Duke’s Secondary School is in Ashington, Northumberland has approximately 80 teachers and 1,000 pupils. It was the first school to adopt ReflectiveTeacher, at the start of the 2021-22 academic year, having played a key role in its development and teaching and learning strategies.
Over the last few years, Duke’s Secondary School has transitioned from the traditional systems of teacher observations and learning walks to a system of reflective practice. The aim has been to develop methods of facilitating teacher development and sharing best practice, without ‘judging’ teachers.
“We wanted to move away from ‘old-school’ monitoring, where we did an observation, went away to write up what we saw and then organise a feedback session with the teacher,” says Rachel Chima, Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning. “We found it wasn’t having an impact on anything. Instead of monitoring the quality of teaching, we wanted to start developing the quality.”
That meant collaboratively focusing on specific areas for improvement, rather than judging teachers on a one-off lesson, as well as getting everyone involved in the process.
However, she and the school Principal, Russ Atkinson, also realised that moving to a more reflective approach would be challenging without quick and simple ways of recording drop-ins and generating developmental feedback. “At the time, we had observations recorded on various documents and spreadsheets,” says Rachel. “It was inefficient and hard to find the information you needed when you needed it.”
Instead, the school was looking for a simple, easy way of recording “everything in one place” that would support the vision and make it possible to implement.
This is when Duke’s first started having conversations with Beezapps, the developers of what became ReflectiveTeacher. They collaborated to build a cloud-hosted software system that makes it possible to record lesson drop-ins. It uses the eight strands of the school’s specific teaching and learning policy as a focus and generates immediate reflective feedback.
“We call that policy our ‘DNA’,” says Rachel. “The strands include collaboration, resilience, reflection and so on, and we have specific statements about what each one should look like in the classroom. In effect, it’s our learning walk ‘crib sheet’.”
Beezapps created the ReflectiveTeacher software to match this structure, making it quick and simple for all teachers to complete a drop in, and to provide an opportunity for reflection on the various DNA strands, using a mobile device.
After a year of development, it was ready to roll out at the start of the 2021-22 academic year, following a launch event the previous term where it was introduced to all staff.
The adoption of ReflectiveTeacher has made a significant positive impact on teaching and learning throughout the school, has helped to raise standards overall, and has allowed everyone to share best practice, says Rachel.
Here are some of the specific benefits:
- A big uplift in the number of lesson drop-ins – and visibility of how many have happened. “Last year, we did more than 200 drop ins, which was great,” says Rachel. “That was a lot more than in previous years, when it was much more difficult to collate.”
- Making it easier for teachers to work in partnerships, where they watch each other and give feedback. “We could quickly see that there was clear evidence of this happening,” says Rachel. “And that level of reflection triggered conversations with people about how they could develop certain areas of our teaching and learning policy.”
- Improved sharing of best practice between teachers. “We’ve seen teachers going into each other’s lessons more often to see what works,” says Rachel. “People have been saying: ‘I’d really like to develop this area of my practice – can I see how you do it and have a discussion with you about it?’”
- It’s helped the senior leadership team to develop their teaching and learning strategy. “When I looked at possible categories for ‘professional development’ this year to find out if anyone wanted support to understand our ‘DNA’ strategy, I could immediately see that no one needed it – which proves the effectiveness of ReflectiveTeacher,” says Rachel. “It’s also allowing us to see what areas may need more focus, what else needs to be embedded, and so on.”
- It’s helping the SLT to save a lot of time, as the feedback is instantly available to everyone who needs to see it – particularly the teacher themselves. It also means the team can quickly and easily aggregate data to see crucial patterns that will help to inform their teaching and learning strategy. “When somebody asks, ‘Can we have an overview of the DNA in lessons, I can go on ReflectiveTeacher and give them an answer in minutes,” says Rachel. Previously, this would have taken several hours to collate.
- The time saved is allowing teachers to spend time on more valuable activities – “things that actually work, rather than things you’ve just been told to do,” as Rachel puts it. “And that impacts on everything.” Including, she adds, teacher wellbeing.
- Wellbeing has also improved because the stress of ‘being observed’ has gone away. “Teachers no longer have that worry of someone coming to watch them,” says Rachel. “Instead, it’s now an open, honest reflection that’s supported by the ReflectiveTeacher technology, enabling everyone to reflect on what happens in the classroom.”
- Feedback has a stronger impact, as it’s recorded ‘in the moment’, rather than written up the next day or even later. “We can have a conversation within a half-hour to discuss feedback, as it’s already in Reflective Teacher and visible to the teacher,” says Rachel. “And it can give heads of faculty an overview of teaching and learning in their department within minutes.”
“Overall,” says Rachel, “I feel like teaching and learning at Duke’s has moved from an era of black and white to colour. The conversations we’re having and the sharing of best practice have completely changed for the better.”
She adds: “If a school wants to improve outcomes, improve workload and improve morale, this a very, very effective way of doing it. For us, ReflectiveTeacher just works. It’s now part of the heart and soul of our teaching and learning.”
If you’d like to find out more about how ReflectiveTeacher can support your school’s teaching and learning, get in touch now.