Alistair Smith’s ‘High Performers‘ book is a must read for any classroom teacher, middle leader or senior leadership team member looking to take their pedagogy, team or school to ‘beyond outstanding’. It is firmly based in current practice and is based on Smith’s visits to 20 top performing state schools in the UK.
The book shares cutting edge practice that will make you think, and think hard, about your school’s current environment and culture and it emphasises a great motto:
‘Be curious and question everything’
A personal highlight for me was Chapter 18, ‘Challenging: ask the right questions’. This chapter starts by suggesting ‘hard questions’ to ask about your school in order to avoid coasting and promote positive progression in your school environment. Here is the list of questions in full:
- Are our lessons actually worth behaving for?
- Why does our timetable never change? How many different timetables are worth considering in an academic year?
- Why does school start at the same time for everyone?
- Should specialists take all exam groups?
- Would gap year students be a better option than teachers to help with A level support?
- Can we create supergroups by combining sets and giving them high quality lectures with follow up support?
- What do we do on a regular basis that does not contribute to improving learning? How soon will we abandon such practices?
- What’s wrong with mobiles in lessons? Why not introduce them in Year 10?
- Should the department have a Facebook or Twitter account?
- Should we all be on Twitter?
- Can we put revision tips on YouTube? What about lesson starters?
- Do we allow coursework to be submitted that is less than the target grade?
- What proportion of PE lessons need a gym? What proportion of science lessons need a lab?
- Have we provided parents with a booklet of work for each subject for when their child says there is no homework?
- How useful to a parent is a raw grade or score for effort?
- In what ways does a grade for behaviour reflect the students capacity and willingness to learn?
- Many schools spend 100 hours per year on registration. How do we use it?
- Why do we do so few lesson observations? 10 observations per year is still only 1% of anyone’s teaching. Most people can turn it on for an observation but it’s what happens day in day out that counts.
- How productive are our assemblies? Why not have learning assemblies or motivational assemblies for different groups in Year 10 and 11?
Smith goes onto conclude that:
‘As a matter of course we should be reflecting on our professional practice. The opportunity to question some of our most cherished practices needs to be positioned as a positive collegiate activity otherwise it becomes sniper training for cynics’
Wilmslow High School has a copy of this book in our Learning Resource Centre