Sarah Seleznyov

The new Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) guide to implementation makes sobering reading for those of us who have led change projects in schools. Its messages are clear and fly in the face of what is often expected by the DFE and school leaders. Implementation of any new practice requires a considerable build up, in order to create a school culture of trust and risk taking that is conducive to implementation, and in order to think through in detail the implementation proposal, both in terms of its content and its practicalities. Key to this is the notion that strict fidelity is not always possible, nor is it desirable. Teachers must make sense of the proposed change in the context of their own pupils and their own classrooms, so a ‘tight but loose’ approach is much more likely to achieve success

Once this ground work has been laid, school leaders should not simply assume that up front professional development will enable the change in practice to be adopted by all school staff: follow up coaching and mentoring will be required, for both individuals and teams, tailored to their needs and based on the implementation data school leaders are regularly gathering. Scaling up from an early small-scale implementation requires a completely new implementation plan. And in order for such implementation projects to be truly successful, school leaders should assume that two to four years will be needed.

Where the report is less helpful is in helping school leaders ensure that implementation is of the highest quality. Here, Hall’s paper on change processes is more helpful. His paper analyses the reasons why teachers do and don’t change their practice in line with leaders’ expectations. He identifies four types of responses to any proposed change in practice:

  1. The teacher makes no changes to their practice, as the new practice was already familiar and part of their usual teaching repertoire
  2. The teacher changes their practice in line with what was asked
  3. The teacher thinks they have made the desired change to their practice but when the school leader looks at it, the new practice is very far from what was desired
  4. The teacher deliberately does not make the desired change to their practice

Obviously responses 1 and 2 pose no problems at all for the school leader. With regards to response 3, Hall offers a specific tool that implementers can develop collaboratively with staff, called an Implementation Configuration.  This simple grid describes different stages the teacher’s practice might go through in order to reach the desired practice. Here is an example from an Implementation Configuration developed with teachers around pupil self- and peer-assessment:

The grid enables teachers to fully understand what the desired new practice looks like, to self-assess and to make plans for their own progress.  It can also support the work of middle and senior leaders who are coaching and mentoring colleagues to successfully implement the new practice.

And Viviane Robinson’s new book Reduce Change to Increase Improvement, a brilliant guide for school leaders wanting to successfully implement change, offers clear guidance to the school leader trying to tackle teacher response number 4. Leaders need to explore teachers’ ‘theory of action’: the beliefs that underpin their actions, and that have led them to resist implementation.  It is only by recognising and acknowledging these beliefs, that leaders can begin to support teachers to change their practices and make a difference to pupils’ learning. Here, trust is key: teachers must trust leaders enough to feel they can be honest about their feelings, and leaders must be prepared to really listen to teachers’ concerns, and take them seriously. Here again then, a supportive school culture makes a big difference to successful implementation.

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We are delighted to announce the appointment of Sarah Seleznyov as Director of Southwark Teaching School Alliance. Here, in her own words, she shares a bit about herself and why she’s excited be joining us on 1 March:

“I began my career around 25 years ago, in a London classroom very much like the ones in Southwark. It was a challenge meeting the needs of a diverse range of children, with different home languages, different family contexts, and many living in very challenging circumstances. I loved it, and I stayed, and I haven’t left London schools since.

“I am passionate about the right of every pupil to enjoy their education and to be successful. I believe that with the right support, every pupil can grow into an adult who is able to make informed choices about the kind of life they want to have. I have pursued this aim throughout my teaching career, a career which has led me from the classroom, to school leadership, to school improvement work, to working for a national literacy charity, to a mathematics research project with King’s College University, and finally to my role at UCL Institute of Education. Throughout this journey, I have met many practitioners and leaders who are as passionate as I am about this goal, including those I have met as part of my recent work with Southwark schools.

“For this reason, I am excited to be taking up the post of Director of the Southwark Teaching School Alliance. This is an opportunity for me to spend more time in some excellent schools working in challenging circumstances, more time in the classroom with highly skilled and committed practitioners, and more time with pupils who are going places and have so much to offer to future society.

“Schools are increasingly under pressure to do more with less, and quicker. For me, key to working within this ever-changing, challenging context and to making a real difference to the lives of London pupils is collaboration: working towards a shared vision of how learning could be and should be. In such an environment, schools need to hold on to what they believe, making use of evidence about what works to generate home grown solutions to their own unique problems of practice. I believe this intention should act as a road map for the future work of the alliance.

“I am keen for the alliance to continue to grow and reach out to new partners, the early years, primary, secondary and special schools within Southwark, and schools and alliances beyond Southwark. I want to support practitioners within the alliance schools to continue to develop their skills as leaders of learning, both within their own schools and across schools. I want our pupils, and pupils beyond our schools to benefit directly from the professional development we offer, and to go beyond what they thought was possible.

“I look forward to meeting you all and listening to your goals and dreams for the alliance as it moves into its next phase.”

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