Leading Learning 2014 – Reflections from an Open Space Conference

On Friday we held our first ‘Leading Learning Open Space Conference’ (we being me, Kristian Still and David Rogers).  An open space conference is very different – and this was a first for me, so I was unsure of what to expect.  The diagram below summarises how it works:

openspace2An open space event needs a key question to be addressed during the day – our question for the day was:

What are schools doing to develop consistently great teaching?

We invited school leaders with responsibility for T&L and CPD to come along and discuss it.  There was no agenda set.  That was to be done by the people who turned up – and turn up they did.

ll14With everyone sat in a circle, facing a seahorse and some paper, we got started.  Delegates were asked to come to the middle when they were ready and write down some specific questions they had, relating to the main question.  These questions  would then eventually become the agenda for the day.  So for example we had the following questions suggested:

  • How do schools engage all staff in CPD?
  • Lesson observations – with or without grades?
  • How are schools developing engagement with research?
  • What are schools doing about assessment without levels?
  • How do schools plan their INSET and CPD?
  • What CPD do schools put in place for Middle Leaders?

In the end, we probably had about 36 questions.  Some of them were similar, so we then grouped these similar ones into one question.

These questions (on A3 paper) were then stuck on to large pin boards – the marketplace.  delegates were then asked to browse the marketplace and use their coloured dots (each person had 5) to vote for the questions that were most important to them.

We then picked the top 6 questions – this would be the final agenda for the day.  We decided that we were going to have 2 sessions during the day, with each session having 3 questions being discussed.  There was no time limit set for the sessions – they finished when they finished – a key principle of open space conferences.

Each of the 3 questions for the first session were then put into a different corner of the room and people chose which group they were going to join.  Once each of the three groups were established, the discussions started.  There was no ‘leader’ for each of the groups and you didn’t have to stay in the group.  Once you felt you had contributed all you could to the group, people moved on to another group.

Session 1

The questions were:

  1. How do we engage all staff in CPD?
  2. How do we develop our middle leaders?
  3. Lesson observations – to grade or not?

I joined the ‘How do we engage all staff in CPD?‘ group. Some of the main points of the discussion were as follows:

  • Schools should look for good practice that exists with them – then celebrate and share what works.  Persuade staff who are being successful to lead CPD.
  • Whilst it’s important to share general pedagogical strategies and techniques, it’s also important to give departments the time to discuss and develop subject specific pedagogy.
  • Find as many different ways as possible to share good practice e.g. staff briefings, breaktime celebration events (where staff are awarded ‘star of the week), shared strategy booklets, noticeboards, twitter, email bulletins, blogs etc.
  • Have a range of CPD activities available for staff that allows them to engage with it at a level that suits them e.g. whole school input on INSET days/ staff meetings etc; optional activities for staff to opt in to; directed support for those who are underperforming.
  • A little and often approach to CPD works well e.g. 15 minute forums.  These are manageable and practical.
  • Don’t be overly prescriptive about what teaching should look like – if it works and teachers are getting the outcomes from students then it’s good – don’t try to change it.
  • Coaching works best when staff are given the time to do it e.g. during INSET days and it is paperless.  By making it paperless, staff are more likely to be open and honest and address the issues that really count for them.
  • If teachers are being successful and getting  the outcomes from students – and don’t want to engage with some CPD activities – don’t force them to.  Focus on the staff who need improvement.

At the end of the session all 3 groups summarised the main points of their discussions


Session 2

The questions were:

  1. How do we embed a growth mindset to develop independence?
  2. What are schools doing to prepare for assessment without levels?
  3. How do schools plan their INSET and other CPD to develop teaching?

For this session I joined the ‘How do we embed a growth mindset to develop independence?‘ group.  Some key points from the discussion were as follows:

  • If it’s going to be successful, it needs the full support of the SLT, who then need to ensure their whole approach and language fits in with that of growth mindset.
  • Use a questionnaire to ‘measure’ their mindset.  Then use this to discuss individual ‘stuck’ and ‘successful’ students with staff at a staff meeting/INSET day – and link this to their mindset.  This puts a context to the idea of fixed/growth mindset.  See here.
  • Set up a website to develop mindset qualities with students e.g. The Reach Programme.
  • It’s not a quick fix. It needs to permeate everything we do – every conversation we have colleagues, students, parents etc.
  • Make certain teaching skills high priority in your CPD programme to promote a growth mindset e.g. challenge, modelling, feedback.
  • Support staff with developing this approach, by sharing quick and easy techniques they can adopt with their teaching e.g. the power of ‘Yet’ and others here.
  • Develop a culture across the school where excellent work is celebrated and shared.
  • Adjust praise and reward systems, so that they reward the effort and resilience shown by students.
  • Use it to tackle specific issues e.g. groups of girls who ‘can’t do maths’. Put on sessions for them and in these sessions adopt a growth mindset approach.
  • Integrate it into whole school systems such as feedback and assessment without levels – put your money where your mouth is!  For an example, see here.

Again, at the end of the session, all 3 groups summarised their discussions.


The day was a great success – and the ‘Open Space’ approach was a great way to structure a day like this.  Many delegates said they would be using the approach back at their own school, for future staff meetings, INSET days etc.  It seemed to work for the following reasons:

  • There is no set agenda – the agenda is the issues that the delegates want to address and so bring to the day.
  • It’s flexible – once people feel they have contributed as much as they can to one discussion, they can move to another.
  • You only join in discussions that are of interest to you.
  • It’s great to have the time to reflect on and discuss the issues that are important to you.
  • It’s a great way to pool lots of ideas about a particular issue.
  • It allows people to discuss and share ideas with like minded colleagues, who all do a similar job.
  • It can be the starting point for future collaborations.

We are already looking forward to ‘Leading Learning 2015’

Related articles:

Leading Learning #LL14 – Kristian Still

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5 Responses to Leading Learning 2014 – Reflections from an Open Space Conference

  1. Pingback: Leading Learning #LL14 | KristianStill/Blog

  2. Sue marooney says:

    Brilliant work. Excellent way to bring colleagues together to share and learn from one another.
    Well done Shaun, Kristian and David.

  3. Paul Cox says:

    Many thanks to Shaun, Kristian and David. An imaginative format that facilitated wide ranging discussion amongst colleagues. Will look forward to next year – Paul

  4. Mel says:

    I took a lot from today, on many levels. Thank you for organising.

  5. Michelle Kelly says:

    A highly successful day that left me feeling energised and eager to try out new ideas. I shall look forward to next year’s. thank you for taking the time to organise it.

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