Updated: Jul 15
This blog post is part of an ongoing series on subject leadership in the primary school. You can read the rest of the blog posts here: Subject Leadership In Primary Schools Blog Archive
In my last blog post for subject leaders, 'Helping Staff To Adopt Your New Curriculum' we explored how to get staff on board with any new changes you might be making. But, the reality of introducing anything new in schools is that initial enthusiasm and action can quickly turn into apathy and inaction. Even when all the right processes have been followed in introducing the changes, school staff can be spinning so many plates that anything not yet embedded in their practice takes a back seat, and, if time is running out, these new initiatives can end up being left behind.
As a teacher yourself, you will be able to think of times when you have let something slide, but this knowledge makes it no easier as a frustrated leader who is trying to ensure your subject is taught as well as it can be. You understand why teachers are struggling to do what you've asked, but you still need them to do it.
I’ve seen this same thing happen plenty of times and thankfully there is a lot you can do to get things back on track.
Before we think about what you might do, it is worth thinking back on what has happened already to see if there are any reasons as to why this has happened. Think empathetically on behalf of the staff, and think reflectively as a leader.
Was it the right time to implement this change? What other pressures did teachers have at this time? Did you provide the right levels of support for it to be embedded and sustained? Were you expecting too much from one staff meeting? What might be the cause of staff members not doing what you've asked them to do?
There are potentially lots more specific questions that you might need to ask yourself once you’ve asked the above questions. I can’t suggest what these questions might be as I don’t know your answers to the above questions, however, they might be something like the following:
Was the approach too time-consuming to plan and prepare? Did teachers feel like the approach wasn’t having any impact? Did the teachers have a good bank of resources to draw upon? Did children find the approach really difficult, or boring? Was the approach impacting negatively on other more embedded practices? Is it all staff, or just some?
Once you’ve asked all the questions, and hopefully got some good answers, you can try some of the following to reinstate the approach that you initially asked staff to take, depending on what you have discovered about why staff are no longer doing it:
Provide staff with resources – everything is easier to deliver if some of the work has been done for you. Think about what you could give staff that would make it easier for them to take the approach.
Reassess your requirements - for example, the regularity with which you are asking staff to carry out the approach – perhaps your intitial ask was too much to begin with?
Provide further training – focus on the practicalities of delivering these sessions, show teachers how it can become a routine, and ensure that they know clearly what the expectations are. This training may be focused on those who really need it. Reiterate all that you delivered in the initial session.
Provide different kinds of professional development - a whole staff meeting isn't the only kind of PD: mentoring, coaching, peer mentoring, sharing articles, creating a display or notice board and recording video content are other ways for you to re-deliver your content in order for teachers to hear again why it is important and how to carry it out.
Reintroduce in a select number of year groups – ones where teachers are more likely to do it – and get it going really well in these classes, before rolling it out to other year groups
Get some SLT support – ask the headteacher to reiterate the message that the approaches you are trying to implement should be taken. This might seem like a last resort, however, this is about consistent messaging - you want to get the whole school, SLT included, on board from the start in order for your new approach to be seen as something that matters, and not as your little pet project.
The table on page 23 of the EEF’s Implementation guidance may provide some other useful pointers with regards to how else you may go about reinstating your approach.
The EEF’s Effective Professional Development guidance suggests that effective professional development should employ particular mechanisms. One category of mechanisms is focused on staff motivation (see pages 18 and 19).
When staff members are no longer employing the approaches that you have asked them to use, you might think about introducing some goal setting with staff:
“Across a variety of behaviours, reviews have demonstrated that setting goals substantially increases the likelihood of behaviour change. When conscious, specific, and sufficiently difficult goals are set, they make it more likely that performance will improve. It may therefore be fruitful for professional development facilitators to set or agree upon specific goals for teachers to act on.”
Celebrate good practice – give a shout out in staff meeting to those who you know are doing it, ask staff to share positive stories about the impact it is having in their class. With regards to the celebration of success, the EEF guidance report states:
“Providing affirmation and reinforcement after a teacher has made an effort to alter practice—or shown progress in performing a new skill—may improve teachers’ motivation to act upon professional development. This should come after the change has been attempted (rather than before).”
If you have found that something you delivered CPD on, and hoped that staff would embrace and embed in their practice, is no longer being done, and you have explored the reasons for why this might be and have decided it is still the right thing to ask staff to do it, the following kind of messaging might help to get you to begin to get back on track:
“A few weeks ago I introduced a new approach because... <insert your reasoning here> – a reminder of what and why
I saw some really great ideas, including one example where children were really engaged and another where the teacher... <insert an example of good practice here> – a celebration of successes
I know that it’s been a busy few weeks with reports and trips <this is just an example, you will need to consider the genuine reasons as to why it may have fallen off teachers' radars> – acknowledgement of the teachers’ position
and I’ve noticed that the approach is not being taken. - de-personalised, passive voice language, not saying I’ve noticed that fewer teachers are taking the approach
I’ve created a folder of resources on the network to make these easier to plan for and I’ve reduced the expectations of doing it daily to doing it 3 times a week – this is a goal I’d like you all to set for yourself. – taking practical and understanding steps to make it easier for teachers to be successful, and goal setting
Please speak to me if you have any questions or concerns, or if there is anything else I can do to make it easier for you to meet your goal .” – accepting responsibility as the leader, leaving it open for feedback which might help you to make any further necessary adaptations, and again referring to the personal goal.
The implementation process is ongoing and ensuring that an approach is embedded requires continuous leadership. Whilst a lack of adoption might be a sign that the approach is not the right one, this isn't always the case: often, after reflection, it is a case of persevering and leading staff to continue with implementing the new approach. However, remember that 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results' - it could be the case that you need to change the way you deliver your messaging to staff.