Brave, not perfect: A school's secret to excellent standards
Epsom, Surrey – Rosebery School, an OFSTED outstanding all-girls school faced similar challenges as many others after the easing of lockdown restrictions in March 2021. As Assistant Headteacher Jess Hunter explains, “There was a common problem for schools where classrooms felt very stilted, kind of shutdown, students were very anxious, and the teachers were anxious about challenging the students too much.”
Fast forward to 2023 and Rosebery has managed to maintain excellent standards across their school, with record staff retention rates, above national averages in both GCSE and A-Level exam results, and a community that seems so positive and passionate about learning.
So, what’s their secret?
School culture - ambition & joy
Jess, Carrie Mariner, Deputy Headteacher, and other leaders at Rosebery realised that getting the school community onboard with a shared vision was a vital step in maintaining excellent standards. She explains, “For the last couple of years, the overall school vision has been about ambition and joy. We are trying to make this an ambitious place to be for the teachers, for the students, and also a really joyful place to be.”
This started with agreeing upon shared language that they worked to embed into the heart of the school. Jess continues, “The shared language is an important part of our culture as it allows easier collaboration when we know that we’re talking about the same thing.”
Jess Hunter, Assistant Head and Carrie Mariner, Deputy Head
Brave, not perfect
Part of the shared language that staff have adopted, is the phrase ‘brave, not perfect’. A simple reminder that nobody is perfect, but being brave enough to try new things is enough to make incremental progress, which together, leads to big changes.
Jess explains, “The idea that they can be ‘brave, and not perfect’ – we’re not going to walk into a room and criticise the teaching, we’re all in the same conversation about how to make things better. It doesn’t matter how experienced or new you are to teaching, you are still having the same kind of conversations. It’s never critical, it’s never about fault finding, it’s about improvement. I think people find that really supportive.“
It seems to have worked, as we spoke to Physics ECT Hamish Caines, who echoed the positive culture, “There’s a learning culture of ‘If you have a question, just ask’, there’s no shame in asking basic questions. It’s a very welcoming place.”
Individualised professional development
It wasn’t long after the ethos and values were established, that Rosebery invested in IRIS Connect to enable individualised professional development school-wide. The choice to use IRIS Connect aligned with their vision, and allowed staff to buy into a culture of continuous improvement.
Biddy Coombes, Director of Coaching and Teacher of English, has worked at Rosebery for 14 years, and taught for 25 in total. “In the past I’ve sat in halls, listening to generic messages, which are sometimes important but after that, you need to be able to have more autonomy in your own career development, skills and practice in your classroom.”
Jess comments, “We’ve worked on using IRIS Connect to open up conversations about the classroom and bring back that joy to the room so that teachers feel excited about teaching. We want them to feel confident about what they should be doing and having IRIS Connect’s structure and framework gives them the confidence to give the same confidence to the students. That all just opens up the classrooms so that it feels ambitious and joyful.”
Rosebery’s outstanding IRIS Connect usage statistics
A new perspective of the classroom
Jess reflects, “It was about self reflection because we already had an open classroom culture but there wasn’t a lot of chance for staff to look at their own practice and refine it collaboratively with the agency that comes with video technology.”
A goal of IRIS Connect has always been to illuminate those parts of the lesson that teachers miss. It’s understandable that teachers don’t see or hear 100% of what happens in a lesson, so video technology gives teachers the ability to do just that.
Biddy comments, “IRIS Connect is brilliant because you can see things, hear things that you didn’t even know were happening. You start to appreciate the things you are doing and are in place as well as those things you might need to work on.”
Helen Darch, Teacher of Biology, who has taught for 14 years and has been at Rosebery for 2 agrees, “You start to find these alternative ways of approaching certain classes because every class and student is different, so one thing you try with one class, may not work with another. IRIS Connect allows you to pick up on those things that build confidence in the things that you try.”
Sharing the moments that matter
A common theme that is apparent from traditional observations is that being dropped-in on during a lesson visit does not create a conversation that either observer or the observed, decided upon. The following conversations are not targeted, and specific areas of pedagogy are not addressed.
Biddy explains, “When you’re dropped-in on during a lesson visit, it could be at any time, but if you want to really talk about something you’re grappling with then you can make sure you’ve recorded that, and you talk about it. I love the choice IRIS Connect gives you that you can dictate the direction your conversations take on your development moving forward.”
Andy, who mentors another teacher, talks about how IRIS Connect has changed his mentoring process. “What I’ve found is that it’s much more meaningful for my mentee to film a section of his lesson which we then look at and discuss. It makes that mentoring process much more meaningful. And we’re properly engaged as we’re not relying upon either of our memories or perceptions of what happened.”
Likewise Hamish, who is a mentee, talks about how his experience of mentoring has changed since the implementation of IRIS Connect, “When my mentor comes to visit, I find IRIS Connect very helpful as it helps me self-reflect before going into that meeting. When I was training, mentors would often say in feedback meetings that I said a certain thing at a certain time which I could not remember even doing. So having a chance to self-reflect routinely, before going to those meetings is incredibly helpful.”
The power of autonomy
Using IRIS Connect for this reason was by design according to Carrie, “IRIS Connect has absolutely helped shine a light on our practice, and take ownership. Our lesson visits don’t feel ‘done to’ because we’re choosing what we want to share to really unpick something that we would like to work at. IRIS Connect takes away anybody feeling high-jacked or ambushed about what somebody is going to say – something we wanted to improve to help create that ambition and joy for ourselves and our students. I think IRIS Connect has been integral in creating that open, reflective culture across our school.”
Jess explains, “One thing we wanted to achieve with IRIS Connect is to have our teachers see their own strengths and areas for development without always being told. This gives them that ownership and autonomy over their own practice. I know that teachers have been really surprised to find they actually felt more confident after watching themselves.”
Rosebery consistently bucks the trend of falling national averages for staff retention. We were keen to find out why they thought this was.
Jess gives some insight, “We know that a really important part of staff retention is to allow people to feel like professionals. Our staff have autonomy over what they choose to look at and they have a chance to achieve real mastery over their teaching. It’s not nice to feel stagnant, like you’re not moving on. So I think that part of our staff retention is to do with allowing people the chance to continuously move forward and feel that forward momentum.”
Carrie backs Jess up, “We’ve done that through a variety of ways; giving people the opportunity to do things like ‘try it days’ or open door classrooms, and that’s where I think IRIS Connect has fit in perfectly because it allows the autonomy of your own reflections”
Biddy’s theory is that collaboration is the key to high staff retention, “I think it’s really important to have a culture of collaboration in a school. That’s one of the reasons I’m still here. We share practice and we collaborate. We all appreciate that we want to do the best job and that we need each other in order to do the best job. IRIS Connect is a very connective experience. Being in a classroom can be quite lonely and being able to record moments, share them and talk about them can give you confidence in your practice. It’s also very empowering because you can choose what you want to share, and what you want to talk about.”
Helen has a unique perspective of collaboration at Rosebery. “The collaboration at Rosebery is really strong. It’s something that’s deeply embedded in what we do, and it’s clear that it’s been embedded for a long time.”
Looking into the future
Continuing on from their exceptional progress, Rosebery has implemented a custom development pathway on IRIS Connect to bring their PD processes onto the platform and tie all PD activities together in one central system. The pathway was tailored to their specific protocols, and houses all their discussions, videos and feedback. This has helped reduce workload for pedagogy leads by removing paperwork and improves focus on individualised development.
Jess explains, “We’ve started to use IRIS Connect’s UnityPD this year to remove paperwork and strip it back to the one development area that teachers would like to focus on. Anywhere you can remove extra work from teachers and give them a chance to purely think about their practice, is always really helpful in making them want to stay at a school. We’ve found IRIS Connect very supportive in doing that. It’s enabled us to let people look at one area at a time and try and refine it.“
Rosebery’s particular pathway is split into 4 steps of guided reflection:
- Record practice
- Reflect together
- Plan and rehearse
- Capture and refine
The pathway enables each teacher to choose a pedagogy focus, record it, share it, discuss it and refine it easily and collaboratively. We are looking forward to seeing their progress and the impact of this pathway.
The success of Rosebery is clearly the byproduct of their strong culture and values. Their careful implementation of shared language and a community that has all pulled in the same direction is a wonder to witness.
Most impressively, having their entire staff workforce buy-in to a culture of relaxed improvement, perfectly encapsulated in the phrase ‘brave, not perfect’ left no doubt why outcomes and retention rates were so high.
The use of IRIS Connect has allowed each teacher to have autonomy over their own development, allowing them an individualised and adaptive professional development journey.
We are so glad that we are helping Rosebery achieve all they have for their staff and students, and are happiest when we hear from teachers like Helen:
"IRIS Connect - I can’t imagine teaching without it ever again."
Would you like to explore the use of IRIS Connect at your school too?