The ‘f’ word

Michael Fullan recently addressed 100+ of our aspiring leaders in the context of leading change and learning in their schools.

This was a marvellous experience for leading teachers to be exposed to someone of Fullan’s calibre – armed with research and case studies on what makes an effective school leader.

It is evident that one of our greatest challenges as a system is how we continue to recognise leading teachers, how we develop their leadership and more importantly connect them with similar cohorts to expand the depth of talent across the profession.

Part of the process of challenging and empowering teachers is ensuring that core messages around instructional practice, collaboration, effective use of data and feedback etc are being disseminated across all levels.  As one of the principals of Fullan’s ‘turnaround schools’ explained – you need to know the message is getting past the usual bottle-necks.  To ensure teachers are across the agenda requires constant…… ‘feedback’.

I know many leaders and educators are uncomfortable with the ‘f’ word but it is critical to how we lead and plan.  It begs the question of how we encourage principals in every school (large, small, primary, secondary) to seek honest feedback and evidence of their own school improvement strategies? Why do we too often feel uncomfortable getting and giving feedback?

For Fullan, building strong communities of practice comes from building communities of trust.  As a system, we need to continually measure the temperature of trust and progress if we are to see what is working and what needs to be done next. This is the way to overcome this “uncomfortableness.” Learning becomes the focus of the work not individual performance.

In raising the bar, we need to be rigorous in our approach to gathering feedback and presenting evidence.  It requires not only a common language of learning but as John Hattie recently said ‘a common indicator of progress that is applied across every school’.  This ‘common’ but sharply focussed lens provides schools, systems, parents, governments with an honest snapshot from which we can understand, monitor and promote good learning rather than judge school performance.

Taking this approach builds the credibility of the profession as well, and will place the profession in the centre of developing education policy – not at its margins

One thought on “The ‘f’ word

  1. Feedback is essential in everything we do. It enables us to grow as individuals and as a community. Next year at St Agnes we are moving to a system of teacher support across curriculum areas. My thinking around this idea comes from our Learning Teams who are cross curricula and focussed on specific issues that make recommendations to the leadership team. One area is feedback and I wanted to explore a successful program we introduced this year as part of our personalised learning agenda. Staff visited each others classes and reviewed their learnings from each visit. It was parceled as an experience in terms of my learnings from the visit- not a critique of a lesson. This was very important in removing the negativity of breaking down the walls.
    In essence what we have for next year is a system of collegial support focussing on pedagogy where staff are organised in “triads” where three people visit each others classes on a term basis and provide support,guidance,suggestions, asistance in many forms. It is a way of promoting discussion on pedagogy . Over time the relationship will develop and people will develop trust in each other. It is cross curricula and is open to abuse but by doing nothing I believe is an abdication of leadership.Specific criteria will be developed however the early part will be structured around developing trust in each other. Lets promote the discussion of pedagogy amongst our staff and in our staff room because we all learn from each other especially across different areas of learning and instruction.
    In introducing it to staff there was a positive reaction to it based on previous experiences of visiting classrooms.
    So what will the end result look like?
    I would love to see and hear teachers talking about their pedagogical approach and getting feedback about it. Also there will be a element of pastoral care for staff associated with it. As a leadership team involved in it I believe it offers individuals an opportunity of reflection and keeping in touch with the classroom issues.
    As always there is a chance that it will not be successful but the end result is our students benefit from the learnings of our staff. This is the reason we do what we do!

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