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.
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(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.