The dreaded training day season looms. But the event doesn’t have to be awful as it frequently is.Read More
If you lead an ICT team, the good news is that you don't have to do it all yourself!
Here are 10 ideas which I have found to be very helpful in creating a collaborative and co-operative team ethos.
Leaders and managers don't change people: people change themselves. All that an effective leader or manager can do is get the right conditions in place for effective change (for the better) to happen. In political terms, it's the difference between power and authority. Power is where, when someone says "X will happen", people say "We must do X"; authority is where, when someone says "X will happen", people say "X ought to happen". Having authority is better than having power in the long run.
Another way of thinking about this is to pose another question: how will you a good ICT leader if you see one? Much of what follows – perhaps all of it – is generic, ie what you’d expect to find in any field of endeavour. The issue is, what does it all look like in the context of educational technology in a school?
A good ICT leader…
Say to an ICT leader “what would you like to see in the school in the next five years?” A good leader will have some ideas, and not just come out with some trite comment like “It depends who is in Government” or “Don’t ask me, I don’t dictate policy around here”. Both of those may be true, of course, but a good leader will look and think beyond them. And if you really are in a school where your vision is not shared and your enthusiasm dampened by people who wouldn’t recognise creative thinking if it leapt out and went “Boo!”, then it’s probably time to look around for another job.
This is a natural follow-on from the attribute above, with which it overlaps. Influence is where, if the leader says “X ought to happen”, others say “That’s right, X ought to happen. What a great idea!”. So if you have some good ideas, and your colleagues are more conservative, then how will you carry them with you? Assuming they’re not right to be cautious, of course.
Has the ear of the senior leadership/management team
This is similar to the preceding point, but in an upward direction. The ideal Principal, I think, is one who recognises you as the expert, and accordingly takes your advice.
Is able to secure funding
This is a special case of the foregoing point. A good leader is able to convince others of the desirability of funding technology properly, and in a way which enables you to plan a few years ahead.
Is focused on learning and achievement
That’s right: not the technology, but the learning. And not only the learning, but pupils’ achievement over time as well.
Has a grip on the data
A natural extension and corollary of the last point, this recognises that in order to maximise each individual pupil’s achievement, you must know how they’re doing. Same applies to groups of pupils. What you really don’t want to be is the Head of Department in the following conversation I had in a school:
Me: How do you account for the differences in attainment in ICT of boys and girls?
HoD: What difference? I didn’t realise there was one.
Knows what’s going on in their own area
I’m using the word “area” in two ways: metaphorically, to refer to the taught subject of ICT, the ICT teaching team, and the students who are studying ICT; and the physical area where you teach.
Knows what’s going on around the school
I’ve visited only one school in which there was good practice in ICT going on around the school, which the Head of ICT didn’t know about. A rather disconcerting experience it was too! I think generally speaking it’s a good idea to know what’s going on. If nothing else, it may help in planning. It will certainly help when talking to people and showing visitors around.
Knows what’s going on in the local area
Going to ICT meetings called by the Local Authority (increasingly rare these days, as ICT advisors get laid off) is tremendously important. As well as enabling you to pick up useful tips and examples of others’ good practice, attending them can furnish you with knowledge which may prove useful at a later date. Like the time I was castigated because my results were not as good as those of a school down the road. Fortunately, I happened to know, from a meeting a few weeks previously, that the school down the road assigned a mark to the students on the basis of a one hour written test at the end of the three year course of study, whereas I based my grades on a project lasting six weeks. My approach was much more robust and almost certainly more accurate, and I was able to successfully argue my case.
Knows what’s going on in the country
Do not be like the Head of ICT in this conversation I had recently:
HoD: Hey, Terry, wait a minute! Has the ICT Programme of Study changed then?
Me: Yes, five years ago.
Knows what’s going on in the world
Believe it or not, other countries face the same challenges as we do when it comes to issues like what a 21st century education should comprise, online safety and all the rest of it. We can learn from them, and their good practice in various areas like assessment or using Web 2.0 in education. We can share ideas and have discussions with our counterparts in those countries through online communities.
I’m a great believer in trying things out, whether it’s new software, new hardware or a new teaching approach. If you can, try and get an innovation fund going. When I worked in a Local Authority, I set aside £1,000 each year for buying stuff and trying it out. We bought a visualiser, an electronic voting system and a tablet laptop when these devices were in their infancy. We did so not because it was a case of toys for the boys (half my team were female anyway) but in order to be able to advise schools and other departments in the LA whether they were worth investing in and what they could be used for.
… But not recklessly so
I don’t believe in taking risks with people’s education or the school’s reputation. One way to avoid such pitfalls whilst still being innovative is to set up small-scale and time-limited pilot studies. Sometimes, however, because things are not good as they should be, there is nothing to lose by trying a new, more radical, approach.
Listens to his/her team
If colleagues have concerns, they know they will be listened to and taken seriously. Consequently, they don’t mind coming along with their own ideas (see below).
Enjoys the success of others…
I mean, genuinely enjoys seeing them succeed, and so gives them opportunities to do so (see point about responsibilities, below).
… And so is approached with ideas
I’ve never understood the mentality of those people who take other people’s ideas and pass them off as their own. They can only get away with it once per person, so apart from the sheer immorality of it, it’s a pretty short-term strategy. It’s much better to give people credit for their own ideas, because they’ll be more likely to share them in the future. And besides, if the team is successful, that’s a reflection of the leadership in intself.
Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching (Way of Life), said this about leadership:
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him....But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves." (Taken from http://www.heartquotes.net/Leadership.html)
Gives team members responsibilities
I firmly believe this is necessary in order to help people gain the experience they need for the next phase in their careers. I think they also achieve more for the team and school as a whole if they are allowed to take real decisions and to be creative. One good place to start is by asking them to take the lead with a new idea they presented to you and which, after discussion, is going to be put in place.
Has team members leave (1)
You can always tell when a new leader is being effective: at least one person starts looking for work elsewhere because they don’t like the new challenges or expectations. Note that I’m assuming these are genuine and reasonable, and not merely a form of bullying or only being promoted because the new team leader wishes to make their mark.
Has team members leave (2)
Much nicer, of course, is where people leave because they have obtained a better job elsewhere – thanks to the opportunities you gave them to gain the right sort of experience.
Enjoys a high level of achievement…
… Amongst ALL pupils
ie no gender or race bias, or at least such issues are being addressed. Another area to look out for is lack of provision for pupils with special educational needs, such as learning difficulties. I’ve always thought that if you start by addressing special educational needs you’re more likely to meet everyone else’s needs too. Another thing to watch is provision for youngsters who need to be stretched (mentally, I mean, not on the rack!)
Enjoys a high take-up of options by students
In secondary (high) schools.
Enjoys a high take-up of lunchtime or after-school clubs
Is approached by outside people who want to get involved
I’m referring to parents, school governors, members of the local community, who may wish to lend their expertise, come to the school to learn about technology, help to raise money, or give talks to the pupils.
Is approached by staff who want to get involved
It’s nice when a teacher from another subject area asks if she can teach one or two lessons of ICT a week, or when a classroom assistant asks if they can be part of the team. The thinking behind this and the previous point is that good leaders attract good people who want to work for and with them.
Sees a high usage of technology by staff
Equipment is always out on loan; the staff-only area is usually packed.
Sees a high usage of technology across the curriculum
Staff have the confidence to use it with their students. Again, equipment is always out on loan; computer labs are fully booked.
Gets good outcomes from external scrutiny
EG from inspections, the ICT Mark assessment, or any other set of criteria.
Sees equipment respected by the students…
… And staff
Is passionate about ICT
Perhaps this is the most important of all in a way. I don’t see leadership in ICT as being a form of painting by numbers. Nor do I think the context is unimportant. In education, I think good leaders are characterised by having a real passion for their chosen area, whatever that happens to be.
Over to you
I regard this list as a starting point. Please feel free to add your own insights and observations in the comments.
It strikes me that over the last 25 years or so, industry and commerce have concerned themselves with improving management, whilst education has focused on leadership. Not exclusively so in either case, and I’m not saying this is objectively true, but I do have a strong impression that this is very much the reality by and large.
I first became aware of the trend when attending an interview for a Head of ICT post some years ago. One hapless candidate asked whether the successful person would have a place on the senior management team. The response – or perhaps it was the tone of the response -- was reminiscent of the kind of class snobbery which sociologists, from time to time, seek to assure us no longer exists:
We don’t have a senior management team at this school. We have a senior leadership team.
Does it matter? Well, if leadership is all about saying what ought to be done and inspiring people to want to do it, management is surely about how it will be done. Leadership without management is nothing less than institutionalised daydreaming, while management without leadership is nothing more than box-ticking. In other words, for an ICT department to thrive, you need both.
That’s why in this series, and especially on Days 24 to 28, I’ve covered nitty-gritty issues which purists would say are more to do with management than leadership. But in my opinion, a good leader will seek to put into place mechanisms to ensure that practical issues are dealt with.
Take the equipment loans procedure, for instance. What’s the point of having fantastic equipment and loads of ideas on how to use it across the curriculum, when actually getting your hands on the stuff is like one of the labours of Hercules? Similarly, colleagues won’t want to chance using education technology if technical support leaves much to be desired.
I read a comment recently to the effect that leaders shouldn’t have to concern themselves with such matters. Perhaps not in a hands-on kind of way, but it is certainly the job of the leader to make sure that someone is dealing with them.
A lot comes down to filling gaps on the ICT team, assuming you have the luxury of having a team and that you get the opportunity to do some recruiting. If you’re the visionary sort of leader who has little patience with details, then you need someone on the team who is quite pernickety about crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. Conversely, if you fret over the minutiae then you ought to get someone on board who has dreams and visions and is always coming up with new ideas. Ninety percent of them will be unworkable, of course, but it’s the remaining ten percent that’s important.
If you’re on your own, as many ICT co-ordinators are, then joining a community will be of paramount importance. The key thing is not to try and go it alone.
There are also plenty of resources that can help. A quick search in Google resulted in my discovering the BNET UK website, which has a section devoted to management. It’s about business rather than education, but management is management, and with articles like “My biggest mistake as a rookie manager”, “The quick and dirty guide to getting things done” and “The Rookie manager’s guide to office politics”, the site is worth visiting it on a regular basis.
For a succinct run-down on essential leadership skills, with lots of links to articles on each one, see Chris Winfield’s 90 ways to become a better leader.
Bottom line: although this series is about how to become a better educational technology leader, you ignore management at your peril.
Hopefully, the last ten activities have been useful. Having spent some time seeing what's going on, and then looking at some hard evidence, you should by now have started to address some practical issues, such as:
- What is the documentation like? Is it helpful?
- What resources do we have? What do we need?
- What are people talking and writing about? What new ideas are coming in?
- What do we need to do to make the ICT team (if there is one) even better?
It would be good to spend some time looking back on these activities to see if there are any gaps, because the next batch of 'assignments' are very practical and pragmatic indeed, as you'll see.
Just a couple of points to make:
Firstly, activities like reading, which don't produce an immediately identifiable result, are very important. I remember seeing a sign for a door once which depicted someone sitting with their feet up on the desk, and their eyes clothes. Underneath it said, "Quiet please: genius at work!"
I think there's a grain of truth in that. We all need quiet time to sit and just have ideas. The target culture has made us all think we're not doing anything of value if you can't see it or measure it. However, the brain needs time to mull things over. I certainly find myself that if I read and reflect, read and reflect, ideas start to gestate and are worth waiting for.
Secondly, there is a particular type of team leader who thinks that they have to take credit for everything the team achieves. Apart from being morally suspect, if not reprehensible, that sort of attitude is self-defeating, because ultimately people will simply stop giving out their ideas. Either that, or they will email you their idea and copy the email to everyone else they can think of, including your own boss.
If you've done a good job of encouraging and facilitating the birth and sharing of ideas, it doesn't matter whether people think you had the idea yourself or not. How come? Because if people in your team have great ideas then that's a reflection on you anyway.
Coming soon: some practical things you can do to get the technology being used across the school.
Wouldn't it be nice to be starting work as an ICT leader in a brand new school? Not just a new building, but a new school. You know the situation: the school is opening in 18 months' time, and the Principal is recruiting managerial staff now, of which you're one. One of your tasks, along with your new colleagues, is to recruit people to be in your team. What a wonderful feeling that must be!
As you've probably inferred, I've never been in that situation myself. No surprise there, but this may surprise you: I've never regretted it. It's not that every team of people I've managed has been perfect, far from it. But even 'challenging' colleagues can not only make very valuable contributions to the work of the team, but can help you and their other colleagues grow.
In fact, the very term 'dream team' carries connotations of some sort of notion of wishing to work with people who are made in your own image. People are individuals, and it's that individuality, and the interplay between team members, that is all-important.A good team leader encourages that, and does their best to ensure that the team ethos facilitates it.
Also, recruiting a 'dream team' from the start assumes that the team members and therefore the team as a whole will remain exactly the same ad infinitum. Is that actually good? The dream team of today will surely not be the dream team of tomorrow, unless you're either very good at recruiting, or very lucky.
So where does that leave us? I suggest that the dream team is more about 'soft' characteristics, and not things like qualifications or even experience. I recall once being invited to sit on an interview panel for the appointment of a Head of ICT in a secondary school. In the end, it came down to a choice between a young man who had a great deal of expertise and experience, but who had no 'presence', and another fellow who hardly knew anything technical about technology, but had bags of energy and enthusiasm.
The Headteacher said to me: "I don't know which one would be better." My response was: "Well, it seems to be that you have a choice between someone who has no personality but lots of knowledge, and someone who has no knowledge and lots of personality. You can teach someone about computers, but you can't give someone a personality!"Photo by Hilde Vanstraelen.
In another context, Doug Woods puts his finger right on the button when he says:
21st century education is not about equipment, it’s about approaches. It’s about putting the learner at the heart of their learning and allowing/enabling them to use the equipment you have in creative and collaborative ways.
So, what would your dream ICT team be? The kind of things I always look for are the following, in no particular order:
My dream team
Willingness to co-operate
If there's one thing we know about technology, it is that it will go wrong. Maybe not today. Perhaps not tomorrow. But it will do so sometime. In that situation you need people who can step in at short notice, be willing to swap rooms with you if they don't need the computer lab, or let you use the laptops because what their class was going to is not as urgent as what yours was going to do, etc etc.
I want to work with colleagues who can get the kids fired up. Hey, I want to work with colleagues who get me fired up -- which is pretty tough because I'm fired up to begin with. I don't want to work with people who have seen it, done it, got the tee shirt and are treading water until they retire.
I'm not prepared to accept cop-out excuses like "Well, the kids are all digital natives and so know a lot more than I do" for dumbed-down work that keeps the kids' behaviour under control by the simple expedient of sending them to sleep. I don't care that there are gaps in your technical knowledge — there are gaps in everyone's technical knowledge. But I do expect you to know about teachning and learning.
I think a large part of what makes a team a 'dream team' is the individual strengths of its members. It's impossible to specify these in advance, but to give you an idea of what I mean, here are the strengths exhibited by the members of a team I worked with once:
A: Had excellent discipline, even though she was only in her second year of teaching. I think it was because her main role was a PE teacher, in which listening to the teacher's instructions is of paramount importance for the children's safety.
B: Was absolutely brilliant with students with learning difficulties. She had infinite patience, and could make the most complex concept comprehendible. I asked her to be in charge of ensuring that all our resources were suitable for students with special educational needs.
C: Was a science teacher and doing an MA, so she brought an academic rigour to every aspect of her work. If a student gave an answer like "Because it's more efficient", she would respond by saying "What do you mean by that?" Her students soon learnt to think before speaking, and to be prepared to back up every statement or opinion with evidence. A woman after my own heart.
D: Had the ability to break down activities into even more stages, so that if someone was away when you covered the topic, or couldn't 'get' it, you could use all these extra resources that he had created. He, too, had outstanding reserves of patience and energy.
Well, you can see where I'm coming from with all this, but a few questions arise. Firstly, am I saying that technical expertise is unimportant? Secondly, most of us inherit a team rather than create one from nothing, so doesn't my list really constitute a dream in the sense of having nothing whatsoever to do with reality? And finally, and related to the foregoing question, how do you make sure that people are co-operative or whatever, if they're not?
Is technical expertise unimportant?
No, but if you're going to insist on having something like a degree in ICT before you will even look at someone, you will close yourself off from a great deal of expertise that's around. Also, people can go on courses, and will learn by doing anyway. If they need extra technical support of classroom assistance for a while, then that can be arranged.
How do you 'convert' an existing team into a dream team?
In my experience, people will co-operate, have more self-confidence and be more enthusiastic if you delegate responsibility for one or more units of work to them, and have interesting activities and opportunities for professional development, such as good in-service training, going to exhibitions, attending conferences, and having their lessons observed.
I'll be saying more about delegating a unit of work after the end of this series, but the important thing about delegating the responsibility (as opposed to merely the task) is that the teacher can choose whatever topic they light to hang the concepts on. If they happen to love windsurfing, and can use it as a means of teaching modelling, why not?
Also, this approach actually reduces teachers' workload, as I'll be demonstrating. As for the other things mentioned here, they are all about respecting the person as a professional, and treating them as such.
It's also encumbent on the team leader to notice people's strengths and weaknesses, and to use them and address them respectively.
Bottom line: there's no such thing as a template for a dream team, so you have to think it through for yourself. So your 15 minute task for today is to make a note of the following:
- What are the features of your dream ICT team?
- Which ones are already in evidence?
- How might you address the deficiencies?
Oh, and by the way, you're not allowed to recruit new staff or lose existing staff.
I am firmly of the belief that an ed tech leader is only as good as the team they're leading, and that good in-service training plays a large part in improving teachers' skills, knowledge and understanding.
Let's take that phrase 'good in-service training': what does 'good' mean? What is 'in-service training'?
The meaning of 'good'
I think in-service training is good if it enables the teacher to do something s/he couldn't do before, or to be able to do it better. I'm using the word 'do' in a very broad sense. It could be that, having attended a course, you have a greater understanding of a particular issue than you did before, without necessarily having to actually do anything with your new-found knowledge.
(I'll explore this in another post, but I believe very strongly that there needs to be time and space set aside for teachers to explore issues as an intellectual endeavour, and not merely so that some pre-defined 'output' measure can be improved. But that's for another day.)
Ideally, in-service training should be useful for the individual teacher, the ICT team and the school as a whole.
Teachers should have a huge say into what training they will experience. I've seen instances of where teachers are sent on courses they don't want to attend, and denied permission to go on courses they do. That's a ridiculous way of trying to get the best out of your staff. Admittedly, there may be some things which everyone has to attend, such s information about a new curriculum, but there has to be give and take.
As far as what is good for the ICT team is concerned, that should be discussed by the ICT team. As team leader you will need to take some decisions, but they need to take into account your colleaues' concerns and ideas too.
Types of in-service training for ed tech specialists
But what is in-service training? Traditionally, it's a course. However, it could take a number of forms, such as:
- Attending a course.
- Running a training session.
- Attending a conference.
- Trying out something different.
- Writing a unit of work.
- Scrutinising students' work (not your own students, someone else's).
- Spending time reading.
- Spending time in discussion forums, Twitter and so on.
- Attending training sessions in bite-sized chunks, such as after school, and highly focused, eg Advanced Photoshop or Using Assessment for Learning techniques in ICT.
- Attending great team meetings.
Types of in-service training for non-specialists
Bear in mind that one of your jobs might be to organise training for non-specialist staff. Ideas that come to mind include:
- As you don't know what colleagues know or don't know, I'd suggest conducting a survey to find out what sort of things they would like training on.
- Running a regular ICT surgery. I'll be covering this in more depth soon.
- Running specific training for teaching assistants who help out in ICT lessons. I've always thought it best for all concerned for them to have at least a basic level of competence in using technology.
- Encouraging colleagues from other subjects to invite you to their team meetings to help them discover how technology could be used in their lessons.
- Making a video of the ICT going on around the school, and showing it at a staff meeting. (Students can take this on as a project.)
Your task for today
There's a lot to think about there, but here are a few issues which you might like to consider in your 15 minutes today:
- Who is going to deliver the training? It doesn't have to be you or an outside expert. One of your colleagues might be able and willing to do so. I've had pupils giving training, and the teachers loved it because it was so effective for them.
- Does training always have to take place as an extra-curricular activity? Doesn't that discriminate against colleagues who are paid by the hour? Since the training they enjoy will benefit the school (one hopes), should they not be paid to attend it?
- Does training always have to take place after school? After all, that discriminates against colleagues with family commitments. How about lunchtime sessions as well? I don't think there is an ideal time for training or a foolproof answer to this type of concern, but I think it's important to try and be as flexible as possible.
- Does all training have to take place 'live'? If you were to video your training sessions, the recordings could be made available on the school's VLE for colleagues to access in their own time.
- The same goes for screencasts. Why not create a series of short screencasts to cover the basic aspects of applications which are commonly used in the school?
- Does training have to take place in school or a teacher development centre? How about a team visit to an exhibition? I have organised some great visits for teachers to work places where technology is used.If such days are planned and organised well, they can be really effective professional development.
- Does all training or professional development have to be organised? What about taking part in online discussions? What about making the technology available and allowing people to use it how they see fit, or simply to explore it?
- Looking at your team as a whole (or yourself if you don't have a team), what are your most pressing training needs? Where are the gaps in your knowledge or skill set? How and when can you start to address this?
You may also find the following articles useful:
A message from Doug Dickinson reminded me of the OU Vital Community. OU Vital is a recently-established online professional development community for ICT educators. Run as a collaboration between the Open University and e-Skills, it is providing a range of free professional development opportunities, both offline and online.
One thing it does which is especially relevant here is provide a range of 15-minute CPD activities -- ideal for the busy teacher (if they happen to be at the right time, of course).
I also mentioned, in the comments, a forthcomin article about managing meetings. It has now been published here.
If you lead a team of ed tech teachers, you can do a lot with team meetings; in fact, you can turn (at least some of them) into opportunities for professional development. It's a very good idea to occasionally depart from the standard team meeting format and put on a "special". This helps to keep interest high, and enables various goals to be achieved, including staff professional development, which I discussed in the post about attending conference. They can also help the team to maintain its "edginess" and dynamism. As Doug Woods said in his comment about the post on resources, the most precious resource a school has is its staff. Help them become even better, and in so doing improve the team as a unit.
1 Invite a guest speaker
It may be difficult to get someone to come for just an hour. However, if you invite them to spend the afternoon, say, being shown around and taken into some lessons and talking to students, they may be willing to address you and your team afterwards. The benefit for them is that get to see a real school in action, and which prevents them from losing touch quite so rapidly!
Alternatively, invite another member of staff or even a student to give a talk on something of relevance. It may be about a generic issue such as assessment or lesson observation, or a more specific one such as how your students use Facebook.
If you invite a student to an after-school meeting, make sure you obtain parental permission and check that it's OK with the powers-that-be.
Remember: all guests should be offered refreshments.
2 Evaluate resources
It helps to prepare for this. For example, ask teachers to come armed with a list of topics that they need resources for, and/or a list of resources they have come across or acquired but have not had time to have a proper look at. There's a rubric I devised which you may find helpful.
Also, consider getting in inspection copies of books and demo software to look at.
You could also consider combining this idea with the previous one, and invite a product salesperson to come in and give you a demo and answer questions.
3 Invite the senior management/leadership team to meet YOUR team
Yes, they know you and your team and what you do -- but do they? Why not invite them along to look at the kind of activities the students are asked to do, and have a go at some of the whizzier things themselves? Make sure there is student work to look at, and be prepared to discuss examination results and that sort of thing.
4 Do pupil work scrutiny
"Work scrutiny" means going through pupils' books and folders to try and gauge what they have leant and achieved -- in this case in the use of educational technology. It can be very useful if you can, with permission of course, go through the pupils' books from another subject, such as English, although a request to do so could be construed as being some sort of inspection.
The purpose of doing work scrutiny is to find out how good a job you've done at getting pupils to use and understand educational technology in general. Read more detail in the post about looking at students' work.
5 Watch and discuss a video podcast
There are plenty of technology-related podcasts available. It could be useful to watch and discuss one or two, in case there are issues you could raise with students. (Look out my forthcoming post about a great video to get the intellectual juices flowing.)
6 Listen to and discuss an audio podcast
7 Have an international discussion
This is a variation of inviting a guest speaker. Why not arrange to speak to an ed tech teacher or her students in Canada or the USA, say, via Skype? Obviously, you have to keep an eye on time zones (which is why, being based in the UK, I did not mention Australia or New Zealand).
8 Do moderation
"Moderation" means going through pupils' work and assessing it, in order to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of (a) what the standards are against which you're assessing the work, and (b) how to interpret and apply them. It is not the same as work scrutiny, mentioned earlier.
9 Share best practices
If you or a team member has done something that worked really well, or heard about something that someone else has done, it should be shared. This idea could be combined with the first one, ie you could invite a guest speaker, possibly from another curriculum area in the school, to talk about what other teachers have tried. If you arranged for another teacher to come and look at what you do,
10 Share ideas
Why not discuss the activities you already do, and see if other ways of achieving the same thing can be thought of? Ideas that sound promising could be put into practice on a limited trial basis -- see the next idea also.
11 Share research results
For this to work, at least one person has to have done some research of course. It could be classroom-based research. For example, you may have decided to try out one of the ideas generated in the ideas "special" meeting with one class as a pilot study. The outcomes can be discussed here. Or someone might report back on a conference or an exhibition they've attended.
12 Have staff training
Use the time to be shown how to use a particular application, and to practice using it. This can be especially useful if a unit of work is coming up that requires people to have a knowledge of, say, how to use a wiki or desktop publishing.
13 Create resources
The one thing that teachers always complain they have too little of is time. So make a space for them to create resources. Doing so in the same room as others gives people a chance to bounce ideas off their colleagues.
14 Share news updates
This works especially well if you have asked different members of your team to be responsible for different things. For example, are there changes in the rules about writing school reports? Has anything happened in the edublogosphere that ought to be brought to your colleagues' attention?
15 Do development planning
What courses will you put on next year? What needs to be done for the new course starting in September? What courses do you hope to run, or should you be thinking about running, in 3 years' time?
16 Discuss data
How well are your students doing? How much progress have they made since last year? Are there differences between the attainment of girls and boys? What does your data tell you about these sorts of questions?
17 Discuss ways to become better
This is not quite the same as discussing ideas (see above). Having analysed the data, you will probably want to discuss ways in which to improve -- but this can be a stand-alone activity. A very useful starting point is to approach it from the point of view of a student. As a student, how do you know how well you are doing, for instance. In fact, why not ask the students what they think you're doing well, and what needs addressing, with suggestions?
18 Focus on pupils with special educational needs
Take a look at your handouts or VLE pages for your students. Do they require a higher standard of reading than some of your students possess? What is in place to ensure that students at risk of falling behind get the extra help they require? In fact, going back a step, what is in place to make sure that you find out in advance which students are at risk in that sense? What about students with physical disabilities? Have you catered for them?
Use a meeting to discuss these issues and then draw up an action plan to deal with them.
19 Focus on pupils who are gifted and talented
If pupils are under-challenged they become bored, and bored children often become disruptive. What extension activities are in place to prevent that happening? Again, use the meeting to identify gaps in the provision for such students, and decide who is going to what about it by when.
20 Have a good clear-out
Do you and your team really need that copy of the version of the National Curriculum that was changed in 2000? It's nice to have an archive of historical material -- but only if you're a museum. I have always found that clearing out a load of obsolete stuff has a really liberating and refreshing effect on the whole team.
21 Do budget planning and analysis
Is too much money being spent on printing? Are costs in one area significantly greater than in others? What peripherals and consumables need to be bought before the end of this school year, and what needs to be planned for next year?
Involving the whole team in such discussions can lead to a greater sense of shared responsibility -- as well as some good money-saving ideas.
22 Plan capital purchasing
What equipment needs to bought next year, and what replaced? How about over the next 3 years? You'll need to have your development plan handy for this one. It also ties in with planning professional development (see below).
23 Discuss success and challenges
What's going well, and what not so well? Clearly this is related to other suggestions here, such as sharing good practice, but there is a subtle difference in emphasis. To make this work, there has to be an atmosphere of trust: nobody likes to say in public what is not going so well for them. It also ties in with the Niggles and Quick Wins suggestions (see below).
24 Do joint lesson planning for team-teaching
If there is a chance to have some team teaching, why not use meeting time to do some joint planning? In fact, even if you are not going to have team teaching, planning lessons together (doing so in pairs works well) can lead to new insights and ideas. It can be a great way to freshen up everyone's teaching. See also the suggestions about creating a lesson plan bank.
25 Discuss lesson observations
If you have a chance to observe each other's lessons, the results can be discussed here. With permission, you could video parts of lessons and use the meeting time to watch and then discuss the videos. Alternatively, and perhaps less threatening to people, carry out this exercise using a third party video. For example, Teachers TV lets you download and use video clips.
26 Departmental policies
When was the last time your departmental policy on assessment was looked at? Do you have one about accessing the VLE? How about equal opportunities? Obviously, in an ideal world the policies will be lived in practice. Nevertheless, the documentation ought to be reviewed and, if necessary, updated at least once a year.
If you think about it, an evaluation by an inspector, who will not have the time to see everything that goes on, can be affected by the sight of a set of policy documents that are clearly 5 years old. Sometimes, the policies themselves are fine in principle, but the terms used have become obsolete. For example, a sentence like "Pupils are not allowed to bring in their own diskettes" looks old even though diskettes are still in use. But changing that to "memory sticks" will only solve the problem temporarily. It may be better to try and future-proof it to some extent by using a general term like "media" instead of a specific one.
27 Niggles list and simple solutions
What sort of things are upsetting people, and how might they be tackled? One of the things that always used to upset me, for example, was teachers leaving the computer room as if it had been hit by an earthquake. Or take the case of a school I visited recently where someone had walked off with a video lead, because it was "stored" on someone's desk. What creative or even very simple solutions could be implemented to deal with such occurrences? See the next suggestion too.
28 Quick wins
In a way, this is similar to #27, but is more outwardly-focused. Walking around the school, what could be done very quickly and inexpensively to make other teachers want to make greater use of the educational technology facilities? Why not ask your colleagues, via a survey, what they like and dislike about the provision, and invite suggestions to improve it? You could then discuss the results at this meeting.
29 Plan professional development
What professional development do the team, and its individual members, require? What's coming up in the next year by way of conferences or other events that may be useful to attend? You will need your development plan at this meeting, because it is much easier to get the go-ahead to attend an event if you can demonstrate how it will enable you and your team to meet your objectives.
Did you find this list helpful? All feedback greatly appreciated!
This is a variation and an update of an article first published on 22 August 2008.
Looking at data is all very well but doesn't tell the whole story. In my opinion you also need to see what goes on in a lesson.
The observer and the observed
This is potentially a sensitive subject: nobody likes to feel they're being monitored. I think it is therefore quite important that everyone in your team, including yourself, has at least one lesson observed. If possible, arrange it internally, that is to say, have members of your team observing each other rather than bring in an outside colleague, unless that is unavoidable.
If possible, have the lesson recorded on video. That can obviate the need for any elaborate cover arrangements and has the added advantage that the observer and the observed can look at the lesson together. This is quite useful because, done properly, it leads to a good discussion that can benefit both parties. Indeed, if people are brave enough, and trust each other enough, all such videos can be discussed by everyone in the team on a training day, or as part of a special team meeting (other ideas for team meetings will be covered on another Day).
What to look for
This has to be a matter of mutual agreement to some extent. For example, the person being observed might ask the observer to pay special attention to the way they use the whiteboard. The greater part of the observation has to be on whether or not the students are learning, or learning quickly enough. That means that it's fine, in my book, for the observer to ask students questions in order to ascertain their understanding, as long as, obviously, that they don't disrupt the lesson by doing so.
If you're going to assign a grading system to different aspects of the lesson, you will need to ensure that everyone in the team understands and uses the same system in the same way as each other.
The sort of things you might wish to focus on include the following, which I have placed in alphabetical order:
- Ability of students to use manual or on-screen Help
- Addressing of equality and diversity in planning
- Attendance of learners
- Attitudes, values, personal qualities
- Care, guidance and support
- Course suitability
- Health & Safety awareness
- How well does teaching match individual students’ needs?
- Learners’ understanding of purpose of session
- Learning outcomes
- Pace and challenge of session
- Punctuality of learners
- Quality of accommodation
- Quality of activities set
- Quality of answers given by students
- Quality of help and guidance given
- Quality of marking/feedback
- Quality of planning and preparation
- Quality of Resources
- Quality of students’ presentation
- Quality of teaching & learning
- Relating of work to previous sessions
- Software skills
- Standards of work seen in session
- Students’ achievement in session
- Students’ motivation & involvement in session
- Students’ self-esteem
- Students’ understanding of own progress and how to improve
- Teacher’s knowledge
- Teacher’s control of session (not just behaviour, but pace, change in activities, use of plenaries and so on)
- Teacher’s evaluation and review of the teaching and learning in session
- Teacher’s time management
- Use of resources
This is not a definitive list, of course. Obviously, I should not advise trying to observe all of these in a single lesson!
What can you learn from this?
As team leader, you are concerned with the quality of the educational technology as a whole, and lesson observations across the board can be really helpful in this regard. You may, for example, pick up on the fact that colleagues don't use the interactive whiteboard much. Is that because they have not received adequate training?
Or perhaps the pace tends to be too fast, leaving some students behind. Is that because they're concerned about covering the whole scheme of work in time? If so, does that suggest that the scheme of work is too crowded, or that more teaching time is needed?
Perhaps now that you come to look at it, the quality of your accommodation isn't wonderful. Is it possible to make a case for some refurbishment in the next financial year?
Of course, the bottom line is that as team leader you need to know what's going on in actual lessons. You can't rely on reports or statistical data. You have to actually see it for yourself. That doesn't have to be done in a draconian way. It doesn't even have to be done too often, especially if you have cultivated an ethos of nobody minding other people wandering into their lessons unannounced. But it does need to be done as it is a good means of finding out useful information and gaining an overview of learning and teaching in your area of the curriculum.
If you recall, each Day in the series is intended to include an activity that takes no more than 15 minutes. Clearly, you can't observe everyone's lessons in 15 minutes -- although you may wish to suggest that nobody's lesson is observed for more than 15 or 20 minutes, which makes the process more manageable. You may even wish to focus on the start or end of each lesson rather than all of it.
So I suggest that you spend your 15 minutes today reflecting on what's been written here, and perhas drawing up a rudimentary timetable of which lessons could be observed when -- starting with your own.
If you manage a large team, including people with more specialised technical expertise than yourself, how do you ensure that your decisions are good ones?
Is decision-making an art or a science?
I think this is an important question. If you think it's an art, then it is only a short step away from saying "some people have 'it', and others don't." And if you think like that, then it is very hard, perhaps even impossible, to improve your decision-making.
So, I come down firmly in the camp that says it's a science. In other words, it can be approached methodically, and the process can be improved.
What do we mean by a "good decision"?
Some decisions are good in the short term, but not necessarily so in the longer term. Every parent understands this: when your two-year old is throwing a tantrum in the supermarket because she wants some sweets, do you give in for the sake of peace and quiet, or ride it out? The first option is undoubtedly better from a peaceful existence point of view, and to avoid embarrassment, but it's very much a short-term solution. In the long run, the child learns that tantrums work, and so your easy way out will cause more of the same in the future.
So, a good decision is one which:
Furthers the aims of the team in terms of its strategic plan.
Does not sacrifice the long-term for the short-term.
Included the team, or at least leaves the team feeling that it has been listened to.
Less is more
So, how do you arrive at good decisions? Your decisions can only be as good as the information you have on which to base them. But "good" does not mean "plenty". In fact, the more information you have, the less likely you are to be able to use it effectively. The best thing to do is to ask one of your team to summarise the issues for you.
My preference has always been for what I call the "A4 Briefing". I don't care how complex a problem is, it should be explainable in no more than a side of A4 (or Letter if you're in the USA). In fact, one of my bosses insisted on no more than half a dozen bullet points.
Ask for options
What I also like is for the person who is summarising the information to outline some options. Nothing too complicated -- that would defeat the object -- but just enough to give me some hooks on which to hang my thought processes.
Take time out
Swans on the lake at Audley End. Watching them can help in your decision-making.
I think we have a tendency to hammer away at a problem, but often the best thing to do after some initial thought is to go away from it completely. An afternoon spent by a river, say, can work wonders, because while you're walking, your subconscious is working.
Now that's what I call efficiency!