Posts tagged ‘Phi Delta Kappan’

It’s a matter of trust

When Billy Joel wrote the lyrics to It’s a Matter of Trust, he probably wasn’t thinking about the Finnish education system.  Yet the more I read the literature on high performing systems, I am convinced that trust is at the core of the cultural change needed to reshape schooling.  It’s not new nor is it rocket science.

Michael Fullan says that you build trust through behaviour.  John Hattie tells us that the ability for teachers to develop trust within the classroom is key to making students feel OK about making mistakes and asking questions.  In Visible Learning, the highest “effect sizes within teacher student relationship came from empathy, warmth and encouragement of higher order thinking.”  A report on a teacher education model for the 21st century by Singapore’s National Institute of Education emphasises the need for teachers to create cultures of care and trust.

As noble a calling as teaching is, the profession has been tarnished by a lack of trust, suspicion of teachers’ work and a top down approach to school improvement.  Richard Elmore wrote in 2007 that a “non-professional teaching force is a compliant and easily managed workforce.”  This view of teaching according to Elmore grew out of the late 19th and 20th century.

What differentiates high performing systems from others is trust.  Trust permeates from the highest to the lowest levels: governments trust schools to deliver quality education, parents trust teachers to meet the learning needs of their children and teachers trust students to set and achieve their own learning goals.

I know Finland is the system du jour and some may be tiring of hearing about the Finnish way but I read a superb reflection in February’s Phi Delta Kappan magazine by its editor in chief, Joan Richardson.  When I re-read the passages I highlighted in the article I am still astounded by the culture of trust that has been built not in one school but in every single school.  How is this done?  By driving responsibility down to the classroom and school level.  This is similar to the principle of subsidiarity and it’s a term we don’t often hear in discussions about school improvement or teacher quality.  Teachers have control over what they teach and how they teach and how they assess students.

The rationale behind Finland’s competitive teacher education program is quite simple: there are no mentoring or teacher evaluation programs and that’s the way they want it. Teachers are trusted to do their best not in their first year of teaching but throughout their careers.  This is a quote from an education official from the Finnish National Board of Education:

We trust our teachers. They will find the best solutions, or they will create their own.  They are doing very well without inspections and testing. If students are not happy, they go home and tell their mothers, and the mothers call the principal. That’s a fine inspection system.”

It exemplifies the level of trust between schools and parents and reinforces the critical role parents play in education.  It is not just the responsibility of teachers or parents or governments – it is a collective responsibility in which the accountability lies with the professionals – teachers and leaders.  Imagine knowing that if you sent your child to any school in Finland they would receive the same level of care and personalised learning regardless of academic ability, learning style or background.

For me, the gold standard is the fact that teachers are free to work from home when they are not teaching.  As Richardson observes, the working conditions of Finnish teachers are closely associated with being professionals instead of the highly regulated working environment of American teachers.  Can you imagine this happening in our schools!

Where does trust begin? With our students; believing that each one is capable of learning and will become life-long learners.  It is on this belief that teaching begins.

If we are to build the same culture of trust then we need to face the facts and look at the evidence.  This is a call to be courageous; to recognise that what was once off limits or sacred is now open to critical reflection and change. All this represents the fact that interdependence has to be the new norm. Isolation and mistrust are death to innovation and change.

To paraphrase an old song, “trust changes everything…..”

Beyond the black-belt

There is a saying in martial arts that when a student makes it to black-belt, the real learning begins. We should be seeing teaching through the same lens. When teachers enter the classroom for the first time, the learning begins and it must never stop.

Professional learning and feedback go hand in hand to improve teacher effectiveness.

Research shows that ongoing professional learning is critical to improving teacher effectiveness but so too is the role of teacher evaluation. Without evaluation, professional learning cannot be individualised to improve teacher practice.

Last year, the Grattan Institute published its report into teacher appraisal, Better Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: Improving Performance, which shows that a system of teacher evaluation can increase effectiveness by 20 to 30 percent. The problem in the past has been the ad hoc nature of teacher evaluation – often infrequent or failing to provide teachers with valuable feedback and/or strategies to improve student learning gains.  By integrating teacher evaluation into every aspect of teaching and learning, we create a culture of success for teachers, which leads to success for students.

Linda Darling-Hammond discusses the role of teacher evaluation in an article in the November 2012 edition of Kappan and states that systems must ensure “teacher evaluation is connected to – not isolated from – preparation and induction programs, daily professional practice, and a productive instructional context.”

Darling Hammond outlines five key features of a teacher effectiveness strategy:

  1. Common state-wide standards for teaching related to meaningful student learning and shared across the system (what should teachers know and do to be able to support the learning of every student)
  2. Performance based assessments based on these standards (linking teacher effectiveness to student learning gains)
  3. Local evaluation systems aligned to the same standards for on the job teaching based on practice and student learning (creating a continuum of competency for professional learning at every stage of teachers’ careers)
  4. Support structures to ensure trained evaluators can mentor teachers
  5. Aligned professional learning opportunities

These points illustrate the need for the teaching profession to work collaboratively to develop a common language around learning, a common understanding of what good practice looks like and a common process for measuring it.

Jason Culbertson’s article, Putting the value in teacher evaluation, also reflects on a teacher evaluation system called TAP which is currently being used in 380 schools around the US.  The TAP evaluation system includes a number of classroom observations every year by experienced evaluators. This is followed by conferencing in which the evaluator and teacher examine an observed strength, weakness and an individualised plan for improvement.

According to Culbertson, the most important result from this process is the common language developed around what effective teaching looks like. The standards provide teachers with a very clear understanding of what “performance looks like at various levels of expertise in a range of classroom practices and skills” which led to the most accomplished teachers ‘recalibrating their expectations’.

What appeals to me about the TAP method is that strategies are not only selected by ‘master teachers’ based on analysis of student data but are road-tested and refined in classrooms before teachers introduce it into their own classrooms.  In this way, teachers are not dropped into the deep end to ‘sink or swim’ but are given a solid foundation on which to trial, collaboratively reflect and if necessary, refine strategies to improve student learning.

It is easy to assume that teachers should instinctively know how to improve their practice or that they begin their career armed with all the knowledge and skills required.  But as Darling-Hammond and others point out – teachers just like students, need clear objectives, constructive feedback and opportunities to succeed.

Teachers at the centre

Is student-centred learning a given when we are talking about schooling in today’s world?  Our system’s theory of action has the student at the centre but in recent times, I have begun to rethink whether the teacher should be at the centre.  Without good teachers and leaders at the centre, can you improve the learning outcomes of every student?

A few weeks back I caught a TED talk by Geoff Mulgan about a new model of school called the ‘Studio School’, which aims to reach disengaged teenagers who didn’t see any relationship between what they learnt at school and future jobs. The key features of ‘Studio Schools’ include smaller class size, curriculum centred on real life practical experiences, coaches in addition to teachers and timetables much more like a work environment in a business. The underlying principle of this model of schooling is based on the idea that a large portion of teenagers learn best by working in teams and by undertaking real-world activities. The result was that student performance improved significantly.

The Studio School is one example of the innovations taking place in education today, centred of course around the learner.  But good teaching is the other ingredient in this and I wonder whether we are over-compensating for the deficiencies of an industrial model by not focusing enough on the quality of teaching and the role of the teacher.

We have tangible examples where investment in learning at every stage of a teacher’s careers is having an impact on the quality of learning.  Linda Darling-Hammond states that in Singapore, teacher education is a serious investment throughout a career. Darling-Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education ‘to get the best teachers, students from the top one- third of each graduating high school class are recruited into a fully paid 4-year undergraduate teacher education program, and immediately put on the ministry’s payroll. When they enter teaching, they earn as much as or more than beginning engineers, accountants, lawyers and doctors who are in civil service…during the course of their preparation, there is a focus on learning to use problem-based and inquiry learning, on developing collaboration, and on addressing a range of learning styles in the classroom.’

Countries that have invested in improving teacher quality have seen the largest gains in student achievement according to a recent article by William J. Bushaw and Shane J. Lopez in the Phi Delta Kappan Journal. Their finding was based on the conclusion reached by educators who participated in the International Summit on the Teaching profession hosted by the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and data from the latest PDK/Gallop poll which surveyed over 1,000 people about their views on public education.

Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley in The Fourth Way: The Inspirational Future for Educational Change also concur that high quality learning is dependent on highly qualified teachers and teaching. Finland controls teacher quality at the point of entry. They get high-quality teachers and know how to keep them by giving teachers’ professional status, support and considerable autonomy.

The New York Times featured Relay Graduate School of Education which has no campus, no lectures and graduate students mentored primarily at the schools they teach. The president of Relay, Norman Atkins, claims that vastly improving teacher education is critical in fixing the failure of America’s public education.

We know that good teachers always put their students at the centre and good teaching is what makes the difference.  Perhaps our theory of action requires a rethink or a tweek so that this relationship is clear.  This understanding puts to rest the proposition that you don’t need teachers in an online connected world.

Schools desperately need good teachers now more than ever. Invest in teachers and you’ll see dramatic improvements in student achievement.

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