I am unequivocal in my belief that in the best schools, leaders spend their time focused on improving the quality of teaching in classrooms. This is a view shared by Vivianne Robinson, whose extensive research concluded that the effect of instructional leadership on student outcomes was three to four times as great as that of transformational leadership (Robinson et al., 2008).
Dylan Wiliam shares a similar position:
‘Teacher quality can be improved by replacing teachers with better ones, but this is slow and has limited impact. This suggests that our future economic prosperity requires improving the quality of teachers already working in our schools. We can help teachers improve their practice in a number of ways; some of these will benefit students, others will not. Those with the biggest impact appear to be those that involve changes in practice, which will require new types of teacher learning, new models of professional development and new models of leadership.
A wonderful ex-colleague, who I was incredibly privileged to work with, puts it simply;
So how can this become a reality in our schools and across our Trust? Put simply, it has to be a core focus of leaders, ‘Keeping the main thing, the main thing’ (Covey, 1989). Creating a climate in which teacher development can flourish is key; every teacher should want to get better, not because they aren’t good enough but, as Wiliam cites, ‘because they can be better’. How effective is our support and development of individual teachers? If we asked them what they are working on improving would they be able to tell us? How are they supported using 1:1 coaching logs and running records? Are lesson observations and learning walks eagerly anticipated as opportunities to receive feedback and/or share progress against an area being developed?
As a headteacher, I regularly popped in and out of classrooms and had informal conversations with teachers around great practice I’d seen, or sign posting teachers to other classrooms where strong practice in particular areas was embedded. The only time I worried was when teachers stopped what they were doing when I walked in. My presence in lessons was so commonplace that the staff and children rarely batted an eyelid.
We must create an organisational culture where learning, reflection and curiosity are institutionalised. What is it like in your school?