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Spiralling to success

Action research and ‘The Swavesey Standard’

This year at Swavesey, all teaching staff have been involved in an exciting research project called ‘The Spirals of Inquiry’. Led by Whole Education, and the innovation of British Colombian duo Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert, the research project roots itself in students’ experiences of school and how this understanding can feed into the professional development of staff.

The concept of the ‘Spiral’ is to build on evidence-based research and encourage curiosity amongst staff by asking: “how has a particular experience or attitude been established within school from our own practise? What can we do to change this?” Collaboration and professional judgement are key here, but it is also necessary for staff to be reflective, honest and prepared to not make assumptions. The ‘Spiral’ aims to improve teaching and learning, outcomes, and cultures and attitudes within the school and community.

The process begins with the ‘Scan’ stage, where students complete a questionnaire with their tutors about their experience of school, using four key questions:

  1. Can you name two people in this setting who believe you will be a success in life?

  2. What are you learning and why is it important?

  3. How is it going with your learning?

  4. What are your next steps?

After completing the scan, the spiral moves on to ‘Developing a Focus’. With so much data, it was important to decide what we do with it and how to prioritise the issues arising as action points. For this stage, we shared our findings across house teams during a whole school teaching and learning meeting. Pooling together the responses and working out the common themes within students’ experience of school was illuminating and offered much discussion, both about how we do things at Swavesey but also the culture of schools in general. For a school which prides itself on its pastoral care and tutoring, it was surprising how many students did not name their tutor as someone who believed in them; in the case of measuring their own learning, often students quantified this using their grades and reports, which of course opened up discussion about the values entrenched in the secondary education system. It was clear some of our own perceptions were being challenged and so discussion moved on to how staff contributed to this experience of school and what we wanted to address. Those enrolled as “Spirals leads” collated all ideas and observations from the discussion, where the next phase was to be planned.

At this point, the staff named as ‘Spirals Leads’ came together and reflected on all the evidence presented at the teaching and learning meeting. These were then refined into six different foci, each fitting into each of Swavesey’s core teaching and learning principles. Some examples of this include: how we use language with students in regards to assessment; how ‘invisible’ students can be recognised by our praise and recognition systems; how PP students articulate their next steps: all key issues and questions asked by many practitioners in varying school contexts. Staff then signed up to an area of interest, meaning there has been real enthusiasm and investment into reflecting and exploring how our teaching and learning practice facilitates this student experience. Everyone is committed to the improving their practice in this aspect of school.

The final, and perhaps most important, stages of the spiral (develop a hunch; learn; take action) are currently in process, being carried out in the sub-groups created. As each ‘Spiral Lead’ manages these meetings, they also provide the group with reading and research to engage with. Giving staff the material to read and discussion time has meant teachers have the opportunity to engage with pedagogical theory in a meaningful way, benefitting both newcomers to the profession and those more experienced. Used alongside own professional judgement and the data retrieved from the ‘Scan’, this then informs the direction to take a trial and error approach to uncovering what could change in our setting to benefit the students.

As we approach the last few weeks of the academic year, the ‘Spirals Leads’ and sub-groups will be presenting on their findings so far. However, the process doesn’t have to prematurely stop, nor do the findings have to be conclusive. The beauty behind the principles of the ‘Spiral’ is that any of the stages can be revisited. Therefore, there is a chance for staff to remain engaged in their topic of research and an opportunity to consider whether the findings and changes to practice made are worth being developed across the whole school. With the philosophy of ‘Spirals of Inquiry’, the staff can now be the driving force of change in the “Swavesey Standard” and maintain our pursuit for improving teaching and learning.

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