It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~ Herman Melville
Today I visited a school on the Upper East Side of NYC which is in many ways similar to my Australian school. While they have vertical campuses and we have horizontal ones, both schools have some similar structures, similar values, a focus on the whole child, similar expectations of teachers and a similar desire to build a context-appropriate model for teacher growth, collaboration and professional culture.
Like us, they have been grappling with how best to design a model which fits their school context and their teachers’ needs. Their challenges are similar to ours: finding a model which is school-appropriate, and time for managers and teachers to enact it in a meaningful way (rather than as a tokenistic ‘tick a box’ process to be gotten through).
In speaking with administrators and teachers, this school’s model for teacher growth has a similar goal to ours: to facilitate meaningful, evidence-enriched conversations around teaching practice which encourage teacher reflection, collaboration and growth. It is being piloted with middle managers this year and its components include:
- A supervisory model in which the line manager is the observer who leads the pre- and post- observation professional conversations;
- A set of school-customised descriptors which emerge from fitting the school’s expectations of their teachers within some elements of the Danielson Framework for Teaching;
- The teacher receiving a score from the line manager based on how the line-manager rates the teacher against those school-customised descriptors, on a four point scale;
- The teacher receiving clear specific feedback from the line manager about areas of strength and weakness; and
- Use of Folio Collaborative to manage the lodging and monitoring of the process. One thing I particularly liked about Folio Collaborative was its ‘spotlight’ function in which staff are able to ‘shine a spotlight’ on a colleague’s practice by adding moments of celebration or excellence they have seen.
I can see the value of, as this school has, developing a customised series of descriptors of ‘what teaching looks like at this school.’ It allows staff to see clearly the alignment with the school’s core values, allows the school to own the language, and provides a more streamlined document than the hefty-feeling Framework for Teaching which can seem daunting. This streamlining may be seen to dilute the complexity of the Framework for Teaching and the precision of its rubrics which allow teachers to easily find a place to fit their lesson evidence, based on clear research-supported descriptors at each level of performance.
Where this school’s context is different to ours is in their history of performance review processes. While my school has a series of well-worn processes for recruitment, permanency/tenure and appraisal/review/evaluation, this school does not have existing processes and is looking to put them in place in a way which is beneficial to its teachers. They are looking to develop a feedback system which stems mainly from managers, while we are looking to move towards a less manager-driven and more teacher-driven model in which teachers are self-managing and self-directed in their growth, relying less on external influence to judge and grow their practice.
Our use of Cognitive Coaching is the cornerstone of our conversations, placing our emphasis heavily on the coach (that is, a peer-teacher for 2 years, and then a line manager in the 3rd year) as non-threatening facilitator of teacher thinking, rather than feedback-giver and scorer.
The one thing this visit certainly affirmed for me is that context is king. It is important for each school to work with its own mission, values, plan, teachers and managers to grapple with what the most context-appropriate design is for their particular situation.
Many of us seem to have the same goal. We each need to find the path that works best for us, our teachers and ultimately our students.