Our journey with the Teacher Development Trust Network started back in December 2012 and involved a round trip of over 700 miles in a day! Even reading this statement now makes me realise how strongly I must have felt about engaging with this network. I initially became aware of the work of TDT Network in their first guise as NTEN (National Teacher Enquiry Network). My initial forays found an organisation that were working hard to promote an evidence based, collaborative approach to school improvement via the development of teacher quality. This resonated with the desires we had as a school for supporting the development of our teachers to ensure they were positioned to be able to deliver the best possible outcomes for the students that they are working with. We were at the point in our evolution where we had recognised that there is only so far that accountability can take you and that for sustained school improvement investment in developing the professional capital of staff was the priority.
“You want to go where?!”
Although the desire was strong there were a few hurdles to clear before the path was clear; the picture on the Business Manager’s face when I casually requested a plane ticket to attend an NTEN CPD event in Newcastle is an enduring memory, along with the announcement in the departure lounge of Southampton airport,
“The 06:30 flight to Newcastle is delayed due to technical difficulties.”
This was soon followed by,
“The 06:30 flight to Newcastle is cancelled due to technical difficulties.”
The despair of this news was suitably countered by the pilot, when I eventually got on the plane, cheerfully announcing that due to an unfeasibly strong jet stream he could get us to Newcastle in about 40 minutes! Upon arrival I was greeted with; sub-zero temperatures, a closed A1 and a cabbie that clearly hadn’t spoken to anyone in days. When I eventually arrived in Cramlington Learning Village the woes of travelling fell away, as I entered the reception area to the sounds of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas!
By the end of the conference I was sold. During the day I had the opportunity to talk to a group of like-minded colleagues who were all taking brave steps to improve the experiences and outcomes of students in their schools. All were in it for the long haul and despite coming from a wide ranging background of inspection judgements they were committed to doing it the right way, for the benefits of the students and staff they were working with.
What makes an individual go to such lengths to engage with an organisation?
Although at the time I did have a particularly tricky Year 9 class it was not this that drove me to it…
The CPD framework around which schools are able to self-evaluate their professional learning activities was the initial draw. TDT Network membership facilitates a peer evaluation opportunity that both supports and challenges you to deliver a better professional learning experience for all staff. Combining this with a strong desire to support the profession to move towards a more evidence informed approach and the promotion of lesson study as a model for sustainable, collaborative teacher learning and I was sold. At the time it seemed (and still seems!) a refreshing but realistic alternative to the rhetoric of accountability that seems to pervade education.
The attraction of having something to frame your work around was very appealing. It also stimulated discussion and reflection around what we were currently doing and how we might adapt our practice to evolve to become closer to an exemplary practice model. As the framework is stringent we took the decision to use it as a model in our first year of membership and not become overly concerned about the recognition / award element of membership. In subsequent years the value of peer evaluation has been great in helping shape the key next steps in continuing to improve the professional learning experience that we provide for staff. Pleasingly, by using the framework as a guide, we have been able to improve our professional learning provision for staff each year, so far having achieved a silver award.
TDT Network are strong advocates of lesson study as a tool for collaborative, practitioner based enquiry. Staff who engaged with lesson study as a form of professional learning have been universally positive about the benefits. The initial concerns around implementation were time based, but quickly people started to make use of technology such as IRIS Connect to help make reflection and collaboration around the peer reviewing of teaching more efficient. Lessons learned were quickly disseminated and informed further enquiries. As staff have become more experienced in this process the nature and depth of studies have developed, as have the roles undertaken by different people. We now have more experienced staff acting as lesson study mentors to help increase the numbers of teachers undertaking this style of professional learning. The benefits of lesson study are wide ranging but I think for me the biggest impact has been that it has encouraged far greater dialogue between staff about the impact of our teaching on student learning and outcomes in a non-threatening and supportive way.
There have been many benefits that have come from our relationship with TDT Network. The framework and model for professional learning has been great, as has the opportunity to engage with and be challenged by colleagues who recognise that improving teacher quality is the only way we will be able to really make use of the power of education as a social mobiliser, not because it is not already good, but because it could be better! Within school our engagement with TDT Network has helped develop a whole school narrative around professional learning as a means for school improvement. In turn this has increased rates of student achievement and attainment, with predominantly the same teaching staff.
The shift towards a more collaborative, professional learning centred approach to school improvement has caused a number of changes to take place within our organisation. The focus on developing the teaching, without judging the teacher is an underpinning value. It has led to a recognition that together we are a more powerful force for improvement and change. Allowing individuals to set and work towards achieving their own professional learning agenda has been vital in supporting the development of professional capital and allowing professional autonomy. No teacher can outperform the educational system that they work within. My view is that we need to build a highly functioning and effective school based system that empowers our teachers to be the best that they can be. We haven’t got it 100% yet but we are constantly trying to improve it and every year we get a little bit better at it!