Robert Brooks

Leading Practitioner


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Reflections on #rED16

I was delighted to attend #rED16 yesterday morning, organised by Tom Bennett @tombennett71 . It was a shame that I was not able to stay the whole day, however I attended 3 excellent sessions during the morning with my colleague Amanda Fleck @AJTF71 :

Perfectionism: what the research says, & why it’s ruining teachers

This session, led by Laura McInerney @miss_mcinerney (Editor of Schools Week), discussed why teachers are imploding with stress and could this be to do with “their own psychological demons?” Laura introduced the session with a definition of ‘perfectionism’ from Wikipedia:

“Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterised by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards.”

40% of teachers leave teaching within the first 5 years of teaching, however Laura explains that this statistic is not a recent one. There are many tired teachers who either do not want to or cannot do teaching permanently. Teaching can allow professionals to thrive who want to be a perfectionist, however this can also be detrimental when things do not always go to plan in this unpredictable and ever changing profession.

Another factor that is being investigated, relating to teacher retention, is more women tending to have children later in life, leading to many of them having the stress of teenager children in their 40s, combined with elderly parents and a full teaching timetable.

Laura spoke to someone about who should manage teachers and they suggested theatre directors as there are very few other professions where you would be expected to perform for up to 6 hours a day and 5 days a week.

Laura also discussed about relationships in teaching compared to other professions, such as when dealing with customers or clients. In teaching you could have around 120 relationships or interactions throughout the working day, if there are any difficulties with relationships, such as with a class of children, this could then filter onto the next day, whereas as a difficult customer may not. Laura shared this “positive model of other” showing where people (teachers in the examples discussed in the session) see themselves and others positively or negatively.

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Laura shared the graph below, showing the least and most effective scenarios for teacher retention:

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Laura ended the session with a couple of tips on what not to do to a teacher perfectionist:

  • Attempt to show them ‘best practice’
  • Show them the best teacher in the school something that they cannot do yet

This could be considered detrimental to the perfectionist as it only confirms how wide the gap is between where they are at and where they want to get to. Focussing on smaller steps at a time (i.e. what went well in that lesson, what will I focus on in the next) is much more productive.

Assessment (what every teacher needs to know)

This session, led by Rob Coe @ProfCoe (Professor of Education at Durham University) covered assessment basics, such as reliability, validity, formative and monitoring uses of assessment.

Assessment reliability depends on standardisation, the subject matter and the number of assessment items. A subject that has more closed items on an assessment, such as mathematics, is inevitably going to be more reliable than a holistic approach to marking seen in subjects such as English or history.

Rob also talked about how at parents’ evenings and reporting mechanisms in the past with National Curriculum levels, sometimes the reliability variance between one annual assessment and another could be two sublevels. As students previously were expected to make two sublevels of progress per academic year, this data could be considered unreliable. However, have the new systems put in place by schools replacing National Curriculum levels (or life beyond levels) put this right?

Rob discussed hinge questions as a method of understanding where students have mastered various concepts and showed the probability of mastery from this method.

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Rob explained how it was important that teachers use their professional judgement in hinge questioning so that they were sure if a student had understood a particular concept.

This could involve:

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Rob also talked about the assumptions that we may make as teachers, such as a badly behaved student being a lower attainer. This is an example of where teacher assessment could be detrimental to some students.

Developing a school-wide evidence-informed approach to teaching & leaning

This session, led by John Tomsett @johntomsett (Headteacher at Huntington SchoolHuntington School, York), reflected upon the challenges of developing an evidence-informed approach to teaching and learning for all the teachers at Huntingdon School.

John explained that he had two senior leadership teams within his school, one for the core operations of the school and one for research. His school has committed to reflective practitioners continuing to develop sound subject knowledge and evidence-based methods for teaching and learning.

Control groups were discussed, as it is difficult to measure the impact of initiatives directly relating to pupil outcomes when there is no control group. If there is a control group however, students could be disadvantaged if they are not in the test group that goes onto perform better in assessments. This is where ethics comes into question.

John reminded us how important question-level analysis (QLA) is to inform any necessary intervention or further teaching of a concept, topic or skill. Measuring the impact is vital to see if they are worthwhile, such as the cost and time allocated, for the improvement in pupil outcomes. John asks his staff to share interventions that have not worked so that they can be discussed on how to improve them or remove the intervention method altogether, such as highlighter pens for revision! His philosophy is that only teaching and learning methods that improve pupil outcomes are to be used in his school, hence the evidence-based approach to teaching and learning at Huntington School.

John gave an example of an intervention used that helped a student move up 3 A Level grades in Economics, by using exam questions annotated on the screen using a Visualiser (such as one from IPEVO):

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The example above refers to how we, as teachers, need to:

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In my GCSE Science numeracy questions blog, I have given an example of this.

John also gave an example of how he sets performance management targets for his staff:

“How does students modelling how to answer 6 mark QWC questions in science impact on the marks awarded for these questions for students in the top sets compared to the lower sets?”

John also gave examples of where students can go backwards in terms of progress, despite interventions, such as taking an assessment straight after half-term if the students have not revised. It is important that interventions are not ‘disposed of’ in cases like this, as there are other mitigating circumstances.

3 key things I will do as a result of attending #rED16

  1. Ensure that I use appropriate strategies, such as smaller targets, for any staff I support that strive for perfection.
  2. Plan hinge questions within medium term plans and DIRT lessons (explained by Amjad Ali, @ASTsupportAAli in his blog post) to ensure there are opportunities for clarifying any misconceptions and developing mastery of a topic.
  3. Continue to run interventions, but measure their impact to assess how worthwhile they have been in improving pupil outcomes.
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