A Short History of Trios

At this point in the blog it is probably a good idea to insert a brief account of how the Trio idea developed at Woodroffe and how we plan to use it to spread good practice across the teaching alliance and thus improve the quality of pedagogy.

A few years ago it was becoming quite clear that the traditional approach to CPD was not particularly effective.  Staff would be sent on courses and they would return to school with perhaps one good idea.  Sometimes they would share their experiences with colleagues; more often than not the course would be forgotten within a few days.  By way of contrast, in-house CPD was beginning to be much more highly thought of, particularly when some kind of collaborative working was involved.

This shift of thinking was in line was many other schools but at Woodroffe we embraced the notion of collaborative working with considerable enthusiasm and from this the Trios were born.  Two very successful experiments took place and these led to the systems we now operate across the school and across our pyramid of primary schools.

One of the things I did as a teaching Headteacher was to spend a couple of days with two colleagues from local primary schools visiting their schools.  Together we visited every class, from reception to Y6 and discussed what we saw at the end of the day.  We then moved to the secondary school and observed lessons from Y7 to Y13.  Our focus was Independent Learning and it was no surprise to discover at the end of these observations that the classes which were most independent were the Reception classes.  Independence seemed to be squeezed out of pupils as they progressed through the system.

Our observations were discussed at length and each Headteacher did a presentation to their staff on the findings.  This led to some very enthusiastic responses and it was therefore decided to make sure every member of staff had the chance to visit another school: secondary teachers went out to primaries and vice versa.  This stimulated a huge amount of discussion and collaborative work, and a summary of lessons learned was produced.

Meanwhile, at Woodroffe, a more formal Trio system was becoming established, with groups of teachers working together to explore an issue of pedagogy.  The teachers could be from the same department but more commonly they were from different departments.  They would meet initially to decide on a theme for their Trio work and then jointly plan lessons, observing each other in action.  Three seemed to be the ideal number because no one wanted to let the other two teachers down and this resulted in high levels of commitment.  In addition, the opportunity to spend time planning and observing other colleagues was regarded as excellent CPD.  This method of working quickly became established as the core CPD offer of the school and, after the initial experimental sessions, it was adapted to bring it in line with the School Development Plan.  The vast majority of our CPD is now delivered in this way, linking CPD with Performance Management and the SDP, but always focusing on pedagogical exploration. The impact on lessons has been powerful and the feedback from Trio working has always been positive.

The next step was to broaden the scope of our enquiries and build upon the work we were doing with our primary schools.  We had had the Heads’ Trio, the ‘away day’ to each other’s schools, and by now we had established a shared INSET day.  It was therefore an easy step to establish a system of cross phase Trios, with one secondary colleague and two primary colleagues working together. Thus each Trio involved teachers from three schools exploring a wide range of issues, from general teaching points to transition matters.  Here it is interesting to note that despite the differing contexts, the level of support and the degree of insight into good practice was perhaps even higher than in the Woodroffe only trios.

The initial focus was on Independent learning, building on our previous work, and this was refined in the second set of Cross Phase Trios around the question, What does Progress in Independent Learning look like?

We now have a fairly sophisticated system of cross phase trios working across our Primary/Secondary pyramid, with high levels of enthusiasm throughout.  The knock on effects for links between the schools and transition issues are obvious but the learning power of sharing across phases is not to be underestimated.  The most recent focus has been the question, What does Expertise look like in the Classroom?, an idea developed out of work done with Prof. Gordon Stobart of the IoE.

When we became a Teaching School, the obvious way of drawing schools together seemed to be Trio work. The model had worked so successfully across the pyramid it seemed ideal for developing links across a large number of schools. The opportunity to tie this in with a research project was a bonus.

So, given the varied nature of the schools in the Alliance, we decided to start with a small pilot and give ourselves time to develop the skills needed to create a net of Trio working. We therefore asked for volunteers who would be happy to take part and then spread their practice across the alliance. We decided to use our experience of cross school working to create a training programme and thus ensure consistency of approach. We now have the volunteers in place and the training has taken place, with Adam Shelley, Woodroffe’s Assistant Head, working with our first two SLEs, Richard Vine and Sharron Hutchings. The SLEs will lead the first two Alliance Trios but each member is now committed to lead a trio in turn across another three schools.

In order to accommodate the needs of the research project, a fairly tight monitoring system has been introduced.  Each Trio will follow a similar pattern as outlined in the training but their topic of study is up to each group.  At the end of the project each Trio will produce a summary of their work and present it to colleagues in their schools.  In addition, they will be asked to evaluate their learning. We also plan to ask the Headteachers of their schools to evaluate the impact of the work they have done.

We are very optimistic that this project will expand and allow us to create a sophisticated network of CPD and pedagogical research stretching across the schools in the alliance.  The main aim, of course, will be to raise standards and improve outputs.

The benefits could be enumerated thus:

  1. Excellent CPD for those involved
  2. School Development Plan objectives explored
  3. Closer cooperation across phases and between schools
  4. The spreading and sharing of good practice
  5. Raised Standards and Improved Outcomes
  6. The development of leadership skills for those involved – everybody a leader of learning

Of course, classroom practice will be at the heart of the project, ensuring that CPD is always focused on learning.

There are of course barriers to overcome:

  1. Travel- some of our schools are a long way apart
  2. Involvement of staff – it can be difficult to ensure that staff can be released from their teaching to take part, particularly in primary schools
  3. Time constraints

It is hoped, however, that these problems can be solved by:

  1. The ‘buy-in’ of the headteachers and the teachers taking part
  2. Autonomy – teachers themselves will be driving the project
  3. Clarity of purpose – colleagues need to know exactly what to do.

We now have a fascinating network of Trios in place: those at Woodroffe (and, of course, those working independently in other schools in the alliance); cross-phase Trios; and, now, two new cross Alliance Trios.