Research School Network: A blog about Implementation By Caroline Lowing, former Deputy Headteacher, School Improvement Lead and Research School ELE for HISP

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A blog about Implementation

By Caroline Lowing, former Deputy Headteacher, School Improvement Lead and Research School ELE for HISP

by HISP Research School
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One of the best things about working in education is the constant light-bulb moments. You see it regularly in the children but, literally, everyday is a school day in that you are personally learning all of the time – even if you are old like me.

Most experienced staff will know how wonderful it is to teach a topic again and again – to see new nuance in it as your understanding deepens and your explanations strengthen. This has happened to me this year but not during lessons with children* but with other teachers.

* I have been teaching primary for the first time this year – whole separate blog needed!

Since September I have been working in a central MAT team and have been really involved with the reformed NPQs. In fact, I am facilitating on 4 NPQs and taking my own NPQH – I’ve pretty much got the t‑shirt and the matching mug. One of the threads that runs through all of the NPQs is implementation. I have explained the EEF’s Implementation guidance report numerous times, exemplified it, taken apart and put together the diagram. I know it well.

Implementation process

However, this week, presenting a live webinar for NPQ Leading Teacher Development (through the
Education Development Trust), the penny really dropped on how powerful it could be if every
teacher and leader truly understands and uses evidence based implementation in every setting in
the country. Every NPQ – from the Specialist NPQs to Executive Leader – focuses on implementation.
The reason why is because it is absolutely the most important thing to get right and is also one of
the very hardest.
Why is implementation an issue in education?
There isn’t time to truly get into this here but this is my hot take. Schools are used to changing
rapidly according to the whim of external scrutiny, changes in educational policy, changes in their
context – you name it. Coupled with a high accountability culture, this has led to band-wagon
jumping of the highest order.
I’m not pointing fingers here, we have all done it. I implemented CPD passports as an Assistant Head
with very little planning or reasoning – certainly no consideration for where the initiative was going
and, surprise, surprise, they languished in dusty piles in desks and in offices.
I also think that most school leaders (at all levels) are so solution focused and move at such speed
that the drive to get things done” is overwhelming. Damn it, we put up field hospitals to test
students for COVID – overnight! It was essential that we got that done quickly and efficiently – so we
did. However, developing teaching is about changing habits and that is infinitely more complex.
The guidance report
I love a good diagram and the EEF Implementation cycle is a beauty. It is clear, usable and covers a 
lot of bases. However, life isn’t that simple and I have to keep reminding myself to SLOW down and
take a lot more time to Explore the issue fully. I am instinctual person and I trust my hunches but it is
so easy to misinterpret even with years of experience. The report has a really handy break down of
the pros and cons of each type of data and therefore emphasises the need for triangulation of data
(or squar-ation, which was a word that I used in the webinar last night, I reckon that I styled it out)
I used to love the Prepare phase but that is because I used to do it wrong. My preparation was about
preparing my INSET session rather than preparing my implementation plan. The templates within
the guidance report are now invaluable to me. I don’t enjoy writing this plan as much as I like
planning the INSET session but I know that it will give me a much higher chance of actually making
an impact if I do it and think the whole thing through logically, logistically and practically. So, I take
the medicine, I eat the broccoli.
Delivery is my bag. Delivery is what us teaching and learning types live for. Do you remember this
meme from a few years ago?

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SLT: Teaching and learning/​Pastoral/​Data

You know it’s true. We are the show! Delivery for me was getting in front of everyone and getting them on board. For every 15 minutes that I planned to present I would take 2 hours to plan. I knew that I had to get it right to get the buy in from all members of staff and get the buzz going.

I still think that this is really important and I still plan whole staff input meticulously BUT – delivery used to stop there. No follow up other than learning walks to check it was happening (and teachers frantically start engaging that questioning/​oracy/​waiting time technique as you walk in!) and generic emails to remind everyone. No thought about the intended fidelity, no review to iron out the creases, no adaptation over time and little support for staff that were finding it hard. There is a great deal of research into habits – breaking and forming new habits. Neal et al, 2012 concluded that it takes 66 days, on average, to practice a habit before it becomes automatic. Teachers are asked to do a lot of things all at the same time – change management in this context is incredibly challenging. The delivery is the WHOLE package until you reach a stable use of the approach across the piece.

Finally, sustain. I have had to force myself to be a sustainer. Once the buzz has died – who wants to do the maintenance work? I want to sit in the garden of flowers but I do NOT want to weed. However, weed I must. Sustain is so important otherwise the impact dwindles and how is that fair to

students and to your staff? Through implementation planning you can deduce what your short, medium and long term objectives are – sustaining implementation means celebrating and rewarding progress along this journey and articulating what needs to be done. Scaling up, to include more year groups, more members of staff, other schools means that the implementation cycle needs to start again.

So back to my light bulb moment – can you imagine a profession that truly understands that doing one or two high leverage things really, really well can impact hugely on the lives of young people? A profession that has been pushed from pillar to post in terms of accountability, policy and expectations can actually allow itself headspace to strategically plan what they want to achieve and the granular steps that they can take to get there? A shared language for implementation so that we all work in the same direction rather than competing in our own departments/​areas of responsibility?

We aren’t there by a long shot but I can see it shimmering on the horizon. It’s pretty cool.

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