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Noticing

Blog Post by JP Mynott. 21.05.2020

Noticing: how can something that appears so simple be so complicated!

Of course, everyone can notice, but there is more to teacher noticing than seeing. Mason (2002) suggests that noticing something is often the beginning of noticing, with that noticed incident needing to be marked in some way for it to be recalled and noted sufficiently. Yet, I think that when a teacher is noticing something, they might not necessarily be conscious to the thing they are noticing, instead their response is entwining that moment of noticing with noticing they have made previously.

I intend to explore this in a few examples.

Firstly, if we borrow an example from Erikson’s (2011) presentation of the way a teacher notices and responds to two children with bee stings.

Scenario borrowed from Erikson (2011)

In Erikson’s (2011) example the bee sting is the noticeable event (more so for each of the children!) but what Erikson observed is two very different pathways of response. For Child 1, a child with a potential allergy, the teacher is attentive and checks in regularly with the child. For Child 2, a child with no underlying allergy, the attention is more cursory; after an initial assessment the child is left to get on with their day.

It is within the Erikson’s example that we can start to see a difference in how noticing works for teachers. It is possible to say that the bee sting was a marked event for the teacher, she knew that anaphylaxis was a possibility so she then marked the event (the sting), and responded to it, varying her response in relation to each particular child.

Yet, the more I have thought about it, I feel that that might not be what has happened. Yes, the pathway of response was different for the two children, but was the event any less marked by the teacher when she responded to Child 2? I do not think we can say for sure.

However, it is possible to look at the teacher’s response to Child 1’s sting and suggest that here her noticing being marked invoked previous noticing. By previous noticing, I mean that she knew this child had an allergy – so she had noticed the child’s medical information; she knew that anaphylaxis can happen and the child needed to be monitored regularly – potentially she had noticed some training about anaphylaxis; she knew that she needed to be responsible for the child’s health while he remained in her care – she had noticed her role in local parentis. These previous noticed experiences would have informed her response for Child 1. Whereas for Child 2 there was no previous noticing of medical information and therefore no need to revisit noticing on responding to allergic reactions, she could operate in local parentis without regularly checking the sting.

This of course is not important until you consider what could have happened had the teacher not noticed previous medical information, training in response or her role and Child 1 had had an allergic reaction. If the teacher had not sufficient prior noticing, the situation could have been life threatening for Child 1. Similarly, if all the experience the teacher had had with stings was Child 2 reactions, encountering a child with an allergy would mean that she might struggle to bring forward relevant noticing at the key moment.

This brings me to a different example: a learning related example, of a sentence that represents one that might be presented to a teacher in any given day.

a cat wos sic cos it eaten fluff

Each individual teacher who looks at this will notice different things. Those noticings will be informed by lots of different previous noticings and also against the planned objectives for the work. What will not inform these noticings are things that have not been experienced previously. This lack of noticing is key. For it means we can all miss things when we try to notice them.
To help exemplify this let’s explore some of the possible pathways noticing might take here, in doing so we will see why noticing in teaching is potentially very complicated.

Scenario 1. The teacher notices that the sentence rules are not adhered to. There is no capital A and the full stop punctuation is absent from the end of the sentence.

Depending on the child and the context the response might be different here. For example if I was working with a 5, 6, or 7 year old I might develop an allergy to missing full stops (I have been known to develop this seasonally), and after informing the whole class of my new ailment, I might sneeze to indicate that there was a reason that the sentence presented to me was not complete. In another context, it might be more helpful to look at the sentence closely with the child and talk about the need to start and end a sentence so it helps a reader know where the queues are. Of course, this decision would depend on what I have previously noticed about the child before. Whether or not I felt they knew the information and had forgotten, or whether I felt they needed more time. As such my reaction would depend on more noticings than the one about the missing capital letter and full stop.

Scenario 2: This time I notice the verbs are used incorrectly. Was is incorrectly spelt but eaten is either supposed to be ate or had eaten. Yet, this noticing doesn’t inform how I respond. Wos might be phonetically plausible for a younger child and also might be depend on their regional accent, this is supported further by the use of cos instead of because. Eaten is more challenging. As to eat is irregular in its conjugation it is hard to see what may have happened here. Eated would maybe be more typical and an over generalisation of the past tense rule. Whereas eaten is likely to be more a heard word i.e. a parent saying ‘Look at what the cat has eaten!’ Of course, the cause of both verb mistakes might be readily available to a teacher from previous noticing as context noticing will help. It might also be the first time this mistake has appeared and with an irregular one like eaten, does the teacher know how to respond. A simple solution might be to correct it. Another to teach this verb as a separate entity, recognising its irregularity. Both are options, but is either path the correct one?

Scenario 3: Because is spelt incorrectly. Like with scenario 2 this might be a common error due to local speech patterns. Because is also a harder word to spell. Depending on the age and stage of the child, I might ignore this mistake. I might celebrate the usage of a conjunction. I might correct the spelling. Again, there are multiple pathways for a teacher to take after noticing this error.

Scenario 4: Sick is spelt incorrectly. Like with some of the other scenarios, this might be a phonetically plausible attempt at spelling. This might also be informed by other writing they have seen or conversations with elder children. Like with cos and wos, it would depend a lot on the context, the aim and the purpose of my intervention.

So already with 4 scenarios the complexity of noticing is become more obvious, but this is the challenge. In each scenario there were multiple pathways a teacher could take. For each pathway there are a number of previous experiences, understandings, trainings and ideas that could influence the decision a teacher takes. For me, I can use my experience as a teacher to help me form pathways, develop options. Some you might have also used as a teacher. Others might be new to you. However, if the counterfactuals (other options not taken) are never explored this pathway deciding can seem like magic to an inexperienced eye, which is something new teachers can find very difficult.

Linked to this is another hurdle which is we as teachers have a tendency to re-explore a pathway when things are not successful in our lessons. This is the staffroom dilemma of where you might go in and say a lesson did not got well, and get some helpful and considerate support, but if you go into the staffroom bragging about how successful your decisions had been, you are likely to appear conceited. So, a social dimension of teaching and our own modesty can make it harder for new teaches (and experienced ones) to see successful pathways or different successful pathways. This means that successful pathways are not always as understood or revealed in the same way as mistakes, which in turn makes it harder for a new teacher to see how mistakes can be corrected via successful pathways. This is turn makes it harder for new teachers to select successful pathways, therefore they make more mistakes and can feel less successful in their roles.

So, what does this all mean. It means that noticing for teachers is not as simple as marking a moment to notice, it is that marking plus a response. The response needs to draw on previous noticings, be those experienced, discussed or trained. Yet, to do so we need to explore the scenarios further.

Drawing on De Bono’s (2016) ideas about lateral thinking it may be that even in the sentence example the overall scenario is too large an entity to be used to develop pathways. There are too many errors to be addressed. Therefore, to talk about it we need to break it down further. My colleagues Rachel Shanks and Jasper Friedrich recently shared some of their research on how students can develop their use of coding in NVivo (Shanks & Friedrich, 2020). In this work initial codes can be given and short policy documents are explored and coded (Shanks & Friedrich, 2020). This in turn helps the students see what is happening in both the coding process as well as helping them see what coding can reveal to them.

We can borrow principles from Shanks & Friedrich’s (2020) work and code our noticings of the sentence. If we look at the sentence and think about how the errors could be grouped or coded, we might break down the noticing further, which could make it more accessible to new teachers as it will mean they can take a smaller mistake and consider it in isolation.

Through coding, the sentence actually becomes easier to explore. You can now see three distinct groups of inaccuracies, and each group could be explored in different ways. By parking the other two groups while this happens, you enable a smaller part to be noticed and this noticing then enables previous experience to come to the foreground, ideas to be shared and discussions to take place.

If we were to code the sentence:

These discussions at a micro level then become potential pathways, so just like a bee sting when a teacher encounters an error of this type again they have a plethora of pathways, which they can add to their knowledge of the child, the context of the learning and hopefully a pathway will emerge that is helpful.

Naturally, there is a simplification to the noticing here. The sheer amount of noticing for a teacher makes this one sentence example seem ridiculous to focus on, but by focusing on the potential pathways here we might actually facilitate greater confidence at scale. As by thinking through the options, the teachers will be engaging metacognitively with the processes required which means they will be enabled to take different pathways as and when they occur in a busy classroom.

Another possible challenge is that a new teacher might not see all the different coded errors, equally I make have overlooked some in my own noticing. There are likely also to be multiple alternate pathways which can be taken as well. This reinforces the complexity of noticing, and the complexity of teaching. It is unlikely that a teacher will ever be so proficient that they cannot learn new pathways of response, however as Mason (2002) suggests sometimes our noticing is impacted by our inflexibility, so it is possible we become less open to considering new pathways and in many senses forget that we might not be noticing everything we can.

In summary, noticing is important, but noticing as a teacher is insufficient, it must be followed with a response. These response pathways build on knowledge, discussion and experience but to build them initially we need to break things down so that we start with smaller sections and enable our noticing to develop. A new teacher (all teachers) need to be able to see and discuss pathways without being overwhelmed by the complexity of all the possible counterfactuals for all possible mistakes, and the more they do this, the clearer multiple pathways might become.

References

  • De Bono, E. (2016) Lateral Thinking: A textbook of creativity, Penguin Life.
  • Erickson, F. (2011). ‘On Noticing Teacher Noticing’, in Sherin, M., G., Jacobs, V., R. & Philipp, R., A. (eds.) Mathematics Teacher Noticing: Seeing Through Teachers’ Eyes. Routledge, New York/ London.
  • Mason, J. (2002) Researching Your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing, Routledge, New York/ London.
  • Shanks, R. & Friedrich, J. (2020) ‘Uniform: Power and control in schools’, Research Seminar presented in the School of Education, at the University of Aberdeen, 29th April 2020.

Facilitating the facilitator: building rapport

What do you do when you are facilitating a group of people who you don’t know well?

One of the first things you need to is build rapport with the group, without this, you can’t start the process of building trust, without trust the learning space isn’t safe.

So how can facilitators go about this?

This blog will look at three things I do to establish rapport in the first session of a Lesson Study.
1) Establish the space
2) Promote initial discussion
3) Reflect the learning to the group

Establishing the space

When I talk about space in Lesson Study, I am not talking about a physical space. Yes, physical spaces are important, but realistically in schools they might be the only available space. I currently have one group that meets in a room next door to violin lessons, which can make for some very interesting sessions. So, there is only so much you can do to improve physical spaces. The space I am talking about is the collaborative space. This is the environment within which the collaborative work will exist.

For me, I initially create this collaborative space through discussing and establishing a way of working, or the protocols of the collaboration. Dudley (2014) writes in his handbook about how protocols are important (and gives some very useful examples) and I am finding them an increasingly good place to start when I work with a group. In fact, I often let the group read Dudley’s (2014) protocols as a starting point for creating their own version in their own words.

I set up and discuss protocols with all groups, even when I know that the group will be aware of the protocols (because they have done Lesson Study before). This is because this is the first opportunity to have the group negotiate with each other, to discuss and hold opinions. Collet (2019) disagrees with my approach because the protocols (norms) are already established and the group can be focused by the learning at hand. I suppose to some degree everyone’s norms are established and so I understand Collet’s perspective. I am also interested in her approach, and I wonder how she then understands the dynamics of her new group. As I find the protocol discussion is key for understanding my new group.

The discussion around protocols is key because I find them useful for exploring where the group membership stands on different aspects of the protocols. For example, how do they view this collaboration? What protocols do they as a group prioritise and what thinking is their thinking behind that?

As a facilitator this information is vital for my work, because if a group places the joint-ness of togetherness higher than disagreement, you might have a group who do not want to rock the boat – a group that might have a tendency towards affirmation and therefore avoidance of conflict. Equally a group that might place that we need to be able to say what we are thinking as a priority might need to reflect on ensuring that they are collaboratively invested so all praise and critique is shared – as to avoid dysfunctional working.

The protocols establish the space (the physical space is less important) and reference to the protocols as needed reminds people of the boundaries of that space. While the ordering of the protocols is unimportant in the end, as a facilitator, how things are ordered gives you a first insight into what is happening between the participants and therefore the wider group.

Promoting initial discussion

Once the space is created, I like to give something to discuss (an article, blog post or thinking point) as my next step in building rapport.

Ideally this will be an article or blog that links well to the groups intended enquiry topic, but also something that is likely to promote discussion. Tom Sherrington’s blog The #1 problem/weakness in teaching and how to address it (2019) suits this purpose well as it is both brilliantly written but strikes to the heart of practice. In essence, this promotes a discussion, and allows me as the facilitator to see how the discussion plays out. Again, it is safe as it is about a distant author, who they can agree or disagree with. With the group feeling safe, you see how they interact. You can start to hear how future discussions might play out and you can start to reflect, summarise the discussions and think about any structures that might help build their talk so that it is productive. This again tells you information about the group and establishes your rapport with the group.

The initial discussions are ones that are important to reflect on. Think about how each person interacted. Did they all speak? Did they share the space? How did they build on, agree with or oppose each other? Also, as the facilitator, what did you do? Did you interact, sit back, share, bounce ideas? Or did you need to promote talk. These are all important to how you might need to work as a facilitator and thinking about this will help you be more informed about what is happening in the collaboration and what you might need to bring to the collaborative space next time.

Reflecting the learning of the group

Finally, in session one, recapping, and identifying how the group will evolve is important. Recapping the discussion, capturing what the group have said and the questions they have raised are powerful for outlining the work of the next session. You are now building rapport with the group, reflecting their learning and helping them start to wrestle with it.

This recap might also create a starting point for session two. I think it is important that I leave the group feeling ready to depart. They are likely to think about the session in the time they have before the next session so it is important to be as clear on the reflections as possible.

As I said at the start of this blog, this is how I like to work when I start working as a facilitator. What is also important is that this process and experience is different with each new group.

References

Dysfunctional Collaboration – When Lesson Study collaboration needs help!

Collaboration is great – except when it is not!

It is very easy to tell people that we need to collaborate, but for some the idea of working together will evoke terrible memories of group tasks where one person ending up doing all the work. Or where the arguments between the team members meant that little learning was achieved – apart from maybe a shared distaste for future group work.

It is therefore important to have a closer look at dysfunctional collaboration – through the context of Lesson Study. This is partly because, I think, unless you can recognise dysfunction, you can’t start to address it. I also think that dysfunction can look different in different contexts, and as I am unlikely to have experienced all of the types of dysfunction you might experience in a Lesson Study, this blog just hopes to provide some insight into dysfunction you may encounter.

I suppose a suitable spoiler at this point is: Simply putting someone into a team does not mean that their collaboration will be effective, efficient or kind. There are a lot more considerations that are important, and if you neglect them dysfunctional collaboration can occur and this could be quite damaging to any future collaboration you do.

What does dysfunction look like?

Dysfunction is when the Lesson Study team – within the participants – collaborates in a way that is more difficult, disruptive or unpleasant. When I recently framed dysfunction in Lesson Study (Mynott, 2019) I suggested it might look like this:

Picture1
Extract from Lesson Study Outcome Framework (Mynott, 2019)

Under each heading of Time, Collaboration and Expertise you can see some of the qualities that might make a Lesson Study dysfunctional.

In the rest of the blog, I am going to focus on egos and their impact on collaboration.

Types of egos

There are always egos. Egos can be big and they can also be small. One of the things I have learnt about egos is that you cannot be entirely sure of the root of someone’s ego and what they ego might look in a Lesson Study context, until you start. This is because confidence can be bluster, and equally what might look like uncertainty could be masking detailed knowledge. What is important is that in a Lesson Study team, particularly as a facilitator, you need to be prepared for all types of ego.

A dominant ego might belong to someone who wants to consume the collaborative space. This is an individual who has a lot of words to say (these might be brilliant and inspiring words) but they are dominating the space and therefore they are not necessarily giving others space to explore their thinking and also giving themselves time to reflect on their own learning. This kind of dominant ego can be addressed through the facilitator or chair of a Lesson Study team ensuring that all members are heard in relatively equal amounts. Of course, that might mean at times asking this dominant talker to take a turn listening.

The uncertain ego. The individuals who appear uncertain can be very tricky in a Lesson Study dynamic. They are tricky because they might genuinely be uncertain, in which case they need time and encouragement, or they might be self-deprecating in order to appear a certain way to the rest of the team. The danger of spending time in a Lesson Study team building the confidence of these individuals is that the team might end up being dysfunctional because it has been drawn into affirming the egos of these uncertain individuals. Again, structure can help. If the facilitator gives specific tasks such as asking each individual to comment on the planned learning in the group, it deflects the focus of the collaboration away from the individual and back to the learning, meaning that the individual can find certainty in their thinking, even if it takes longer to feel it in themselves.

The ‘I’m right’ ego. Sometimes, learning can cause a significant amount of threat to an individual. This is often felt strongly if the belief challenged is something the individual feels passionately about or has worked hard on. At other times an individual might have more experience within a subject, topic or year group than other members of the group. This can lead to heated exchanges within a Lesson Study team. If this occurs it is important that the facilitator or chair returns to the protocols of the Lesson Study (see Dudley, 2014 or Stepanek et al, 2007 for more information on protocols). It is also important to remember that if a large amount of cognitive dissonance occurs for an individual, a break, might be a really good idea. This break might give an individual time to process and reflect on their learning, but also come to terms with what they now think, without taking their frustration out on the rest of the Lesson Study team.

It is also important to recognise that the ‘I’m right’ person could be correct, but can the rest of the group see this from their own reading, observing and notes. If not, it might be that reflection and revision of the learning so far are needed to help understand the differences of opinions within the group. The facilitator needs to help this understanding grow, and this might mean they need the break to re-plan and re-shape the discussion focus to revisit previous work in more detail, or draw out more evidence from the current work to support further discussion based on learning, so it does not become solely focused on opinions or preferences.

The ‘non-sharing’ ego. There are a few individuals who do not share freely in collaborative structures. There reasons are not necessarily linked to the above egos but are more culturally tied to the way the school system works. These individuals cannot see any benefit in making others better, because if they do, then they will have to be better themselves in order to continually be perceived as better than someone else. Therefore, in collaboration they might only provide lip-service to the process, and never discuss or share anything of depth. This kind of ego is very challenging, because essentially there is a real fear behind this ego, that in helping someone else be better they will be perceived as becoming worse. The fact that any teacher can feel like this is heart-breaking, because it is never a message that they would teach to a child. Yet, in a high-stakes accountability structure if you perceive yourself only through comparison this can be hard to change. This barrier can stop schools and individuals working together and a facilitator has to work hard to ensure that each participant is contributing. Again, the structure of how a session runs will need to make sure that everyone has both opportunity and space to contribute and that it is expected that everyone will bring their observations of the learning to the review meeting.

Reasons behind the egos

When someone is projecting fault or failings onto another, the team is not working together in collaboration. In that moment of challenge, it can be easy to blame the individuals, but actually, each challenging ego needs to be considered in their context, their history and within the dynamic of the Lesson Study team. Some of the contexts or reasons have been outlined below.

Lack of experience with observation

If teachers are only used to being observed in formal systems of accountability, they will think that observation is a critique of the teacher rather than a discussion of the learning. This is dangerous, because it means that the observers are only thinking about a person within the team, not the essence of the collaborative work. It can be all too easy to fall into a trap of criticism of an individual when actually it is important to remember that Lesson Study work is exploratory, and therefore unlikely to be perfect. Dudley (2014), Stepanek et al (2007) all suggest that it is important to ensure that the Lesson Study team understand that their collaboration is a joint endeavour and therefore when they talk about a lesson, they need to shift their pronoun usage to ‘We’ and ‘Our’. For example, it would be: Our lesson did not quite go the way we planned it! The dominant and uncertain egos are likely to be influenced by the previous experience of the observation system and it might mean that prior to the Lesson Study cycle starting its research lessons, time needs to be taken to practice and build observation skills.

Not being prepared to work collaboratively

Secondly, if teachers have not been sufficiently prepared to work together, they may be threatened or anxious about sharing their thinking or work. Teachers are too often working on their own and this means that they have to work to traverse their own individualism to work with others. This is where the old issue with group tasks also plays a part, because while the value of learning from others will not be denied, it is often more straightforward to just get on with the task at hand.

Not usually working with others can also make collaboration scary as the teachers might be uncertain about their own practice. Not feeling safe to fail, is a good way of describing this, and while we spend a lot of time ensuring that pupils feel that they could and should learn from their mistakes, this philosophy is often denied to teachers. And sometimes as teachers we can be our own worse enemies. I will always recall a primary languages, non-specialist, teacher posting a resource online (a good few years ago now) that was then ripped apart by language teacher colleagues, as it was deemed imperfect. That is an example of dysfunctional behaviour, because in all likelihood, that person hasn’t posted another resource again, and probably felt less confident teaching languages. If you are worried that is how you will be treated with your own teaching work then it can make you reticent to try.

This is even more the case if you have already worked hard to develop something in your own practice, but in the collaboration proposed you are being asked to freely share it and allow it to be critiqued. You might need to have sufficient time to explore this in the collaboration, or if an individual is taken into a team because of their knowledge, should they be a team member or are they a knowledgeable other? Whatever is decided it is important that the collaboration is clear and explicit from the beginning: the collaboration needs a purpose.

The purpose will focus the work, the learning and the whole project. The stronger and clearer the purpose the easier it is to navigate different egos. What are you developing? What do you need to find out? If the purpose of the Lesson Study is clear then using protocols like those offered by Dudley’s (2014) Handbook are going to support the discussion away from individuals and towards joint exploration.

Providing Structures

Creating a safe space is vital. This stems initially from the protocols set at the beginning of any Lesson Study work. I have started writing this up on a piece of large paper, with each individual team taking ownership of the precise working of their protocols so they become the governing rules of the individual Lesson Study team. Being on a poster, means they are easy to refer back to and whenever there is a need to address an aspect of dysfunction within the collaboration, reference to the protocols is then visual, simple but also understandable by all members of the team. In establishing your team’s protocols, you set out the basic expectations of how the team will interact, and this in turn helps create a safer space to work in, fail in, and to exchange thoughts that are still forming.

Using a facilitator or a chairperson. I am sure in some Lesson Study teams it is possible for the team themselves to facilitate the whole process, but I find it increasingly useful to use a facilitator in the meetings to help guide the discussion, to keep time and to help everyone have a section of space. How the facilitator can work effectively will be the subject of another blog, but as I have written this blog, I have shown how the facilitator can counter any aspects of dysfunctional egos.

Maintaining purpose. It is really important to maintain the purpose and focus of a Lesson Study cycle. Revisiting your question regularly, summarising what you know and what you have learnt at the end of each session and starting the next session with this summary is a good why to keep focused. I like to use the question: What has been in your minds this week linked to the Lesson Study work? It is a good way to bring everyone back to the learning from a previous session, but also see what reflection has taken place outside of the Lesson Study structure. There is always something, someone has read something, someone has tried out an idea, and this question allows it to be valued, drawn into the cycle and then if useful integrated into the shared work.

References

Dudley, P. (2014). Lesson Study: A handbook, Cambridge, Lesson Study UK (LSUK) http://lessonstudy.co.uk/lesson-study-a-handbook/

Mynott, J. (2019). ‘Lesson Study Outcomes: a theoretical model’, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLLS-08-2018-0057

Stepanek, J., Appel, G., Leong, M., Mangan, M. & Mitchell, M. (2007). Leading Lesson Study: A practical guide for teachers and facilitators, Corwin Oaks Press, California.

Obsessions

“Obsessed” is a state that people use to describe a person who is fixated or focused on something that means they cannot see other possibilities. It has a somewhat negative connotation. Yet, sometimes being obsessed with something academically, can lead to deeper knowledge and understanding.

As the parent of a child who has many obsessions, currently very much around ‘Steven Universe’ and ‘Minecraft’, I have recently encountered some cognitive dissonance about how I feel myself about obsessions. On the one hand, I feel that being completely focused on one thing is not always good for my son, yet, on the other, I am sitting here late at time writing a blog post about my own obsession: learning and how it happens. So, am I really in a position to say to someone, that they shouldn’t explore their obsession further, when I am free to explore mine?

Maybe passion is a better word than obsession. I am passionate about understanding learning in more detail. I just want to know more about how it links to teaching, how it can be nurtured and developed. Yet, I am sure my obsession wasn’t always this. This got me thinking about my own childhood, and made me return to my own obsessions when growing up.

Two really spring to mind.

The first was drawing houses. I loved drawing different houses, and designing them. I liked to try to make them symmetrical, or have different features. I drew pages, and eventually books full of houses. If you look at my doodles now, every so often, I still draw a house, so my obsession with them has not gone away. I think it diminished when I realised, I would need a lot of money to build any of these houses, and as such I drew them less.

My second obsession was languages. I loved and still love them. I am currently learning Spanish, and I cannot think of a time since my childhood, when I haven’t been learning a language, exploring one I know further or teaching a language to someone else. I have picked some up and put them down again. My attempt to learn Finnish was short-lived. My Russian will probably only help me if I am lost on the Moscow metro and my study of medieval languages will be very useful only when I encounter a Viking or Old English-speaking ghost. Yet, I loved learning them, getting them wrong, being understood and developing them. My French and German have always led the way and I am enjoying further my French again at the moment alongside my study of Spanish.

I did not however grow up to be a translator or an architect, which my obsessions in childhood suggested I might. There are of course many reasons for this, notably among them is that I always wanted to be a teacher, but also, languages were in decline at my secondary school when I attended. I did French after school as an extra subject because two languages at GCSE were not supported within the timetabled day and the experience meant that I didn’t even opt for a language A ‘level when I came to choose them. In many senses, I guess, I felt I had to choose subjects which might be valued enough for me to secure a place at university. This lack of value is key. It brings me back to my son’s obsessions. He might not stick with his current ones; he might change them weekly. I am unlikely to know the ones that are really going to stick until they do. Yet, I don’t want him to be in his late thirties realising that he has a passion, and obsession with an aspect of his learning that was underdeveloped, a missed opportunity of sorts.

And if I don’t want that for my son, I couldn’t possibly want it for anyone else’s child either. Yet, I also recognise that after the Early Years, the curriculum gets busy in primary schools and obsessions tend to diminish in the eyes of the teacher as they become external to the classroom, a hobby after school.

In doing so, I wonder if we are actually missing something as educators. If an obsession is a form of intense and passionate learning, should we not be harnessing this power? Should we not be encouraging and nurturing this learning as if learning skills are transferable, then learning something in this intensity might make the act of learning itself more appealing to a child. If learning becomes something appealing, then all other subjects, and their journey through education, will also become easier.

Therefore, do we need to think differently about obsessions. Instead of trying to divert them into things that we think are more purposeful, maybe we need to recognise that being obsessed is someone showing that they are really interested in learning more about something. In doing so, we can show we value the obsessions.

Is Lesson Study for the Elite? – A Danish provocation

The initial provocation was provided by a team of Danish researchers, led by Klaus Rasmussen and Camilla Hellsten Østergaard, who were working with Lesson Study in different roles (University researcher level, school-teacher/ leader and pre-teacher level). It was an incredibly interesting discussion and it has led me to reflect more on the context Lesson Study finds itself in in England.

So, I have been thinking about this provocation since it was put to me at the World Association of Lesson Study (WALS) conference (September, 2019: Amsterdam): Is Lesson Study for the Elite? And I while I write this, I am still thinking about it.

My instant response was no, of course not. Lesson Study is about collaboration and teacher learning. A process that develops and honours teachers’ skills, builds their craft and deepens their professional knowledge.

Yet, when I look around at the system in England, it is clear that not everyone is ready, prepared, eager or willing to do Lesson Study. There are lots of reasons for this, but I can’t help thinking that it is linked to a structural, cultural challenge that might be difficult to surpass.

This problem is likely to be linked to competition. Education is like a form of competitive sport in England. Schools are playing in a league and they are in competition with each other. Ratings of Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate label the different leagues of school, with the upper tiers of Good and Outstanding being freer to make decisions about how they work as schools, while the schools in the lower tiers are consumed by trying to escape the rating category they have. Performance (narrowly measured) decides the position within the league (although the new inspection framework (Ofsted, 2019) potentially will widen the scope of this – at least I hope it does). So, for some schools the challenges of the everyday mean that it can be difficult to take a risk on working collaboratively to improve. Even if it would be helpful.

Some could argue that competition breeds innovation. Yet, are we really saying that children in different schools have different values: Are some children worth more than others? I don’t believe that this is true. However, our education system generates barriers to collaboration (which essentially mean that not all opportunities are equal) because if one school helps another and then doesn’t perform as well in their end of key stage tests, they are then at risk of moving down in the rating leagues. This can mean that schools who are doing well, who might be engaging in collaboration (through Lesson Study for example) or have things they can share, are hesitant to share because ultimately making another school better means your own school has to do better as well to remain safe within the rating leagues. Of course, some share regardless, but sharing and collaborating is not yet the norm. This means that some schools have great ideas, structures and practice, but these schools might have neighbours who do not have the same. Inequity is then rife throughout the education system. It is essentially this inequality that means it is the elite (in this case Good or Outstanding schools) that have the luxury of trying out things like Lesson Study. Schools in other categories can do it, and it can work, but it takes brave and resilient leaders to make that decision.

If we look more closely at Lesson Study and place it within the setting of inequality and lack of opportunity, it is possible to see that Lesson Study will find it harder to grow in schools which have not got an established culture of development. Lesson Study grows in schools that can facilitate collaboration, have time to think and the space to develop. Schools under pressure to improve their rating might find this harder. Staff might be too busy, resources might be stretched and priorities will be short term rather than planning for longer term improvement. Leaders themselves might also be mobile (choosing to do intervention work and then move to a new school after a short period of time), meaning that the long-term vision for the school might not be able to rely on collaborative development that takes time to build.

Where will Lesson Study grow more easily? In schools that have systems and cultures that enable it. When the school’s culture is not ready, Lesson Study will be an add-on, become dysfunctional or just stop happening. So, in many senses Lesson Study will continue in places already more developed and ready for learning, the ones often high on the league tables; places with the space and time to think collaboratively. While these places might not label themselves the elite, they are at least ahead of the field.

So, what does this mean to my thinking about the response to the initial provocation? Is Lesson Study only for the elite?

I want to say no. I want to say Lesson Study should be for everyone. I work hard to make the Lesson Study Network events I run, open access, with no paywalls on my resources or the training I offer through the network. But the network is small (growing, but new) and unless there is a concerted effort to break down the walls between schools and openly encourage inter-school collaboration it is unlikely that Lesson Study will become for everyone (certainly in the short term). I think this is partly due to the fact that Lesson Study has to initially fight an engrained culture within education. To fight this is needs to be introduced well, utilising expertise on how it works, and planning to use facilitation and knowledgeable others (in Lesson Study and subjects) to help build knowledge. With the right support and encouragement, Lesson Study and collaboration can be for everyone. Where this can happen and a school is secure in its position within the leagues, Lesson Study can take on and grow.

Yet, as it stands Lesson Study thrives in some schools, some local areas (where there is a wider network of support) but in as many schools as it thrives it happens, diminishes and disappears. Where it is sustained there is likely to be structures that give time, promote expertise and enable collaboration. The leaders are likely to be involved and value Lesson Study as a form of professional development. These schools might not only be Good or Outstanding schools, but it is likely to be easier to maintain and build Lesson Study in schools that are not in a period of scrutiny or feel pressured to be accountable for performance. Maybe the schools Lesson Study takes in are not elite, but rather they are secure/ supported (both in league position, leadership and from externals like regional authorities) or brave and optimistic of a better, more collaborative way of development that is positioned away from accountability as a performance measure.

So, while it is sad to say, maybe Lesson Study is not yet accessible for everyone. It is available for the secure, supported or the brave, so in a way the elite. Although, I still do not like the term elite. To make it for all, we have to transcend inequality and fight our current educational culture, to ensure that collaboration is aimed at the improvement of all schools, not against each other but together. A valuable cause, but a big one.

References

Kindness: a leadership story

I recently attended #CollectivEd19; a conference which aimed to provide a space for knowledge exchange. It certainly delivered this. While at the conference I joined a round table discussion hosted by @Vivgrant and it is a thread of this discussion that provided the impetus for this blog. @Vivgrant provided stimulus that spoke about the stories leaders tell themselves and how they shape their leadership. I suppose this is one of my stories; possibly the most significant one.

In the summer of 2012 while the whole country geared up to the London Olympics, I felt absolutely exhausted. It was the end of my second year of headship and everyone assumed I was tired from work, and that the summer off from school would make me feel better. Only, after the summer I didn’t really feel any better. I was losing weight and by Christmas 2012 I was barely keeping a single bowl of cereal down each day. I couldn’t walk up stairs without resting. I knew I was seriously ill, but had no idea what was wrong with me. A biopsy at the start of the Christmas Holidays confirmed that I had cancer: stage 4 Lymphoma. I would need an intensive 6-month course of chemotherapy.
And that is how this story starts.

I am quite a stubborn person. And my initial reaction to cancer was that I would be stubborn and carry on as normally as possible throughout my treatment. I think this was partly because I knew that my work would be a good distraction from the side-effects of the treatment.

I also knew that cancer was something scary to many people, and I wanted the community of my school to know that cancer happens and that fear didn’t necessarily have to be part of the process. So, I prepared and planned how I would tell everyone. I wrote to the parents and I told the staff, letting them all know that I would tell the children in an assembly the following week. I was determined that my assembly would focus on being informative but also helping them be aware of what might happen to me throughout my treatment.

All was quiet for a few days. The assembly went well. The children decided if I lost my hair a bandana and a hat would be a good look for me. I have never been able to pull either off so I think it was very fortunate I did not lose my hair!

After a few days I started treatment. Those of you reading who have had chemotherapy will know that the first time you have it, there is a strange sensation inside you, which feels like your soul has left you. It is not painful, but echoey and empty like a mist inside your whole body. But it was whole experiencing this very strange feeling that I noticed that the whole community around my school was demonstrating their kindness.

A colleague drove me home after my first treatment and sat with me until I felt less like my soul was absent, and different members of my team would drop me off at the hospital each time I went in for my chemotherapy. A simple kindness, that was so helpful.

Everything tasted strange after chemotherapy and the community around me was prepared for this. I got given liquorice tea and goji berries. The mother of one of my teachers made me chocolate chip cupcakes each week and everyone was supportive on the days I looked vaguely purple. People accepted that I would need to stand during meetings as at times I was so uncomfortable sitting. There were so many small kindnesses given to me freely throughout my treatment, many of which at the time I am sure I was not fully aware of.

Yet, afterwards, I don’t think about how hard having cancer was, I think about the kindness that was shown to me. I think about how all of the community supported me and looked after me when I really needed them and I realise that this is how everyone should be all the time.

Kindness is one of those strange qualities that only shows itself when it is really needed. There are probably some people who interact with me who do not see me as particularly kind. I hope that if they ever need my kindness, they will find out that, that is simply not the case. I also hope that those colleagues, parents, children and friends who have seen the kindness aspect of my leadership got enough from me.

This is because kindness is not usually found in a training manual. In fact, sometime kindness is misrepresented as weakness. I know that in fact the opposite is true. It can be incredibly difficult to be kind to someone, as it means you have to consider them before yourself. As a leader, as a headteacher, I think kindness underpins all my thinking.

I asked my deputy head to read this blog before publishing it, and she said that when she had applied for the job she had emailed with my previous deputy about the position and my previous deputy had told her that I would always expect a mixture of kindness, resilience and high expectations. I hope this is a good summary of my leadership.

Yet, this story is about telling leadership stories with a different lens. I hope I wasn’t unkind prior to my cancer treatment, but I certainly know that once I experienced the kindness of a community rallying around me when I really needed them to, it became very clear that once I was better, a duty I would have would be to replicate, and build on the kindness given to me, so I could in turn help others when they need it.

Kindness is a gift. And while sometimes there is a niggle that you might be being taken advantage of, isn’t it likely to be better to ensure that someone who genuinely needs your kindness gets it. Ultimately, you are a measure of your own actions and stories. I know that if I am unlucky enough to get seriously ill again, or need people to extend me kindness for another reason, I would want people to be kind to me. Therefore, I need to exemplify and lead kindly, so that everyone who needs me to be kind, for whatever reason receives the kindness they need.

Managing Knowledge

Sometimes you read something that really transforms your thinking. This happened for me recently, when I read Cheng (2019) Successful Transposition of Lesson Study. This book interested me because of its link to Lesson Study, but my take away from it was less to do with Lesson Study and more to do with how as a head teacher I can think about the knowledge within my school.

Is your Spanish teaching, as good as your Maths? Is your Music as strong as your knowledge of grammar and spelling patterns? Maybe not and that is only subject knowledge! On top of the subjects we have pedagogical knowledge and context knowledge. So, there is a lot to know and very little time to acquire it.

Primary schools are complex places and primary teachers need a great deal of knowledge to effectively do their jobs. Yet, is the knowledge primary school teachers need and would relish presented in a format that is accessible to them? Ultimately, the primary school teacher is a generalist teacher but we have to have detailed knowledge of progression and learning in a vast number of subjects and year groups often beyond any subject specialisms we might have had in our own education.

This is where knowledge management comes in and why Cheng’s book resonated with me. I hadn’t really considered the need to manage the knowledge that was generated in the school. I felt that as it was contained within people it would be disseminated effectively. But in doing so, some things have become tacit, some lost and others diminished. So, Cheng’s book made me think about how I could capture knowledge so that it became like a reference library of bite sized information – with further reading suggestions to support professional learning. After discussion with my deputy we decided to try out knowledge summaries (Mohapatra, Agrawal & Satpathy, 2016). These would be a document of no more than 2 pages of A4 that talked about the knowledge we had in school about a specific theme. This would then provide a reference point that could be shared, talked about and updated as time goes on, but would always remain an explicit point of knowledge. This would safeguard against losing knowledge in staff changes, tacit embedment or in diminishing.

It has only been two weeks and we have only created a few summaries, but already these are having an interesting impact on the school. I wrote one on the use of pairs linked to some oracy research I am doing and some observations of the practice I have seen in my own Year 6 class and through the Lesson Study I am involved in. I underpinned this with refence to Gaunt & Stott (2019) and used their book to suggest further reading. In the knowledge summary, I talked about how pupils might be positioned to sit and how this could be used to structure paired talk. Walking through the school last week – touring a new family round – I could see that some of the classrooms have changed their classroom layouts.

Not everything was positive though. A staff member tried out the paired work, and identified that I had missed a key element out in my summary about ensuring that the pupils faced each other (moved their bodies) when doing paired work. So, my knowledge summary needed an edit. And due to that it was improved and added to, making it a more effective summary.

I am excited about developing this library of knowledge summaries over time that can provide us with a base to share and underpin the andragogy in our school for the future. Something that appeals to me is linked to an outcome of Lesson Study, which is when you learn something that is not readily usable – yet. I talk about putting these pieces of learning on a metaphorical shelf. The knowledge summary offers a way of making this knowledge then accessible when it is useful. So, I will be encouraging Lesson Study teams to capture their learning into knowledge summaries at the end of their cycles as a method of helping them further clarify and define their learning. If it can be used straight away it can be used like the pairs summary. If it something for the metaphorical shelf it will be in an accessible form ready to use when we are ready it for it.

References

Cheng, E. (2019). Successful Transposition of Lesson Study: A knowledge management perspective, Springer, Singapore.

Gaunt, A. & Stott, A. (2019). Transform Teaching and Learning Through Talk; The Oracy Imperative, Rowman & Littlefield, London

Mohapatra, S., Agrawal, A. & Satpathy, A. (2016). ‘Designing Knowledge Management Strategy’ in Designing Knowledge Management-Enabled Business Strategies, DOI:10.1007/978-3-319-33894.1-5

Finding a question: Learning from Leading Lesson Study: Part 2

I am a big fan of questions. I like them a lot and I tend to find them readily available to me when I am thinking. Yet, in Lesson Study, the main question – the research question – that will focus the enquiry is often elusive.

I have been thinking about why it can be so difficult to find the real focus of enquiry when starting Lesson Study and I think it is a combination of multiple factors.

Firstly, the lack of a question probably means we are not yet ready for a full research cycle. Today, when I meet with one of the Lesson Study teams exploring Oracy, our question started to formulate. Yet, this was only possible because we have spent nearly 5 months engaged in extended preparation, including reading about Oracy, creating knowledge summaries of what we know and of talking about Oracy. We have been meeting weekly this half term, and have undertaken two jointly planned lessons. In doing so we have been refining and enquiring into our interests and today our focus materialised. I think this probably means we are ready to start the preparations for our Lesson Study cycle lessons and we are planning two sets, to explore how we can develop summarisers in our Oracy work. It is something that is interesting to the group and will benefit the rest of the school once we share our work after our Lesson Study.

Secondly, when Lesson Study teams are new, they are learning about Lesson Study while doing Lesson Study. As such developing a question can be part of this development journey. Yes, I suppose it would be possible to frame this more and structure a Lesson Study where it is more lead, and a research question is given. However, I think that might mean that the participants will not learn how to narrow their enquiry down themselves if a question is given to them, and focusing their thinking so they are actively engaged in their learning is, for me, a massive benefit of Lesson Study. It is also important that the whole team is interested in the research question. If someone becomes disinterested in the enquiry it might affect how the Lesson Study team functions (it might become dysfunctional or avoidant). It could also mean that the power dynamic within the team could shift, and it might be a Lesson Study done to participants rather than a real collaborative enterprise.

Thirdly, extended preparation is really fantastic learning for participants involved in Lesson Study. There is so much learning already from each of the Lesson Study teams this year, none of which are yet in their research lesson cycles. Yet, we have been able to talk in depth about our reading, our thinking and test out ideas we now understand in more detail. We share this on the journey, usually through talking with others, and we can observe small changes in our neighbouring classrooms from the things we have talked about. So, because we are already learning a lot there is no need to rush to a research question.

Lesson Study takes time – a lot of time. If you are involved in Lesson Study work, but struggling to find a question, don’t worry, the question will reveal itself when you have started to really engage with your professional learning. It takes a good team sharing their professional learning – the beauty of collaboration in Lesson Study. In fact, once you realise you are learning a lot, that is when your question is likely to reveal itself – just like ours did today.

Learning from Leading Lesson Study: Part 1

When I think about who has learnt most from the Lesson Study work in my school, I think I have to say that it is probably me. I have learnt so many different things from my research with and work in Lesson Study. This blog is about how I have learnt to work more effectively with Lesson Study teams.

Stepanek et al. (2007) place emphasis on the need for the person who teaches the research lesson to speak first in the post-lesson review. Which in practice is what we aspire to do in our reviews in school. However, last year when I listened to Anne Mette Færøyvik Karlsen’s (University of Stavanger, Norway) detailed presentation (at WALS 2018 Conference in Beijing) of using a noticing structure to explore Lesson Study reviews, I was struck by her observation that the teaching teacher notices less. As part of my work building Lesson Study teams, I often volunteer to teach the first research lesson, it helps teams feel at ease and means they get to observe more. But, nagging in the back of my mind is the question: if I am doing this, am I noticing less? The answer is probably. But I have also been working on a solution to that, which is trying to listen more. In reviews, and especially in the planning stages. I am trying to hear what other participants are saying and build on this with my comments if I need to make them. For someone who really likes to talk this is a challenging piece of learning, and I still have more work to do in this area.

Pausing a Lesson Study cycle is another key thing I have learnt to do. Sometimes, there is a sense of that the cycle needs to continue to complete it, so the Lesson Study is done. I think this is less and less the case for me. Today, I enjoyed a great paused Lesson Study conversation with one of the teams I am working with. We decided a week ago that after our last lesson review that we didn’t have sufficient time to talk about what we wanted to do this week and we felt that it would be good to take the time we had planned for our second lesson as an extended conversation about our next lesson. It was a wonderful decision as we had all been mulling our thoughts over, throughout the week and reading and rereading some key research, which meant that our meeting today was really purposeful and we are no longer on pause, but ready to pursue our second research lesson next week. Pausing, Lesson Study mid-cycle is something I really recommend if you need more time to think.

Ensuring that my thinking is obvious to the rest of the group is another aspect that I have found to be really useful in Lesson Study. Dudley’s (2014) handbook sets out the protocols of Lesson Study reviews. One of these is related to that there are no silly suggestions. Which is good because I am sure I have made lots of these contribution in every cycle. Yet, I think this also demonstrates my ongoing thinking that is happening as the planning, observations and reviews occur. I would go as far to say that it is important to show that you are thinking in a Lesson Study. That you can take comfortable silences to reflect and think about what has been said or noticed. That you can hear other participant’s suggestions and link them to your own thinking. Using phrases like I think, or I am starting to think also help encourage more emerging thinking into each team and thinking is key to accessing the potential learning Lesson Study has to offer.

Of course, after thinking comes the wonderful opportunity to be able to change your mind about something. I quite like being allowed to change my mind – often being a leader people can expect you to decide something and just stick to that course. Being comfortable with changing your mind and showing that you are changing your mind is therefore really important. Afterall, learning is about acquiring new knowledge or altering your thinking about knowledge you already have. Seeing things differently and working in collaboration will mean that you need to change your mind. Pella (2011) and Dudley (2013) recognise this as being key moments in Lesson Study participant learning. For me, showing that I am happy to adapt my thinking and therefore display my learning has been a powerful tool for helping other participants do the same thing.

So, if you are leading Lesson Study in your school. What have you learnt? And how are you using that learning to further Lesson Study?

References

Dudley, P. (2013). ‘Teacher Learning in Lesson Study: What interaction-level discourse analysis revealed about how teachers utilised imagination, tacit knowledge of teaching and fresh evidence of pupils learning, to develop practice knowledge and so enhances their pupils’ learning’, in Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 34. pp. 107-121.

Dudley, P. (2014). Lesson Study: A handbook, Cambridge, Lesson Study UK (LSUK) http://lessonstudy.co.uk/lesson-study-a-handbook/

Pella, S. (2011). ‘A Situative Perspective on Developing Writing Pedagogy in a Teacher Professional Learning Community’ in Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter, 2011. pp. 107-125.

Stepanek, J., Appel, G., Leong, M., Mangan, M. & Mitchell, M. (2007). Leading Lesson Study: A practical guide for teachers and facilitators, Corwin Oaks Press, California.

Time – A challenge and a gift in Lesson Study

Time is often a problem in Lesson Study work; indeed, I have recently written an article where I suggest time as a limiting factor for potential learning in Lesson Study (Mynott, 2019). Time to read, time to research, time to think, time to do and time to reflect are all common challenges for Lesson Study cycles and their participants. Yes, time is definitely a challenge, which is unlikely to go away, but talking solely about its challenges negates the fact that time in Lesson Study is also a gift.

In a busy school, it can be easy to forget that discussions with your colleagues are important. Lesson Study gives you the gift of collaborative time with your colleagues. Just this week, I have spent two of my afternoons looking at very different Lesson Study themes: Notebooks in Science and Oracy in History. I have taught a research lesson in Year 5 and collaboratively planned another research lesson for next week in Year 2. On both occasions I have been working intensely with two teachers from my teaching team. Our discussions have been about learning, ours and the children’s but crucially these have been sustained, long conversations which have given us a professional space together. In both Lesson Study conversations, I have come away with questions, thoughts and ideas that I want to explore further. Therefore, engaging with Lesson Study has gifted me more than just the focused conversation, it has also given me fuel to my own professional curiosity which I will continue to explore with my own teaching in the next few weeks.

If you have heard me talk about learning from Lesson Study, you will know that I talk about how you can put some learning on a mental shelf; to be returned to at a later date. Sometimes the things on my shelf can be there for quite some time. Our Oracy Lesson Study has seen me dusting off lots of things I have placed on my mental shelf as I suddenly have a space, a shared discursive space, in which I can use them. In fact, the meaning-making I am making between Gaunt and Stott (2019), and my previous learning around Oracy has really encouraged me to further develop this in my practice. I have had the gift of time, time within my very busy week to think about my learning and link it up. As a result, I am already applying my newly un-shelved learning to my own practice with how I use pairs in my Year 6 class.

Thirdly, Lesson Study gifts you time to learn about your craft, from others. I really enjoy the dissonance Lesson Study allows within a team. I have been thinking a lot about how even if you try to be reflective on your own, it is hard to see what you are missing. Today, I enjoyed a really good discussion about how we might use an inference grid to support listening to a partner. The team shaped the way we could ask questions and I feel that it has refined my thinking about how I might use a summariser in my own paired work. I am really looking forward to our research lesson next week to see if our plans really do support listening between pairs.

So, while you can get bogged down in the limitations of time it is important to remember that time is a gift. If you focus on the gift the time (albeit precious) that you have given to Lesson Study, I hope that you will see that it has been a considerable gift.

References
Gaunt, A. & Stott, A. (2019). Transform Teaching and Learning Through Talk; The Oracy Imperative, Rowman & Littlefield, London.

Mynott, J. (2019). ‘Lesson Study Outcomes: a theoretical model’, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLLS-08-2018-0057