In this, the 8th episode of The Subject Leaders Podcast, Stuart Rogers, another Computing primary subject leader, answers the following questions:
How can subject leaders decide on what professional development needs there are?
How can subject leaders develop staff so that teaching and learning in their subject improves?
What are the implications and outcomes of using instructional coaching as a subject leader?
Find this podcast episode on your preferred podcast service: https://linktr.ee/subjectleaderspodcast
Below you can find the transcript for this episode of The Subject Leaders Podcast:
[00:00:06.170] - Aidan
Welcome to the Subject leaders podcast. Stuart, can you tell us a little bit about you and where we can get in touch with you?
[00:00:14.690] - Stuart
Yeah. Hi, I'm Stuart Rogers. I'm a year five/six teacher in Cheshire. I'm the IT computing digital lead for our school. I'm a big Twitter user, so if you want to follow me on Twitter, you can use the handle of @StippleEffect to get in touch with me.
[00:00:35.530] - Aidan
Great. And can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a primary teacher and as a subject leader?
[00:00:44.350] - Stuart
Yeah, so I've been teaching now, I think it's my 27th year as a primary school teacher. During that time, I've mostly been IT computing lead, although I have also been PE lead as well. I have mostly taught year five and six during that time, with the odd dip into lower key stage two. But, yeah, it's generally speaking, because I'm a bit techie, computing, anything digital has been my remit in every school that I've worked in, from BBC Micros when I first started teaching, to now heavily I'm involved in Google workspace.
[00:01:22.650] - Aidan
So is computing, it your favourite subject to teach, or have you got some others as well?
[00:01:28.330] - Stuart
No, I do like teaching it, especially now. Obviously, we got AI coming along, but you take computer aided design, which is more of a new focus, even though it's been in the curriculum for a while. I just think the new opportunities, digital opportunities for children is so much greater than it's ever been. And obviously we're dealing with the PlayStation generation with these children who've been brought up with devices, so actually giving them scope to use these new bits of software or new devices where it's physical computing as well. I think it's just a great opportunity to develop their skills because particularly with physical computing as well, you take microbits, children aren't necessarily aware of these things. But I did computer aided design with my class a few weeks ago and because they're so used to using Minecraft and Roblox, for example, they just took to it like a duck to water. My examples were just fairly mediocre compared to what they put out. So I think there's a lot of creativity in computing, but I do like teaching other subjects, like, for example, design technology, which probably is a poorer relation in the curriculum, although it shouldn't be. That creativity aspect of them building things, making things, evaluating things. I think it's something we need to focus a bit more time on.
[00:02:48.310] - Aidan
Yeah, definitely. So if the curriculum were being slimmed down, which subject would you fight hard to keep?
[00:02:56.950] - Stuart
That's a good question. I mean, I just mentioned design technology, definitely. Although I'm not a musician and staff will laugh at me in our school for even mentioning that word or even art, I think those subjects that traditionally you tend to sideline or have been sidelined for your history and your geography, for example, any subject like that, which, generally speaking, we don't spend enough time on. And it still has value at the end of the day. Curriculum should be equal now, shouldn't it? And so you take music, you take art, you take DT. Those subjects really need to be at the fore of everybody's planning because actually your children can just shine in those subjects whereas maybe they don't in others and we generally speaking don't give them enough opportunity in those other subject areas. It might be through lack of expertise. You can train me up as much as you like. I'm never going to be a music teacher but my colleague next door absolutely is and is a great music teacher. So I think we've got a place to our strengths as well.
[00:03:58.410] - Aidan
Yeah, there's definitely a few subjects, isn't there, that can sometimes be sidelined? I think often depending on the staff and the specialisms that exist in any given school and certainly the ones you mentioned are ones where people perhaps are more likely to say oh, I'm not very arty or I'm not very musical and therefore find it difficult to overcome that confidence barrier. What do you love about being a subject leader?
[00:04:28.470] - Stuart
I think it's the opportunity to be an agent of change, particularly post pandemic. Obviously ed tech and computing for example are much more high profile, much more prevalent. We had the government dishing out I think it was 1.2 million devices to schools and so on. And I think now we're at that crossroads of we've got this amazing technology but actually teaching staff how to use it effectively. And I always say it can't be a gimmick. If you're going to use technology, whether it's for computing or other subjects you've got to use it to enhance children's learning and engagement. And so being a subject leader, particularly for computing gives me that opportunity to embed technology as a resource that as a go to rather than just something we might use from time to time. But also I think there's a lot of new opportunities. There's so much software out there which generally speaking is free, that gives children a lot of opportunities that they might not have in other subjects. So just being able to go to our staff and say all right, okay, so you're teaching desktop publishing as part of the curriculum. Would you know that Adobe actually now their Creative Cloud have just offered a number of new features. They've just launched something called Firefight which is an AI generated software tool. So I just think having an opportunity just to showcase new features and software out there maybe you don't get the opportunity with other subjects, I don't know. But I just know when I was PE lead it was great, but it was quite static in terms of things don't change in hockey and football and rugby and such. But in terms of technology, it's always evolving and I think being able to be that agent of change for that is really exciting.
[00:06:23.490] - Aidan
Yeah, great. And I think there probably are parallels for other subject leaders as well. For example, a history lead might really love keeping up on the latest archaeological finds and passing those on to the children and through the curriculum and so on. So I definitely think that keeping abreast of the subject, finding out what's new and being able to pass that on is something that many subject leaders might be able to experience as well. Thank you. So for listeners who know our normal, the listeners who know the way that we normally do the next part of the podcast, where we normally ask two questions which are applicable to all subject leaders and then a third. That's related to a particular subject. You'll notice that today's episode is going to be a bit different because although Stewart has talked about his passion for computing and for DT as well, we're going to keep it more generally applicable for all three of the next questions. And so everything here today is going to be really useful regardless of what subject you lead. So we'll get into Stuart's three questions now.
How can subject leaders decide on what professional development needs there are?
So Stewart, how can subject leaders decide on what professional developed needs there are?
[00:07:46.970] - Stuart
I think generally speaking, it depends on what kind of subject leader you are in terms of whether you are skilled in that area or if you've been parachuted in. Sometimes from my experience, the computing role is given to the newest member of staff. So I think sometimes we got to consider the development needs for actually the subject lead as well. But generally speaking it's all about awareness of what your staff's ability and competency is in that particular area. But to do that as a subject lead, you need to be given time to spend discussing things with staff and also monitoring. And so then you can actually see are they teaching the curriculum, what the barriers to delivering that curriculum, what the barriers to the learning, and actually then be able to look at it and say, okay, well, is that a resource need or is that actually a professional development need for the staff in terms of training? Because like I was saying earlier in computing, for example, now with National Centre of Computing Education, there is a great range of training resources and courses you can go on, but actually for other subjects it's probably a lot more limited. So it's all about actually seeing which staff need more support than others, what you can do to support them, and then whether there's actually any need for any outside training as well.
[00:09:10.170] - Aidan
Great. So it's about having that subject knowledge yourself, would you say, and then being able to identify where the gaps are in others. Would you have any tips for subject leaders, perhaps who don't quite have that level of subject knowledge yet, but know that they need to be working on developing their staff.
[00:09:30.990] - Stuart
Yeah, I think it's about awareness for all. So because I use social media a lot, I can see what other schools are doing, what other subject leaders are doing. So I literally look at who am I following or who can I follow and learn from? So I think ultimately it's an awareness thing of what can subject leaders do to increase their own awareness, but also then point staff in the direction of free resources, free training, anything else that they might be able to make use of, so that actually they do a little bit of independent learning and CPD themselves, and then you can actually focus on other things with them. For example, because obviously I do computing, there's a lot of digital skills involved there, so I want to make sure that staff are focusing on delivering the curriculum. And so I'm asking them, okay, well, if you're going to use Google Workspace to deliver your desktop publishing, let's make sure that you're actually completely confident in how to use Google Slides, for example, to deliver desktop publishing. If that's what you're going to do rather than so, then sorry, I can then focus on delivering the curriculum with them rather than actually getting to work through with my time, how they can use Google Slides, when actually I want this to focus on how can you deliver this lesson effectively and deliver the curriculum effectively as well.
[00:10:52.090] - Aidan
And are there any particular monitoring activities that you think are useful for identifying these needs?
[00:11:00.970] - Stuart
Yeah, I mean, ultimately it comes down to time, so I'm very lucky in my school that all subject leaders are given regular non-contact time A) to go through the curriculum themselves and obviously look at their subject leader file and make sure that everything is up to date. But also from a monitoring perspective is to get in classrooms, have conversations with teachers, whether it's during their PPA time, as I'm able to do, but, yeah, get into the classrooms and talk to them about what they're doing, not from a formal observation type of way like your SLT might do, but being an extra pair of hands in the classroom. And it's very much from a coaching perspective of talking to them about what they're doing, what the objective is, how they're going to deliver it effectively, what resources they're going to use, and then they can actually go through that process with the lesson and then review afterwards. I think it's all about spending time with staff and then you can identify individual strengths or weaknesses and say, actually, you know what, your year 3/4 colleague did this lesson as well, and I saw them do this. And I think too often in education we're a little bit siloed even in our own school where we don't get into each other's classrooms. So actually having the opportunity to go in and talk, but not be intimidating, not be writing lots of notes and giving feedback and gradings and all of that nonsense. It's all about partnership.
How can subject leaders develop staff so that teaching and learning in their subject improves?
[00:12:23.430] - Aidan
Yeah, really collaborative approach. And you mentioned coaching there as well, which leads us nicely into the second question, which is how can subject leaders develop staff so that teaching and learning in their subject improves?
[00:12:38.650] - Stuart
Yeah, so I'm a big fan of coaching. It's something that we have trialled in our school in this last year. We do it from a maths perspective, so our maths lead is available from a coaching perspective. So she spends a lot of time in classrooms, working with staff and also planning lessons together to working collaboratively. And so we've then started to look at in other subjects, from computing with my subject area, but it's all about, in some cases, demonstrating how to do it effectively, whether it's a particular topic or a series of lessons. It's also also about planning things together, looking at resources. It's all about engagement, isn't it? In the classroom at the end of the day, whether you're history, geography, science or whatever, it's all about engaging children's learning. And so it's trying to work collaboratively to do that so that they feel supported and likewise that they can reach out to you. So with coaching, you go through cycles. So if you're not focusing on year 3/4, but you have done it in the past, year 3/4 staff are going, oh, I've got to teach this particular unit in computing, I was planning on doing this. What do you think? It's open discussion rather than it being you've got to do it this way or they're not feeling that you're approachable enough to talk to you about it. You've got to be open for everybody. And also we're all in this game together. Because as much as I might support my staff in computing if I was asked to teach music or if I'm teaching a history or geography lesson, I need to rely on that subject lead to support me. Because in primary it still frustrates me that we're meant to be this jack of all traits. And it's archaic, in my opinion, that you can try and turn me into a music teacher when we've got a perfect example in our school who can do it. And we do that in our school, we carousel. So I teach computing to a number of classes and so on. So I think ultimately we have to work together and be open to discussing things and not feel criticised, not feel like we are being or we're seen to be weak or negative if we reach out for help, we all need to work together to do it successfully.
[00:15:03.930] - Aidan
Yeah, definitely. Subject leaders can't do the job alone and they are leaders of a subject, which means they're leaders of a team of people teaching that subject. And therefore there needs to be that two way conversation as there would be in any team, and then that subject leader themselves is also a member of another team because they are teaching several other subjects being led by another teacher. So that collaboration is so important. Are there any other activities aside from the coaching, whether it's formal or informal, that really help leaders to develop staff so that teaching and learning in their subject improves?
[00:15:50.010] - Stuart
Yeah, obviously you have your staff meetings and inset day schedule. Some subjects get more priority in that respect. So you've always got English and maths staff meetings. What we do quite effectively at our school is we make sure that all subjects have staff meeting time and we do that on a termly basis so we know that we're going through all the subjects on a regular basis because ultimately, let's say all the curriculum is equal. So therefore your history lead should get the opportunity to go through priorities with school staff in a staff meeting, just like your music lead or your DT lead should do. And so having those regular meetings and also really focusing down, okay, what are our priorities? We talk about non negotiables in English and Math, for example, or basically their standards, expected standards, aren't they? Or what should be in the classroom, and it should be the same in other subjects as well. And if you don't get that opportunity to share that with staff and discuss things with staff. We had a science staff meeting a few weeks ago and we were looking at, okay, actually, how much do we teach that we actually need to teach. And our science lead gave us a great resource that actually just really pared down. Actually, you do not need to teach a lot of this stuff that we're currently teaching because it's bloated and our curriculum is very bloated. But you know what, if she didn't have the opportunity for that staff meeting, we probably that message wouldn't have got across to all of us. And so I think using that time and using it effectively is really, really important.
[00:17:27.290] - Aidan
And the effective use of that time goes back to what you were talking about in answer to the first question that you need to know your subject well, you need to be monitoring it and evaluating how things are going so that you can finely tune those few opportunities that you do get to deliver that content face to face with staff. Brilliant.
What are the implications and outcomes of using instructional coaching as a subject leader?
So let's come back to coaching then, because I know that you use a particular kind of coaching in your school that perhaps others might not have heard of or might not be aware of. So if you could unpack that kind of coaching for us, but also talk about what the implications are and what the potential outcomes can be for using this kind of coaching as a subject leader.
[00:18:18.890] - Aidan
Yeah. So coaching is a big thing in education, isn't it, at the moment? Instructional coaching in particular. So just to give you a bit of context, obviously during the pandemic as a computing lead, it was really challenging to support staff and parents and children with online learning. And so as part of that, we just saw the education community worldwide sharing resources and sharing good practice and so on. And so I became very aware of how a number of educators in the US were using coaching to support their staff generally, not just during the pandemic. And so I spent a lot of time talking to, I interviewed about 20 different instructional coaches in the US. To get an idea of, wow, this sounds like a really useful CPD tool for staff. And so, yeah, I became aware that generally speaking, in schools across the US, they have three types of instructional coaches. They have an English instructional coach, a Maths one, and a technology or Ed Tech, although the title might change slightly, an Ed Tech Instructional Coach. And so I'm very fortunate in our school that my head teacher is very supportive of any initiatives that I discuss with him and suggest and so about a year ago I did a presentation to him and governors and said, look, this is what is the standard in the US. And actually I really like how it differs to how coaching or instructional coaching is currently being used in the UK. Which is very much from the top down, it's very much your SLT staff leading it and using it. And so this is all from a subject leader point of view. So like I said, we have our maths subject lead who offers this type of coaching, works with different year groups, plans lessons together, teaches lessons together, reflects together, and you go through a cycle and then she'll move on to a different teacher or year group. And the point is, it's all collaborative, so nobody feels like they're being targeted or picked on us, so to speak. And so what we're trying to do is do that approach now in terms of technology, not just in terms of computing, because obviously that's my subject area, but also try to upskill our staff's digital expertise. And when I say staff, I mean staff, I mean admin staff, I mean non-teaching staff, because ultimately we want everybody to be fully engaged with technology. And so as a subject lead, I'm freed up two afternoons a week, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons a week, which coincide with most of the PPA sessions in our school. So then I can collaborate with teachers and say, okay, what are you teaching next week or in the next couple of weeks for computing? Let's talk about how you've planned on doing it, although I've obviously previously worked with them on developing the plan. And so then it's giving me an opportunity to have that conversation also for them to air their gripes, for example, if there's things they don't like about it or different ways of doing it. And so then, although it's in its infancy and there's been a bit of ups and downs. It's working effectively because it started a dialogue. And honestly, I don't know how some schools develop their subject leaders when they don't give them time. And I'm really fortunate that I've got those afternoons. Some of my staff refer to it as a jolly every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. But actually, long term, the whole point of instructional coaching is to make it a really open affair where staff feel supported. We're going through things collaboratively and likewise I can get in classrooms. So last term I was teaching in a year one and year two classroom. I've even spent - I'm a year six teacher, generally speaking - I've even spent time in EYFS for a short while teaching them some little coding activities. And so actually, generally speaking, I'm much more in the classroom more frequently and therefore I'm much more involved in the development of my subject. And so when anybody says to me, okay, what's going on in the classrooms? I can answer that authoritatively because I'm in there every week or planning to be in there every week with different year groups and just working together. And so far it's working really well. There's room for improvement. But also to me, it's the model forward. All schools should do this. Ideally, you want an instructional coach for history, for geography, for music, you want everybody. As long as we keep teaching all the subjects by ourselves in primary, I think we're all going to need some kind of clear support above and beyond the model that we've been using in education for a while.
[00:23:08.710] - Aidan
Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. So in your school, I assume you currently don't have all those roles. Has your role, and I think you mentioned maths. Have they been selected to be given these afternoons where you can do this work based on a whole school priority?
[00:23:31.950] - Stuart
Yes and no. Part of it is circumstance. So it just so happened through a change of roles and a few other things that our maths lead is basically available to do this. She currently is able to do it every morning. Another driver for us is post-pandemic... we, we did not have a lot of digital devices beforehand. We only had like 20. We had a class set, class set of laptops for a whole school. But thanks to Network Rail, we were donated 350 laptops in October last year. And obviously when you're getting that kind of input in terms of devices, you go, okay, we need to make use of these effectively. Not just so that we actually they're not sat gathering dust, but actually we use them to enhance children's learning and engagement. And so that's where the conversation started because we knew for about six months before we got them that we were going to get them. The big thing is, when are they arriving? And so we looked at how can we support staff effectively? Because we're going from having zero chromebooks to one to one Chromebooks. And so yeah, the idea basically was to try and support staff in using those devices from a digital skills perspective, but also looking at how can we use technology to enhance and engage children's learning in other subjects as well. So I always go from the SAMR model, the substitution, augmentation modification and redefinition model. So we don't just use devices to do a digital version of a worksheet. We're trying to get to the point where we redefine a task where it can't be done any other way. Virtual reality is an example of that. Augmented reality. AI is going to be an example of that. So yeah, we have had our eyes on this transformation for a while. It's actually been accelerated by the donation of laptops we had and a few other circumstances. But also we're not just giving this time to me, for example, without some scrutiny, we're trying to make sure we're measuring its impact because if we're not measuring the impact, then we're not doing a good job of it. So yeah, long term, we already almost have an informal model for English in terms of freeing up our English lead to go and work with other staff. And so I think it's a sustainable model for the future. But yeah, it does take time, it does take money as well, unfortunately. But the benefits that I've seen just from my perspective, and I'm sure our mass lead will agree with me, those benefits we've seen in such a short time, I can't see why or how we'd want to go back to the way it used to be.
[00:26:21.490] - Aidan
Brilliant. Yeah, time is always going to be the issue, isn't it? With anything, pretty much anything regarding subject leadership. But you've just mentioned how there is kind of scrutiny of this, you are monitoring its effectiveness and that you've seen these outcomes even in the short term. Can you take us through some of the positive outcomes of working in this way?
[00:26:47.290] - Stuart
Well, luckily, because I've interviewed so many ed tech coaches from the US, I've got a really good idea of how things should work, of what to do, what not to do. So I think we have a model that in time will be really successful in the short term. What I've seen is more confidence and engagement in terms of using devices. I've seen historically, we were talking earlier about how certain subjects get pushed to the side because I don't fancy doing that today. I've seen staff being more confident in terms of, okay, yeah, I'm going to make sure I do my computing lesson this week or in this fortnightly cycle because I know Stuart's available Tuesday, Wednesday afternoon. So if there's any problems he can come in and help. But likewise I can talk to him and plan the lesson with him so that actually before I even start, we can actually start with more confidence in terms of what we should be doing and how the lessons should be developing. So in a short period of time, I think that's been the biggest outcome so far. What also has helped is the fact that they know I'm available. So we've gone through what's called a gripe jam. So I literally gave them a Google Jamboard and said, right, just list all the things that you find are huge gripes in delivering this subject, but also any digital or technological barriers to it as well. And a lot of staff were quite happily putting that. They realised that part of the problem was their viewpoint and their reluctance to get involved in things and try things out. Because they think, what if the computer stops working? Or if a child asks me a question that I can't answer, and we would never be hesitant if that was in English or maths or history, but in computing it is quite daunting. So I think short term, I think breaking down those barriers has been really effective and I'm quite excited for the future. Once we roll out this a bit more effectively, me learning from what's happened so far, I think it's going to be really effective in next term coming up and obviously and beyond.
[00:28:54.070] - Aidan
Great. That sounds brilliant. It sounds like a really useful way of developing staff and one that kind of moves things forward a little bit.
So just to finish off, if somebody were wanting to start to explore this approach, or to implement this approach, what kind of top tips would you give them?
[00:29:15.370] - Stuart
Well, first of all, you need to read The Impact Cycle by Jim Knight. Jim Knight, his book is the bible of Instructional coaching. And I think really you should just try to engage with as many people currently doing the job as possible. And I found it really interesting to talk to staff. I spoke to staff who because obviously in the US they have districts, I spoke to staff in very small districts. I spoke to two staff who basically ran the whole instructional coaching for technology in the entire states that they were in. I feel like speaking to people from all different levels was really useful because I came from it from a perspective of, I think this is how it works, but actually the reality might be very different. And so I had a lot of conversations where people were saying, right, don't do it this way, do this way. Or likewise start with this particular strategy because some staff are intimidated by collaborative working. And the important thing is start with the volunteers first. Start with the people who are going to put their hands up and say, yeah, I'd love to go through this with you because I think I need support. And you can get to your more reluctant staff afterwards when you've started showing the results of that coaching. But, yeah, it's all about research first and engagement with other people are. Doing it. And then I've got a member of staff who will happily put her hands up and say she used to be terrified of technology and so now, actually, I've been able to support her teaching in her classroom and she is much more likely now to schedule that subject and follow the curriculum where previously we've all done it. Oh, crack, I've got to do music today. Do you know what, I'm going to carry on with that history activity instead. And it is a fact of life in teaching, isn't it? Primary teaching especially. That's what happens. And so it is all about trying to make sure that you are seen as this leader of change book without being intimidating and actually being really open. And I think if you do your research first, I think you're going to be quite effective at implementing it as well.
[00:31:30.790] - Aidan
Well, thank you so much for coming on today to talk to us about your experiences, particularly with staff development. Stewart it's been really enlightening, really interesting to hear everything you've had to say. You mentioned earlier, people can get in touch with you @StippleEffect on Twitter and maybe that's a good starting point for your second tip there, to speak to people who are actually doing it. So thank you so much for coming on today. Stuart. It's been a pleasure.
[00:31:57.970] - Stuart
Well, thanks very much. Happy to help.