We visited Reach Academy in Feltham recently to film a professional development session after school. We’ll show the session in a future post, but first we wanted to highlight how Ed Vainker (’03 Ambassador) began. Vainker set aside the first few minutes for teachers to share recent successes, inviting them to link their achievements to the previous week’s professional development session.
This provided an opportunity for teachers to reflect on their improvements in their work. Many chose to mention successes which were linked to their last professional development session: several discussed employing techniques to promote students’ independence, ranging from learning to take turns on balance bikes during break times to coding and recording musical notation independently.
For over half the teachers in the room, this was an opportunity to express their appreciation or gratitude to their peers. A trainee teacher mentioned the support she had received which had allowed her to teach alone for the first time that day; several teachers noted the help they’d enjoyed planning or preparing lessons or praised sessions run by others; the middle leader in the centre of the room used her time to discuss the quality of another teacher’s marking.
The time, both light-hearted and serious, acted as a chance to build and reinforce the team’s identity and desire for improvement. Teachers shared moments of humour, but in discussing their first day teaching or their attempts to implement new ideas, they were also able to discuss challenges they were facing and problems they had had in their lessons.
The brief time set aside for this sharing of successes seemed invaluable in creating a positive atmosphere, emphasising teachers’ shared purposes and endeavour, and laying the foundations for successful participation in a professional development session. Vainker described the challenges leaders face in balancing the need to enjoy the school’s achievements, with the importance of seeking further improvements. He sets aside the time to ensure the team feels “optimistic and capable, rather than digging into what doesn’t work” – and the value of beginning after-school training on a lighter note.
Vainker noted the value of creating a “stronger sense of team”, and encouraging staff to go to peers in search of solutions, an “empowering and sustainable” approach. Ofsted inspectors, in judging the academy to be ‘Outstanding’ last year, noted the “careful construction of teams of staff who work extremely well together”. Protecting a few moments sharing successes seem both to symbolise and contribute to this team-building.