WalkThru: How to carry out a review morning

This WalkThru of a Review Morning has been adapted from Wholesome Leadership, by Oliver Caviglioli as a free downloadable resource.

The purpose of these WalkThrus is to try and ‘demystify’ the things school leaders do by making visible some of the common routines and processes they carry out. I have found, through working with Oliver, that these visual aids can help to simplify otherwise complex processes.

You can download this WalkThru here as an A3 poster or visit Oliver Caviglioli’s awesome website where there’s a collection of other school improvement processes including Learning Walks, Appraisal Meetings and Progress Meetings (CAP Meetings).

Feel free to use, adapt around your own school, subject and context.

Review Mornings

Over the last three years, we have developed termly review mornings as a way of taking a more in-depth look at the learning taking place across a year group. Rather than a series of individual observations or occasional book looks, we tend to spend most of a morning in a single year group observing, reflecting and exploring the issues. Being released from the shackles of grading lessons is empowering for both teachers and leaders, and this type of process can switch the focus from one of ‘judging’ to one of supporting improvement.

  • A couple of weeks before the review morning, send around a short survey asking staff for their opinions on what is working well in the year group at the moment, any areas that they feel might be weaker and any specific challenges or children that they would welcome support with.
  • Read the feedback and do your homework on the issues or children that have been flagged up. If concerns were raised about the behaviour of individuals, do some background checks on them. If a particular subject was flagged as a weakness, talk to the subject leader about any involvement they have had. Analyse what any available data says about this issue too.
  • Try to put people at ease. A morning can feel like a long time for staff to have leaders snooping in and around their classrooms, so it is important to try to make it feel more like a joint process of investigation rather than being judged.
  • Have access to pupil data during the morning. It is really useful to be able to check out assessment information around groups or individuals that you might notice while in the classroom.
  • Give some short general feedback to all staff involved (including support staff) at the end of the morning and then follow up with teachers individually that evening if possible. Do not give Ofsted-style grades as part of this feedback; it should focus only on helpful developmental advice and a ‘next steps’ discussion.

 

WalkThru: How to lead an appraisal meeting

This WalkThru of appraisal has been adapted from Wholesome Leadership, by Oliver Caviglioli as a free downloadable resource.

The purpose of these WalkThrus is to try and ‘demystify’ the things school leaders do by making visible some of the common routines and processes they carry out. I have found, through working with Oliver, that these visual aids can help to simplify otherwise complex processes.

You can download this WalkThru here as an A3 poster or visit Oliver Caviglioli’s awesome website where there’s a collection of other school improvement processes including Learning Walks, Review Mornings and Progress Meetings (CAP Meetings).

Feel free to use, adapt around your own school, subject and context.

Appraisal

An annual appraisal meeting should be a great opportunity to have a meaningful one-to-one with members of staff to thank them for their contribution to the school in the last year and to think about how they can develop in the future. Quality reflective time with staff is a rare commodity and the 40 minutes or hour that you spend with them in appraisals is precious. If this opportunity is not grasped, these useful discussions can be lost in meetings that race through the process, ticking the boxes but missing the point. In recent years, the quality of appraisals has been limited due to a demand that they become a process where a judgement is made on performance-related pay. Since evidence now shows that the impact of performance-related pay is negligible, we should make sure that appraisals are used more effectively as developmental and motivational tools for our staff.

  • Be prepared for the meeting – make sure that you have all the documentation you need from the previous year and that the appraisee is prepared to talk through their objectives with supporting evidence. If either side is not properly prepared, stop the meeting and arrange a time to do it again; otherwise, it undermines the process.
  • Talk through the objectives set for last year and allow time for reflection and discussion on these points. Avoid simply focusing on the success criteria and whether a target has been ‘met’.
  • Celebrate successes and take time to appreciate and thank people.
  • Include a discussion on wellbeing as part of the appraisal discussion and, if the appraisee would like to, write down some commitments that you will both make to support their wellbeing for the year ahead.
  • Avoid making the meeting a drawn-out game of cat and mouse which focuses on whether to give someone a pay rise. In my view, unless someone has not met the Teachers’ Standards consistently throughout the year (in which case some kind of managed support process is warranted), they should automatically make progress on the pay scale (upper pay scale is a separate discussion).
  • Set challenges and targets that stretch and excite you both within a ‘high challenge/low threat’ discussion. Remind your appraisee that no one gets sacked for being ambitious and doing a good job.

Leapfrog Conversations: How to handle the parents when they’re gunning for you…

Sometimes there are situations that crop up with parents that can get emotional and become challenging to manage. You can’t win them all and sometimes the truth is that you end up getting a bit of a pasting. Handled well, these conversations can create greater trust and understanding between home and school; but dealt with poorly, they can quickly escalate into feelings of resentment, resulting in a state of longer-term vexation.

Until I was a parent myself, I never really understood the protective emotions that kick in when dealing with your own children. At times as parents we can be downright unreasonable when we feel our child has been treated unfairly or is at risk from others; this is normal (if not always endearing) human behaviour. Looking back, I was often too quick to try and justify my own or the school’s position, or to point out that a parent was wrong at a moment when it was counter-productive.

Over the years, I have gone from dreading and occasionally avoiding these conversations to quite enjoying them; I now see them as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with parents (our greatest advocates often start as our fiercest critics). No one ever taught me how to handle difficult parent meetings. So I learnt the difficult way.

Leapfrog Conversations

The Leapfrog conversation model (taken from my book, Wholesome Leadership) is one that gives a structure to handling difficult meetings when trying to reach an agreement or resolution – particularly if the other party is aggrieved or emotional about the situation. The purpose of the leapfrog structure is to allow the other person to ‘get everything off their chest’ and then leapfrog to the solutions by avoiding an argument which no one can win. While written originally as a model for handling those particularly irate parent conversations, it is a tool that can easily be adapted for other scenarios and is structured into three stages.

The Leapfrog Conversation Model: Listen, Leapfrog, Learn.

LISTEN

  • Make the environment welcoming and as relaxed as possible.
  • Welcome the other person warmly to the meeting, breaking the ice through normal introductions. Offer them a drink.
  • Invite them to talk first and just listen to what is being said.
  • Try to avoid butting in or justifying at this stage. If you do speak, try to use emphatic language of listening, such as ‘I understand that must have made you feel angry’ or ‘Yes, I can see that from your perspective’.
  • While listening, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and empathise with that position. Show that you care about their child.
  • Be aware of your body language.
  • When the other person has finished speaking, invite them to carry on and ask whether there is anything else they want to say.

LEAPFROG

  • At the point where you feel that everything has been said, repeat back what you have heard and check that you have understood it correctly.
  • Explain any points that you think are important, but avoid getting into an ongoing justification where things just get repeated back and forth.
  • Don’t be afraid to apologise on behalf of the school if this helps to move the conversation on.
  • Agree some next steps and ways forward (be careful not to over-promise).
  • Agree a timescale and date to review either in a meeting or on the phone.
  • Avoid having to have the last word.

LEARN

  • Take time to reflect on the conversation – perhaps talking it through with a colleague.
  • Try to analyse what was said and why:
    • What can be learned from this issue?
    • Are there any processes or practices that could be changed in the future to avoid a similar situation?
    • Is there any communication that needs to take place to staff as a result
    • do class teachers or other adults need to be informed of what was agreed?
  • By analysing the discussion in this way, it can help to avoid looking at the situation through an emotional or defensive lens.
  • Don’t take it personally.

Rethinking Accountability Part 2: Taking the fear out of the challenge

This is the second in a series of five posts about the issue of accountability in schools with some thoughts on how we can create healthier accountability for schools and teachers. Much of the content I am sharing in these posts is taken from my book, Wholesome Leadership. Other resources have either been created kindly by Oliver Caviglioli or are those which have been developed by the leadership team at Simon de Senlis Primary School or within Northampton Primary Academy Trust.

Rethinking Accountability

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – A culture of healthy accountability (you’re reading this now)

Part 3 – School improvement and monitoring processes

Part 4 – Assessing like a consultant doctor

Part 5 – Managing external accountability

In the first post, I laid out the following four key four challenges for us as school leaders to focus on in schools in pursuit of a healthier accountability system which I believe is at the heart of making teaching a more effective and sustainable profession.

  1. Take the fear out of the challenge, creating the right conditions in our school for healthy accountability.
  2. Develop effective processes for school improvement, monitoring & evaluation that are used consistently as part of an ongoing cycle of improvement.
  3. Think really carefully about the purpose and processes of assessment and improve both its use and the quality of conversations that surround it.
  4. Manage external accountability with confidence, staying in control of inspections and audits and not allowing them to influence school improvement negatively.

This post focuses on the first challenge: creating the right culture in our school and a healthier relationship with accountability.

Taking the fear out of the challenge

It is almost impossible to implement any improvements to accountability processes without first establishing the right culture and ethos in a school. Any attempts to improve processes such as lesson observations or appraisal meetings are undermined in a culture built on fear, coercion or transactional ‘carrot and stick’ consequences.

Over the years, I have seen a real range of staff cultures in schools – from the most diligent and professional, where staff seem to work together like poetry in motion, taking any challenge in their stride, to the most unprofessional and toxic cultures where personal relationships take over and get in the way. At its worst, an unhealthy culture can result in staff being so preoccupied with adult issues that these take precedence over the children.

Creating an optimum school culture is at the heart of Mary Myatt’s excellent book, High Challenge, Low Threat. In this, she writes: ‘Top leaders create the conditions where critical guidance is not only accepted, it is expected.’ Accountability processes within a culture where the threat is removed from the challenge can be highly effective, creating the right sense of urgency among staff and helping to drive improvement within a school.

Built on this concept of ‘high challenge, low threat’, the below model I have developed within Wholesome Leadership demonstrates how this balance might manifest itself within the culture of a school.

The Challenge & Fear Matrix (Wholesome Leadership) built on the ideas of Mary Myatt’s ‘High Challenge; Low Threat’.

Lazy culture (low challenge/low threat): In these schools, expectations and performance are not high enough, yet relationships may appear positive. Leaders are likely to be too familiar and friendly with staff, and find it difficult to see the need for any change. There may be some surface-level ‘nice things’ happening, but overall self-evaluation is likely to be over-generous and difficult decisions are avoided. There is unlikely to be much consistency of effective teaching approaches other than lip service. Standards and staff turnover may be low.

Toxic culture (low challenge/high threat): Here, leaders may be trying to bring about change or insisting on things happening, but there are no high professional expectations or clarity on what excellence looks like. Leaders probably don’t walk the talk and instead use carrot and stick methods of management to try to motivate staff. Standards are likely to be low. Staff turnover may be high, but not necessarily, as sometimes people become ‘normalised’ to these conditions.

Anxiety culture (high challenge/high threat): In these schools, a high demand for performance exists, but is driven through threats of Ofsted, accountability and carrot and stick approaches in an ‘or else’ culture. Teamwork is unlikely to be strong and conflict is the norm, with individuals often competing against each other in order to hit individual goals and targets. Improvements and standards in the school may improve, but are unlikely to lead to long-term success. Workload is often high. Staff turnover may be high as teachers stay for a few years and then cannot sustain this way of working, although many stay because it might be perceived as a ‘good’ school.

Improving culture (high challenge/low threat): A combination of high expectation for performance and improvement within a supportive and professional environment is the winning formula that takes the fear out of the challenge. In these schools, staff don’t ‘settle’ or rest on their laurels, and improvement happens in a collegiate manner. Accountability processes are transparent and this helps to motivate individuals. Staff turnover is likely to be average, as staff generally move on to promoted posts or to progress their careers.

Questions:

What is the level of challenge and threat in your school?

What people or processes contribute to this?

What small changes could be made to find the right level of challenge without fear within your school?

Beyond  Compliance and Consistency 

When considering the levels of threat and challenge in a school, it’s important also to look at how these different cultures come to be.  I believe the most significant factors are the behaviours of leaders and, in particular, the tactics and levers they use to try and influence or control others.

Whatever it is that we lead on in school, it is important to get buy-in from others. Whether it’s a new approach to behaviour, a change to break-time supervision or a revised marking policy, we all want people to go along with the plan and do what they are supposed to. Who wouldn’t?

But this drive towards common approaches in schools has led to the rise of ‘Consistency’ being seen as the holy grail where in reality, successful schools are so much more than that. An over-focus on consistency and conformity (often driven by a perception of what Ofsted is looking for) often leads to a culture of compliance, where people duly carry out processes without really understanding why.

A crude drive for compliance – often in the form of checklists or ‘non-negotiables’ documents – can reduce opportunities for staff to think intelligently and prevent professional growth. Consistency for the sake of consistency is not the answer. Of course, some minimum expectations in a school are required, usually to do with behaviour and safeguarding; but in a profession such as teaching, where approaches are nuanced depending on the subject or age group which is being taught, the culture must allow for the expertise within the school to be applied with some freedom and sense of professional trust. Without this, managerialism can take over, as Martin Robinson captures brilliantly (and tragically) in the following blog post, entitled ‘The 51-year Lesson Plan’.

Most of us can point to examples of initiatives or processes in the past that we did ‘for Ofsted’ or ‘for the SLT’, knowing that they were pointless. It depends on the culture and ethos of the school whether staff feel they can question these and suggest alternatives, or whether they simply tick the boxes publicly and then get on and do what they think is right when no one is watching.

From Compliance to Commitment and Creativity

Stephen Covey offers us the following levels of buy-in, describing different degrees of commitment that we might see from staff:

      1. rebel or quit
      2. malicious obedience
      3. willing compliance
      4. cheerful cooperation
      5. heartfelt commitment
      6. creative excitement

Clearly, one of our most important jobs here is to ensure that we can build higher levels of commitment among staff to our school’s mission and strategy. If staff bring a heartfelt commitment or creative excitement to their work, the job of leading becomes much easier and any approach or initiative is likely to be more successful. One initial challenge is that it can be difficult to work out exactly where different people’s commitment sits on this scale. Those at the two extremes are fairly easy to spot: the rebels tend to make themselves known quite quickly and those with creative excitement are often keen to share their ideas with you. But the middle ground is a place where people generally do what is asked of them, without fuss or opposition, even though their hearts may not really be in it.

Question: Take a minute to reflect on some of the key staff you work with and consider their level of commitment. Is this level of commitment constant or does it change depending on what policy or initiative you are thinking about, or even perhaps on who is leading it?

I find this exercise interesting and it is good to talk through with others in your school to see how opinions differ. Sometimes we become concerned by those staff who offer initial resistance and vocal challenge to initiatives – particularly in situations such as staff meetings. But in my experience, it is often the same people who offer initial challenge and resistance that become the greatest advocates in the long run. The process of challenge and questioning allows for a better discussion and leads to reasoning things through. In fact, if there are no difficult questions, it can be a sign that staff are sitting more around the ‘willing compliance’ or ‘cheerful cooperation’ stage of commitment, where they will go along with the ideas without resistance, but without the full commitment that is so important in high-performing schools and organisations. We can think of these different levels of commitment in four stages (ignoring the rebels or the quitters):

      1. Coercion: People are forced to do things.
      2. Compliance: People do what they are told to.
      3. Commitment: People believe in what they are doing.
      4. Creative excitement: People believe in what they are doing, have agency to contribute to school improvements and are innovative in their approaches.
Four Levels of Commitment (Wholesome Leadership). To create a culture of creative excitement, schools have to move on from cultures of coercion and compliance…

So what?

In order to create the right cultures where staff feel wholeheartedly committed and have creative excitement for their work, leaders have to do more than just talk or create PowerPoint slides about culture; they have to display the right behaviours, processes and actions – deliberately and consistently.

Within Wholesome Leadership, I explore some of these actions and behaviours in more depth through the following four areas, termed the ‘Four planks of school culture’.

  • healthy relationships
  • disciplined thought and action
  • teacher agency and innovation
  • solution-focused thinking
The four planks of school culture (Wholesome Leadership)

Whilst there isn’t room here to unpick these in more detail, I’ve summarised ten steps from these below.

Ten steps towards a great school culture…

    1. Build trust over time through small but important actions, such as doing what you say you will and never criticising someone who isn’t there.
    2. Over-communicate the same important messages to help make sure that everyone hears the main things.
    3. Accept others and the strengths and weaknesses they bring to the team.
    4. Manage conflict well with each other. Make sure that differences of opinions can be explored professionally and without defensive behaviour or judgement.
    5. Avoid arguments as a leader, as you will never win. As Franklin said, ‘A man convinced against his will/is of the same opinion still.’
    6. Develop disciplined thought and action among the staff. A culture of discipline removes the need for time-heavy monitoring processes that breed compliance rather than commitment.
    7. Allow teacher agency so that professionals feel empowered to unleash their knowledge and expertise in the classroom in a supported environment.
    8. Encourage innovation that is carefully thought through and research based. Value new ideas from across the team.
    9. Remain solution focused and ‘default positive’. See the many challenges that come your way as opportunities to grow through.
    10. Chop wood, carry water. Remain connected to the core purpose of the school through simple but important jobs, no matter how high you climb or how impressive your job title.

I hope you’ve found this  post interesting. If you have a few minutes, why not share your experiences of school culture in the comments box below?

  • What is the level of teacher agency in your school?
  • Would you describe the culture in your school as one of coercion, compliance, commitment or creative excitement?
  • Thinking through the lens of High Challenge and Low Threat, what are the levels of challenge and threat as a teacher in your school? Where would you pitch your school culture on the HCLT matrix (Lazy, Toxic, Anxiety, Improve)

Thanks for reading.

TR