Please feel free to comment at the end of these posts - I've put my own reflections in my context as Head of Chemistry at an Outstanding secondary school but it would be interesting to hear from other teachers (not just middle leaders!) as well.
Opinion piece 1 - Curriculum policy and middle leadership (John Burnham-West)
As a teacher I feel it is often easy to misinterpret the relationship between curriculum and teaching and learning and I would agree with the opinion piece in that there is a lack of consensus regarding the interpretation and implementation of the curriculum through teaching and learning. Michael Gove makes a bold claim by stating that he feels that the curriculum is currently "ineffective in producing skills or knowledge, depth or breadth", a statement that could be taken quite negatively by those trying to educate future generations whilst constantly being confronted by a changing political agenda surrounding education. However, I wholeheartedly agree with the social aspirations for the curriculum and believe that their school experience should prepare pupils as citizens ready to engage in an open and participatory society. The concept of a national curriculum versus a school curriculum (with some aspects being non-negotiable and others being decided by the school) is an interesting one and it is encouraging that teachers are seemingly being given ownership over pedagogy. Having a responsibility for what is taught and how it is taught is at the heart of middle leadership (where more influence could perhaps be had over a department of teachers than by senior leadership). If Michael Wilshaw is faithful to his claim that "Ofsted inspectors will not arrive with a preferred teaching style or model lesson" then this allows for a great deal of innovation and creativity when it comes to determining what makes an outstanding lesson and deciding on the best strategies to engage learners and allow them to make progress. Teaching and learning should be at the core of everything we do as a school and collaboration on this should be one of the top priorities for schools. Middle leaders are key players in terms of leading this collaboration and creating 'alliances' as described in the opinion piece, both within their own schools but also beyond through newer mediums of CPD such as the use of twitter, blogging and teachmeets. Middle leaders also have a vital role to play not only in encouraging others to renew their focus on teaching and learning but also in monitoring the implementation of strategies and holding others to account for the quality of teaching and learning in their classrooms.
From reading this opinion piece, what do you think are the implications for middle leaders, and for you as a middle leader?
· Interpretation of the curriculum in order to prepare our students for society
· Identifying outstanding pedagogy
· Leading the way for collaboration and development of teaching and learning
· Holding others to account when monitoring the quality of teaching and learning
If middle leaders have significant responsibility for what is taught and how it is taught, what does this mean in terms of a middle leader’s subject knowledge and that of her team? What does this mean for you and your team?
Whilst the question refers to subject knowledge I would also say that a middle leader's pedagogical knowledge should be considered too. Good explanations of the key ideas within a subject and modelling of how to best answer questions (and examination style questions) are undoubtedly valuable as a part of teaching and learning but I would be extremely wary of portraying the teacher as the 'font of all knowledge'. I would say that explaining how we cope when presented with a difficult problem and modelling resilience when faced with a challenge are more desirable traits in a teacher than knowing every last fact and figure off by heart. This is particularly true in the age of information where we are preparing students for careers that haven't even been created yet in a world where knowledge and technology are increasingly becoming out of date within a few years. A good middle leader needs to have high expectations of pedagogical knowledge within their team so that students can develop the skills for acquiring, interpreting and applying knowledge and a love for learning once they leave the formal education system behind.
The opinion piece emphasises a greater freedom in terms of innovation and creativity while getting the basics ‘absolutely’ right. What do you think will be the key leadership challenges for a middle leader in achieving this balance? How do you think these could be addressed?
· Managing departmental/inset time and creating effective systems for dealing with departmental administration so that we can ensure that innovative and creative pedagogy takes priority when teachers are confronted by so many other pressures (examinations, coursework, league tables, etc.)
· Sharing best practice and collaboratively developing schemes of work/activities so that we can find ways to teach the basics in an engaging way through various different areas of the curriculum rather than seeing them as a separate part of education
1. Share expectations/reflections with team at the start of term
2. Collaborate and identify outstanding practice in my department through developmental observations ("feedback is a gift", #pedagoofriday, teaching and learning board)
3. Hold others to account by monitoring teaching and learning across my department regularly