them to understand the vision that I had for curriculum design and delivery within our school. I came up with the idea being a tour guide of the curriculum; staff should take their students step by step through the process of learning in their subject in the same way that a tour guide will take you step by step through the history of a city that you were visiting. This model allowed me to open up questions about sequencing, core knowledge, hinterland, the role of explicit instruction along with the potential pitfalls of discovery based learning) and the key concepts of “why that and why then?”. Difficult, abstract concepts were explained in a way that made it easy for staff to understand where we wanted to go. Question could easily be asked of my own curricular thinking and therefore further clarified the vision in staff minds.

At Researched Birmingham, I refined a model that I had been thinking about for a while. Much discussion has gone into the idea of the curriculum as a progression model. For many years, some schools have use data to measure the progress of pupils, comparing scores between assessment points. As we move to a position where we are considering moving through the curriculum as progress, schools need to redesign their thinking. Instead of weighing the pig (looking at progress through data and numbers) they should consider progress in terms of what they are feeding the pig (looking at the curriculum and the sequencing of knowledge). By doing this further questions can be asked; Is the feed the right feed? Are we feeding the right things at the right time? If these two things are correct then the outcome, the weight of the pig, will be what you want it to be.

These models come about through time spent reading, thinking and discussing ideas. Through this process, thought processes are refine and realigned, leading to new models, new questions and new thinking. John Tomsett and Jonny Uttley mention the metaphor of adults putting their oxygen mask on first when cabin pressure decreases on a plane exemplifies the thinking behind their new book “Putting Staff First”. This model kick starts the reader of the book on a journey learning why teacher learning is crucial for maintaining school improvement. And to aid teacher learning, why not try using a model?

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