Curriculum design is my passion. It’s predominantly why I wanted to become a head teacher, to lead a school and transform teaching and learning thus ensuring our children develop a love of learning. I have arrived where I am now, and where we are as a school because I never stop thinking about improving it. My previous and first blog related to the progress we have made with assessments and our new tracking system, but it is our attention to curriculum design which ensures our children continue to achieve great things, in a great way!
Graduating after a four year teaching degree in 1999, my experiences have shaped and formed what I want to achieve. Most recently (last seven years) with two years of visits to Swedish and French schools, teaching and leading in three different towns and cities, listening to amazing speakers, reading and more reading, surrounding our school with right people – many experts in their fields, we have transformed how we work and think.
As a new head teacher, 18 months in, I wanted to carry out a constructive learning review. (LR) An objective appraisal of where we were and most importantly, critical thinking about our next steps. In March 2016 I welcomed Mary Myatt to conduct a LR. I had previously seen Mary speak in 2014 and presented her with a scrappy A4 mind map which outlined what I wanted to achieve – she told me to go for it! Then in 2015 I approached her at the end of a conference and we planned a LR, followed up a week later by an INSET to discuss outcomes and next steps. Although there has been much press regarding no need for ‘mock OFSTEDS’ this was much more than that.
The experience was a resounding success, and I will get to the point about it transforming our curriculum, shortly! However, I am compelled to describe how purposeful, positive and constructive the LR was. The learning walk was like no other I have ever done. What Mary gleaned in ten minutes of observation in each class was enlightening. As we left every class her immediate feedback, in the corridor, summarised what I would have probably spent a whole week on. I learnt so much from this, least of all to ‘stop interfering’ when observing – Listen.
So much happened on that day. It was conducted in such a thoughtful and considerate manner. Mary saw what was happening, at a deep level, and reflected this back to us with precision and clarity. At 6:45pm, when Mary left, my acting deputy said, I didn’t want to shake her hand, I wanted to hug her!
The moment that made me stand still, (freeze almost) be very quiet and truly listen was during the book scrutiny… (This is paraphrased) and the words hit me hard;
“When do your teachers sleep?”
“Why are your teachers writing their own texts?”
“This could be linked more succinctly.”
Next, my governor came to take Mary to the parent interview. My acting deputy and I waited in the staff room. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of my sails. We looked at each other and read each other’s minds. Here was our improvement point!
I shouldn’t have been too worried! After the parent interview Mary reflected back on the scrutiny. My face must have been a picture of worry.
“Its fine Gayle, we just need to make a few tweaks.” Mary then explained about designing the curriculum and themes with more cohesion and how this would also impact on the standard of our newly formed learning Journeys, so that they were of the same standard of the English and Maths books. It would also reduce workload, instead of trying to fit everything into one theme. This was great as our learning journeys were very new and just months in we had received some very valuable feedback, so we could begin to act on it.
On our INSET day Mary, once again, reflected back to us key messages from the review. A chance to celebrate our successes and chance for me to watch our team smile. Next, a presentation on key pedagogical thinking which was great in inspiring the team. Collaboratively, we started to think about designing a new theme for terms five and six, focussing on fewer things in greater depth to ensure improved cohesion across the theme. If it didn’t fit box it up, do it somewhere else, but do it well!
To cut a long story short, we found a beautiful photograph that our Y1 teacher and I had previously seen on a documentary-serendipity. We named the theme, “The Tree of Life.” It all got a bit messy before we all agreed on a theme that would unite us, but it was a good mess! Within the theme we planned REAL projects, a whole school art exhibition and a series of presentations on world creation stories from all classes to the school and families.
We can only build resilience for improvements, within the team, if we experience success. This venture of LR, followed immediately by deep thinking and collaboratively re-designing was a tremendous success. So when I spoke to staff about taking this to the next level, they said – let’s do it! From that point I was inspired to design a whole new approach. Four months later “a few tweaks” as Mary said, has totally transformed our thinking and understanding. I say “a few tweaks” what I really mean is, finally, we had decided what is most important and dumped all the stuff that was weighing us down.
We have freed the anchor, and are ready to set sail.
Since starting a Gloucester Road I have never really liked the “History” “Geography” “Science” themed approach. It niggled me. Mostly because if we block out the majority of the History concepts in Sept – Dec, then possibly at surface level in a different theme, what do they actually learn and remember at a deep level? It defies the principles we teach our children about the brain and learning – about repetition of skills and making connections stronger, the importance of coming back to learning and thinking and also making connections between learning. I don’t and can’t drive, (it’s a principle!) but I’m sure if I had lessons for 14 weeks then didn’t return to it for another year, I would not gain a deep understanding or make any significant progress, probably crash a lot. This needed to be addressed. (Not the driving!)
I have led on transforming a creative curriculum into an experiential one and have spoken frequently about REAL projects within themes, but now it was time to really re-design. Our lovely head of teaching and learning had been away on maternity for the last year, she is an expert on environmental immersion. So, our latest KIT days have been very well spent – thinking big!
June 22nd 2016 we launched our new DEEP Curriculum, with Bucks Fizz and nibbles, to the whole school including attendance officer, MDS, cleaner, admin and finance. I hope the following slides paint a picture of where we are now.
The first theme was designed out of the need to immerse our children in great literature and to highlight the joys of reading more, and more quality texts. The Y6 project is essential in highlighting the importance of reading at home. I have learnt at our school that if you want something doing well and championed, get the children to lead it. Our attendance ambassadors and Pupil Governing Body are testament to this
Example of PM projects in Term 1.
Each theme is very different in design with projects planned in a variety of formats, from whole school, to class and to who knows what in term three as teachers are given total freedom in their design. Theme one is prescriptive for a reason, to ensure that when starting something very new, the SLT have lead by example. Less scaffolding in the theme two and then total freedom in theme three. At this point in the year teachers will have “lived it”, had opportunity to make mistakes, enjoy success and collaboratively reflect.
Theme one is most different from what we have ever done. After a few initial “wobbles” from a couple of staff, lots of encouraging words from myself, collaborative planning and a fab clip from TEDX on Original Thinkers by Adam Grant, the whole team was on board. It has been exciting watching the teacher’s plans evolve as they take ownership of the projects. Teachers have welcomed the fact that, apart from PE and PSHE once a week and music once a fortnight, for the first six weeks, they are going to solely focus on the PM projects. This will allow them to focus on deep learning and understanding of key concepts in history whilst completing the project. However, they understand that through project work, something special happens – incidental learning, some of which you just can’t plan for.
Planning this has taken time and a few mistakes have been made. The original plans hung on my wall for 2 months. We presented them to staff, gaged their thinking and input. Finally, in conversation with our head of teaching and learning, after staring at it for some time, we decided it just wasn’t right. And so we started again. Such mistakes were good, and letting the team know that we had made mistakes was even more valuable.
In leading through the wobbles it was important to really unpick the key principles of the new curriculum design. Most important was to reiterate my faith in them as professionals, with such a relatively young team this was the first time a lot of them had been told – Go for it! As long as they had given thought to what they do, and no one was going to get hurt, then it is ok to make a few mistakes. Not everything will go perfectly, and you won’t lose your job over it! The people who wobble the most are sometimes the most conscientious. They laughed in my room last week because they are the ones who are now offering great support to other staff.
I can’t wait for the children to return to see the Magical World of Books Corridor, which spans the length of the school. Think old library, Harry Potter, flying books, staircases leading to nowhere, fireplaces with comfy chairs and books, books, books. Each class has a magical door which leads them into their projects. Classrooms have been designed with flair and imagination, using simple props all of which can be boxed up quickly. Teachers, parents and teaching partners have begged, borrowed or acquired some great pieces, old mannequins, pianos, fireplaces – the staffroom, at present, looks like thrift store! I can’t wait for our children to hear about their new projects.
Go For It!
Words really do have power, when you genuinely mean them.
Gayle Fletcher – Head Teacher