You're listening to a podcast from Teacher, I'm Jo Earp.
In Episode 4 of our series on School Improvement, we talk to Ray Boyd, Principal of West Beechboro Primary School in Perth. Since taking on the role nine years ago, student learning outcomes have improved significantly. He has also introduced a Professional Recognition Program to support staff learning.
Jo Earp: Ray Boyd, welcome to Teacher.
Ray Boyd: Thanks very much Jo.
JE: You've been Principal at West Beechboro now for nine years, so can you give listeners an overview of what the school was like when you first joined?
RB: Yes, I came here in 2006, just towards the end of the first term. Essentially I was placed in here by the district director at the time, just to reinstate policies and procedures that weren't in place. From a students perspective, the behaviour tended to be more towards the disruptive side. Teachers were dealing with classroom behaviour management and in most cases, but not all, teaching was actually secondary to this. In 2006/2007 we had in both years around 53/54 suspensions – which is a fair whack, totalling about 105 days. There was no real sequential whole school approach to teaching and learning; by that I mean that the programs weren't sequential from K-7, there was no common approach to teaching pedagogy in relation to delivery of curriculum, and, there was no real common language surrounding behaviour management. Obviously, while there were some pockets of good teaching going on there were also some pockets of poor teaching in terms of what was expected. Teachers were pouring lots of energy into highly ineffective teaching methodologies and a number of the staff were working really hard, but they weren't going in the right direction so they were essentially banging their head against a brick wall.
JE: So, in terms of the process to turn that around then, I saw that the school was subject to an ERG. Now, for those people who don't know, that's an Expert Review Group ... which exists in WA. That was in 2008, what exactly did that involve?
RB: It essentially involved me being notified around August of 2008 that we were going to be involved in a review of the school's [operational strategies]. There were essentially two sides to this review: one side that schools are identified for exemplary practice, and then another side schools were identified for areas of concern. Now we were identified not for exemplary practice but the school was picked up for areas of concern, which at the time was really interesting given the reason that I was put in the school in the first place. When we looked at the student population the school was actually operating within the expected achievement ranges and in some cases above the school expected mean. With the exception of [Year 7 in 2005 were below expected in writing] and in 2007 it was Year 5 below. So, what was frustrating about the process is that if they'd done a forensic analysis of our data, we were actually travelling considerably better than most schools. So, for me initially I saw it as a very negative process. But, in hindsight, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, it was probably a process that we needed to go through as a staff regardless, so we managed to turn that around ...
... a lot of the recommendations were already based around things that the school itself had started to do. One of those for instance was to increase the coordination of student intervention and the support programs by class teachers. Now, we looked at doing that but we've actually moved away from that recommendation because of what the research says in relation to intervention strategies and the fact that getting my teachers to run the intervention and manage classes wasn't an effective teaching strategy in terms of how they were dealing with student improvement. The other thing they put in there [was to ensure sustainability of instructional programs]. Which, again, is an interesting one because, in theory, sustainability works, but at the end of the day once a driver is removed from the school in relation to a certain program, that program tends to fall down as teachers move back to their default models.
JE: It's interesting you mentioned about the intervention strategies there and the research behind that. Can you just elaborate on that a little bit about why you felt that wasn't the right fit for you?
RB: We had intervention programs here before, but what was very evident was that the kids that went into intervention in Year 1 were still in intervention in Year 7. So when you go through and analyse that you say well 'The kids are doing the same things, we're using the same approaches and intervention, but they're still in there. So, why keep doing the same thing if it's not working?'. What we were [recommended] to do was put the kids back in the classroom and have, in the case of where there's an Education Assistant, the Education Assistant supported the student with their learning while the teacher was running the classroom instruction. Now, that's fine, but what you've essentially got is a 'minder' sitting next to a student and the teacher's going through the work and the minder is dictating or taking this child through the process that the teacher is working through. Now, once that minder is removed the kid falls in a hole because he or she hasn't been given successful literacy or numeracy strategies to enable them to cope and operate in a classroom environment. The research from Marzano, the research from Anita & Hughes, and various other ... Hargreaves, Fullan, all suggest [to] get the kid out, teach them their literacy and numeracy skills so that they can cope and then pop them back in the classroom. That's what we've been doing now since 2010 and the kids' success rates are through the roof.
JE: Now, a key part of the journey if you like, the school improvement journey there, has been the Professional Recognition Program. How does that work?
RB: That comes from the premise that essentially most teachers haven't had another teacher observe them, or another professional observe them, other than when they came out of college and they may have been going through their final prac. Now, I'm from the era where the District Superintendent used to come and watch you for a day and go through your records. Well that doesn't exist here in Western Australia anymore, that's well gone by the wayside. So what we did was, and it was a long process it didn't happen overnight, initially we got teachers into the process of having another staff member actually watch them, watch them teach. And it wasn't for the teacher to critique what they were seeing, it was actually for the teacher who was observing to reflect on their own practices and go 'Okay, I see what Mary is doing here, is that practical to what I'm doing? Can I take things that she's doing and apply it to my own teaching ...?'.
The teachers were very used to having my administration team in their rooms every day and through their rooms observing, so it was just actually the next step. What we then did was, I say 'we', my Associate Principal Gayle Higgins then took the teaching performance standards from AITSL, looked through all those and then [went] 'Okay, how can our teachers demonstrate these within the context of West Beechboro Primary School?', which was really critical - we didn't want them jumping between two documents, so we've created a school document and within that there's key things that we will observe when we go into a classroom for a formal observation.
The teachers present to us essentially a lesson plan and we watch, take corpus amounts of notes and then we sit in a discussion with them in regards to coaching and we go through what we've actually seen in relation to what they were saying and where they fit in with the standards. So, it was about a teacher actually, rather than looking at performance management we're looking at professional growth. So the teacher goes 'Well, this is where I am, this is what I need to do, and this is where I hope to be going' and it was our job to go 'Yep, I agree with what you're saying, this is what we saw' or 'No, we didn't see this'. But it wasn't to shoot the teacher down, it was actually to help them develop themselves as teachers. And, part of that also involved getting them involved with our other coalition partner schools - Dienalla Heights and Ballajura – and setting up things like a Level 3 process, which we've got in Western Australia to get your next level accreditation. We set up instructional rounds by going to other schools, based on the medical model where the residents would travel around with the doctor and go 'Here's Mr Jones and he's got gout, tell me what his symptoms are.' We did the same thing with our teachers going to schools, we'd go in and watch the lesson then go 'Right, what are three things that we know are identified as being a highly effective teacher - did we see them in this classroom?' and it was a very closed discussion within the people who were observing it. None of that feedback got given to the teacher. It was all about 'What did we see?', 'What do we need to do to go on from this?'.
And then, built into that too ... we've got five staff now involved in completing their Masters in regard to school leadership and effective school teaching. We've got teachers who've gone on to deputy positions in various schools so, again, it comes back to their teaching practices and being the best teacher they can be in terms of what it is we're doing to recognise you as a teacher.
JE: Excellent. Ray Boyd, thanks very much for joining us at Teacher.
RB: You are more than welcome Jo.
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