Carnegie Education

Let's talk about... developmental conversations

There are lots of reasons to talk to your colleagues. Perhaps you need to pick their brains, perhaps you have a good idea to share. You might need to explore a dilemma with them or in leadership role you need to give them advice or guidance. Sometimes it’s just good to talk.

Published on 29 Jan 2020
Hexagons with contributors image in it

As we look beyond the current Covid-19 pandemic we hope to host a CollectivED / GCI Knowledge Exchange Conference ‘Better Conversations, enhancing education one discussion at a time’ in the next academic year. This blogpost was originally written based on a theme for the conference planned for June. In addition to our main stage speakers we have a number of subthemes which will be explored through roundtable discussions. Prior to our rescheduled conference we anticipate hosting ‘Let’s talk about…’ webinars. Please follow @CollectivED1 on twitter for more information.

So, what makes a better conversation developmental? Let’s see what four table hosts in this theme have highlighted. First up is Steve Hoey who tweets at @shoey1968. Steve was a secondary school leader for 16 years in a variety of roles and secondary schools and completed his MEd with a dissertation on ‘A portrait of Deputy Headship in UK Secondary Schools’ in 2018. He was a director of a school-based teacher training school in Hull so has worked with lots of trainees and mentors. He is now setting up a social enterprise called The Inclusion Bridge CIC which works with students, staff and parents around inclusion and mental health, based in Hull and East Yorkshire. Given Steve’s background he is well placed to host a discussion around the question ‘How can you have better conversations with your headteacher/line manager/boss/mentor?’. Steve recognised that in schools (and life in general) people sometimes struggle to have effective conversations with their boss, line-manager or mentor Middle and senior leaders in schools can sometimes feel that they just get jobs and tasks ‘passed down’ to them to do – often at short notice, sometimes unrealistically and often reactively. Steve’s session will explore how you can have better professional conversations with colleagues which can have more impact and allow you to give more rather than just constantly be given to. He will use questions and case studies to facilitate discussion but also offer some real practical tips. Questions around hierarchy and accountability in schools will be explored. This is an opportunity to consider how to make the conversations you need to have be more productive by a better understanding of what people want from you, and how you can take more of a lead to have a real voice and impact. Next up is Kathryn Morgan who tweets at @KLMorgan_2. Kathryn is currently Associate Dean at Ambition Institute and was previously director of professional learning and development at the Prince Albert Community Trust. Kathryn’s roundtable discussion will focus on ‘Conversations that count: how do you have conversations that enrich relationships and lead to improvement?’ Kathryn recognises that the conversations that we have are the relationship, yet far too often, we don’t have the types of conversations that really matter. In a work setting and particularly in schools, snatched, task-orientated conversations breed misunderstandings and damage trust. She is interested in how we can ensure that our schools are organisations where candid and psychologically safe conversations hold people able and lead to professional improvement. Kathryn will draw on her ‘Fierce Conversations’ coaching practice to explore with participants a variety of tools that can be practised and embedded in schools. Much of the Fierce Conversations philosophy aligns with the work of Viviane Robinson and helps to create the conditions where her ‘open to learning conversations’ lead to high levels of relational trust and sustainable improvement. Without such alignment conversations are unlikely to be productive.

Also contributing to the theme of ‘developmental conversations’ is Joanne Miles who tweets at @JoanneMiles2. Joanne is a qualified coach, with many years of experience coaching teachers in the post-16 sector in lesson observation cycles and professional development contexts. She now works freelance in the FE sector supporting colleges to set up and develop coaching teams and is a special adviser on the ETF national project on Evaluating the Role of the Advanced Practitioner in the FE Sector in the UK. Joanne will be exploring a theme on which she wrote a chapter on coaching in lesson observations in “Reclaiming Lesson Observation” edited by Professor Matt O’Leary. Her conference roundtable discussion question is therefore ‘How can we enhance the quality and depth of reflection around lesson observations by using coaching conversations?’. The discussion will focus on the conversations that teachers have before and after lesson observations which can play an important role in reflection, professional learning and ownership of their development. Coaching skills and approaches can help us to enhance the quality, focus and depth of those conversations. In the discussion we will share reflections on how coaching language and approaches can be harnessed to deepen reflection around classroom practice and the challenges in fostering focused, deep reflection on lesson observations. Participants will explore coaching approaches to address these challenges and Joanne will also share some findings and learning points from her own work in the sector.

Our fourth ‘developmental conversations’ contributors are Lou Mycroft and Kay Sidebottom who tweet at @LouMycroft and @KaySocLearn. Lou is a writer who also describes herself as a nomadic educator and Kay is lecturer in the Carnegie School of Education and amongst other things a published poet. Both are Thinking Environment Practitioners. They will focus the discussion on ‘How can The Thinking Environment create better professional conversations?’. Lou and Kay have written about the Thinking Environment in issues 1 and 8 of the CollectivED working papers. This is the first opportunity for them to bring their work to a CollectivED event. The roundtable discussion will demonstrate the Ten Components of the Thinking Environment and illustrate why it is of value in educational contexts which are too often affected by issues dominant behaviours which exclude listening and attention, increased systemic competition and individualisation, limited opportunities for ‘pro-social’ learning and a reluctance to embrace complexity.

There are lots of reasons to talk to colleagues and amongst them are the opportunities to develop practices and better thinking.

By Rachel Lofthouse, Kay Sidebottom, Lou Mycroft, Kathryn Morgan, Joanne Miles, Steve Hoey



Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Professor / Carnegie School Of Education

Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.

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