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Checklists help to build teamwork, encourage us to focus on the actions which matter most and prevent us from missing out key responses while under pressure.
But how does that fit with professional development, which is more of a gentle, cerebral, long-term activity to chip away at than a one-off task, like ensuring a lesson plan is complete or preparing to speak to a parent?
Good checklists have a number of facets, according to Atul Gawande, the master of this particular domain. He highlights the importance of precision, efficiency and ease of use.
They don’t try to spell out every action, they remind users of the most important steps which may be missed. They stay simple and include just a handful of items – the most important ones. And we choose appropriate points in the day, week or year in which we will use them. We can even use them to build communication.
So while professional development may be a longer-term activity, a checklist may well help to ensure that we’ve planned everything we need to do it well.
Choosing a pause point at the beginning of each year, each term and even each week, this checklist is designed as an opportunity to take stock of priorities for development for the year ahead, and identify how you can develop towards them.
It points towards a series of possible opportunities, but, as with any checklist, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and it finds its value when it is tried, adapted and personalised: around the school’s development plan, your own interests and your students’ needs.
Choose a focus for the term.
What are you trying to improve and for whom?
Choose a technique to try out, which promises to support your focus.
What are you going to change, in or outside your classroom?
Choose how you will assess your impact.
What are you measuring?
How does what you are measuring relate to student outcomes?
Choose a book to read, which will challenge and inform your approach.
Choose people to invite in to your classroom.
Who will bring you thoughtful, challenging and supportive critique?
When will they be most helpful?
Choose people to learn from.
Who does what you wish to do well?
When can you see them?
Choose a time to think and develop.
When, each week, will you set aside time to focus entirely on your own development?
For example, this could result in the following plan:
This term, I’m going to improve my assessment practices, and I’m going to focus on my Year 11 class, with a particular view to identifying how much they’ve understood from each lesson and planning the next lesson accordingly.
I’m going to start by using exit tickets, and use this to measure the proportion of students who can demonstrate understanding of the lesson’s key points each lesson: the plan is that this should increase over time.
I’m finally going to read Embedded Formative Assessment, and I’m going to visit a colleague in maths who uses exit tickets very effectively: I’ve booked to see her next week. I’m also inviting in the NQT from my department who seemed very interested in this to see me in a fortnight’s time.
Each week, I’m going to use my free period on Monday to reflect on how far I’ve got and refine what I’m doing for the next week.
Armed with this checklist, I would suggest checking in on a regular basis against progress made, where the gaps are and what more can be done.
Gawande notes that checklists can build communication: going through this checklist individually could be a useful trigger for managers to talk to their teams, or individuals to make requests of their manager. Going over it as a group might provoke useful conversations, ensure the sharing of ideas and ensure each member of the team knows what everyone else is doing.
Harry Fletcher-Wood taught in Japan and India before training with Teach First and spending six years in London schools. He blogs regularly at improvingteaching.co.uk and tweets sporadically as @hfletcherwood.
He is also the author of Ticked Off: Checklists for Teachers, Students, School leaders (Crown House, £9.99)
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