4 Tools for self-review
There are many tools for self-review; in this section you will be introduced to five tools that can help you to collect data and successfully engage others in reviewing what happens in your school.
Tool 1: Learning walk
A learning walk is when school leaders walk around their school during the school day to learn about what is going on. Good leaders have always done this. It is an essential element of self-review because it provides the opportunity to do the following:
- Pause and reflect on what you are seeing. You will need to determine the style you adopt. The less visible you are, the more you are likely to see and hear. However, if staff and students think that you are‘spying’, then the approach could become counterproductive. When a culture of support and challenge has been established, staff and students are more likely to be open and honest with leaders.
- Find things out. You can use break times or the start and end of the school day to talk to (and, just as importantly, listen to)the teachers, students, parents and support staff.
- Signal to the teachers that as a leader you are interested in what is going on inside the classroom.
- Focus on a particular issue.
Do not conduct a learning walk at the same time every day, as this will limit the information you find.
Activity 7: Making time for your learning walk
- Sit down (ideally with a trusted colleague) to plan some daily learning walks next week in your Learning Diary. Work out how you can reduce your workload so that you have time to spend an hour a day doing a learning walk, ideally in two half-hour slots. When you are doing this, ask yourself the following questions about how you might make time to do learning walks:
- What is fixed that I must I do? (For example, teaching my own lesson.)
- How can I organise my time effectively? (For example, choose one time of the day, usually in the morning, when you will make all your work phone calls.)
- Is there anything that should or could be done by someone else just as well?
- Is there something that will not a cause a problem if it is delayed?
- Is there anything that in reality doesn’t need to be done at all?
- Plan your week so that you can do walks at a range of times, such as at the start or end of the school day (to interact with parents), in transition times between lessons (when teachers handover to each other in the classroom), at break times or lunchtimes, as well as during teaching time.
- Get a small notepad to record your observations and you are ready to go. Choose a focus for each walk, such as levels of student engagement. This will help you to collect data systematically.
- Now take your learning walks. Record what you see and hear. If you see something that impresses you, then praise the individual or group. The only rule is to be positive and respectful. If your school is not used to you being out and about like this, staff will need reassurance.
- Summarise your findings and look for emerging trends as you do more walking in your school.
- Look to see if you need evidence from any other sources to support what you are finding through the learning walk.
- Start to think about how you can improve any areas and how you will share your findings.
A learning walk has many advantages and keeps the leader in contact with what is happening in the classrooms – the heart of school life. It need not take long. In schools where school self-review is well-established, a learning walk may be undertaken by a team of people and will probably look at one specific aspect of practice, such as the types of questioning used by the teachers, the start or end of lessons, the learning of students with difficulties, and so on.
Tool 2: Book look
A book look is a formal activity where you collect books from specific cohorts of students for monitoring and evaluation purposes. It fulfils a number of functions, including helping you to:
- gauge the nature and quality of work set by the teacher
- analyse rates of completion in the class
- identify how far and how well teachers correct and mark work
- look at the quality of the content and presentation
- assess the quality of the learning
- find indications of the types of activity being undertaken in lessons.
To look at all the books would take too much time, so you need to develop a way of sampling. For example, you may look at:
- every third notebook
- the work of two male and two female students from each class
- a sample of books from students in different classes in a single subject.
Tool 3: The collection and analysis of quantitative data
Collecting evidence can be challenging. In very good schools it is a habitual activity. The big thing you have to do is decide what you focus on and how this will help improve your school’s performance. As the school leader, you need to keep the focus of self-review on improving the learning outcomes.
Activity 8: Using data from end-of-year tests
Following your end-of-year tests, study the results data to extract evidence that might help you make some improvements. If the data you need is not readily to hand, then you will know that you need to collect and record it differently next year so that this task is easier next time.
Look at the tests of a particular class by subject and, if one does not already exist, create a matrix so that you can check the performance by counting students who get results in each percentile (10 per cent – see Resource 3). When you have plotted this data, you need to analyse it to turn it into useful information and to guide you about what else you might need to find out. Note down your thoughts in your Learning Diary.
- Look across the data to see whether there is one subject where student performance significantly differs from their other subjects. Then look at the staff teaching the subject. Are the staff performing well or are improvements needed?
- Look at the data for individual subjects where there is more than one teacher teaching the same subject. Is there a teacher whose scores are markedly different? Is it maybe because they need support or are performing significantly better?
- Use the evidence from the data to check out why there are these discrepancies, praising those who should take credit and taking action where there are issues that can be addressed.
Were you surprised by the data once it had been collated in this way? Did it give you ideas about what further investigations you might need to make? Be cautious about making immediate conclusions from your data – it may be that there are other explanations that you have not thought of (such as attendance or classroom size) that are impacting on the learning outcomes. You may need to collect further evidence through observation and conversations.
Once you start analysing data like this, you will think of other ways that you can collate and use the data – including tracking individual students or groups of students so you can identify any difficulties they may be having.
Tool 4: Conversations with stakeholders
As school leader you need to check the views, attitudes and experience of various stakeholders. This does not need to be an overbearing duty. If you are undertaking your learning walks, then you will be able to talk with parents at least once a week at the start and end of the school day. During breaks you can sit down with individuals or small groups on issues that you have a concern about or an interest in. You can have regular agenda items for your staff meetings around school improvement targets and their perceptions.
In the case of your primary stakeholders, the students, self-review is a two-way process. It is important for you to get first-hand experience of what the life of a learner in your school is really like and the level of support and challenges they experience. Students have a lot to offer to the self-review process, but they need ‘training’ and support if they are to be confident in voicing any critical views. Staff may initially be mistrustful if you give credibility to the views of students that conflict with their own. Again, it is about building a positive and open culture. In some schools, students will have regular councils or parliaments, and may be involved in making decisions about issues that affect the school community.
Parents and guardians are also key stakeholders who can help with a school review. You need to make time to talk to them and give them the opportunity to hear their views.
Activity 9: Shadowing students
Of all the data collection exercises that a school leader can do, student shadowing is the most immediately illuminating. By observing a single student across a whole day, you can get a great deal of information about:
- style(s) of teaching
- levels of student engagement
- teacher–student relationships
- use of time and resources
- the impact of teaching on learning.
Ideally, you could do this shadowing – but because of your position of power, this could be quite intimidating for the student. Think about whether you could delegate this task to a member of the SMC or to a trusted teacher. You need to be careful about the choice of student – if you deliberately choose your most able student, you are likely to get a different picture than by observing a student with more complex learning needs. You will also need to make time to discuss the experience with the student afterwards, because their views of the day are also important.
Following the shadowing, you need to analyse what you have seen and share the key learning points with the staff and maybe the SMC.
You will need to devote uninterrupted time to this task, and must emphasise to teachers that you are looking at learning, not teaching. It is very difficult for you to be a ‘fly on the wall’ in your school and the students may well be unnerved with you trailing around behind them. You need to think carefully about how not to be obtrusive and disruptive in this role – telling students and staff beforehand what you are doing is essential, but it is best to keep the name of the student you will be shadowing a secret until the day itself.
Tool 5: Classroom observation
Classroom observation is initially difficult to carry out in a non-threatening manner, especially because you are the school leader and so people will behave differently if you are in the room. You may be accustomed to students jumping to attention when you enter the room, but ideally you will want to slide into the classroom quietly and stand or sit where you can observe the whole room – if you sit at the back with the students, you will be closest to their experience in the classroom. You may move around the classroom if the students are working in groups or on individual work in order to sample their learning.
If there is no culture of observation in the school, you will need to start slowly. It could be sometime before you are able to observe lessons without causing anxiety. Here is one possible approach:
- Encourage your teachers to observe each other. A number of activities in the TESS-India units encourage this. While they observe each other, you could offer to teach their class. In this way, students will get more used to seeing you in the classroom.
- Take regular learning walks so that teachers and students get used to seeing you outside the classroom, or lingering by the doorway, during lessons.
- When you feel able to observe lessons, use an observation form so that the teachers know what you are looking for and use this to discuss the lesson with them afterwards. Resource 4 has an example that you could use.