Inside the mind of a school leader

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This months blog includes part of an email exchange I had with Kirsty Alderson (Vice Principle of King’s Leadership Academy). The real joy of this role is engaging with teachers and leaders over how to best foster a climate of learning rather than trying to justify that progress is linear. Once we get trapped into this mindset progress, or the lack of it in the short-term, becomes a big stick that is used to bring significant stress into the lives of teachers and their students.

At the King’s Leadership Academy they are really trying to enthuse the whole curriculum with Let’s Think and the depth of their thinking was highlighted by this reply I  got from Kirsty this week:

“What is important for us to understand is that the concept of mastery within the lesson should be something that is achieved as a result of breaking down cognitive barriers of the pupils we teach in relation to the content and challenge taught.

Your point that mastery should not come at the end of one lesson as this gives over the message that thinking is neatly packaged into a very small unit is correct within reason but it then begs the philosophical question ‘What is mastery?’ and ‘How do we measure it’? Can the concept of mastery be successfully applied to smaller units of thought and thought processes eg. breakdown of learning into small parts – each small part being slowly ‘conquered’ and ‘mastered’ by the end of a smaller unit of teaching eg. a lesson?

I believe so if it is done in a way that supports Michael Shayer’s research on no more than 3/4 activities to help develop and promote an abstract strand of thinking. A pupil being able to break down a cognitively challenging, abstract idea based on an aspect of learning and be able to understand, interpret and produce something to demonstrate this should be seen as a ‘small win’ on the path to mastery; indeed, I would argue that the latter is synonymous with mastery here in so much as it is mastering smaller elements of learning that make it realistic, measurable and achievable. These smaller elements of mastery based on the topic taught then build throughout the week/two weeks learning to (hopefully) a crescendo/a crux where the culmination of ‘chunking’ the learning and challenge supports the bigger learning picture, feeds the pupils understanding and enables pupils to achieve the ultimate goal of mastery.

CA is based on the foundation of challenging the individual to achieve abstract thinking through the vehicle of material taught and the challenge presented. The onus is on the child with the teacher providing facilitative support.This should enable each child to move from the concrete operational state of thinking to the abstract state of critical thinking and gain mastery in this area (in theory).

I fundamentally believe that whilst you can teach ‘stand alone’ CA lessons, (which both teach and consolidate the pupils cognitive, thinking skills that can be applied to such an activity)  which can engage the pupil on an area that is wholly independent of the topic being taught, I am sure you will agree that CA strategies should also be used to further the curriculum content taught and strategies employed to support pupils with the more abstract philosophies and teaching of the curriculum. Therefore, this once again lends itself to mastery but, rather, smaller elements of mastery that supports progress over time.”