In my previous two blogs about The Duston School I’ve discussed the context of my visit, the importance of overcommunication and the behaviour for learning policy of the school. This blog will look at my impressions of the staff.
Impressions of the Staff
As I explained in the first blog, my visit took place on Year 6 into 7 transition day (the first of two days) and it would be expected that the Principal, as the figurehead of the school, would be very on-message and focused. What impressed me, however, was how clearly on the ball the rest of the staff were as well. As students filed into the main hall, the Director of Year was at the front, monitoring the expectation for silence, but around the hall, the main work was being carried out by the form tutors who were modelling the Lemov ‘Warm/Strict’ approach with tutees as they came in. Smiles started brief conversations which generally concluded with imperatives, starting to lay the foundation for the expectations the students would be expected to meet over the next five to seven years. Once the Principal started speaking, the core values of respect, aspiration and resilience had already been exemplified by his staff in the preceding ten minutes, contributing further to the overcommunication taking place.
From speaking to staff, this impressive unified approach was not always in evidence at the school and was arguably one of the factors that led to TDS going from ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Requires Improvement’ over only a few months before Sam started (the first monitoring visit after RI was only 5 days into his tenure – more on this in a later blog).
Unlike many other new Principals in post, Sam didn’t bring in his own SLT, but worked with many of the staff he inherited, avoiding a perception by the wider staff body that they were being done to instead of with: a crucial distinction to ensure staff buy-in. Also, he did (next to) nothing new for the first hundred days or so as Principal (Headship: Doing NOTHING During the First 100 Days), enabling him to meet all staff and take on board their fears, hopes and aspirations for the school. Therefore, when changes started to take place and Sam clearly stuck to his principles in terms of expectations of behaviour (see previous blog), staff were happy to be part of the journey with the end result being the sort of unity demonstrated in the transition day assembly.
An additional strategy that has led to enormous amounts of staff buy-in has been the use of faculty away days where whole faculties can develop their subject knowledge and expertise and really be part of a research culture to ensure that the lessons being delivered are as effective as possible. When one faculty is on their away day, another faculty covers for them, reducing cover costs but also adding to the sense of a professional community working together for a common goal as, for example, the science faculty enables the English faculty to improve so has a small stake in the English outcomes too. The teachers I spoke to were in agreement about how lucky they to have the opportunity and are aware of the investment the school has made in them so they were determined to maximise the gains that they receive. The benefits were clear as it was only afterwards that I discovered both teachers were NQTs as from their subject knowledge and expertise (partly brought about from the away days) they seemed to be far more experienced.
The clearest proof of how happy the staff are at TDS is the staff turnover this year: two are leaving at the end of term and both of these are due to relocations and are sorry to leave. With practically the same staff next year, The Duston School will continue to be able to go from strength to strength.
The stakeholders not mentioned so far are the parents of TDS children, who are the focus of my next blog.