Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Likewise, any teaching strategy must either undergo continual revision or be jettisoned.  I believe the introduction of leverage observations has improved teaching and learning at GFS; when surveyed, most colleagues concurred.  They also offered numerous excellent ways to refine our approach.  This post:

  • discusses how the school may better implement leverage coaching,
  • considers how observers in other schools could use similar ideas; and
  • shares resources to learn more about leverage observations.
Rembrandt's last painting: Simeon in the temple - unfinished
Rembrandt’s last painting: Simeon in the temple – unfinished

How can GFS improve its use of leverage observations?

1) Stick to the plan

Dylan Wiliam has an anecdote about a group of schools which undertook to introduce AfL as a top priority; many failed to deliver the time and resources promised.  When questioned, heads insisted AfL remained their top priority…  along with many others.  The same issue has arisen at GFS; as one colleague put it, anonymously: “Observers need to actually do them weekly as proposed and arrange and stick to meeting times. Otherwise they are not effective.”  Keeping to the  plan matters; no one should be writing “Please could you make it clear. Is it the observer’s job to organise sessions/observations or is it the teacher who is being observed?”  As I’ve tried to explain, the structure is also important: “Staff need retraining on how to give feedback to that it follows the correct structure.”

2) “Would be better if subject specific in the long term” (teacher feedback)

As Head of CPD, I’ve acquired working knowledge of the Key Stage 3 curriculum in most subjects and I know a bit about managing behaviour.  But there’s a limit to how much useful advice I can offer colleagues when it comes to planning around student misconceptions in unfamiliar subjects, like Computing, without returning to the role of a pure coach which I criticised in my first post.  In the long run, subject leaders need the training and time needed to lead leverage coaching.

3) Ensure school systems support leverage observations

School policies should pull in one direction: I believe leverage observations should trump practices which conflict with it.  We ensured an individual’s line manager is not also their leverage coach to remove any suspicion a leverage observation might later be used as evidence against teachers…  But if, as per Point 2, subject leaders are to be observers, how can they also line manage members of their department?  For teachers to retain trust in their observers, counter-productive elements of the school’s performance management system (data-based targets and direct links with pay progression, for example) need to be removed.

A second (bigger) systemic change could be made to senior leaders’ roles.  Principals at Uncommon Schools focus solely on teaching and learning; Directors of Operations enable this by carrying many of the burdens of British heads.  For leaders to prioritise teaching and learning, more of their myriad tasks need to be delegated (both practically and legally).  Leverage observations could replace many other aspects of leaders’ work, so this seems a good investment of time (and would help make my first suggestion possible).

How can any observer use leverage observations?

I believe the first choice would be to make leverage observations a whole school strategy and receive full training.  But an observer lacking the time, support or resources to implement it fully could still:

1)  (By agreement) divide an hour-long lesson observation into three shorter slots over successive weeks.

2)  Avoid grading lessons (hasn’t this battle been won?)

3) Focus feedback on one action step.

4) Co-plan the next lesson/practice the change.

The rationale for each suggestion is explained in previous posts, notably Part I (problems with lesson observation) and Part III (effects of leverage coaching’s structure).  It’s probably worth mentioning that the same principles seem equally applicable to feedback for students.

How can I learn more?

Read the book: Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools

Capital City Academy, who have adopted leverage coaching wholeheartedly, are running a (free!) training course on 12th January, 2015; contact @EllenerLaura.

We attended excellent training by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo with Future Leaders.  I can’t find anything advertised by Future Leaders or Uncommon Impact at present (if any reader knows better, please let me know).

Swindon Academy use leverage coaching (under a nicely Anglicised name).

As do ARK: I’m not aware of anything they’ve shared of their work, but if readers have friends in the right places…?

I’d suggest that setting action steps is made easier by familiarity with named teaching techniques, for which we often used Teach Like a Champion.  (I’ll be writing more about Teach Like a Champion to coincide with the release of version 2.0 in January).

I’m happy to answer questions in the comments below or via any of the usual channels.


Previous installments

Part I outlined the problems which leverage observations may solve.
Part II set out and exemplified each element of the leverage observation process.
Part III explained how each aspect of leverage observations works in practice.
Part IV looks at underlying effects of this model.

And if you can make it to the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery before 18th January, please do.