It’s All About the Impact, Stupid!

I suppose it was my own fault for spending my summer holidays re-reading (yes, that’s RE-reading, folks) the Donaldson report from 2010. I know I should be avoiding work but I return to school on August 12 and I’m starting to think about what I want to achieve next year, in and out of the classroom, and I thought this might be a good place to start. It has been nearly three years since the publication of this fairly significant piece of work and I’m unsure how much my teaching has changed as a result. Even so, reading the fifty recommendations was a wee eye-opener at times.

One of the many issues Donaldson discusses is the problem of having created a culture of CPD which is evaluated in terms of its quality of provision rather than its impact. We comment on the presentation or the book or the venue or even the materials with which we are provided. We compliment the speaker or the writer. What we don’t do is spend enough time discussing the impact any of that has on our classroom practice and, consequently, the education of the students in front of us. And that is the elephant in the room isn’t it? The numbers of hours wasted on CPD activities which have very little follow up is frightening and when I think of the time which could have been used more constructively over the last fourteen years I could scream: at my own stupidity if nothing else.

I’ve been on Twitter for three years now. In that time I think I can say that my practice has improved because of that. But, perhaps, when I consider the amount of time I spend reading blog posts and educational texts, it hasn’t improved enough. My teaching still lacks the peer collaboration and observation required to truly take advantage of everything I learn. I’m, more or less, left to get on with it and hope for the best; and that must include an analysis and reflection of the impact of any changes I make in my practice.

So now, when I’m feeling very pleased with myself – perhaps I’ve written a blog post which other people compliment; or I’ve completed a new unit of work for a new class; or I’ve been given a great resource for that difficult S4 group of boys – I first need to to consider the impact I want to see before I say how wonderful it is. We can be mesmerised, seduced even, by the abundance of clever ideas we are exposed to on Twitter, via blogging, at CPD events even. But until we implement them successfully – and have a thorough system which allows us to do that – they are more than likely to remain just that. Clever ideas.

In his report, Donaldson claims that:

‘…it is critical that a wide range of evidence about the quality and impact of teacher education is gathered and used to create a culture of continuous improvement.’ Page 56

Until we develop a culture of collaboration and evaluation of what we do in our classes, in all of our schools – not exam results, not HMI, not management observations – then much of our Professional Development will fail to achieve its true potential impact. I think our CPD time this year should deal with that as much as our preparation and training. Spending an Inservice Day following up a Development Day might prove much more useful than  another day of hastily cobbled together meetings.

Like many of you in Scotland, I am on the verge of a new school year. I would confidently predict that on the first of two In-service Days, I, along with my colleagues, at some point during the day will be sitting in the school assembly area, on plastic seats, for a ‘good’ hour, listening to a very nice person delivering ‘Authority sanctioned’ information disguised as training. I’ll likely forget it about an hour after; not because the person isn’t a good speaker but because the information is not followed up or acted upon. I’m expected to assimilate it into my practice. This sort of thing needs to stop. Let this year be the year when we spend more time reflecting on the impact of what we do as much as simply discussing what we do.

4 thoughts on “It’s All About the Impact, Stupid!

  1. Entirely agree Kenny, and that is why staff in my schools have been involved in practitioner enquiry for last three years, despite pressures from elsewhere to continue with usual agendas. Teachers looking deeply at aspects of their practice and their impact on learning. Difficult, challenging and quite messy, but well worth it in order to embed changes teachers identified they needed to make, in order to improve experiences for all learners.

  2. Excellent post Kenny, my recent reading of ‘professional capital ‘by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan backs this up. We need time to collaborate and evaluate the impact. As for INSET days; I have been given half an hour to do ‘teaching and learning’ which shows the priority of some people in schools. When you are isolated in schools where collaboration is not seen as a priority is it a lonely existence and make reflection so very, very hard. I’m eternally grateful to Pedagoo, Twitter, Teach Meets and the like for allowing me to have those conversations with people, to make me reflect and evaluate the selected ideas that I have put into practice while in a workplace where those discussions are unheard of.
    You might want to look at the work of Carrie Leana whose research indicates the more high quality relationships you have with other teachers – the higher the pupil outcomes… Interesting….

    • With the emphasis in England [if Lucy is English!]]on the quality of teaching [at last!] a 30 minute slot would be madness-but I know it still happens, although collaboration in different guises seems to be growing. The Australians, I was reading , include collaboration in their teaching charter and you might get your way via your pay structure, if collaboration becomes part of the agreed deal. If you could persuade your head to add a few cross-curricular sharing ideas meetings to your meeting schedule, that may be a way in or get the head to agree to have good ideas picked up from your lesson obs modelled at inset. We began with a volunteer learning and teaching group before over time including everyone and moving upwards! Alma Harris has interesting ideas-encouraging staff to measure impact is work in progress! Good luck Lucy and thanks Kenny for sharing-I will deliver my Sept inset with deep reflection in mind!

  3. This is perfectly spot on. Plans, beliefs, and tools are just “clever ideas” until they’re tried, measured for impact, considered and improved. It’s a no-brainer in any field of work/study but mostly ignored in education. Thanks for the focus

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