Sunday, October 30, 2011

There is No Room for Mediocrity in Education

I think we have all taught in schools alongside colleagues whom we deeply respect and admire. I have been extremely fortunate to have encountered many highly experienced, professional and dynamic teaching practitioners, both in the course of my work and also from the perspective of being a parent. On many occasion, my own children have been extremely lucky to have benefited from such excellence and the amount of learning that takes place is little short of phenomenal.

Sadly however, there is a flip side to this. There are still some practising teachers who need to take a very serious look at either improving or moving. If this does not occur, then perhaps members of the school management team need to recognise when it is time to make the 'hard' decisions. Teachers who lack the respect of colleagues, students, parents and school management and who refuse to change, must leave. After all, there is simply no room, at all, for mediocrity in education!

On reading some of the reports published by the Grattan Institute, along with a range of important research papers, there appears to be an indisputable link between teacher quality and student outcomes.

        The evidence from Australia and overseas is remarkably consistent. Conservative estimates suggest that a student with a teacher at the 75th percentile of effectiveness (measured with a value-added metric) will achieve in three-quarters of a year what a student with a teacher at the 25th percentile will achieve in a full year. A student with an excellent teacher (at the 90th percentile) would achieve in half a year what a student with a less effective teacher (at the 10th percentile) will learn in a full year. (Leigh; Hanushek; in Jensen 2011)

This same report, published by the Grattan Institute, also favours having an effective teacher appraisal system in place in schools. For many, the process of teacher appraisal can seem quite threatening. Personally, although I do become quite nervous with other professionals viewing my classes, I like having the opportunity to be mentored; to have someone whom I greatly respect, assist me in becoming more effective and assist me in achieving the personal growth that is needed in my professional practice.

Teaching in itself can be quite an isolating profession in that you are the only adult in the class and, as a result, only have the opportunity to reflect on your own practice. Therefore, including within an appraisal system the chance to visit other teacher's classes can be of great use. When I visit other classes, I find I have not only an opportunity to obtain ideas and learn from others, but I also get to see the classroom from entirely different angles and perspectives. By further adding to this model with allocated sessions for collaborative lesson planning and preparation, and I believe teaching becomes far less isolating.

The Grattan report lists eight methods to 'assess and improve learning and teacher performance', of which at least four, including the first, should be used:

• Student performance and assessments;
• Peer observation and collaboration;
• Direct observation of classroom teaching and learning;
• Student surveys and feedback;
• 360-degree assessment and feedback;
• Self-assessment;
• Parent surveys and feedback; and
• External observation.
  (Jensen 2011 p9)

While in my position there is not terribly much I can do to put an end to the practice of mediocrity, there is a very important path available to me. I can continue to learn, to reflect deeply, use data to inform my practice, ask for assistance/mentoring from my respected peers, collaborate with others and share ideas/resources as much as possible. I may not be able to have any control over others but I can always work towards ensuring I have the best chance of being a highly effective teacher!

I like the following excerpt from Carl Glickman’s book, Leadership for learning: How to Help Teachers Succeed:

If, as a teacher,
  • I present the same lessons in the same manner that I have used in the past;
  • I seek no feedback from my students;
  • I do not analyze and evaluate their work in a manner that changes my own emphasis, repertoire and timing;
  • I do not visit or observe other adults as they teach;
  • I do not share the work of my students with colleagues for feedback, suggestions and critiques;
  • I do not visit other schools or attend particular workshops or seminars or read professional literature on aspects of my teaching;
  • I do not welcome visitors with experience and expertise to observe and provide feedback to me on my classroom practice;
  • I have no yearly individualized professional development plan focused on classroom changes to improve student learning; and finally,
  • I have no systematic evaluation of my teaching tied to individual, grade/department, and schoolwide goals,
I have absolutely no way to become better as a teacher.

Glickman, C 2002, Leadership for learning: How to help teachers succeed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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