Raising Attainment

School systems can ensure that students are in the correct rooms at the correct times with the correct people, and this is important, but what is of paramount importance is improving what happens when they get into this room.

The key factors affecting the quality of teaching are subject knowledge, teaching strategies, an understanding of assessment requirements, vision and reflective thinking. For achievement to improve, teaching has to improve, and for teaching to improve these factors must be improved. School leadership, and the methodologies that they utilise, must serve to improve these factors. They must create the right incentives for this to be so and must create the right accountability measures to make sure that this is the case.

1. Subject knowledge. Those who know the most are often not the best teachers of it, of course, but not knowing enough can prevent a teacher being great and thus hinder achievement. Teachers need to build an intricate understanding for themselves and be increasingly clear what it is that students need to learn. What can school leaders do? It requires providing someone to learn from, a great head of department, an experienced teacher, someone with a track record of results who can direct newer teachers to the relevant material and make it clear what must be focused upon. This is why new courses are so difficult to set up; it doesn’t suffice to give someone straight out of university a textbook and exam specification. You need someone to tell you what knowledge is important, what should be emphasised, what is ok to gloss over and what must be covered over and over and over.

2. Teaching strategies. Teachers need an ever increasing pool of ideas that can be drawn upon to achieve required learning outcomes. The tool box from which the tools are selected must become bigger and bigger. The more that are available and the more that are understood then the more likely it is that the right one be selected for that particular time for those particular students. This, of course, takes practise. It involves taking the current progress that is bowled at you and batting it away with an intervention that knocks its for six. What can school leaders do? It requires creating methodologies that allow teachers to learn and develop new ideas at all times. Luckily schools are full of a huge number of teachers who have a huge number of ideas that can be learnt. Teachers must be incentivised to go out and find them and use them. However a collection of ideas on its own is not enough. Teachers need help working out how to implement them, how to evaluate their impact and how to redesign them following this evaluation.  This is where teaching and learning communities can be so powerful.

3. Assessment requirements. Teachers must know, inside out, how it is that students are going to be assessed and what will be required of them in their examinations. They need to know what students will need to demonstrate in response to the variety of questions. Once they know this they can teach the students this and make sure that the students develop this same level of understanding. What can school leaders do? Again this requires quality mentors, those who have gained experience and knowledge over successive examination periods and those who can train others to reach the same high skill level.

4. Vision. You have to want it, you have to really really want it. You have to unashamedly and unapologetically want every child to achieve absolutely as high as possible and be prepared to do everything that is necessary. This involves high expectations from day one and constant pushing so that students rise to these expectations. It means getting parents involved and training them on what they can do. Successful teachers never give up, they keep going and going. What can school leaders do? Put these teachers in front of those that need them most. Surround those lacking an ambitious vision with those that do. Positivity breeds positivity. Great people hire great people. Be unbelievably positive so that your manner makes others so.

5. Reflective thinking. Successful teachers do not mind feedback, in fact they love it. They love being told how they can be better. They love being told by other teachers but also by the students that they teach. They realise that the student perception is the student reality. They may be down hearted at first, in fact this is good because it shows they want success badly, but they soon bounce back and realise that feedback is the breakfast of champions. They take advice on board and run with it, they do not take it personally but concentrate on getting better. They work out for themselves what needs to be done, they don’t make excuses for what has gone wrong but identify the causes and work to solve them. They hate failing. However they know that failing will happen and they are prepared to react so that that particular failure never happens again. What can school leaders do? Recognise that this is a skill that teachers need to develop and help them do so. Provide the best mentors and coaches and foster an environment where it is solutions, and not excuses, that are required.

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