Conversations in direction and support (part 5 in a series)

Knowing the principles of the OLEVI Professional Progression Framework is one thing. Imparting them on others requires a conversation.

Previously in this series on direction and support, we have outlined the basic principles underpinning our approach, looked at them in operation in Sweden and described the framework we have derived from the principles. Now we describe how we use the framework in a professional conversation between a headteacher and members of their staff, a leader and their teachers, and a teacher and their pupils. For brevity, we shall refer to the members of this partnership as the responsible partner and the learner. We have drawn upon our work in England and Canada for evidence.

As with many things in life, you try to establish a system based on logic and then the problems surface on the implementation. Such is the use of the OLEVI Professional Progression Framework when employed to improve the performance of staff and pupils.  Therefore, we present the best-case scenario.

The common questions 

It is expected that at regular intervals, the responsible partners will meet to review the performance of the learner and determine how it might be improved. We refer to this as a professional performance conversation. During the meeting, the responsible partner will ask the learning partner a sequence of five basic questions.  For each of these questions, described below, we have identified the role that each partner will play.

  1. What are you trying to achieve? B
  2. Where are you now? A
  3. What have you learnt about the effectiveness of your current actions to improve your performance?
  4. What do you need to learn to move from A to B?
  5. How do you think you can contribute to the learning of your colleagues?

We now consider each of these questions in more detail:

1. What are you trying to achieve?  

The answer to this allows the responsible partner to determine if the espoused theory of the school or class – what the school or class is trying to achieve – is understood by the learning partner. If they do not understand the espoused theory, then it is essential that this weakness is the first thing to be addressed.  Without this understanding, the impact of any future learning is likely to have a limiting effect.

The responsibility for ensuring that this is explicit and understood by all in a collaborative learning community sits with the headteacher, for ultimately, they are the responsible partner for all staff and pupils. They only delegate that responsibility to others.

2. Where are you now? A   

The answer to this second question allows the responsible partner to judge how accurately the teacher or pupil is able to assess their own performance compared to the espoused theory of the school or class.   Any disparity here between the two assessments needs to be the next issue to be addressed.

The outcome of this should be an agreement about the leader / teacher / pupils’ current level of relative performance.  There should then be an open discussion between the partners to identify where the learning partner leader is placed on the OLEVI Professional Progression Framework. As a result of this, they can identify the learner’s next stage in the progression and from this determine the type of learning they will be engaged in and the degree of direction or support they will receive from the responsible partner.

3. What have you learnt about the effectiveness of your current actions to improve your performance?

The answer to this third question provides an opportunity for the learning partner to make their implicit actions explicit and to evaluate the cause and effect of the actions they have selected to improve their performance.

At the same time, it allows the responsible partner to assess the effectiveness of the learner’s theory- in-use and discuss this with the learner.  This will allow both partners to determine the learner’s capacity to achieve the desired improvement in performance.

4. What do you need to learn to move from A to B?

The answer to this fourth question allows the learner to articulate the actions they think they need to take to improve their performance.  However, responsibility for determining what action should be taken depends upon where the learner’s performance is placed in the framework.

Concurrently, the responsible partner will be able to judge if the learner’s theory-in-use will result in the gap between A and B being closed. This activity relates to the first five stages of the OLEVI Professional Progression Framework.

However, if the case were that the learner’s performance matches the espoused theory – there is no gap between A and B – the learner will be encouraged by the responsible partner to investigate if the expected level of performance should be raised further. We have identified this as phase three, stage six of the OLEVI Professional Progression Framework.

If this happens then the responsible partner should increase in the school’s or classes’ espoused theory, accordingly, thus growing the top.

5. How do you think you can contribute to the learning of your colleagues

Two areas of learning are covered here. The first is the area of expertise which comes with the learner’s role.  For example, one would expect an English teacher to know their subject syllabus and the expertise to cover all aspects of teaching the subject would be apparent across the team. The second area relates to improving their craft. For learners who are leaders, this is about leading and managing and for teachers it is about teaching and learning.

For those at stages one and two in the OLEVI Professional Progression, the opportunities to do this will be extremely limited. Their focus should be upon learning how to meet the statutory requirements of their role and the evidence-based non-negotiables established by the collaborative learning community.

For those learners whose performance places them within the other four stages, the higher the stage, the more they will be required to share their learning with their colleagues.

I – we – them

As the learning partner’s performance improves, and they travel across the three phases, the role of the responsible partner shifts from direction to support.

Phase 1 – in this phase the responsible partner is directing the learner. They act as ‘I’.

Phase 2 – In this phase, the responsible partner provides a mixture of directing and supporting the learner.  They act as ‘we.’

Phase 3 – in this phase the responsible partner has delegated responsibility to the learner, and they act in a supporting role. It is about ‘them.’

Here we have presented the sequence of questions used in a Professional Conversation and identified where it is modified for a given level of performance. We concluded by describing how the balance of direction to support provided to the learning partner by the responsible partner alters as performance improves.

We will next look at the type of distribution of staff within the OLEVI Professional Progression over time and between schools, performing at different levels of aggregated performance.

We hope you found this useful.

Take care and stay safe



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