In April 2014, I raised “The importance of observations and ‘Getting It Right’ (Part 1)” and highlighted the open versus closed process of “Stepping away from observational judgements and how you can evidence this.
This would typically be summarised in the following diagram shown below. The closed process is much easier to discuss. We are held to account by the Teacher Standards and our own school appraisal structure. As for the open process, this is much more abstract. Crucially, some common themes are highlighted when you ask the question, ‘What is a Good teacher?’. No matter who you ask; students, parents, colleagues, even your Granny(!) they will all give you the same descriptions thereabouts …
Part 1 revisited:
Last week, we met with our staff to discuss Part 1, which formed the basis of our own leadership discussions over the past half-term. It was vital to gather views and ask what is best for the school and our students. We raised the following questions to all our teaching staff.
- What is a good teacher?
- How do you know?
- How do you evidence this?
- Do you want to be a better teacher?
The format for each of the following topics was thus. We gathered staff in the staff room with plenty of comfy chairs. Sadly, no refreshments (note to self!) … “Sit anywhere please”. We then presented the following questions on separate documents one by one (but not before). We raised a few points publicly to offer context for all staff and then offered staff 10 minutes to discuss each question. Staff were then asked to scribble down their thoughts, with the option of handing in their comments at the end.
What is a Good teacher?
Why is this question important? What do you think it is? How long is the list? Why is this question useful? Do we need labels? Who needs to know? Who ‘decides’ and why? Where are all the children in all this? and so on…
Now, I am not going to list the countless answers that staff raised. I have already suggested this here and your list and ours will vary very insignificantly. For example; breaks down barriers, consistent, reflective, high subject knowledge, flexible when needed and so forth. Let’s move on.
How do you know what is Good?
How do you know if you are a Good teacher? The perfect teacher we know, does not exist. But we should all want to strive to become a better teacher. Students and their needs evolve, therefore our teaching must too. Throughout this staff discussion and feedback, we raised the following points. Again, yours and our own suggestions will vary, but will centrally contain many similar themes.
- Corridor conversations
- Professional dialogue
- Student progress
- Openness to improve
- Student / parent feedback.
- The classroom litmus test (please ask).
- There are countless others.
How does anybody else know you are a Good teacher?
Finally and most of all, our staff discussed the above question as part of our ‘evidencing awareness’ campaign on good teaching without judgements, progress over time and the open versus closed process as discussed in the introduction.
Is it important?
Well, yes! We publicly raised the issue to staff. “At some point you will need a reference. What would I (the person writing the reference) say about you?” How do you monitor yourself? Are you engaged with your own CPD? What would parents say about you? Governors?
What are your wider school contributions? Your visibility? Your teacher reputation excluding what Ofsted and the appraisal system says? What would your colleague-friend say about you at the pub? Or your most critical coach/colleague with their gloves off? What key sentence would define you and what evidence supports this view?
Regardless of what is said; whether you are a ‘good’ teacher or not, how will the headteacher know this when writing your reference? What sources of information would they use? What would you use? What would be fair? Robust? Transparent?
So, what next?
Well, I was hoping to blog and offer a solution, but as this short blog-series and its title suggests, we are ‘Getting It Right’ before we make any long-term plans. Lesson judgements have not been discussed yet, but we feel the next stage for us, is to move towards a fairer system which would look at ‘progress over time’ using the above context. Our next step is to gather staff and look that the following intended outcomes:
1. To clarify, how standards of teaching and learning will be gathered across the academy.
2. To state how all teachers will be observed across the academy.
3. To provide a solution for monitoring and evaluating the quality of teaching and learning.
I will report back on this (an unplanned Part 3) and how we approach these objectives.
Do share what you are up to. A potential way forward is here from Mr. Benney (Deputy Head) at Penyrheol Comprehensive School, Swansea.