Introducing ‘Cycles’: clarifying and simplifying school routines

First posted on the Reach Free CPD blog on 2 September 2016 and later on the Herts & Bucks TSA blog on 7 March 2018.

In September 2016, The Reach Free School introduced ‘cycles’ as a way of clarifying and simplifying the routines of the school week, term and year. They are, therefore, an alternative to the more traditional idea of thinking of the school year in terms of ‘Autumn 1’, ‘Autumn 2’, ‘Spring 1’, ‘Spring 2’, ‘Summer 1’ and ‘Summer 2’. So far the implementation of our ‘cycles’ routines has been a success with support staff, teaching staff and senior leaders all agreeing that they make our day-to-day expectations clearer and more ordered.

The idea is that we need to start thinking of the school year as three 13-week cycles; namely, Autumn, Spring and Summer. The cycle diagram (see below) is basically a visual representation of these 13-week cycles and lay-out the key parts of the term (or week on the weekly cycles diagrams at the side). Importantly, similar things happen within these cycles, which is why they are termed as such.

screen-shot-2016-09-02-at-20-35-33

Why ‘Cycles’?

There are numerous reasons why we have adopted ‘cycles’, but some key reasons are:

  • growth – to allow the school to grow as a centre of learning excellence and students to grow and become resilient as learners;
  • culture – to develop the key themes and competencies identified in the cycles and fully embed them within our working practices;
  • routines and consistency – to ensure that we stick to these themes and competencies in order to facilitate the above points;
  • clarity of expectations – to ensure all staff are fully aware of their expectations and of the timeframes set;
  • making every moment count – so that we are always aware of what we should be doing at a given point and what comes next.

The Ethos Cycle

A school’s ethos is, if you will forgive me, its heart and soul. Therefore, the central cycle should focus on ethos and/or values. At TRFS we have ACE (Achievement, Community, Enjoyment) as our ethos and the ACE cycle is the central cycle on the diagram. This cycle:

  • is core to everything that we do;
  • monitors pupil progression;
  • allows us to craft and embed culture and character;
  • makes us aware of what are we doing to develop our community and our links beyond the school;
  • questions whether pupils enjoy their time here;
  • flags up the things that make us unique, such as Community Common Room, Electives (extra-curricular lessons), regular pupil surveys and Zilcho’s (our rewards trip).

The Assessment and Data Cycle:

The next cycle focuses on assessment and data, which are central to tracking our pupils progress, prioritising interventions and measuring pupil outcomes as well as assessing the impact of our teaching. Here, the cycle:

  • ensures we record and act upon the information we get from pupils;
  • emphasises the importance of departmental meetings;
  • sets out the expectations concerning the marking of books (4 times per cycle);
  • highlights work scrutiny (within departments and whole school);
  • champions KS3 assessments and use of departmental rubrics;
  • indicates summative assessments (tests); once per cycle, especially at KS4.

The Teaching and Learning Cycle:

This last cycle (on the main cycle) focuses on our teaching and asks:

  • are we making every moment count in the classroom?
  • are we learning from each other?
  • are we improving our own practice based upon reflection and feedback?

It also:

  • puts and end to termly, graded lesson observations;
  • indicates when line managers will be on earning walks;
  • shows when there will be peer observation drop-ins;
  • emphasises the importance of revisiting seating plans within the cycle.

Moreover, the learning walk (light touch observations) aspect of the above cycle will be:

  • a 15-20 minute observation of a lesson (maybe more);
  • discussed fortnightly with line manager:
  • arranged or unannounced;
  • involve brief feedback on strengths and next steps;
  • forms the basis of peer observation drop-in sessions;

Of course, the teaching and learning cycle is geared towards the PMR/CPD structure at TRFS and would differ in other contexts.

There are also Weekly Cycles, which are in addition to the three main 13-week cycles, but focus on other key areas of school life over the course of a 5 day working week. These cycles include:

  • form time – setting up and reflecting on the pupils’ day;
  • staff briefing – adding purpose and ideas (and food!) to our briefings; notices to go on Arbor (our registration, monitoring and assessment system) as well;
  • electives – all pupils to have a ‘Me Time’ session scheduled. These will be an opportunity for support and intervention;
  • ‘On Tour’ – where there will be a supportive SLT presence in every lesson, every day to check on routines.

In the future we hope to add to these cycles, including relevant cycles of CPD provision, for example. I am also planning on developing cycles for my pupils in order to structure homework, assessments and knowledge organisers into a regular pattern.

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