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Exceptional Leaders Transforming Schools

Exceptional Leaders Transforming Schools

Main Subject: CPD

Subject: Leadership

Author: Lloyd Burgess

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While various government education policies arrive with a bang and go out with a whimper, one frontline initiative has been quietly making some noise, says Lloyd Burgess...

Revolutions are rarely quiet. They change history, create legends of mortals, and their events are given grand and explosive names such as the Storming of the Bastille, the Boston Massacre and the War of Knives. But when it comes to changing education, we’d rather avoid the casualties and chaos, thank you.

This is why it’s refreshing to see that The Future Leaders Trust has adopted the term The Quiet Revolution in its efforts to improve education through exceptional leaders transforming schools with great practice. Politicians need not fear for their heads just yet.

The Quiet Revolution believes that a great headteacher will have a positive impact on every classroom in her school, without waiting for a government policy to define her work. It’s made up of people driven to give every child the opportunity to succeed, and whose work is revolutionary simply because they do it well. This revolution builds bridges by supporting individuals and developing good practice within and between schools, and we’ve asked some of these leaders about the practices that have had the biggest impact in their schools - the small things that make a big difference.

Sarah Mitchell, Headteacher Gonville Academy, Croyden

I visited two of Doug Lemov’s schools in New York and I saw some things over there that really impressed me. Really small things, but they made me want to bring them back to my school.

The main one was the explicit teaching of learning behaviours. At my school the children behave really well, but their behaviour for learning needed work. So in New York I learnt the acronym SLANT. It’s really simple, and you teach it to the children. It’s ‘Sit up’, ‘Listen to the person who’s speaking’, ‘Ask questions to show you’re engaged’, ‘Nod to show that you understand’, then ‘Track the speaker’, so follow the person who’s talking with your eyes. The idea is that if the child shows even one of these learning behaviours then they’re significantly more engaged, and will therefore make more progress.

We introduced it in my school in September and it had immediate impact. When we taught it we learnt a new letter each day, through games and things like that. So now if you go into a classroom you can say SLANT and they’re all up and paying attention straight away. It really focuses them, so it’s had a huge impact.

Ciara Murphy, Associate Leader and Year 6 teacher Grace Darling Campus, Northumberland Church of England Academy

At our school we’ve introduced buddy mentor reading and I’ve used the opportunity to pair readers in Year 4 with pupils from Year 6. Obviously the Year 6 child is the mentor who can give the Year 4 child help and reading advice. So, at lunchtime we have the buddy mentor reading club where the Year 4s read out loud while the Year 6s listen to them.

It’s actually had a knock-on effect on for both of them. The younger students are gaining confidence in reading, while the older ones are having to work on their listening skills. The Y6s are also tasked with asking their buddy questions, like ‘Where is the semi-colon?’ or ‘Why is there a dash?’ It’s like something you might teach to TAs. But the Y6s were really au fay with this, they would just ask and record the evidence themselves. It’s been really successful.

I really like watching it as the Year 6s are learning as much as the Year 4s. It becomes a really positive experience for all. It’s even develops relationships outside in the playground – you can see them looking out for each other a bit more.

Sarah Martin, Deputy Head Hotham Primary School, Putney

Teachers don’t always have time to reinvent the wheel, so any ideas that we can share are really important. I work with other schools a lot, and with Future Leaders we have a massive online community called The Learning Lounge where we post and share ideas. One example I’ve seen, that came from a teacher from our school, is a strategy for working with younger children who might have concentration problems, ADHD or ASD. It’s designed to keep them motivated to stay on task.

Each time they do something good, whether it’s meeting one of the targets that was set for them or showing good learning behaviour, they’re rewarded with a piece of train track. At the end of the day, they have a 10-minute spot where they can go off and put their train track together and play on it. This inspires them to earn lots of pieces of train track because, obviously, having only one or two pieces piece is not much good or fun. So, it’s really quite motivating as they can see by the amount of tracks they’ve got just what a good day they’ve had.

Lucy Williams Assistant Headteacher and Year 1 teacher, School 21, Stratford

One thing we use a lot is talk partners. Children tend to talk at each other and not listen to one another, so we make one child A and the other B, and we give each of them a different way of thinking. So A might have to think of all the positive aspects about a certain object or topic, and B has to list three negative things about it.

Alternatively, we say that one child has to talk and the other can only ask questions. This means they have to listen carefully to what the other person is saying, as child A needs to answer the questions and child B needs to probe further.

Structuring like that means the quality of the talk shoots right up rather than having one person dominate. And you can always choose the child who’s usually the quieter of the two to have the more prominant role. We use these sort of structures all the time and our children are confident in their speaking, know their own minds and how to express themselves. It’s also has a huge impact on the way they write and how they speak to each other and visitors.

Little lessons

Here are a few takeaway tips from the Quiet Revolution to try out in your school.

“While many assemblies are used to occupy children while you have a meeting or something, our headteacher uses them as another lesson. They’re incredibly important. We do ours in a circle, with lots of standing up and teaching. It’s a very loud and vibrant time.”
Lucy Williams

“I visited a school where they had completely re-landscaped their grounds with learning areas and a mud kitchen. Now we’re creating a nature area, and we’ve persuaded our local allotment owners to let us have a little piece of land to use in learning.”
Sarah Mitchell

“My class wanted somewhere to visit when they’re feeling stressed or worried. So we created a corner covered off by a cargo net where they can take a couple of minutes out. They can calm down in there and then they’re ready to learn again. They’re still inside the classroom, they’re safe and they’re still listening.”
Ciara Murphy

“If each child has a learning partner, and they know each other’s targets, they can peer-assess before the teacher sees their work. It’s motivating as they tend to want to show off to their peers, and it gives them a chance to see what other children are doing to meet their targets.”
Sarah Martin

Class Warfare

Visit future-leaders.org.uk to hear more revolutionary talk from school leaders.

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