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Translating espoused values into a policy for Learning. Part 1

The other day I had a quick look at a school’s Learning and Teaching policy. It was written in a style that gives you a warm glow, you just know that the writer has a genuine feel for the subject. But as a piece of writing to capture the school’s beliefs, values and subsequent practice of learning it left me very confused. Had I been a young teacher thinking of applying for a job in the school I simply wouldn’t have been able to grasp the school’s beliefs, priorities or approaches. If I’d been a parent wanting to gain a flavour of the school’s classroom approaches I would have been bewildered. And had I been a school governor being asked to approve this policy I would have had to take up most of the meeting to ask a million clarifying questions.

In reality this school has a warm, welcoming, vibrant environment. The children are genuinely loved by staff, their wellbeing is paramount. The children’s progress is good and there’s a great community atmosphere about the place. All that being said still reveals little of the learning culture and approaches in classrooms. Are classrooms teacher focused, learner focused or even learning focused?

  • Who does most of the questioning – teachers or children?
  • Is the focus on performance or learning?
  • Does most of the learning rely on textbooks and worksheets or on active engagement with problems and experiments?
  • Is the teacher seen as the fount of all knowledge or are pupils working together to work things out for themselves?
  • Are pupils expected to learn by themselves and/or to develop their understandings in groups?
  • Does the subject of learning itself ever come up or is the talk all about what the children are learning rather than how?
  • Is learning itself given a public focus or does it remain a hidden process, almost taken for granted?

These and other diverse approaches to learning are surely worthy of being argued over and distilled into a policy.

Should policy drive practice, or should practice be reflected in policy?

Most schools adopt a blend of the two, sometimes using policy to create change, at other times allowing practice to develop and eventually be reflected in revised policies. Whichever you choose, there is a clear intention that there are strong links between policy and practice – we do what we say, and we say what we do.

The problem often seems to be a difficulty in capturing “what we do” in policy terms. The job of the policy is to define the nature and quality of the school’s provision of learning.

In crafting the Learning and Teaching policy we might try the framework of questions used in quality management to define a process. Learning is a process after all. 

  • What are the desired outcomes of the process (a) and what are the known inputs to be changed (b)?
    • The kinds of learners we want to create (a)
    • The learners’ starting points (b)
    • The learning approaches that will transform b into a
  • What are the controlling factors and the resource implications?
    • Appropriate legislation or safety standards that have some control on the process
    • Equipment and teaching skills that will make the process work successfully.

Or put another way, what benefits from the process do learners require? What approaches and to what standard will bring this about? What resources will this need? Now stir all these together to define the Quality Characteristics of the process of learning

A policy can be distilled under three headings;

The Rationale, capturing the school’s beliefs about learning. 3 or 4 lines should do it.

The Purposes (of the process), capturing the values the process will add to the learners. 5 or 6 bullet points should be enough.

The Guidelines, capturing the quality characteristics which will guide practice. 8 to 10 explanatory bullet points should be sufficient

If you are lucky it’s possible to capture this on one side of A4. The trick is to keep the guidelines concise and to expand these as quality standards in a set of procedures. The policy, as approved by governors, is likely to remain in place for several years, whereas the quality standards will be regularly upgraded as the school pursues continuous improvement.

The key question for readers of this blog is:

Does your L&T Policy reflect your commitment to building better learners?

In our next blog we will shape a Learning & Teaching policy aimed at building powerful learners using this framework.

 

Image credit: Nick Youngson – link to – http://nyphotographic.com/

 

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