First, I would like to open this blog by wishing you a Happy New Year, and hope that you had an enjoyable and peaceful holiday period. It was only a fortnight or so since my last blog (although, of course, it was “last year”!) in which, amongst other things, I promised to return to the matter of our Trust-wide Conference, hosted at John Taylor Free School on Monday 7th January – the first day of the new term.
As many of you will be aware, the themes of our development were metacognition and self-regulation, feedback, and collaboration. The Education Endowment Foundation, a representative of which joining us for the day to support our professionals in conducting and accessing research, have collated a huge gamut of studies undertaken to establish what has impact, and at what financial cost. The areas of focus all stood out as being of high impact on progress and at low financial cost. In our planning of the event, we were also enthusiastic about these areas as all our schools recognise the value of developing our expertise here, whether engaged in nursery provision or working with sixth formers. Beyond this, we all personally develop as lifelong learners through a greater understanding of these themes. The day, therefore, presented us with a real opportunity to develop our practice, and our selves.
In an opening session, I sought to define the three areas of focus (borrowing heavily from the Education Endowment Foundation website). Regarding metacognition, we can define this as explicitly helping pupils to think more about their own learning. We teach them specific strategies for the planning, monitoring and evaluating of their learning. By feedback, we mean any way by which we redirect or refocus a learner on their goals in order to move them closer to realising them. Finally, in terms of collaboration, this is when learners work together to achieve individual and shared learning goals, through structure and planning, by teachers who know their children and their abilities, and who provide regular opportunities for children to practise their skills of working together.
I had written in the introduction to the event programme, that we intended the day to be a blend of inspiration (igniting enthusiasm and creativity) and application (providing practical strategies that can be added to our professional toolkits). We sought to capture some truly great work from colleagues engaged in areas covered by our underlying themes – from within the Trust and beyond. For events such as this, I believe this format works best. By encouraging delivery from the Trust’s own staff, we give colleagues an opportunity to share their craft and for their peers to see that excellence in their own school context is within their grasp. Engaging with external specialist deliverers is essential if we are to aspire to be the very best, and to ensure our practice is aligned to a wider gamut of theory and practice elsewhere.
When looking to assess the impact of such an event, I believe it is important to look beyond any surge of enthusiasm or spike of activity – as welcome and encouraging as those things are – but towards legacy. I set colleagues the challenge: Will we see the strategies of the day in our classrooms this time next year? Will the collaborations that are sparked by the event continue into next term? Will our own personal timeline of professional development mark out the event as a milestone of significance? If many of us are able to answer “yes” to these three questions, then the event will have been worthwhile.
Initial feedback (we’re still gathering questionnaire responses) has been hugely positive. Of course, there will be many “even better if…s”, and we’ll look at these carefully. With 500+ attendees from a variety of schools and with a diversity of experiences, inevitably some will have benefitted more than others. But it remains true that, because of our scale, we were able to bring national and international guests to us, in one of our schools, for less per delegate than the cost of an average school textbook. In times of financial pressures, this is a massive achievement. It would not have been possible without the expertise and time of a number of colleagues from across the Trust – none of whom were allocated additional time to undertake this work. Like me, and so many of my colleagues, they believe in what we’re doing and the impact it will have on our children and their communities. I’ll close by thanking them for their support, together with everyone who attended with an open mind and an open heart. In that context, the photograph I’ve chosen to accompany this blog features the stars of the event: us all!
Thank you for reading.