Trusting our Teachers

Much of the recent discourse regarding teacher education and the profession of teaching is about raising standards. This accountability paradigm insists that boosting the quality of teaching, increasing the standards of entry into the profession and improving the quality of teacher education programs will improve student outcomes. Student outcomes in this case are often narrowly defined.

Marilyn Cochran-Smith shared at the 2018 AARE conference that this accountability paradigm has emerged based on five policy, political and professional influences, namely:

  1. Unprecedented global attention to teacher quality tied to neoliberal economics.
  2. Teacher quality defined as teachers who produce large gains in student improvement.
  3. Continuous public narrative about the failure of teachers and teacher education.
  4. Teacher education defined as a policy problem focused on outcomes.
  5. The teacher education establishments own turn towards accountability.

These five influences have infiltrated, permeated and embedded themselves so deeply that they are often seemed to be self-evident. This tacit struggle is a form of cultural/political domination that de-professionalizes teachers and simultaneously reduces agency and voice. This narrative legitimizes certain institutions, practices and interests, produces policy based on contested claims and hyperbole and positions education reform as a simple cure for inequality.

What can those working in schools actually do? No one I talk to is arguing that teacher quality doesn’t matter. We want the best teachers teaching. We also have to value those that we have in the profession and provide the structures and level of support to move beyond individual and collective appraisal and explicit improvement agendas, to a system that has a focus on learning, growth and pedagogical quality. We do this through trust. By trusting our teachers we can change societal discourse, elevate the profession and perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, increase levels of accountability. Not accountability to state or national standards, but accountability to ourselves, to our colleagues, to the students in our care and their families. A collective accountability that becomes a responsibility to enhance our profession. A moral responsibility to focus on what matters. A responsibility to tell our own stories, to change the narrative, to create our own visions and to define what counts as a successful education in our contexts.

In my experience the way schools typically enact teacher accountability and performativity measures is to have an appraisal process in place. In 2015, in conjunction with the introduction of a new professional learning model, I removed the need for our teachers to be judged on an annual basis and introduced a process based entirely around individual and collective growth.

From the communication that was sent to staff about the change.

It is recognised that The Geelong College has a responsibility to provide teachers with access to meaningful professional learning opportunities. It is also recognised that teachers are responsible for their own learning and responsible for ensuring professional learning is undertaken and the requirements for teacher registration are maintained.

In recent years teaching staff at The Geelong College have participated in a biennial Appraisal process to assist in the development of their professional skills and to document professional learning. Annual Learning Projects have become important self-determined professional learning experiences for teachers seeking to investigate their professional knowledge and practice. These projects are shared with colleagues annually and they have helped to stimulate greater vibrancy in the professional discourse among teachers. Over the last year or so, the Appraisal process has become increasingly aligned to Learning Projects.

The emerging strong relationships with Deakin University through the Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation (CLRI) and the professional value of the Learning Projects have resulted in an increase in the level of interest in post graduate research degrees among the teaching staff of The Geelong College. This is an exciting and significant development informing the next step in the ongoing development of our approach to the professional learning of teachers.

From 2016 it is proposed that a change in terminology be adopted moving from ‘Appraisal’ to ‘Professional Learning Program’ (PLP). It appears the term Appraisal no longer reflects the nature and needs of the College.

At some point every two years teaching staff will meet with the Principal (or delegate if appropriate) to review their PLP.

Key components of the PLP

  1. Annual Learning Project – this is to relate to professional learning and may include action research projects or the development of special projects related to improving student outcomes (academic, pastoral, co-curricular). A variety of methods and approaches can be adopted and may include, but not be limited to, classroom observations, interschool visits, action research projects and professional presentations
  2. Conference/course participation – documentation of participation in professional conferences and courses. This can be as delegates or presenters.
  3. Professional engagement – demonstrated professional engagement such as professional reading, VCAA marking, working with graduate or undergraduate teachers or other ways of contributing to the development of professional skills of other educators

*As a caveat, we still have a performance management and professional conduct process in place that can be evoked if needed.

In my experience, appraisal processes in schools are draconian in their implementation, or such a waste of time that they become a tick-the-box exercise. What we did was a fairly simple shift from appraisal to professional learning. The bi-annual meeting with the Principal or delegate now becomes a chance to talk about individual interests, contexts and passions, in a non-performative setting, that is influenced by a coaching approach. It was an initiative that was very well received across our community.

Systemic issues abound and can become overwhelming. But there are always small things that can be achieved in your own sites and contexts. A focus on trusting teachers is a good start.

What is Learning?

At the end of 2015, we asked the teaching staff at my College their thoughts on learning.

This is what they had to say.

 

What is Learning? from CLRI on Vimeo.

Also have a look at the ‘Behind the Scenes‘ footage for an insight into the making of ‘What is Learning?’

 

There is nothing wrong with this picture

Today I spent the day with Grade 3&4 students playing & designing in Little Big Planet and learnt more about them in 4 hours than some teachers would in six months – and yet, some teachers would scoff at this picture and say that it isn’t rigorous and nothing of value could possibly be going on here. Play is for home. Play is for ‘free-time.’ Play is for children and only after the ‘hard work’ has been done…

At its most basic level, play fosters creativity and imagination and connects pleasurable emotions to learning. This is what ‘back to basics’ should be all about.

Play with your students. Get down on their level. Learn with them.

It’s empowering.

LBP 2