Monday, July 30, 2007

One of my favourite schools.

It was hard to select four pictures to make up a collage for Spotswood - wonderful work is displayed in all rooms. Spotswood was selected to feature on breakfast TV education programme hosted by Bernice Mene a few years ago The excellent work featured continues. Her advice was to find a school like Spotswood near you to visit.

Good advice.

Over the years I have had the good fortune to work with some great schools.I have aways believed that only by visiting real schools, to see creative teachers in action, can you really appreciate ideas that may be of use to you in your own situation. It is all to easy for distant 'experts' to talk about what might be.

The culture at Spotswood, developed over at least a couple of decades, has been led by a number of creative principals - all of whom share a belief that it only happens in classrooms and that creative teachers are the key to school success.

The last decade has seen the school formulate a set of six 'core values', or 'threads' which are worth sharing. Unremarkable in many respects but internalised by teachers, and used as the basis for all their choices, it has become very powerful. Seen in action they illustrate the school vision of quality teaching and learning.

All teachers can articulate the six core beliefs that, when applied, create the consistency of the work that characterizes the school. At the same time the school promotes individual teacher creativity,encourages new ideas and provides opportunity for such ideas to be shared.

The driving force of the school is all about that by continuous improvement, teamwork ,and by working smarter, they can always do better.

Visitors to the school quickly gain an impression of the strong culture of consistency and quality, and shared pride, that bind the school together.

The six core beliefs, or 'threads', are:

(It is important to appreciate that quality learning and behavior results from the interaction of all six points.)

1 Developing self discipline and responsibility in students for their own learning and behaviour - summed up in the phrase, 'Are you making the best choice you can'? usually followed by, 'What will you do next time'? Consistency across the school is the key factor. This is an approach based on 'choices' not rules and is aimed at developing the language of reflection. The emphasis is on acknowledging appropriate behaviours and by teachers being proactive - teaching children the skills of working and playing well together.

2 Focused teaching. The key to 'focused teaching' is 'slowing the pace of work' allowing teachers to identify key teaching points. Far too much work is spoiled in schools by students rushing their work ( often to be first finished) and by teachers trying to cover far too much. 'Fewer things dome well' is part of the 'Spotswood way'. Visitors will recognise these ideas as 'formative' assessment, 'intentional teaching' and focused 'feedback'. The day begins and ends with a reflective period focusing on the days goals,learning successes and ideas for the next day.

3 'A 1' Standards. Originally teachers felt that there was a lack of consistency in behavioural expectations and book work standards across the school. To remedy this a whole school policy on standards was developed so that as the learner moves through the school basic class organisations ( e.g group work/reflective beginnings and end of days), group tasks defined on blackboards, marking work and displaying work, all stay the same. All rooms have a 'quality work area' to display work of 'A1' standard. Classroom displays are a feature of all rooms, each with suitable headings, key questions and processes defined as necessary.

The school philosophy is that 'you get what you expect' and that teacher modelling is vital. The above might sound 'old fashioned' but, when in place, it allows both students and teachers to develop individual creativity.

4 Goal setting. The school sees goal setting as critical to behaviour and learning. Goals are seen on blackboards, wall displays and as part of the daily focus. There are three types of goals -individual, class and school wide. Goals are reflected on on a daily basis. Classroom wall displays outline goals in thematic studies, written language, mathematics and handwriting.

Benchmark expectations are set in curriculum areas, particularly literacy and numeracy, and become the focus for individual planning and assessment.

5 Scaffolding. This is the most recent addition to the list. All work is approached with the premise that quality work takes time and that work started should be finished.Teachers scaffold help by modeling each step of the process until students can work independently when it is then expected that they will add their own creativity to the process.

Scaffolding applies to demonstrate ways to research key questions , how to use the Internet, how to present work ( idea have been established for each level), and book layout.

Aesthetic design elements are taken as seriously as the quality of student thinking. All student books( seen as portfolios') are taken home each term and are shared with parent at interview times to show progress.

6 Teamwork
Teamwork is the essential component to achieve continuous school improvement. 'Together everyone achieves more' is taken seriously. All teachers are seen as 'leaders' and all are helped and trusted to do the job. Teachers are divided in three teaching teams and as well as belonging to curriculum teams.

Once a term a 'walk and show' staff meeting is held where teachers visit each others rooms to see what is new. This is felt important to break down 'classroom walls', to develop consistency, to admire individual teacher and student creativity, and to promote sharing.

Spotswood is a school that celebrates classroom teaching. The application of the six 'core beliefs' are the 'glue' that hold them together.It is a school that empowers both teachers and students to continue their learning journeys

It is based on the philosophy that 'schools are about people not paper'.

Spotswood fully appreciates that the success of their school depends on the quality of the relationship between pupils, staff, parents and the wider community.

It is always a privilege to visit such a school.

Search one out in your area - it is the only way to learn!


Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce Why don't you organise for politicians of the various parties to visit some of these schools just to give them a better grasp of how education can run would be interesting to see the ministry's responce if you were able to arrange such a visit

Bruce Hammonds said...

First of all they would have to admit such schools selected are worth the effort for them to visit. Second they would have to admit such schools have gained their reputations through the schools own efforts - not through 'delivered' contracts. And thirdly most teachers would find reasons why they coudn't do it - or that it isn't worth the effort. But if the teachers who visit admire the focus and simplicity, and are 'in tune' with what is happening, it is inspirational. This I have seen.

Anonymous said...

The real revolution will not start by compliance to distant authorities or by imposed visions but by, one class, one school at a time; worthwhile ideas spreading naturally by school or teacher collaboration. Management needs to get out of the way or, better still, create the conditions for ideas to grow and spread.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I am hoping that this wil be the future ( 'management establishing the conditions for creativity'). This would allow the rule by distant technocrats ( through imposed curriculums and compliance generally) to be replaced by leadership by those involved in the action ( reality)