We look at how a teaching school alliance is using specialist leaders of education (SLEs) to share excellent practice through open classrooms.
Camden Eleanor Palmer Primary School is the lead school in the Camden Primary Partnership Teaching School Alliance. The school took part in the R&D network’s school-based research project, committed to the principle that the alliance should ‘connect classrooms’ by giving all staff in the alliance opportunities to work together and to observe each other.
In order to do this, they developed a course in partnership with NRich at Cambridge University on developing mathematical fluency and reasoning through problem solving. The course was led by NRich, Eleanor Palmer’s headteacher and 2 SLEs and was attended by 2 members of staff from 8 alliance schools. Central to the delivery of the course was time spent in classrooms, progressing from observations (day 1) to paired teaching (day 3) to teaching the class (day 5).
SLEs taking the lead
Having built relationships and connections beyond the headteachers in the alliance, the lead SLEs who had delivered the course and the head of Eleanor Palmer Primary School assigned themselves to each of the 8 participating schools and spent 2 follow-up days supporting participants in embedding the principles into their own schools and classrooms. This included SLE-led joint practice groups with mathematical starting points, culminating in simple summary documents that have been shared across the local authority and beyond.
Feedback after the course highlighted a marked increase in teacher confidence and enthusiasm and – critically- more confidence to influence others back in their school. For example, the number of teachers saying they felt ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ about teaching mathematical problem solving rose from just 1 to all 16 participants.
Even more importantly, awareness of SLEs was raised and there was a greater willingness across the alliance to work alongside them back in school:
- The percentage who were ‘aware’ or ‘very aware’ of the role of SLEs rose from 28 per cent to 94 per cent. 18
- There was also a significant rise in respondents who said they would “feel ‘comfortable’ or ‘very comfortable’ having an SLE work in my own classroom”: from 65 per cent to 94 per cent.
However, the greatest impact was on the school’s own SLEs. Delivering the course offered fantastic CPD for them as they learned how to promote discussion and manage adult learning. They also led the ‘open classrooms’ part of the day, which was key to developing trust with colleagues from other schools, as well as building their confidence.
Both SLEs are now well established across the alliance, having led other joint practice development groups and been booked to work in schools. Both of them have identified their work on this course as being key to developing their confidence and skill sets.
Moving forward, SLEs have taken a lead on the ‘connecting classrooms’ project. Teaching School Director, Sarah Ewins explains:
"With twelve SLEs in post across the alliance, last summer we put together a programme of open classroom sessions, followed by workshops linked to the lesson. These sessions were free of charge and open to any class teachers from across the borough, newly qualified to experienced. We encouraged headteachers and secondary colleagues to take this opportunity too.
"With 8 places per session, the group size remained manageable and the discussion lively and personal. The plan was to tempt colleagues to come and see excellent practice in order to put primary SLEs ‘on the map’.
"We launched with a colourful brochure and sent it to all Camden schools. This was a new project - nothing like it had been done before in Camden - and so we needed to get the profile as high as possible. We kept sending it out and promoting it as much as possible!
"Take up in the first term was not as high as we had hoped but the feedback from those who attended the sessions was brilliant (all participants do a quick online survey at the end of the session - very easy to do and easy for us to collate results). Take up in term two (for the class teacher sessions) has been fantastic - we believe that this is because word had spread about the sessions and how effective they are.
"We met the SLEs regularly and used their ideas to plan for term two. We also planned and held a Teach Meet in March at which all our SLEs were able to present an idea/intervention. We invited all previous attendees from the open classroom sessions and many came.
"As a result of the free open classrooms we've had some small pieces of SLE work booked and we've also been able to build on our work as a maths lead with Camden School Improvement - moving towards greater involvement in 2015-16.
"The open classroom sessions have also been great for bringing in teachers from one of the requires improvement schools in the borough and this is hopefully going to lead to a partnership for more school-to-school support work."
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