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News

Why are some schools better than others? image 1
27 April 2012

Why are some schools better than others?

The article below is an extract from the IPC magazine Eye On The World, which IPC member schools receive twice each year.

Eye On The World includes advice and practical ideas to support learning and the delivery of the IPC and shares experiences and tips from schools around the world.

Other benefits for IPC member schools includes new and updated units online, access to the online IPC route planner for identification of learning goal coverage, discounts with resource suppliers and on courses and conferences, and much more.

Download Eye On The World Issue 7 below and go to page number 22-23.

                             
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Why are some schools better than others?

Eye On The World Issue 7 Extract


Four Quadrant FrameworkAt the IPC we are lucky enough to work with some incredible schools around the world. The best of these schools have great leaders and good leadership teams. But what is it that these leaders do? What do their schools look like? We constantly ask ourselves, is there anything that we can learn from them?

Over the past ten or so years, we have found a helpful framework that helps explain what is going on in good schools. It’s called the Four Quadrant framework and we have developed it from the work of an American, Ken Wilber.

Notice one thing. The two quadrants on the left are about our individual and collective attitudes; they are internal. The two quadrants on the right are more structural and less personal; they are external. And this is the killer issue which, we think, explains why some schools are more successful than others at really focusing on learning. All four of these quadrants matter equally. None is more important than the other. All four quadrants must be worked on and developed at the same time. Let’s briefly explore each quadrant in the context of ‘learning’:

A Personal Passion (for learning)

           
St Andrews Primary School, Islington, London
St Andrews Primary School, Islington, London.

We are driven by what matters to us. Whatever we do most is a result of what we think is most important. It’s not surprising, therefore, that schools with more colleagues who are individually passionate about learning may well be more learning-focused than schools with less.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth for some Headteachers who might be reading this. We know how busy you are and how difficult it is to get into classrooms regularly, even though you would like to. Actually – and here is the uncomfortable bit - you might find this difficult to believe but there are lots of schools in which we work where Headteachers do get into classrooms frequently and they have the same amount of work as their colleagues who don’t. The reason is simple; they want to more. These Headteachers are just more passionate about spending time in the places where children and students are learning.

This is true of teachers, too. All other things being equal, children and students learn more in classrooms where their teachers have a passion for learning. But all teachers have a passion for learning, don’t they? No, they don’t. Some teachers have a passion for keeping children and students busy, pleasing parents, hoarding resources and a host of other things. Some teachers don’t have a passion at all. They come to school and do a perfectly good job but they aren’t passionate about it.

A Collective Passion (for learning)

           
Amsterdam International Community School in The Netherlands
Amsterdam International Community School in The Netherlands.

If you are the one teacher in your school who is passionate about learning then it’s going to be an uphill struggle for your school to become learning-focused, even if you manage to create a learning-focused classroom. Our experience shows us that the most successful schools have a truly collective passion for learning. This passion works two ways. First, most of the individuals who work in these schools are passionate about learning for themselves. Second, they are also passionate about becoming a tightly-knit group or even a fullyfunctioning learning-focused team.

In these successful schools, the whole staff accepts that the learning progress of a child or a student is a collective responsibility. They are willing to put aside some of their personal differences about learning for the sake of the whole school. They continuously moderate their marking of children’s and students’ work; they visit each others’ classrooms to offer critical friendship; they support the learningfocused policies of the school because they know that if they don’t, they will weaken the school not just for each other but for children and students.

Does your school currently have a collective passion for learning? There are many ways in which this can happen. Think about the amount of time you spend together focusing on learning; think about the amount of time you celebrate learning in its many forms; think about how well you deal with each other’s learning-focused differences.

Leaning-Focused Structures and Systems

We can define structures and systems as behaviours and activities in a school that mark the passage of the school year or influence how different events are carried out. Every school has structures and systems – assemblies, parent evenings, reports, staff meetings, displays and so on. Every school has policies that define how these things are done.

But some schools – the more successful learning-focused schools - look ruthlessly at each of these structures or systems and evaluate how learning-focused they are. And having found out, they adapt to make them even more so. These schools teach us to ask one simple yet crucial question:

‘What’s the difference between an ‘x’ and a ‘learning-focused x’.’

These schools find out about a potential recruit’s passion for learning in the first interview. They make sure that their wall displays let everyone – colleagues, children, students, parents, visitors – know what learning has taken place rather than just who has produced the art work or piece of writing. They make sure that every staff meeting begins with colleagues describing the best learning they have seen in the past two weeks and why. They don’t let a single staff meeting go by without it being obvious that learning matters. These schools make sure that every parent leaves parent evening, knowing what their child has learnt – academically, socially, emotionally, physically – rather than what their child has done since they last met the teacher. These schools make every structure and system in the school reflect what they are most passionate about; learning.

Learning-Focused Evidence

Learning-focused schools put their energies into evidence that helps them find out whether children or students are learning. These schools distinguish between performance (what children and students can do) and learning (how far they have changed for the better.) Their assessments and evaluations are made at the start and the end of a period of time or unit of work; the evidence covers more subjects than is statutorily necessary because learning is happening there, too. These schools look for trends in the learning from the evidence and they make sure they acquire evidence, on a regular basis, that learning is happening in classrooms. These schools are truly looking for learning.

The Killer Issue

           
A learning-focussed display at Crofton Junior School, Bromley England
A learning-focussed display at Crofton Junior School, Bromley England.

So let’s return to the killer issue; all four of these quadrants matter equally. None is more important than the other. All four quadrants must be worked on and developed at the same time. There’s no point in introducing a good learning-focused system if no one is individually or collectively passionate about it. Equally, there’s no point in working with a group of passionate learning-focused colleagues if that energy is not channelled and focused by the best systems and structures.

And there’s no point in having passionate individuals and teams, supported by good systems if no one bothers to find out whether they are successful or not.

Often schools that are in deep trouble consist of individual teachers who have lost their passion for learning, if they ever had it; have little sense of focused teamwork; use structures and systems that are ineffective and timeconsuming, further eroding passion; and have little evidence of learning that they can use as a basis for their decision-making.

Successful schools, on the other hand, use the strengths of the wider leadership team to make sure that each one of the four plates is continuously spinning. A colleague who is good at systems and structures may not be good at engendering passion in individuals; another colleague may be good at analysing evidence but not good at building teams and so on. But that’s ok. If we work together to cover all of the bases, then it is good teamwork. Successful learning-focused schools use the four quadrants as a framework for defining responsibilities.

Is all of this easy? No, it takes a good deal of hard work and focus, which is part of what leadership is about, too. But the successful learning-focused schools organise themselves around a framework for action. Whatever they are or do, it’s not as a result of luck. They know the different elements that create effectiveness, they organise themselves around these elements and they constantly check how they are doing - they are learning, too. Amsterdam International Community School in The Netherlands. A learning-focussed display at Crofton Junior School, Bromley England.

Download Eye On The World Issues 1-7 for free

                             
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