# 3 Shaping the Opening Doors Hubs

Or What makes effective CPD?

In this the third blog of three, I’ll explain the approach myself and the Opening Doors Hub schools took to support effective, year long professional development with groups of teachers in neighbouring schools.

There is a remarkable degree of consensus in the education research community as to the principles, the features, the climate needed for effective professional development to happen.

Ask even a small group of teachers to answer this question based on their own positive experience of PD and they generally write the research.  It was no different when we asked teachers at our Opening Doors conferences.

What PD Approaches work for Opening Doors teachers?

Teachers understood that the Opening Doors approach is challenging.  It is not built on following a set path of stages or strategies, but on teachers deepening their understanding and appreciation of complex texts, how these texts work conceptually and how learners can be inducted into the language rich imagination of those texts through carefully managed reading and writing approaches.

At our conferences, many experiences were shared of trying to efficiently push start an Opening Doors approach to teaching English by handing over the books or planning materials, even leading one introductory staff meeting on the core OD strategies and this not translating well into effective live provision.  These teachers knew that ‘efficient’ CPD short cuts are a false economy, particularly when the change required in teaching and learning tracks back to principles and beliefs about learning and development.

So what had worked and could work?

PD Principle 1: Feeling challenged, safe and supported

 This is needed by teachers and pupils alike.  It is not an easy balance to achieve, but it is possible.  The first challenge of Opening Doors for teachers is to know more texts and understand in depth how they work.  The second is to build a range of strategies that supports children to access, explore, build meaning and write from the stimulus of a rich text.  Approached in isolation, both of these challenges can be isolating, off-putting and efficacy depleting.

Two approaches have proven particularly effective to invite teachers into the Opening Doors challenge.

  1. Share authentic pupil writing in response to texts. As consultants, we draw on work from schools we have worked with but also by drawing on the widening bank of texts available on our publisher’s website: Crown House.  As teachers, it can be even more effective if a few teachers have blazed the trail and have in-house examples to share – and not just from pupils who are already keen writers.
  2. Simulate existing Opening Doors journeys with a group of teachers. Give them the time and space to experience the units as learners, to read and think together, to write and respond and reflect together, to struggle and enjoy the route through the struggle.  Teachers tell me this is often the best first step to help them to imagine change without threat.

Benefits?  Teachers began to feel that the effort, thought and strategy they would need to adapt their practice would be worthwhile, would be possible and that there are others who had gone through or were going through the same productive struggle on hand to support.

PD Principle 2: Teachers as reflective learners

So – experiencing an Opening Doors style journey as learners, alongside other teachers, then reflecting on how it felt to be part of the journey.  What was challenging?  Did it feel pleasurable?  Productive?  How was this similar or different to current practice and approaches?  How could this journey be adapted for your class?

In two out of three of the Hubs, we were able to observe live teaching and in all Hubs, we reviewed pupil writing books or other lesson artefacts, like class notes, writing walls, scaffolding supports.  How was the learning journey recorded and supported over time?

Benefits? Teachers could more fully visualise the changes they would make to various aspects of practice and had reflected upon why these changes were important

PD Principle 3: Acknowledging the difference, and what made the difference

We made time at the start of each session to share emerging stories of change: e.g.

‘We used to teach the whole of the novel Coraline, peppered with short writing outcomes.  Now we teach a unit centred on ‘the uncanny’ – an aspect of the Gothic.  We take reading and writing stepping-stones from Eve Bunting’s Night of the Gargoyles to moments from Coraline through to Pip’s encounter with Miss Havisham from Great Expectations (In Opening Doors to Classic Poetry and Prose).  Writers in Year 6 have never been so motivated, nor their writing so compelling and well controlled.’

What made this concept based, rather than single text-based unit more effective and accessible to all?

Why is a variety of stimulus texts just as important for writers who are struggling as it is for those who are thriving?

Benefits? Any principled programme should be underpinned with reasons for its effectiveness.  When a teacher really owns and adapts practice, she is making sense of this reasoning through practice and reflections on practice.  Nothing ‘works’ because you are told it will work.

PD Principle 4: Rebuilding practice in manageable, reflective cycles

Building enacted understanding of the Opening Doors strategies that can bring the high pitch, access for all principle alive.  For some this has been through a series of twilights (e.g. What supports access?  What are taster drafts for?  Why use radial questions?).  For some, this has been working through cycles of collaborative, assisted planning.  The first few planning cycles work well based on published Opening Doors units – over time, finding new tapestries of texts and planning original units.

Benefits? Teachers enacted the change in the classroom, reflected, adapted and over time brought more responsibility, direction and creativity to the journeys they took with their pupils.

So we knew we needed to plan for cycles of teacher development, informed by principles and approaches, exemplified in simulated or live teaching then applied in class and reflected upon in a safe, non-judgemental collaborative community.

Not easy.  Not quick.  But entirely possible and hugely rewarding.

Should I have left Hub schools to it?

These pioneering Opening Doors Hub schools told me that they did not want to lead change in other schools unsupported.  This was in part humility: not wanting to position themselves in relation to other schools and teachers as those who can and those who can’t.

Having myself as an external consultant allowed the Hub schools to share ‘This is how we make excellence with equity work here…so far…we hope you find this intriguing and helpful…and our journey continues.’  A consultant can bring in wider perspectives from the privileged position of having experienced the application of principles in many different settings.

Back to the present!

Like a snake eating its tail – I can now take you back to my first blog that documented the impact of the first wave of Opening Doors Hub courses.

Through a partnership approach: myself, the experienced Opening Doors teachers and leaders in the Hubs and the willing teacher participants on the courses we have rebuilt understanding and practice as we have journeyed through the year.  Was the same change experienced by everyone? No.  A few teachers were in contexts where they were told not to innovate until after an Ofsted inspection.  A few were restricted in making changes by their year or phase lead who was not on the course.  However, the vast majority were well supported in their contexts to be brave, make thoughtful, principled changes to practice and monitor the impact.

More Opening Doors Hubs will run in 2023-4 and we will be branching out to the challenge of increasing challenge in Lower KS2.

The publication of the new, lead guide book for teachers and leaders ‘Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English’ will provide even more support to those who work directly with us and many more who use the books alone as their stimulus and support.


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