‘In union there is strength’

Midlands Schools Knowledge Hub’s three introductory blogs set out brilliantly the 

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landscape view of so much of what we have achieved at 

Saint Martin’s and in Birmingham to secure the best education to serve the wonderful students in our care.

Briefed with the task of crafting the next blog, I go to the grassroots – the classroom (and corridors) – to share the how of realising the vision. Enjoy and welcome!

Polite and charming

Let’s make no bones about it: a knowledge-rich school relies on high expectations of behaviour and etiquette. Some schools operate silent corridors and literal lines not to be crossed, and there is absolutely no criticism of those – expectations and standards are to be decided by each school’s Head and SLT who will know the shared vision and the needs of the students in their care. Our pupils don’t need it. Our site doesn’t lend itself to silence – it’s vast and consists of a main block and external paths that take students out to English, Maths, Drama, Divinity. And, as SLT, we want pupils to talk quietly, calmly on the corridor; to greet and interact politely with staff as well as each other. So we use our annual Bootcamp (and interim Re-Bootcamps) to explicitly set the standard of greeting, ‘Good morning or Good afternoon, Miss/Sir.’ We hold doors open for each other, we say thank you and ask how was the weekend or, ‘How are you?’ It means students confidently make eye-contact, smile, say hello to adults, and we all feel connected and belong – it makes for a calm, respectful atmosphere that sets the tone for the respect evident in classrooms. The model is explicitly shared. It works. And if someone passes and doesn’t acknowledge, we stop them and remind them that it’s good manners to greet.

And we shake hands (we have a reputation for it!)  with visitors, and stand up in rooms and welcome them when they pop in to classrooms. We do it in school (and out) because that’s what we do in life. It’s good manners and we want to inculcate that standard as the norm for all our students, regardless of background: socio-economic or other context. We share that standard and model it explicitly with new Year 7 cohorts on transition and to newcomers in Bootcamp assemblies and House time – the rationale, the feel-good effect of being positive and nice to each other. It means that when a pupil drops their equipment, others stop to help pick it up; or that Year 11s care for a newly-arrived Year 7 student, pointing them in the right direction to class, or taking them to the right place. Exactly the behaviours you would want your own child/ren to learn and be exhibiting daily, and to be in receipt of as a valued member of a school community. Yet, we are not friends, or equals with students. We are very clear that we are the adults. We are the professional experts. We are in charge. We know what’s best for students because of our experience and wisdom. And that the decisions we make for them are not always easy for us to make but they are the right ones, made out of professional love and care, with their best interests at heart. And most students and parents (99% in fact) agree.

Lessons

We all know that time is one of our greatest resources (staff expertise is the greatest of all). Fascinated by the fact that a short-haul flight to Cork will always serve food/drink and offer duty free within 50 minutes, it means that boarding, seating, luggage-loading, serving times and packing it all away must be performed with efficacy in mind. In class, with time in, start, review, content, apply, tidy, leave, time is finite and precious, too. Via weekly CPD (when we invest time and bespoke training to all teaching staff) we’ve looked at timing and introduced two of the many Doug Lemov mantras that underpin our class practice: Entry and Exit Routines, and the Do Now, to ratchet-up behaviour to enable us to maximise lesson time and support student memory (a euphemism for student learning). Via assemblies, the expectations were explained explicitly for clarity of message and rationale – learning more and more deeply, and a better education. And the training began. United as a team of staff, Entry and Exit routines were quickly established:

  • polite and charming students line-up outside classroom doors ‘lesson-ready’, single file with equipment, Planners, their reading book and any files, books, etc., in hand.
  • the teacher welcomes individuals in at the door (picks up any issues on the door and ensures students enter carrying equipment). They will have practised the fastest, most efficient way during Bootcamp – filling in from back or side or front of the class and in silence – purposefully.
  • All lesson items will be placed on tables; bags below and tucked away and the teacher greets:

’Good morning, Year …’

They reply, ‘Good morning, Ms/Mrs/Miss/Mr …’

‘You may sit down. Blazers off if you wish.’

(Some schools are scripting this and more for consistency of pace in lesson starts/ends.)

24 seconds with a class of 32 students. And they are off!

The reason they are ‘off’ is again thanks to Doug Lemov – we have our blessed Holy Bible as a Catholic school and we have Teach Like a Champion as our teaching bible. Lemov’s Do Now is available to every student so that we support every student’s review of key subject information from the previous lesson, combined with the ‘blast from the past’ interleaving or revisiting of key subject terminology that needs to be shifted into and secured in long-term memory over time. And we do that every lesson; every day. As Aristotle says: ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’ And that habitual act of attempting to retrieve information, supports the very learning of it, resulting, long-term, in our students (all abilities and needs) just ‘knowing stuff’.

Staff prepare a Do Now to last the first 3-5 minutes of the lesson. Students complete it in silence, independently and without need of explanation. It may be on a sheet, on a Powerpoint slide, or written on the board – the professional teacher will decide that. It invariably reviews information taught and to be learned: spellings/vocabulary, character names, timeline, quotations, oceans, formulae, artists, food processes, body parts, properties of shapes/steel… taken from the 40-50 pieces of key subject information identified on the Knowledge Organiser.

This low or no-stakes quizzing quickly establishes the calm, purposeful start to every lesson that we want. Students are on task, engaged without being ‘entertained’! There is no wasted ‘settling time’ and staff can gather a moment to clear their head from teaching ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ to Year 11 and re-set their brains into Ovid’s tale of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ with Year 7 (and take the register). It’s great for teachers teaching for 4 and 5 hours a day and for those who travel and need to set-up for the lesson, too. For both, it’s the chance to draw breath before the answers and then beginning the instruction. The Do Now also allows students to do the same – to transition in their heads from one subject to another. I was in French; now it’s Maths.

Once set-up, the teacher circulates, processing the quality of answers being recorded – strengths, weaknesses – diagnosing what needs to be worked on, returned to quickly; picking up misconceptions, etc.. Within the 3-5 mins the teacher gives the answers (they are either right or wrong; nuances clarified, but this is not teaching time). The lesson moves on; instruction begins. The Do Now is also a diagnosis for the student to see what they know and to establish what they need to work on for next lesson; the teacher will diagnose too, and adjust next lesson’s Do Now to support learning.

The resultant power of this practice in every lesson 5 times a day is astounding and makes you realise the importance of routine to learning , work ethic, school culture and purpose – students self-quiz, retrieve, learn…. Not only that, the first 5 minutes of any lesson root the ethos, atmosphere and expectations. It really is so simple, easy to embed and so powerful in establishing a calm, purposeful, safe learning environment and quickly moves schools away from places where lesson starts consist of crowd-control with teachers fire-fighting and battling to be heard, to ones where they come to effortlessly establish their authority in a room. That ‘Shhh!’, ‘Quiet, please!’, ‘Come on, Year …’ desperation 5 times per day is draining and not good for the soul. Instead, Lemov’s Entry/Exit/Do Now mean the History teacher might not see her class again for 2 days, but her students will be well-practised by then as they will have experienced this routine 10 times (5 lessons a day for us). This harnesses the power of us as the team – a power too often neglected or ignored in schools, especially ones that purport the notion that teachers work in isolation. Not true. In fact, at Saint Martin’s, we work together to support this practice:

  • House Tutors ensure their students leave a.m. Form/registration lesson-ready for lesson 1
  • lesson 1 teacher does the same for lesson 2
  • break
  • lesson teacher is on the corridor to start lesson 3 and we all remind students to be prepared as they line-up
  • lesson 3 prepares students for lesson 4
  • lunch
  • lesson teacher is on the door for lesson 5 to remind and check
  • lesson 5 teacher ensures students leave prepped for lesson 6/Form time at the day’s end.
  • each of us investing 20 seconds of time in our lessons for our colleagues. The dividends are enormous.

And any member of staff out and about during changeovers will proactively remind students to be ‘lesson ready’. We encourage everyone in it – regularly. It means our students are so purposefully drilled that Cover lessons start just as efficiently. It’s one of the many reasons we all love working at Saint Martin’s.

The lesson ends with the reverse: tidy away, but keep out the Planner (Diary), equipment, reading book, get out next-lesson books; chairs in, blazers on, ‘Good morning and thank you, Year 11’; ‘Good morning and thank you, Ms ..’. The respect is modelled – manners, politeness – with teachers in charge – rightfully – releasing their classes in an orderly way. Corridors are calm and pleasant, despite having been built to hold 346 students and currently seeing 650 pass through. Against the backdrop of such calm, adults are in charge not with loudness, but with the calm authority of respect and purposefulness.

How long to achieve? 2 weeks to lay secure foundations. Start with your Teaching and Learning Lead sharing this explicitly with whole team – all staff, including support staff. Share the rationale and practice in CPD or INSET. They may film it to show it;  share it; talk it through; make it explicit what is happening; discuss how that will translate into practical lessons – PE, Art, RM, etc.. They may practise it in one area, or with one class or a subject area to show it works in your school, then roll it out. Share the rationale with students – no surprises – and with parents. Upload it onto your school website, Facebook, Twitter – share the expectation; be proud! SLT have to review it, support it, coach it until it’s embedded and then keep returning to review it so it can’t peter out. And it’s SLT, who have to be out and about, who will need to be deployed for the first 2 weeks (intensively initially), to oversee areas of the school, support staff to embed this and be on hand, just in case it is challenged. In such cases, SLT simply remove such students from the entire lesson and book them into a one hour same-night detention, explaining, of course, to the student and their parents, why Entry/Exit/Do Nows are so important to the student’s learning – which is our core purpose. This leaves teaching staff to secure the routine and get on with teaching, and leaves students in no doubt that this is happening, it is for their good and they will do it because we love them.

 

Loraine Lynch-Kelly
Vice-Principal, Saint Martin’s


 

The Midland Knowledge Hub

We set up The Midlands Knowledge Schools Hub to anchor the knowledge-rich philosophy in practice and to re-centre the gravity of this movement to broaden access to it. In order for us to magpie so much, we spent lots of time in brilliant (though not exclusively London) schools. Thank you! Ostensibly, we offer schools interested in, contemplating or keen to adopt this approach, the model and practical advice so freely offered to us by so many. We’ve started working with Nuneaton’s Midland’s Academies Trust (MAT) to walk this journey with them with astounding results so far and only on a part-time basis. We are passionately evangelical about this educational approach because of its impact on our students, on their learning and outcomes, and on the lives of our staff. We simplify and question everything – and we are delighted to promote this modus operandi.

 


The Launch and Conference

We’re very grateful to have Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, launching the Hub at Saint Martin’s on the 10th of May at Saint Martin’s (Any Midland Head Teachers/ Deputies i/c of Teaching and Learning are welcome to come to the launch which will include a speech from Nick Gibb and from Stuart Lock, Head Teacher of the Bedford Free School – email me cwright@saint-martins.net for an invite). In addition to this, our first conference will be on Saturday May 12th 2018 entitled ‘What does a Knowledge-Rich School look like?’ – tickets available here. We have some really interesting speakers, educational bloggers and writers. The confirmed ones so far are Andrew Old, Ben Newmark, Stuart Lock, Robert Peal, Jon Brunskill, Helena Brothwell, Ros McMullen and Mark Lehain (With more to follow). If you’re interested in the Hub then please feel free to email me or my Deputy Loraine Lynch-Kelly (llynchkelly@saint-martins.net) for more information.

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