Mapping quality teaching

Sidney Poitier in To Sir, with Love Source: http://www.rockshockpop.com/forums/c

Sidney Poitier in’ To Sir, with Love’. Source: http://www.rockshockpop.com/forums/

This is the third post in a series of posts on quality teaching. You can also read:

Part 1, which explored the terms ‘teacher quality’ and ‘quality teaching’; and,

Part 2, which outlined those things that effective teachers have been found to do.

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If we accept that the quality of what teachers do in their classrooms influences student learning, and that quality teaching has some agreed characteristics, what can teachers, schools and systems do? How does the profession come to a common understanding of what good teaching looks like? Amid teaching debates like ‘traditional vs. progressive’, what is it that teachers should be striving to do?

Some question and warn against the itemising of teaching into a set of prescriptive elements, and many agree that attempting to quantify the complexity of teaching is fraught with difficulty. Many scholars and educators have nonetheless worked to identity what quality teaching looks like and what effective teachers do, trying to capture what teaching encompasses. These authors attempt to detail, describe, interpret, and evaluate the elements of teaching; to find what quality instruction looks like and the conditions necessary for developing the quality of teachers’ instruction.

Many authors suggest that in order to develop their teaching, teachers need a ‘map’ of where to go and how to get there. In his 2004 book Successful school change, Claude Goldenberg reflected on his work with a USA primary school over five years. He noted that the school and teacher change model he and the principal implemented was too abstract and unspecified. He added that “we should have been more nuts-and-bolts oriented, in the sense of specifying more clearly what teachers were to do in various settings, including their classrooms” (p. 173).

In order for teachers to improve, not only do teachers have to want to improve, they must know how to improve and on what aspects they would benefit from focusing their attention. Schools can benefit from frameworks that provide the knowledge base of what good teaching looks like, as well as processes that facilitate the improvement of practice. A map of teaching involves a clear set of agreed standards and a way to think systematically about the complexity of the task. Mapping teaching can be less about identifying quality and proving teacher performance. It can be about empowering teachers to improve, developing a common understanding and shared language of practice.

Examples of attempts to address the need for a framework or map of the intricacies of teacher practice include the Danielson Group’s Framework for Teaching, the Marzano Causal Teacher Evaluation Model, and the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) National Professional Standards for Teachers.

The Danielson Framework for Teaching, endorsed by Dylan Wiliam in his 2016 book Leadership for Teacher Learning, has been shown to: identify the most effective teachers and positively correlate their quality with student achievement gains; focus observers’ attention on specific aspects of teaching practice; establish common evidentiary standards for each level of practice; and create a common vocabulary for pursuing a shared vision of effective instruction. Students showed the most academic growth in classrooms with teachers who rated highly on the Framework, and the least academic growth in classrooms with teachers who received the lowest ratings.

Marzano’s model has also been tested in studies and meta-analyses, which report that using the instructional strategies of the model improves student achievement and helps teachers develop themselves professionally.

In evaluating the perceptions of the AITSL Professional Standards, AITSL has found that pre-service teachers were the most enthusiastic about the potential of the use of the Standards in their practice and their students’ learning, school leaders were most engaged in the implementation of the Standards, and non-pre-service teachers were least likely to perceive the Standards as useful in changing their practice or impacting their students. AITSL’s measures have concentrated on educators’ perceptions of their tool.

Frameworks such as Danielson’s, Marzano’s, and AITSL’s may have a place in helping teachers to achieve clear, measurable targets, but schools and systems using these tools need to be considered in their purpose and process of their implementation. My school uses the Danielson Framework (overlaid with the national AITSL Standards) as a third point in conversations, in order to help novice and veteran teachers to reflect on their lessons with specificity. It is a tool, as part of a large toolbox, for developing shared understanding.

My PhD study found that the Danielson Framework for Teaching, when used as part of a non-judgmental model of teacher growth, helps to develop teachers’ precision of reflection around teaching practice and a common language for talking about teaching and what it can look like. At my school, teachers who develop familiarity with the Framework and its descriptors find that while teaching they mentally aim for the descriptors of ‘Distinguished’ teaching; knowledge of the Framework shapes their decisions and their classroom practices.

As much of the world grapples with how to wrestle the octopus of ‘teaching’ into a small, rigid glass jar of pithy statements or political one-liners, we need to be wary of atomising teaching into disparate parts, but we can be equally open to tools that might help us deepen our professional understandings and practices. We can focus on dialogue, interrogation of practice, reflection, collaboration and growth, and on researching and critically appraising the frameworks and measures available to us.

What do ‘quality teachers’ do?

Jaime Escalante in 'Stand and Deliver'. Source: http://remezcla.com/film/edward-james-olmos-on-stand-and-delivers-25th-anniversary-and-the-release-of-filly-brown/

Jaime Escalante in ‘Stand and Deliver’. Source: http://remezcla.com/film/

This is Part 2 in a series of posts on ‘teacher quality’ and ‘quality teaching’. You can also read Part 1 and Part 3

In response to my last post, I’ve received a lot of comments from those who bristle at the use of the term ‘teacher quality’ to label teachers and demean the profession; it is, however, a term used profusely in research and policy literatures. I’ve used the term here as shorthand for ‘teachers whose practice positively influences student learning.’

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As the quality of teachers’ teaching is generally agreed to be an important school-based influencer of student achievement, researchers have attempted to identify aspects of teaching as demonstrating evidence of positive effect on student achievement.

In reviewing literature for my PhD, I found five elements that emerged as agreed elements of what ‘quality teachers’ do. I have cited some of the references that mention each aspect, although there are larger webs of literature for each of the five threads explained below.

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1) Quality teachers purposefully design learning opportunities

Teachers have excellent knowledge of their content, pedagogies, their students, and how their students learn. They apply this knowledge to planning programmes, lessons, student groupings and assessments with clear, transparent performance targets. The purposeful designing of learning opportunities is articulated in references such as Bransford and Darling-Hammond’s Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do, Shulman’s (2004) essay ‘Communities of learners and communities of teachers’, and Linda Darling-Hammond’s seminal The right to learn: A blueprint for creating schools that work.

2) Quality teachers diagnose student progress to inform both teaching and learning

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (in their 2007 Schooling by Design) wrote that teachers facilitate the setting of challenging goals and high standards, designing the work so that learners believe in their own capacity for success, and adjusting plans in light of unexpected or inappropriate results. Jim Rose in his 2006 Independent review of the teaching of early reading noted that high quality teaching should inform realistic and ambitious target-setting.

3) Quality teachers fight for their students’ learning

A couple of references point to the importance of advocacy in teaching. In 1986, Philip Jackson argued that effective teachers fight for what they believe about teaching and learning, acting independently to advocate for their students. Wasley, Hampel and Clark (1997) spent three years observing and interviewing six students in five USA schools for their book Kids and school reform. They found that good teachers believe that each of their students can learn; and have the skills and capacity to engage in debate on behalf of their students’ learning.

4) Quality teachers personalise learning for students

Teachers balance the needs of the learner, the knowledge and skills students need to acquire (what they teach and why), assessment and feedback, and embeddedness in community. They select appropriate classroom design, instructional strategies, and subject matter to help each student learn, with a diversity of teaching methods including: reciprocal teaching, direct instruction, problem solving methods, explanation, elaboration, modelling, plans to direct task performance, sequencing, drill repetition, optimising peer learning, providing strategy cues, domain-specific processing, clear instructional goals, setting challenging goals and teaching students self-verbalisation and meta cognitive strategies. They respond with immediacy and a sensitivity to the here-and-now, showing flexibility by valuing freedom of thought and movement in the classroom. The emphasis on sensitivity towards, and individualisation of approaches for, students, is evident in Bransford and Darling-Hammond’s Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do and Philip Jackson’s The practice of teaching.

5) Quality teachers provide meaningful and appropriate feedback.

In Schooling by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe pressed the importance of backwards assessment design, providing ongoing feedback with immediate opportunities to use it, and implementing strategies to develop learner autonomy, thus making self-assessment and self-adjustment a key goal of teaching. The work of Dylan Wiliam and Rick Stiggins promotes formative assessment as a way to frequently check for understanding and to engage students in self-reflective, self-regulated learning.

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The above-mentioned studies suggest that quality teaching requires teachers to have a sound and continually developing knowledge of content and pedagogy. This supports the definition of teacher quality I identified in my last post: ‘knowing what to teach and knowing how to teach’. Quality teaching, according to the above cited works, involves teacher self-reflection, planning of well-structured units and lessons, focusing on higher order thinking, managing the classroom effectively, utilising an arsenal of effective teaching strategies, individualising learning, setting challenging goals for all students, knowing where each student is ‘at,’ facilitating each student’s progress to the next level, and giving effective, targeted, timely feedback.

Anne Freese (in her 1999 paper ‘The role of reflection on pre-service teachers’ development in the context of a professional development school’) describes herself as an educator (albeit in a higher education, rather than a school, context, so perhaps from a potato perspective) and in doing so resonates with the above threads of quality teaching:

I am more like a coach who structures the learning events and co-inquires. . . . I have become more comfortable modelling and making public my thinking about teaching, and risking being vulnerable as I put my own teaching under scrutiny. This is a different role from that of being the `expert’ and the dispenser of knowledge. (p. 908)

Here Freese underscores the teacher’s purposeful designing of learning by structuring what she calls “learning events,” suggesting deliberate design of student-focused learning experiences. She makes her thinking “public” and sees herself as coach and co-inquirer, vulnerable in her collaboration as co-learner with her students. Freese highlights the notion of self-reflection in her comment about having the willingness and capacity to put her “own teaching under scrutiny.” Freese’s description reflects Wiggins and McTighe’s description of those teachers who demonstrate ‘quality’ practice as designers, diagnosers, facilitators, and constructors of learning and learners.

As teachers, schools and systems have conversations around how to improve the learning of students by improving what happens in classrooms, it’s important that we continue to attempt to build a shared understanding of exactly what we mean when we say things like ‘quality teaching’.

Teasing out ‘teacher quality’

This post is the first in a series exploring the popular notion of improving teacher quality in order to improve student learning and achievement.

You can also read Part 2 ‘What do quality teachers do?‘ and Part 3 ‘Mapping teacher quality‘.

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For some time, scholarly literatures have generally agreed that, within the school sphere of influence, the quality of teachers’ teaching is the most influential school-based variable in terms of improving student learning and achievement. (We need to remember, however, that student learning and achievement are influenced primarily by many factors that are hardest for policy makers and schools to influence, such as students’ attitudes and abilities, socioeconomic context, parents’ education and peers.) Now, everywhere we look in education there are institutes and government policies and school websites all hailing the catch cry: ‘teacher quality!’

The term ‘teacher quality’ is in danger of being subsumed in what I call the ‘hashtagification’ of education terminology, in which words like ‘mindset’ and ‘grit’ become ubiquitous platitudes shared in sound bites or 140 character tweets. When we use words in education, we need to read the literature and research about them, tease them out, and come to a shared understanding about what are often dense concepts around the complexity of teaching.

During my PhD I spent time (ok, years) reading up on, among other things, ‘teacher quality’. Its definitions, its features, studies that aimed to measure its impacts. While I can’t distil those years of reading into a blog post, this post is a starting point (for comments, conversations, future posts) as well as a call to others to spend time cogitating over and teasing out the terms we use in edu-spheres.

‘Teacher quality’ is used to denote the quality of teachers’ teaching, in terms of its effectiveness in adding value to student learning. While it is sometimes used in terms of the individual teacher, many scholars argue that teacher quality should be considered in terms of collaborative expertise, rather than the solo hero teacher (so wonderfully written about here by Corinne Campbell). That is, while an individual teacher can have an influence on student learning, a move to improve the quality of teaching (and thereby, student learning) needs to focus on teachers as a collective.

One of my favourite images of collaborative expertise comes from Susan Rosenholtz in her book Teachers’ workplace: The social organisation of schools. She writes that in learning-enriched settings “an abundant spirit of continuous improvement” seems to “hover school-wide, because no one ever stopped learning to teach,” describing educators in effective schools as “clumped together in a critical mass, like uranium fuel rods in a reactor” (1991, p. 208). That image is a powerful reminder of what we in schools and education might aim for: a critical mass of huddled-together teachers feeding off each other’s energies, knowledge and practices. It’s also why competitive or punitive measures, like performance pay for teachers, are damaging to the profession. Collaboratively improving teacher quality is based on a notion with which most teachers would agree: that no matter how good our teaching is, no matter how well-planned and well-intentioned, we can always improve.

Two definitions of ‘teacher quality’ resonated with me in my reading. Firstly, the Educational Testing Service, in their 2004 publication Where we stand on teacher quality, defines it as: knowing what to teach and knowing how to teach. This definition hones in on the planning, classroom instruction, and assessment aspects of teacher quality, on the professional knowledge and skills upon which teachers can build in their pursuit of improving the quality of their teaching. Secondly, in their best evidence synthesis of international research on ‘teaching for quality,’ Zammit et al. (2007) define teacher quality as consisting of three intersecting factors: sociocultural context; professional knowledge, skills and practices used to meet student needs; and personal, relational and professional attributes. This second definition reminds us that teachers’ experiences are always situated within their professional contexts and entangled with personal and relational experiences. Teaching is not just about knowledge and skills, but about identities, contexts and emotions, too.

Some of those who write about teacher quality focus on the impact of teaching on student achievement and the others consider how we might break down or compartmentalise teaching in order to distil and define what quality teaching is; how it looks, sounds, and feels, and how it might be mapped, measured, or developed. Many grapple with the tensions between the desire to define and measure teaching, and its immeasurable complexity. In my Australian school, we investigated a number of tools that attempted to map what good teaching might look like. We chose to use the Danielson Framework for Teaching as our frame for professional reflection and conversation. Its rubrics help our teachers to drill down into their own practice, and into the AITSL Professional Standards for Teachers, giving them a sense of what those standards can look like at various levels of practice.

Teaching is such a complex phenomenon, it shouldn’t be reduced down to clichéd catch cries devoid of meaning. Despite the problematic nature of defining what teacher quality actually means, much available research shows that what a teacher does in the classroom is a crucial determinant in improving student achievement, and something we should spend some time teasing out in order to understand it in more detail. When we use terms in education—‘teacher quality’, ‘growth mindset’, ‘coaching’, ‘grit’, ‘vision’—let’s ensure that we work hard at figuring out what those mean and where our understandings might be shared, incomplete or requiring further discussion.

The Danielson Framework for Teaching as tool for professional reflection and conversation

2013 Danielson Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument cover

2013 Danielson Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument cover

The Framework for Teaching is a research-based set of components of instruction, aligned to the INTASC standards, and grounded in a constructivist view of learning and teaching. The complex activity of teaching is divided into 22 components (and 76 smaller elements) clustered into four domains of teaching responsibility. ~ Danielson Group website

I have spent a lot of time blogging about the coaching part of my school’s coaching model and some outlining the specifics of the model and the ways we use lesson data. I’ve spent less time talking about why and how we use Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching as a tool for professional reflection and conversation. In this post, I’ll illuminate some of the reasons for adopting the Framework and the ways in which we use it at my Australian school.

Danielson’s Framework—explained in the most detail in Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching (Danielson, 2008)—provides a map of what excellence in teaching might look like, providing a set of shared, explicit descriptors. Grounded in research, it is a thorough, multi-layered definition of good teaching which identifies a comprehensive range of teacher responsibilities. The Framework is intended to be part of transparent, active processes such as teacher reflection, professional inquiry, classroom observations, mentoring, coaching, and Human Resources processes such as recruitment, evaluation of teacher performance and appraisal. The use of such a framework depersonalises conversations about teaching, focusing discussion on specific elements of practice, rather than on the individual. It provides a shared, explicit set of descriptors.

The Framework clusters its twenty two components of teaching into four domains of teacher responsibility:

    • Domain 1: Planning and Preparation
    • Domain 2: The Classroom Environment
    • Domain 3: Instruction
    • Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

The components are intended to be applicable to diverse settings and independent of any particular teaching methodology. Whilst these components are separated for the purpose of the Framework, they are acknowledged as interrelated parts of a complex holistic endeavour. In action, the Framework is more web-like than grid-like. This is reflected in the choice of cover artwork for The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument (Danielson, 2013) which shows the four domains as an intersecting Venn diagram.

The Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching project studied 23,000 lessons of 3,000 teacher volunteers in six USA urban school districts in order to investigate how teacher practice affects student achievement. It found that the Framework:

  • was positively associated with student achievement gains;
  • focused observers’ attention on specific aspects of teaching practice;
  • established common evidentiary standards for each level of practice; and
  • created a common vocabulary for pursuing a shared vision of effective instruction.

The project also concluded that, when implementing an instrument for teacher  evaluation (or, in our case, reflection and growth):

  • clear standards and multiple observations are required when evaluating a teacher’s practice;
  • evaluation systems should include multiple measures;
  • combining observation scores with evidence of student achievement gains and student feedback improved predictive power and reliability and identified teachers with larger gains on state tests; and
  • the true promise of classroom observations is the potential to identify strengths and address specific weaknesses in teachers’ practice.

It was our reading—of Kane and Staiger’s (2012) Measures of Effective Teaching research paper and Sartain, Stoelinga and Brown’s (2011) report on Chicago’s implementation of the Danielson Framework, as part of its Excellence in Teaching Pilot—which influenced the design of our observation model in which each teacher has four 20 minute observations per annual cycle of coaching.

For us, using Danielson is about each teacher looking at specific lesson data at a particular moment in time, and interrogating where the evidence places that data against Danielson’s framework. In any one observation, teachers’ data might be rated (by themselves, or as calibrated with a coach or manager) across three different levels. Of course with knowledge and increasing familiarity of Danielson’s framework, teachers can work with an understanding of the way it frames ‘distinguished’ teaching, aiming for that, but all teachers, no matter their expertise, will have lessons which fall across components and across bands.

Dylan Wiliam's book on my desk; just a few Post-its

Dylan Wiliam’s new book on my desk; just a few Post-its

Imagine my delight (yes, serious nerd delight) when I discovered that Dylan Wiliam’s just-released book Leadership for Teacher Learning spends seven pages (pp.45-51) outlining the research findings around the Danielson Framework. While he cautions that the Framework is limited, especially in its ability to differentiate variation among teachers, he describes it as “rigorously researched” and “the best we can do in relating student progress to classroom observations.” Wiliam cites research on which my school’s decision to use Danielson was based. He points out that it has been shown that students taught by teachers who are rated highly on the Framework make more progress. In fact, students taught by a teacher rated as ‘distinguished’ make almost 30% more progress than those rated as ‘unsatisfactory’.

For my school, the Danielson Framework for Teaching instrument—congruent with our performance review, professional development and coaching processes—helps us to develop a precise and shared language of practice. It isn’t used as a scorecard for external evaluation, something which I strongly advocate against. We instead use it in the following ways.

  • Coaches and managers are trained by a Danielson consultant in generating lesson data and using the Framework in professional conversations (which aligns with out Cognitive Coaching model for coaching conversations).
  • Teachers complete an annual online self-reflection against the Framework, in order to surface reflections about their teaching, help them set goals, and guide their thinking as they plan for the year ahead;
  • During coaching conversations, coaches help teachers to consider their lesson data against the Danielson Framework, looking closely at the descriptors and facilitating reflection against the rubrics.
  • The Danielson Framework sits alongside the Australian National Professional Standards for Teachers as a tool for deepening reflection and conversation about practice, allowing teachers to more specifically envisage, articulate and enact excellence in teaching practice.

This use of the Danielson Framework fits with our philosophical position that everyone is coachable, that all teachers have the will and skill to improve, that coaching should develop internal capacities, and that the coach is always in the service of the coachee.

Developing reflective practitioners: a conversation with Charlotte Danielson & Cindy Tocci

As our understanding of teaching expands and deepens, we need a vocabulary that is correspondingly rich, one that reflects the realities of a classroom where students are engaged in learning important content. Such a framework is valuable for veterans as well as novices as they all strive to enhance their skills in this complex work. ~ Charlotte Danielson, 2007

fall colours

fall colours

Brilliant fire-coloured fall foliage frames Princeton’s historic Nassau Inn, where I sat in a booth with Charlotte Danielson, creator of the Framework for Teaching, and Cindy Tocci, executive director of the research arm of Educational Testing Service. Somewhere in the wooden table is Albert Einstein’s name, where he carved it when he was a visiting professor at Princeton. After explaining my school’s journey with our teacher growth model, we talked about coaching, the Framework for Teaching and the challenges of maintaining a reflective transformative professional culture.

What is a coach?

One question raised was about the level of expertise of the coach: was conversation expertise enough, or was it more useful to also have content expertise? Our team of teacher coaches will often work with those outside their own area of expertise; this builds connections across school boundaries and allows the focus to be on pedagogy and the teacher’s own reflection, rather than on content. Another related question was raised about the potential space between a feedback-based (judgement given) approach to coaching and a reflection-cognition-based approach (no judgement given).

Charlotte challenged that “the opposite of judgement is not ‘do nothing’.” A collaborative approach was suggested as an alternative, in which teachers work together in a conversation to solve problems of practice or generate ideas for improvement, in which both teacher and coach are participating in the conversation as reflective educators. This speaks to some feedback we have had from teachers about their coaches not being ‘in’ the conversation and feeling that being Cognitively Coached was a one-sided unbalanced experience. In a coach-as-collaborator conversation there would need to be clarity around how much of the coach’s self it is appropriate to insert into the conversation, and how much content expertise the coach would need to meaningfully contribute to the discussion. There would still need to be restraint in resisting the urge to solve another’s problem for them and in the tendency to advise someone to teach using your own teaching preferences.

For us, I think the default position for the coach still needs to be the facilitator-of-another’s-thinking role, but there may be room for collaborative approaches to the parts of the conversation. Is collaboration appropriate for us in this context? Or perhaps peer collaboration in which teachers really work together in this way is an appropriate strategy for our teachers to pursue for their growth outside the official coaching conversations?

Princeton leaves

Princeton leaves

How to apply the Framework for Teaching?

Charlotte and Cindy both noted that, while it is important to strive for accuracy when using the FFT, it is important that teachers, coaches and managers not get too caught up in the micro-analysis of detail, or looking for all the dot points. In fact, Charlotte has been developing a more holistic, less broken-down ‘clusters’ model which encourages teachers to look at the big ideas of the Framework, as an alternative to the original document. This alternative might be a way for our teachers to focus on the big things happening in their classrooms, rather than minute details of lessons.

How to develop understanding of the Framework for Teaching?

Master Coding of teaching videos was explained as a difficult but powerful exercise in developing an attuned, precise understanding of the Framework for Teaching and forging shared understandings of its language. Videos of classroom practice are useful for teachers in showing how the Framework components translate into practice, and for coaches in developing a common understanding of the Framework and what particular levels of performance look like in practice. Collecting video footage of lessons involves:

  • Choosing a range of short lesson snippets (e.g. 10 mins) which relate to particular Framework components;
  • Ensuring audio, as well as visual, quality is good, especially if students are doing group work (how do you capture what students are saying? How do you decide which groups to listen to?)

Videos should be watched and independently scored, followed by conversations around the reasons for those individual scores, in order to reconcile individual perspectives into a group agreement.

Videos of coaching conversations also have a place in helping coaches to deepen and develop their coaching practice.

These kinds of rigorous processes take time. Charlotte and Cindy both highlighted the importance of a slow implementation process in which groups develop their understandings together.

We also talked about using the Framework for Teaching for teacher self-reflection purposes and also for student reflection on the sorts of learning and environment of their classroom. My school has been experimenting with different teacher self-evaluation tool possibilities, as well as perception surveys, but hasn’t developed a concrete approach to asking students how their classrooms rate against the Framework for Teaching.

How to encourage regular reflection between formalised processes?

Another challenge raised was that of developing the learned skill of reflection in teachers in between these formalised reflective processes. How do we know teachers are reflecting regularly on their practice in order to grow their practice? How can we make sure teachers are asking themselves:

  • What did my students learn today?
  • What did I learn about my students today?

Any model of teacher growth has this challenge: outside of the formalised process, how do we encourage and ensure meaningful reflection and growth on an ongoing basis?

IMAGINE

IMAGINE

A teacher growth reconnaissance mission: takeoff

If you actually look like your passport photo, you aren’t well enough to travel. ~ Sir Vivian Fuchs

For the last few years I have been working with others in my school on a consciously-developed, research-based and teacher-driven model for teacher growth and professional collaboration. Our work over the research and pilot years has been based in some central assumptions around learning, school change and leadership: that all teachers have the capacity for reflection and growth; that going slowly and deliberately will result in more positive roll-out; that leadership is distributed; and that leaders are responsible for facilitating the self-driven self-managed learning of others, rather than telling, advising and solving.

Pleasingly, our work so far seems to be fostering that which it originally set out to cultivate by:

  • developing a common language for and shared understanding of ‘good teaching’;
  • strengthening professional culture by connecting teachers across the school, and by formalising professional conversations about teaching practice;
  • depersonalising classrooms, with teachers more open to and familiar with having others in their lessons;
  • providing a formalised process of reflection which is meaningful to teachers, allowing them to improve their teaching and develop their capacity for reflection while honouring their individuality and respecting their capabilities; and
  • supporting teachers as leaders and experts, both in their collaboration with others and in their own capacity for self-reflection and growth.

Our experience continues to be that our work on teacher growth has subtle immeasurable ‘butterfly effects’ across our teaching, relationships and communities.

Grand Central

Grand Central

As I explained in my very first post and another post, I now have the privilege of traveling to New York in order to gain some international insights for our Australian work.

Sitting in the departure lounge at Sydney International Airport I am reflecting upon what I might find during my time in New York visiting educators, researchers, trailblazers and edu-organisations. It’s time to ride on a big jet plane and find out.

awaiting departure at Sydney International Airport

awaiting departure at Sydney International Airport

Reflections on ACEL 2014: learning, leading, teaching

Effective change is a matter of both will and skill. People have to want to do it, and they have to know how to do it. ~ Levin

Passion & Purpose at ACEL conference Melbourne by @debsnet https://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

2014 ACEL Conference lanyard on the Southbank boardwalk: passion & purpose

I have spent this week in Melbourne at the 2014 Australian Council for Educational Leadership Conference, including presenting a breakout session with colleagues about our school’s story so far: of building a professional growth model, based on our own context, vision and beliefs about learning, teaching and leading.

It was affirming to hear the keynote speakers’ key messages reflect the real work that we are doing at my school. Some of those keynote takeaways, as aligned with my school’s work around professional growth and culture were …

We know that teaching is complex

Noel Pearson highlighted for the over 1000 delegates that effective instruction is at the heart of education.

Charlotte Danielson reminded the audience of over 1000 delegates that “teaching is so hard it can never be perfect” and that the complex, demanding cognitive work of teaching required educators’ ongoing quest to improve teaching practice, in order to improve students’ learning. She joked that, while doctors’ work is complex, they get to see one patient at a time; “I would call that tutoring.”

In his panel response to Charlotte’s keynote, Phillip Heath, Head of Sydney’s Barker College, emphasised the importance of focusing on celebrating the full, highly cerebral, in-the-moment and sacred nature of teaching, rather than on exposing and shaming failures, or ticking boxes.

Our school’s model of professional growth and culture is focused on a default position of meaningful teacher-owned growth.

Building minds, inspiring learners

Charlotte Danielson also reminded the audience about the constructivist nature of learning for students and teachers; that learning is done by the learner in an active intellectual process. Danielson pointed to conversations in which an observer or leader advises a teacher after a classroom observation, and in which the teacher passively endures the feedback. “Who is doing the work?” she asked. The Danielson Framework for Teaching, or as she pointed out, any framework for teaching, is a conduit for teacher learning which allows teachers to do the thinking for themselves.

Tim Flannery encouraged educators to encourage exploring, imagining and being open to organismic change.

John Medina shared his knowledge around increasing the brain’s executive function, the part of the brain (responsible for openness to cognitive and behavioural change) that we are attempting to access in our teachers by applying a Cognitive Coaching approach to professional conversation and reflection.

Richard Gerver talked passionately about the need for developing self-managing people and systems. Our model’s key aim is the development of teacher-driven, teacher-owned self-managing, self-monitoring and self-modifying teachers-as-learners.

Leading with clarity, coherence and collaboration

Richard Gerver highlighted the importance of the clarity and coherence in educational leadership.

Tim Flannery encouraged collective wisdom over individual genius, the harnessing of the informed community rather than the singular expert.

Linda Darling-Hammond reminded us that “teaching is a team sport” and that the greatest achievement gains are from those schools in which educators work together with a coherent approach. Beware ‘popcorn reform’, she said, with which we might innovate our way to edu-failure. What we need is to learn from each other’s successes and failures; teachers, schools, districts and nations.

Both Linda Darling-Hammond and Noel Pearson underlined the importance of backward design: having students’ learning outcomes and futures in mind when designing their education. For Pearson, this future was “giving people the capabilities to choose lives they have reason to value.” In particular, he advocates for Indigenous Australians to realise the potential, talent and creativity which afford them real choice and the mobility to orbit between external worlds and their indigenous homes, cultures, languages, traditions and peoples.

Charlotte Danielson reminded us about distributed leadership; it is not the principal but all teachers who are responsible for leading learning in schools. Leading and learning are about collaborative growth, not punitive measures. “We’re not going to fire our way to Finland,” she said. “We need to learn our way there instead,” by  coming together as communities of teachers which use a common framework as a scaffold to provide common definitions of good teaching, a common language with which to talk about teaching and shared understandings about what good teaching is and how teachers might enact it. This, Danielson says, helps to avoid conversations in which teachers and leaders use the same words but mean different things.

John Hattie challenged educators to “change the narrative” of education by building the profession and taking pride in teachers, rather than in buildings, resources, websites or canteen menus.

Yesterday, when presenting at the conference, my colleague described our school’s continuing journey as an “evolution not a revolution”, an ongoing, organic and iterative process which is based in our own context and the needs of our teachers and staff.

We have been taking the approach of ‘go slow to go fast’, deliberately unfurling a new initiative by allowing it to bubble up out of the school’s strategic vision and then be piloted, driven and owned by teachers. We have been attempting to distribute leadership in a project which is connected by clear, coherent, school-wide organisation-aligned threads of vision and practice.

Safety and challenge for growth

Charlotte Danielson talked about getting the balance right between support and challenge for teachers; schools need to provide an environment of trust in which it is safe to take risks in the spirit of ongoing professional inquiry.

This need for balance – between safety in which teachers feel supported and trusting, and enough discomfort to challenge practice and change thinking and behaviour – has been a cornerstone for us in providing the setting for transformation of classroom teaching, professional conversation and collaborative culture.

Thank you, ACEL for an affirming experience of layered, interlocking ideas.

Champagne at Crown Melbourne by @debsnet https://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

champagne view from Crown Casino, Melbourne