Principles and practices

Is there a difference and should we care?

Matthew Benyohai
Aug 20 · 3 min read

As we head into the summer I’m starting to think more about the role of Head of Physics that I will be taking on in September. This will be alongside my existing role of Head of Scholars and Academic Enrichment.

The latter involves driving and coordinating the vision for our scholars’ programme with the support of three scholar mentors, the Vice-Principal — Academic and Associate Vice-Principal — Learning & Teaching. There are common elements to the program for the girls, such as academic lunches and they are each assigned a mentor. The mentoring itself, however, is free form. As a group, we have discussed what we want the outcomes of the scholars’ programme to be (traits in the girls that we wish to nourish) but the implementation of the mentoring is up to the mentor and will vary depending on the girl. How successful has this been? It’s difficult to measure because of the nature of the outcomes, but the program has been going well and we are adapting it each year to improve it.

Where does this sit with managing a department? Recently I’ve seen a number of attractive strategies being shared to improve teaching and learning in a department. Whole class feedback, booklets, regular retrieval, shared lessons, shared resources, dialogic marking to name a few. These are sold as practices to ensure and embed desirable principles across a department but is this the right approach?

Let’s take regular retrieval as an example, which for the sake of this blog we will assume to be a positive principle. One approach might be to get all members of the department to do a 10 question quiz at the start of the lesson. If this is followed, we’ve embedded the principle; success. But would staff understand why? Have we reduced staff autonomy and expertise? What will happen if I were to leave the role of HoD? Would the practice continue? Do I actually care how the principle is applied? Does this assume one person knows best?

Would it be more beneficial in the long term to work as a department to embed the principle? If staff understand and appreciate the principle of regular retrieval, they could apply this in the lesson however they may choose. Quizzes at the start of the lesson, use of Quizlet, embedding questions related to previous work in their worksheets, memory games if they wish. I would hope that this would drive discussion in the department and lead to further innovation and improvement.

As I start to think about the principles I want to embed/enhance next year, should I be thinking about specific practices or hoping they will come out in the process?

Secondly, this got me thinking about Quality Assurance vs Quality Control. Quality assurance is the implementation of processes and standards to ensure your product (whatever that may be) will be of the required standard. Quality control is the validation of the product once it has been produced. There are two ways to look at the product in this context; lessons delivered by teachers and student outcomes.

If we consider the product to be the lessons then quality assurance would be a shared understanding of the desired principles, department meeting time spent co-planning, time spent ensuring subject knowledge is good and a complete and comprehensive scheme of work. Quality control is fixed lessons structures and explicit marking policies.

However, if we take student results to be the product, then fixed lessons and departmental resources become quality assurance. You are setting a standard for lessons to ensure the quality of your outcome. Quality control is harder to define here because you can’t just ignore the results that don’t meet the standard you expect. The nearest parallel would be what happens following results analysis meeting to address any shortcomings the following year.

This is just a short rambling thought as I gear up for next year, but I would appreciate any thoughts people have.

PS James Theobold has written an excellent post here which I think shares some ideas with this post.

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