Last weekend, after an excellent ResearchEd event in Philadelphia, where Dylan Wiliam had given a superb keynote, I wrote this tweet:
It’s now had over 2000 ‘likes’ – which is far more than anything I’ve ever put out on twitter before. Evidently, people like this message. We need to stop comparing teachers to some imagined standard that represents what an excellent teacher should be – something that is not defined with them in mind, around the person they are. We need teachers to compare themselves to what a more effective version of themselves might be and work on securing that change. It’s quite a different emphasis to what many teachers experience.
The tweet threw up various follow-on reply threads:
How can we know A is ‘way more effective’ than B anyway? How do we define or measure effectiveness? Is that perhaps too functional a term? Teachers are far more multidimensional – does ‘effectiveness’ capture that human element?
How does B become better – and of course how does A become better because, for sure they need to improve too? Can B learn from A? And could A learn from B?
In my view it’s entirely valid to assert that some teachers are better than others – simply in terms of securing more secure knowledge and understanding with similar students. However, it’s not a contradiction to say that this is also massively complex, hard to evaluate reliably and impossible to measure in absolute terms – on a scale. These are bias-laden, comparative value judgements.
If we’re going to improve the quality of teaching, we should all heed the lessons laid out in Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s excellent Leverage Leadership. The process involves working in a supportive, developmental culture to find each teacher’s best bets for genuine, sustained improvement. This could be informed by research-informed theoretical models of learning – a healthy engagement with Rosenshine wouldn’t be a bad place to start. The process could also be usefully supported by lesson observations, student data, work scrutiny… – because it’s not always possible to self-diagnose our improvement needs based on reflection alone. However, ultimately it all needs to result in something tangible and specific that the teacher can do and will do with some intensity and commitment; something they will practise deliberately. And that needs the teacher to be at the centre of the discussion; owning it; driving it, believing it.
We’ve got a long way to go to change our professional culture to truly put teacher development at the centre where it is needed – replacing the control cultures that are so prevalent. There’s still too much SLT power-gaming, too much stick, too many directives, checklists, compliance regimes.. It takes a big mind-set shift to flip it all around. And it’s not all hugs… that’s the thing. Holding someone to account for driving their professional learning with some intensity has a hard edge to it. This is what David Hargreaves explores in the tenets of collaborative professionalism. Here, collective responsibility and autonomy require us to support each other to be the best we can all be.
Let’s celebrate the ‘Be a Better B’ approach: Each teacher a unique individual capable of improving; using their strengths to even greater effect; addressing some of the challenges they face in their context.
In the language of the Learning Rainforest, the goal is to support every individual teacher to establish every better conditions for learning; build ever stronger knowledge structures and explore ever more possibilities, but always as themselves, not by trying to make them be someone they’re not.