Direction and support in practice

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

A number of factors come into play when supporting staff and pupils on their learning journey. Here we expand on the fundamental elements.

Learning Partnerships and learning journeys

Previously in this series we have referred to a learning partnership made up of the responsible partner and the learning partner.  In reality, this partnership is often a triad. For pupils it will consist of their teacher and their parent or carer and for staff, their line-manager and coach or mentor. While this triad will exist for pupils in every school, it will not necessarily apply to staff. However, in the schools we work with, all staff are assigned a coach or mentor to support them in their learning journey. 

The outcome of the learning journey of the staff ensures that their actions – their theory-in-use – are desired by the school. These actions become the school’s espoused theory. As we have recorded, their learning progresses through a number of stages, with creating performance beyond ‘outstanding’ being the ultimate goal.  This improvement over time in each member of staff performance results in a collective school improvement. The professional conversation we have outlined in the previous posting plays an important role in ensuring the learning journey is kept on track. 

Differences in approaches

In our post on the nature of school improvement we explained that schools are not autonomous; they sit within the political context they operate in. Thus, while there are many similarities between the Canadian, English, Jersey, Swedish, United Arab Emirates and Welsh schools we report on, it is often in the way they use direction and support where distinct differences can be found. This stems from their culture.

However, regardless of these differences, what distinguishes the schools that work with us is that they find a way within their context to support staff in learning how to improve the performance of their roles and to collaborate with their colleagues to do the same. Here, identifying that a colleague might be able to do things better than you and giving them the opportunity to share this knowledge, is critical.  It is here that the nuances in the use of direction and support are most accentuated with some adopting robust procedures such as formal classroom observation, book scrutiny and regular formal assessments whilst  others rely on opening a dialogue between teachers and leaving it to their professionalism to do the rest.   

When they enter the schools we work with, teachers and leaders start on a collaborative learning journey of improvement. This is made up of increments of varying sizes, with no forcible destination. 

This is because we are not about retaining the status quo but ensuring that the next set of staff learn from those who have come before and thus pupils with similar characteristics improve year on year. 

The collaborative learning community is geared to assist them in this. We do this by establishing the right conditions, the four capitals and by learning from our past experience which we over time encapsulated in an evidence based, contextualised theory of action.

Year on year changes to a school’s Professional Progression Profile

As a result of this, one would expect that the longer a school had worked in this way and the more experienced the staff were, relative performance would be higher than when they started this process.  We refer to a school’s distribution of its staff to the different stages as it’s Professional Progression Profile. In an earlier post, we describe how in my school the professional progression profile of the school declined considerably due to a number of very experienced teachers leaving to be replaced by inexperienced staff and how in order to maintain the profile we radically altered our approach to teacher learning.  

Within year changes to a school’s Professional Progression Profile

As well as differences between schools and within schools, from year to year there will also be an improvement in the professional progression profile.  We have illustrated this in the graph above. This is based around the professional progression profile for a theoretical school of 100 staff.  We have shown how the profile might change at four points in the school year.  The first six weeks and then the end of each term.  

In the first six weeks, ten staff have not been assessed as passing the mandatory aspects of their roles or meet the non-negotiables of the school. These are the new staff. One would expect them all to meet the mandatory requirements but the school needs to assure itself that this is the case and not wait for mistakes to happen. The non-negotiables will need to be learnt and this might in some cases take longer, hence by the end of the first six weeks, all have met the mandatory requirements and all but two the non-negotiables and they do so during the next term. 

The majority of the staff are at stages three to five and over the year as the staff fully engage in the collaborative learning community taking roles determined by their performance, the distribution moves upwards. 

The number of staff attaining stage six remains smaller than the others because most schools have only a limited number of staff who performed at a level that could be rated as beyond outstanding – they take performance beyond the espoused theory of the school. 

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Some questions: 

Can you categorise your staff within this framework?

What does your school’s professional progression profile look like?

Does the profile change year on year?

What does your in-year profile look like? 

How progressive is it? 

What can you do to improve it? 

Do you need to improve the conditions?

This concludes our series of postings upon direction and support. We hope you have found this series useful both as a guide to your actions and as a reflective tool.

Take care and stay safe

George