World Cafe strikes again!

Tonight teachers and support staff came together for staff meeting (World Cafe style!)

The World Cafe methodology is a simple, effective and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue. It can be modified to suit different audiences and contexts but the five following components comprise the basic model:

1. Setting – It’s important to create a special environment. I covered six tables with banqueting roll (this doubled up as flip chart paper), pink napkins, a pink rose and one pink felt tip pen. Most importantly refreshments are provided! Tonight we had tea/coffee, fruit juice and a selection of cakes.

2. Welcome and introduction – as with all of our staff meetings I started off with a warm up activity and a team building game. As the staff arrived there was music playing and an unusual image on the plasma screen which the staff had to complete a short piece of creative writing about. In tables of four we then played ‘Magic 11’ – this is a bit like paper, scissors, stone but instead each member puts in any number of fingers (between 0-5), the aim is to get everyones fingers to add up to 11.

3. Small group rounds – The process begins with five minute rounds of conversation for the small group seated around a table. At the end of the five minutes each member of the group moves to a different new table. They may or may not choose to leave one person as the “table host” for the next round, who welcomes the next group and briefly fills them in on what happened in the previous round.

4. Each round is prefaced with a question or a statement designed for the specific context and desired purpose of the session. The same questions/statements can be used for more than one round, or they can be built upon each other to focus the conversation or guide its direction. The aim of tonights World Cafe was to rewrite our Teaching and Learning policy and so the statements were:

By adopting a whole school approach to teaching and learning across our school we aim toOur whole school strategies include…

All lessons havethis means that…

All lessons arethis means that…

All pupils arethis means that…

LSAs arethey are not…

The classroom environment isthis means that…

The bold statements were discussed during the first three rounds and then the italic statements were introduced for the remaining three rounds.

5. HarvestAfter the small groups (and/or in between rounds, as desired) individuals are invited to share insights or other results from their conversations with the rest of the large group. These results are reflected visually in a variety of ways, most often using graphic recorders in the front of the room.

Here are some pictures from tonights World Cafe…

photo 5 photo 4 photo 3

photo 2 photo 1-1


How the worlds most improved school systems keep getting better…




After reading Mourshed et al’s report ‘How the world’s most improving school systems keep getting better’ (2010) the key message I took from it was starting points. Each system’s journey is different: each school system starts from a different point, faces different expectations, and operates in a different social and political context.  This continuum provides a good intervention model for schools at different starting points. 



The report suggests that collaboration is key to sustaining the progress of initiative and I would agree whole heartily with this. School-level flexibility and teacher collaboration become the drivers of improvement because they lead to innovations in teaching and learning.  

The report suggests that system leaders must integrate this three dimension model when they are implementing an improvement journey. 




Using Data and Research Evidence for School Improvement and Accountability



After reading the Kendlebury Primary School case study the key issues that emerge that have been effective in improving the performance of the school are:

  1. Restructuring the SLT – by doing this there were further opportunities for leaders at all levels to develop their expertise and for the school to ‘grow its own leaders’. This change also improved SLT dialogue around data and ensured that there was greater accountability at all levels. 
  2. Using data strategically  – the SLT were more specific about what they were analysing and were using the data to inform intervention and improvement initiatives.
  3. Using a range of data for different purposes – the SLT drew on a range of qualitative and quantitative data in order to form conclusions about how well the school and it’s pupils were doing.
  4. Moderating performance data –  the triangulation of performance data with other sources of data, such as lesson observation outcomes, contributed to the identification of improvement focuses.

At St Silas we have recently developed a number of these systems and one that has been particularly successful has been the development of our new Assessment Leader who has taken responsibility for tracking and analysing school data. Three areas in which I would like to develop from the case study in the future are:

  1. Strengthening systems for reporting to Governors to allow them to ask more challenging questions and hold the SLT more accountable. 
  2. Looking more into the performance of groups of pupils to look for trends.
  3. Using the Horizontal-Scanning approach by carrying out Action Research with groups of pupils. 

Self-Improving School System

ImageHargreaves’ created a maturity model of a self improving school system which describes the organisational and professional practices and processes of two or more schools in partnership by which they progressively achieve shared goals, both local and systemic.  

Such a maturity model, when fully developed and tested, potentially serves several functions:

  • —  a guide and support to alliances and partnerships “stepping stones” during their development

  • —  a set of metrics by which progress in the forging and sustainability of alliances and partnerships may be judged

  • —  a benchmark by which alliances and partnerships may be compared and contrasted

  • —  a set of success criteria by which policy implementation and outcomes in alliances and partnerships may be judged 

This maturity model contains three dimensions and each dimension contains four inter-connected strands:

  1. The Professional Development Dimension 
  • Joint practice development
  • talent identification and development through distributed leadership
  • mentoring and coaching
  • distributed staff information

2. The Partnership Competence Dimension

  • high social capital
  • fit governance
  • evaluation and challenge
  • distributed leadership systems 

3. The Collaborative Capital Dimension

  • analytical investigation
  • creative entreprenership 
  • alliance architecture 
  • disciplined innovation

The partnership my current school has established recently is still in its infancy, however I would suggest that we are already at the developing stages of the Professional Development Dimension. We agree that professional development comes first because it is one of the principal ways by which teaching and learning are improved, and so is crucial to system improvement:

‘High-performing principals focus more on instructional leadership and developing teachers. They see their biggest challenges as improving teaching and the curriculum, and they believe that their ability to coach others and support their development is the most important skill of a good school leader… they work the same hours as other principals, but spend more time working with the people in their school.’

Barber, Whelan & Clark, 2010: 7 

Over the past year we have established many effective systems for Joint Practice Development with the most effective being our in-house coaching model which focuses on what the teachers do rather than just what they know. Although this is currently running within our own school we are hoping to develop it within our partners school over the next term. In addition to the monthly coaching sessions we do, teachers also share good practice in other ways such as through Learning Lunches, Speed Learning, TeachMeets and through Twitter. Here is an example of colleagues from both schools in our partnership sharing practice through Twitter:



This type of Joint Practice Development really gives birth to innovation and grounds it in the routines of what teachers naturally do. 

This year we have two Schools Direct graduates carrying out their training with us at St Silas School and we have a further PGCE student from Liverpool John Moores University. Both myself and another leader in our school are involved in delivering lectures for the ITT students too. 

Our partnership with the other school has allowed us identify future leaders and they have been able to take on further responsibilities across the two schools. Between the two schools we have a database to illustrate where staff teaching skills lie, which this makes sharing good practice across the two schools much simpler. 


Authentic Leadership



Developing a school-to-school partnership is not just about structural change, rather more it’s about a shared commitment to improving attainment, well-being and life chances for children in both schools. This moral purpose along with an outward facing vision is paramount in overcoming any barriers to success within a partnership. 

Goffee and Jones describe three fundamental aspects of leadership:


1. Leadership is situational – leaders adapt their style to a variety of situations and can pick up on any cues and signals from individuals within an organisation. 

2. Leadership is non-hierarchical – a title doesn’t make a leader, everyone can be a leader and everyone is expected to ‘step up to the plate’ should the situation demand it. 

3. Leadership is relational – leaders need followers. 


According to Goffee and Jones, “Good leaders manage relationships by knowing when to be close to people and when to be distant to keep people focused on goals and address poor performance. Critically they are able to create this distance without pulling rank.”

Goffee and Jones also establish four key aspects of effective leadership:

1. Authenticity – leaders need to be good at what they do

2. Significance – leaders make people feel their contribution is valued, a little recognition goes a long way. 

3. Community – leaders create a common sense of purpose

4. Excitement – leaders create a buzz and a feeling of excitement in the workplace


I have seen real evidence of situational leadership in my current school recently as our Headteacher has become an Executive Head over two schools and has had to adopt his style to suit the different schools and their contexts. Although his style has altered slightly, he hasn’t changed the person he is;

“To become an effective leader you must be yourself – more- with skill”

Goffee and Jones 


Growing Educational Leaders



The pattern of education in England is changing rapidly. Schools that were once islands are becoming increasingly connected with one another and most outstanding schools are schools that have webs of links with other schools. Although competition remains, it now co-exists with collaboration and the creation of formal alliances such as federations and chains. These changes have brought about new opportunities for developing leaders. The 2010 Government White Paper reflects extensive international evidence that leadership is second only to the quality of teaching in its effect on pupil progress and achievement. Through encouraging staff to take on new responsibilities, providing high quality mentors and effective and purposeful professional development future leaders can grow in a ‘vertical development’ fashion. This type of staff development aids effective succession planning and gives future leaders a more direct and powerful learning experience than a more indirect experience such as shadowing or simply reading about leadership. I am fortunate enough to have benefitted from this type of leadership development over the last few months since our head teacher was asked to support another school. This has been a  great opportunity for me as I have been able to ‘step up’ in his absence. Although this been a real learning opportunity for me and has provided me with challenge, it hasn’t been too much of an ordeal as I had already begun taking on more responsibilities over the last year and had been given many opportunities to take the lead even with the Headteacher present. The link we now have with the other school is proving to be very positive; it has broadened my leadership experiences and provided me with further opportunities to take on new responsibilities across two different schools. In addition to myself and of course our Headteacher, this collaboration across two schools has also given us the opportunity to grow some of our own new leaders with people having to ‘step up’ into new roles and take on further responsibilities. A study by Matthews et al in 2011 identified three overlapping philosophical approaches to leadership development:

  • Everyone is a leader
  • Everyone can be a leader
  • Anyone could be a leader

These approaches to leadership development reflect the leadership culture of the organisation. I would strongly suggest that the leadership culture of our school is…



At St Silas School leadership is expected of all, pupils and staff alike. All staff (including support assistants) have their own area to lead all of which are closely linked to pupils learning and they all take responsibility for each other, for the school  and for corporate learning (#teamsilas). Pupil leadership is actively encouraged and supported through the appointment of Head Boys and Girls, Team Captains and Digital Leaders and Pupil Leadership Team (PLT) meetings are held every month. We take responsibility for developing our staff both as teachers and leaders through structured and high-quality professional development that is attuned to our culture. Two of our school leaders are currently on the NPQSL programme and one teacher is on the NPQML programme. In addition one young teacher who is an aspiring SENCo is carrying out the SENCo Accreditation and another is looking to qualify as a Kagan Trainer over the coming year. 

Imagineering with @HYWEL_ROBERTS

ImageToday was a very exciting day for #teamsilas and our sister school Heygreen. Both schools joined together for an awe-inspiring INSET day with Hywel Roberts which left staff from both schools inspired, encouraged and excited! After reading Hywel’s book on accidental learning ‘Oops’ earlier in the year and raving about how thought-provoking and engaging it was, I wasn’t surprised to find that the three copies I had bought for school were quickly snatched from the staffroom! I knew I had to get this man into school if only to remind us all why we entered the teaching profession in the first place! One of the main school priorities for both schools this year is writing and I knew that Hywel’s work on Mantle of the Expert and his use of questioning would develop teachers thinking and allow them to add more strategies to their ‘teacher toolkits’ and am glad to say I wasn’t at all wrong. Here are just a couple of examples of staff feedback posted on Twitter tonight…


Hywel didn’t throw any surprises at us nor did he show us any fancy materials that cost money. What he did do was take us right back to basics, encouraging us to think of new ways to engage our learners and make our curriculum one that is relevant to them.

ImageSt Silas and Heygreen are two very different schools and our partnership is relatively new but here you can see staff from both schools working together happily on a shared task. Although each school has it’s own separate School Development Plan, they share the common goal of raising levels of attainment (particularly in writing) and Hywel’s day gave us all lots of food for thought and ideas to easily put into practice tomorrow. This is the second of many shared INSET days we have planned and there have been many benefits of this collaborative approach so far, for example, sharing the cost of training days and sharing staff strengths across both schools. Days like today offer different things to both schools and what staff at St Silas may have taken away will probably be different from the staff at Heygreen and this is where follow up work will be really beneficial.

As Professor Ben Levin’s suggests; interdependence is more important that autonomy.

“Improvement for the English education system as whole requires a shift from thinking about schools as individual systems to seeing all schools as elements in a complex eco-system, where each element is both independent in some ways and deeply connected to, if not dependent on, the rest of the system in other ways”.

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