Personal and organisational vision


The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. ~ Helen Keller

A key theme in literature about school change is the need for compelling, coherent, and shared vision. See, for instance, Hargreaves and Shirley’s 2009 The fourth way, Senge’s 2012 The fifth discipline, Fullan’s 2001 Leading in a culture of change or Fullan and Quinn’s 2016 Coherence. For Peter Senge, shared vision is one part of nurturing a ‘fearless and open community inquiry’. For Michael Fullan, not only is shared understanding and purpose of members of an organisation important, but any new initiative must be coherently connected with the culture, mission, and moral imperative of the school in order for the change to be sustained over time.

So vision is important, but in order to propel a school forward it must be shared. While the individual teacher is sometimes the focus of school reform (improve the quality of each teacher’s teaching!), it is collective expertise–in teams, schools and the profession–that can shift beliefs, practices and narratives in education.

We need to constantly consider the symbiosis between individual and group, teacher and school, person and system.

Personal vision, that of the individual, is sometimes overlooked in the conceptualisation of vision in education. Yet educators’ identities, emotions, lived experiences and visions (for the kind teachers and leaders we aspire to be, for the influences we aspire to have on our students and school communities) are an important ingredient in the educational landscape. In her 2006 book Seeing through teachers’ eyes, Karen Hammerness longitudinally explored four teachers’ visions, and how these evolved and were enacted over time. She found that teachers were continually searching for a place that aligned with their visions for their students and their classrooms; they were always looking for a match between their identity and their context.

So schools seek to develop commonality of vision and purpose, while individuals seek to align with their contexts in terms of their own beliefs, identities and the purpose that propels them in their work.

Schools are more than workplaces; they are organismic settings for learning, collaboration and transformation. At worst, they can be ill-fitting contexts or pits of anxiety. How we feel and fit in our context influences our work and our community, and the experiences of our students.

I’ve written before about Costa and Garmston’s notion of holonomy (see Cognitive Coaching: A foundation for Renaissance schools), which draws together the individual and the larger system, whether that be team, organisation, profession or system. Costa and Garmston base their conception of holonomy on Arthur Koestler’s work around the word “holon” as something which operates simultaneously as a part and a whole. The holon is independent and interdependent, disparate and united. Koestler combines the Greek word “holos” meaning whole, and the suffix “on,” which indicates a particle or part, in order to conceive of the holon as a part-whole.

Each person is both independent agent and interdependent part of the group, responsive to the larger system. Holonomous individuals, according to Costa and Garmston, possess the capabilities to maintain self-directedness while acting independently and interdependently; they are simultaneously self-regulating, responsive to the organisation and able to influence those around them. They are flexible and efficacious, simultaneously part and whole.

As I work in my own school in the arenas of professional growth and performance review, we are working towards, not just a shared vision, but also processes, practices and structures that are connected with the through-lines of our personal and organisational visioning, our shared beliefs, values and purpose.

Aligning what schools do with shared vision and purpose can be challenging work, requiring constant focus and attention to the relationship between intent and enaction. There are tensions to navigate if a school’s vision is at odds with external measures and expectations. Or if a school’s vision is at odds with those of its individuals.

How might schools find ways to address tensions between their contextual purpose, and an educational system that might rub against their grain? How might schools draw individuals into personal and organisational visioning? How might we each continue to kindle our internal purpose, that of our colleagues and that of our profession? I have some answers for my own context, but am continually asking these kinds of questions.

Research-informed education practice: More than lip service and shallow pools

stromatolites in shallow pools

stromatolites in shallow pools, Shark Bay

In a variety of educational contexts I have recently heard everyone from keynote speakers to respected educational practitioners talk about research in education, especially the notion of bringing a knowledge of research into schools.

The general gist of what I’ve been hearing is ‘we need research-informed practice’ and ‘we need to look to the best research to inform decision making in schools’. These are statements I absolutely agree with, but digging a little deeper has led to disappointment. When people have gone on to explain what they mean by those fashionable sweeping statements, they have mentioned one or two researchers or studies of which they are aware. These oft-mentioned authors or studies seem to be those that are highly promoted, wheeled out by well-funded organisations or publishers, or neatly packaged into half-day workshops or laminated sheets. Some are those promoted as a one-stop-shop of what works in education: the simple answer for which we’ve all been searching!

The problem is that education is not simple, and neither is research. Learning, teaching and school leadership, are highly complex and contextual. There can be no simple answer, magic wand, silver bullet or laminated sheet of pretty-looking graphs that can transform education. (I was, however, recently challenged to have a go at thinking about in which directions we might look in order to improve teaching and learning.) As Dylan Wiliam suggests, research can point us in profitable directions, illuminating those interventions on which we might best spend our time.

Research, too, is highly complex and multifaceted. To engage effectively with research, educators need to understand its limits and what it can offer. All research is limited. I’m well aware of the limitations of my own research. I know my research has something to offer, but that offering is a small nudge, a keyhole insight, a singular thread in a tangled web. Academic writers are constantly delineating the parameters of their work; what their work has done and can show, and what it hasn’t done and can’t show. Each study or paper or chapter illuminates a different part of the tangled web of research in education.

As educators teaching, or leading teachers, we need, not just to be able to spout a couple of scholarly names, assert that ‘so-and-so tells us that X doesn’t work’ or make decisions based on appearing to engage with research. We need to engage with, pore over and deeply interrogate—with a critical eye—a range of research. Jon Andrews points out that deeply influential people who penetrate huge educational conversations and decisions may be going unchallenged by the profession at large. Marten Koomen traces some of these influential figures and their spheres of edu-influence.

John Hattie’s meta-analyses are often referred to in education circles as examples of research that tells us what works; it is certainly his name that I am currently hearing most often in schools and at conferences. I respect Hattie’s work and that there are things it can tell us, but am skeptical about the ways in which it has been universally adopted as a ubiquitous beacon of research light in the edu-darkness. Dylan Wiliam, in his 2016 book Leadership for Teacher Learning, discusses the limitations of meta-analyses and their application in education, cautioning that “meta-analysis is simply incapable of yielding meaningful findings that leaders can use to direct the activities of the teachers they lead” (p. 96). Snook et al. and Terhart also present critical perspectives on Hattie’s book Visible Learning. This is just one example of how a particular set of results has become so widespread that it unquestioningly becomes part of the fabric of edu-talk.

We can’t pat ourselves on the back for unquestioningly consuming the most pervasive or seductively-packaged research. Gary Jones’ blog is a good place to start for those looking for considered sense-making around how schools might interact with research.

I am committed to playing a part in bringing the worlds of research and practice, theory and action, academia and schools, meaningfully and purposefully together so that they speak to and inform one another. It’s why I am pleased by the schools in Australia embracing school-university partnerships and internal roles like Head of Research. This recent report (by Tom Bennett, featuring Alex Quigley and Carl Hendrick) tracks some of the impacts, successes and challenges of Research Lead roles in schools in the UK.

I believe that schools can lead and generate research. They can develop roles and processes that bring critical organisational mindfulness to the movable feast of edu-research and how practitioners might navigate, probe and be informed by it. Let’s do more than wade in shallow pools of research literature or pay lip service to being research-informed. Instead, let’s find ways to lead and embed research thinking and informed decision making into the fabric of what we do.

Rethinking professional learning: an academic paper for JPCC

This week I’m thrilled to see my paper ‘Rethinking professional learning for teachers and school leaders’ published in the Journal of Professional Capital and Community. This journal, whose Editor in Chief is Andy Hargreaves, boasts an Editorial Board including Linda Darling-Hammond, Michael Fullan, Alma Harris, Karen Seashore Louis, Pasi Sahlberg, Helen Timperley and Yong Zhao. My paper appears in Volume 1, Issue 4, alongside a theoretical paper by Dennis Shirley. As an early career researcher, I couldn’t ask for more distinguished company.

Even more pleasing is that the journal is open access during 2016, so free for anyone to download and read. Open access to the paper means that it can be accessed by practitioners who so often don’t get to read and engage with the literature in (often pay walled) academic journals. In fact, it has already been downloaded (at today’s count) 1689 times. Wow. That’s a bunch more times than my PhD thesis. From what I can see, my paper is the most-read paper from the journal thus far, even though it has only been officially published for one week, and available via EarlyCite for a few more weeks before that.

The paper, which draws from the lived experiences of teachers, middle leaders (often a forgotten group in education literature) and executive leaders in one Australian school, outlines the findings of my PhD around what makes professional learning that transforms beliefs and practices. It discusses my study’s response to the questions:

  1. What is the role of professional learning on identities or growth?; and
  2. What professional learning is transformational?

My PhD found that transformational learning (as defined by Ellie Drago-Severson, 2009, as that which actively shifts cognition, emotion, and capacity) is: collaborative and individual; occurring in life, school, and work; and requiring elements of support and challenge. Not only was it lifelong, but it was life-wide. For these participants, it is life experiences, as well as professional experiences, that influence their professional beliefs and practices. The following is a table, which didn’t make the final cut of the paper, shows the range of features of professional learning found in my study.

tabulated findings around professional learning

tabulated findings around professional learning

This table shows the variety of experiences that educators in my study considered transformational for themselves. These experiences included relationships with family members; role models and anti-models of teaching and leadership; post graduate study; difficult life experiences; becoming a parent; and connecting with others at conferences or via social media. It included heutagogical (self-determined) learning, as I outlined for this blog post for the Heutagogy Community of Practice.

It also included, especially for leaders operating at an executive level, the time and space for silence, reflection and thinking. The research interviews themselves proved to be spaces of learning for some of the school leaders, who saw them as an opportunity to be listened to intently and to think deeply about their learning and leading.

The participants in my study had some important cautions about professional learning and about school interventions. They cautioned that a mandated approach to professional learning, even if differentiated, might not address the needs of all professional learners. They wondered about how to honour the individual teacher and the organisational priorities when leading professional learning in schools.

The paper concludes that, while my study intended to explore the ways in which educators’ experiences of professional learning form and transform their senses of professional identity, it found that it is not just professional learning, but life experiences that shape professional identities and practices. That is, our teacher selves and teacher actions are moulded by critical experiences that tangle with and shape our identities, lives, relationships, and emotions. The best professional learning, as suggested by this study, is highly individualised and knottily enmeshed with educators’ senses of self, of who we are professionally.

Anyone who teaches knows that we cannot separate our teacher selves from our non-teacher selves. As teachers our lives affect our learning and teaching, and our learning and teaching influences our lives. For many teachers, ‘life’ and ‘work’ are well beyond blurred. We are humans who teach and teachers who exist as humans in the world. The leaders in this study tended to describe themselves as either teachers who lead or as leaders who teach; they remained teachers in their identity self-perceptions. See this post for further musings about the notion of teacher identity, that ‘being a teacher’ stays with many of us beyond our years in the classroom.

One suggestion to emerge from this paper is that we would benefit from rethinking what it is that we consider and label as ‘professional learning’. Professional learning is not hours logged on a spreadsheet or entered into an app. It is not necessarily being in a room with other educators at a course or conference that is labelled ‘professional learning’ (although it might be). It is those critical moments across our lives and work that shape the core of who we are, in and out of the classroom and the boardroom. Professional learning can be personal, unexpected, unscheduled, nonlinear, messy, unbounded, and unacknowledged.

Can we redefine ‘professional learning’ in more expansive and flexible ways? How might we acknowledge those hours educators spend blogging, or studying, or tweeting, or visiting schools, or collaborating intensively, or volunteering in the service of others? How can leaders lead the learning of teachers in ways that honour their individual learning trajectories and their own agency? How might we rethink our systems and schools in order to focus, not on hours of what is easily labelled or effortlessly deployed (staff day scattergun PD, anyone?), but on what actually engages us and changes our cognition and our capacities?

Trust and support teachers: My New Voice Scholarship panel speech

speaking yesterday at the Melbourne Convention Centre

speaking yesterday at the Melbourne Convention Centre

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel of ACEL New Voice Scholars (list of awardees here) at the Melbourne Convention Centre. As a representative of new Australian voices in educational leadership research, I spoke in front of an auditorium of 1200 educators in response to the provocation: ‘If you could wave a magic wand, how would you transform education?’

The following is a version of that speech (I tend to go off the cuff a bit, so it’s not identical). It is based on this think piece I wrote for the ACEL Perspectives publication which is more measured and referenced, and less rhetoric-laden than my speech. I’ve added links to other blog posts to this post, as feedback from those at the conference has been that they would like to know more about the school professional learning model about which I spoke.

Thank you to the Australian Council for Educational Leaders for offering me the platform-soapbox-orangecrate from which to speak passionately about what I think is important for leaders, teachers and students in our schools.

*                                                      *                                                      *

(Hello etc. …)

I am an English teacher by trade and have spent the last 17 years teaching and leading in schools in Australia and the UK. Most recently I have been leading a strategic project that developed a whole-school coaching model at my school, designed to do a number of things, including:

  • Improve teacher classroom practice;
  • Develop teachers’ capacities for reflection;
  • Depersonalise and open classrooms;
  • Develop a common language of practice; and
  • Improve the quality of professional conversation.

This intervention was strategically aligned, so it was top down in terms of being aligned with the strategic vision of the school, initiated by the principal and supported by the school board. But it was also middle out and bottom up, as the model was developed by teams of teachers, led by me. We took a deliberately slow process of prototyping, piloting, iterating and refining this context-specific intervention.

At the same time, while also parenting two small children, I completed a PhD in which I asked what it is that makes professional learning transformational and how school leaders can best lead professional learning for teachers.

(It was at this point that I said something like, “My doctorate was conferred in April, so if you see me around the conference, you can call me Dr Deb” which has resulted in everyone from the MC to delegates calling me ‘Dr Deb’ ever since!)

As someone who bestrides educational practice and research, I don’t believe there is a silver bullet or magic wand that can transform education, but I do believe we can work to positively influence it.

Two things we can focus on, in order to positively impact on our students’ learning, are the trust and growth of teachers.

At my school, we have developed a model for teacher growth that uses Cognitive Coaching, non-inferential lesson data, and the Danielson Framework for Teaching, to help teachers reflect on and grow their practice.

Non-inferential lesson data—that is, data that is, as much as possible, non-judgemental and informational—and shared standards of teaching, help our teachers to develop the depth and precision of their reflections on practice, while Cognitive Coaching helps teachers to surface their own thinking about how they can improve. Cognitive Coaching is not about solution-providing or advice-giving, but about mediating the thinking of teachers and helping them to find their own solutions to problems of practice, based on a belief in their internal capacity to do so. To paraphrase Dylan Wiliam: teachers know their own classroom and their own students best.

My PhD found that coaching, among other things, can transform teachers’ beliefs and practices. It also found that school leaders have an important part to play in leading the learning of teachers.

We need to avoid those policies and practices that pit teachers and schools against one another (such as merit pay), that promote competition and commodification, or that focus on external metrics, performative measures, rewards or punishments. These are all things that demotivate, de-professionalise and demean our profession.

To support teacher professional growth and improvement in practice, we need to focus on trusting teachers to be professionals with the capacity to grow. We need to properly support their growth through context-specific interventions for which we provide adequate training, sufficient time, appropriate resources, and processes to systematically review our effectiveness.

In this way, within our own schools, we can heighten teachers’ self-awareness, self-efficacy and collaborative expertise and positively influence student learning.

Should a coach be curious?

On Twitter recently I have noticed a few people talking about the qualities that a good coach might have. One of the qualities that has been raised more than once is that of being curious. During the last #educoachOC chat, I had this interchange with two respected voices in educational coaching, Christian van Nieuwerburgh and Chris Munro.

snippet of conversation from the last #educoachOC Twitter chat

snippet of conversation from the last #educoachOC Twitter chat

And it got me thinking. What might be the focus of a coach’s curiosity? Does being of valuable service as a coach involve being curious? Does being curious mean showing genuine interest in a coachee and demonstrating eagerness to hear the details of their experiences? Is it about paying close attention or finding out more? Does a coach’s desire to find out more make a coachee feel valued and empathised with, or does it sidetrack the purpose of the conversation?

The notion of coach curiosity rubs against the grain of Cognitive Coaching in which the coach–while encouraged to be open, inquiring, flexible, caring and compassionate–is instructed to set aside the following unproductive patterns of listening:

  • Autobiographical: This is ‘me too!’ listening in which the listener is compelled to share experiences of their own that they see as relevant to the speaker’s experiences. The coach needs to restrain their urge to be drawn into thinking or speaking about their own stories.
  • Solution: This is listening in which the listener is drawn to thinking up their own solutions to the listener’s problems. Rather than problem-solving, the job of the Cognitive Coach is to assume that a) the coachee knows their own context and problem best, and b) has the capacity to solve their own problems, using the coaching toolbox to help that person access their own internal capacities and thereby developing their self-efficacy.
  • Inquisitive: This is curious listening in which the listener wants to know more about the details of a particular situation. However, the purpose of a coaching conversation is not for the coach to know intimate details, or to provide advice, so what purpose does curiosity serve in a coaching conversation? Who is it helping?

This is what Art Costa and Bob Garmston write about inquisitive listening:

Inquisitive listening occurs when we begin to get curious about portions of the story that are not relevant to the problem at hand. Knowing what information is important is one critical distinction between consulting and coaching. As a consultant, a person needs lots of information in order to ‘solve the problem’. As a coach, a person needs only to understand the colleague’s perspective, feelings, and goals and how to pose questions that support self-directed learning. (Costa & Garmston, 2006, Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools, p.65)

Coaching is a form of self-restraint: setting aside personal preferences; refraining from telling one’s own stories; withholding one’s own ideas or advice. Coaching is a service and the coach a servant. The coach is mirror, conduit, bucket in the well, water on the grass; a gentle influence that helps the coachee be the best version of themselves, and move towards where it is that they want to go with increasing capacity. In Cognitive Coaching this capacity development is focused around the Five States of Mind: consciousnesses, craftsmanship, efficacy, flexibility and interdependence.

So, should a coach be curious, or is curiosity a form of self-ish, rather than self-less, listening? If a coach’s questions are focused on seeking to understand the inner details of a coachee’s experiences, is that of value to the coachee? Often I find that as a coach I don’t need to know details. The coachee knows the details of their own situations and their thinking is benefited by being able to focus on where they want to go, rather than recounting minutiae for my benefit.

When I am being coached—my thoughts flying and forming and jelling and tumbling—I don’t necessarily want to be diverted by the well-intentioned interest of the coach. A coach’s curiosity to know more can sometimes take me from my own desire to move forward in my thinking, backwards or sideways to having to explain the specifics of my situation. My coach might not know the context or background of my issue, but I do. I don’t need help knowing the situation I am in; I need help to think my way to future solutions and successes. I want a coach to be present, to listen attentively, to hear, to paraphrase, and to ask me well-crafted questions that I haven’t thought to ask myself. Coaches might ask themselves: ‘If I’m being curious in this conversation, is that about me and what I want to know, or is it of benefit to the coachee?’

What do you think? Should coaches be curious, and if so, about what? If coaches are on a need-to-know basis, what exactly do they need to know?

Reflecting on my PhD graduation ceremony

my Tudor bonnet and graduation shoes

my Tudor bonnet and graduation shoes

My Tudor bonnet brings all the cred to the yard

At my PhD I worked so hard

Wherever I lay my hat that’s my home

Its soft black velvet quells imposter syndrome

The PhD is seemingly never ending. Its end is emotional. Completion and post-PhDness is identity-bendingly confusing. And in Australia, with no viva or oral defense, there’s no clear end to the PhD. No full stop. Certainly no celebratory exclamation mark. I’ve reflected that my PhD ended with a whimper, not a bang.

So, while I have tended to avoid graduation in the past (only thus far attending my Grad. Dip. Ed. ceremony because my mum was graduating from her PhD that same night), the messiness of post-PhD identity wrangling, combined with an inner desire for a rite of passage or moment of celebration, drew me to attending my PhD graduation ceremony. While I have enjoyed some other milestones – submitting the finished thesis, having thesis amendments signed off, having the published thesis book in my hands, being conferred with the doctorate and getting the doctor title – a university graduation ceremony seemed to offer the acknowledgement and closure I felt I was missing. It was the last PhD milestone. The final carved stone obelisk at the end of one road and the beginning of another.

How I felt attending my graduation ceremony, 5 months after conferment of my degree

how I felt attending my graduation ceremony (5 months after conferment of my degree)

Graduation didn’t disappoint.

It was a great reason to design and purchase some graduation shoes, but also to procure a Tudor bonnet, age-old symbol of the doctorate. With its stiff round brim, silken tassels and floppy (impossibly-soft!) velvet top, this hat is at once unflattering, medievally ridiculous, and a long-standing symbol of scholarship. The red satin facings on the front and sleeves of the academic gown (which is burgundy at my university), and the accompanying Cambridge hood, represent the doctoral degree. Altogether it is quite the ensemble.

It was a lovely ceremony that allowed PhD graduates to feel acknowledged and respected for their achievements. We processed in past the seated audience, leading in the academic faculty procession, and were the first of the night to receive our degrees. Each of us was introduced, with our name and a blurb about our thesis (its title and description), at which point we walked across the stage to be personally congratulated by the Chancellor and to receive our degree. We were then invited up onto the stage to sit behind the Chancellor, professors and other academic faculty, a gesture welcoming doctoral graduates into the community of scholars.

Graduation was a wonderful opportunity to bring together some of the people who had been supportive during the PhD. It was an excuse to share this ritualistic formality with family and friends. As PhD graduates, we and our guests had VIP tickets that allowed us to mix with other PhDs, their families, their supervisors (including mine; I’m her 24th PhD completion), the faculty and distinguished guests, in a private room beforehand. There were more drinks and refreshments following the ceremony.

I can highly recommend attending your PhD graduation. After a journey that is often isolating, long and difficult, without a clear end, the ceremony was special, memorable and about coming together with your favourite people (and an applauding auditorium).

I now feel more able to rock those robes, not just with a saucy dash of red lipstick, but in terms of owning the achievement and assuming-subsuming-becoming the doctoral identity. I’m more ready to continue to move on from the PhD into The Next, The Beyond and The As-Yet-Unimagined-Faraway.

#graduationselfie #rockyourrobes

#graduationselfie #rockyourrobes #lovemybonnet

Is teaching an art?

close-up of Monet's Nymphea at the Musée de l'Orangerie

close-up of Monet’s Nymphea at the Musée de l’Orangerie

How can we appreciate an artist’s work or know an artist’s worth?

We can see the genius of Frida Kahlo in one of her paintings, get a flavour of her life at La Casa Azul in Mexico City, or understand her dramatic story arc through a comprehensive exhibition of art she produced throughout her life. We can marvel equally at one of Monet’s early Impressionist works as at the spectacular exhibition of his Nymphea in the naturally-lit oval rooms of the Musée de l’Orangerie. One of Salvador Dalí’s paintings can give us insight into his skill, style and artistic significance, but a visit to his Teatre-Museu in Figueres allows us to more deeply know his life, work and mad genius.

Richard Olsen tweeted in the #educoachOC chat this week that he considered teaching an art, and that he thought that when being appraised, teachers’ teaching should be looked at as a body of work, rather than as individual pieces. You can see Richard’s tweets, which got me thinking, in the screenshot below. His view is consistent with those who warn against the compartmentalisation and atomisation of teaching into disparate, de-contextualised bits.

There are also, however, those who advocate for clear maps and standards of teaching in order to develop shared understandings of what good teaching might look, sound and feel like. My own school uses the Danielson Framework for Teaching as a tool for developing our shared language of teaching and the precision of our reflections on and planning for teaching and learning. These reflections are also based on lesson data snapshots of practice, which provide the basis for Cognitive Coaching conversations. Our approach seems to fit into Richard’s notion of “critiquing specific pieces”, rather than looking at a body of work. Yet fine-grained lesson data and consequent reflections allow teachers to drill down into aspects of their teaching practice, while acknowledging that one lesson is only ever a moment in time, a snapshot of practice, a through-the-keyhole-peek into their teaching as a whole.

Many, including Robert Marzano, describe teaching as an art and a science. The notion of blending art and science, creativity and systematisation, resonates with me. It was the approach I took to my PhD research, one that I outline in this paper in Narrative Inquiry. I have blogged about viewing research as sculpture, as art-esque conversation, about teaching Art, and about textiles as political metaphor for academic writing and identity.

Elliot Eisner’s body of work explores education as artistry and connoisseurship. Eisner advocates for the arts as a frame for re-imagining education as innovative, artistic practice, rather than as a cookie-cutter or assembly-line one. Conceptualising teaching as an art, or arts, or artistic, assumes a complexity, a non-linearness, a rich tangled web of intangibles and un-pin-downables.

Is teaching art or science? Or both? Is it inappropriate to look at a single work, a close-up of the brushstrokes or the marks made by the sculptor’s tool? Should we only talk about teaching in terms of bodies of work, portfolios of evidence, the whole and not the parts? Can Michelangelo’s David be separated from his Pietà, the Sistine Chapel ceiling and his unfinished ‘slaves’? Can or should meaning be sought in a singular laboured-over artwork, or in a dusty pile of experimental sketches found in the attic? Or should we only assess or seek meaning in a body of work accumulated over time?

How might a teacher’s performance be appraised? How can the whole, as well as the parts be considered? Of what use is the performance of teaching for observations by management, versus relaxed one-on-one discussions with students or an experimental lesson tried for the first time? And of what use are the ‘individual works’ such as unit plans, student work examples, lesson data and external test results? Data from particular lessons can provide a tangible, depersonalised third point for professional conversations, just as a particular work of art can be representative of an artist’s work. An exhibition from a particular period of an artist’s work can give a broader picture of their work during that time. A posthumous exhibition of their life’s work can provide the broad narrative of how their work has evolved. These are all different but meaningful lenses for appreciation and critique; each is a useful way of viewing the work and worth of the artist or teacher.

On the one hand, teaching does become a body of work over time. A life’s work for some. This gestalt includes ever-expanding subject knowledge, evolving pedagogies, relational skills and behaviour management tools. Many of the things teachers do become internalised, less-deliberate moves, part of a way of being. Perhaps a teacher should not be judged by a lesson that they teach or one set of student results, but there is value in each piece of work being reflected upon and closely considered for the understandings it might surface about that teacher’s practice; the details it might reveal; or the points of celebration, critique or change it might incite.