The article was published in The Guardian Teacher Network here, on 27.6.13.
When a teacher who has been judged to “require improvement” asks for advice I always caveat it by saying that I can only offer the benefit of my own experience and a listening ear. But regardless of criteria, I do still remain vexed at the thought of consistently below-par teaching.
Teachers who are judged in this bracket need to make a choice.
They need to listen, engage and then act on the advice and develop. Or alternatively, they need to move schools or quit. It’s an unsympathetic statement to make, but it is a reality.
I’ve worked with teachers at all levels, improving teaching and learning in departments and schools across London. Over the last two decades, in the majority of poor teaching I have observed, with beleaguered teachers I have mentored, or with staff who have simply got stuck, there is an inept lack of hunger to take responsibility for further improvement. This is something Carol Dweck calls, a “fixed mindset” in her book, Mindset.Fixed or Growth Mindset?
Let us not neglect the fact that we are teachers in order to impart a love of learning, in order to gain qualifications, for our students. But, at no point should we stop learning ourselves. Earlier on in our careers we accept and expect the support and mentoring of a more experienced colleague. There is an appropriate dependency on others. We strive for greater independence as we begin to develop expertise and master the basics of being a teacher.
So what does a good teacher look like? Well, Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw said in his speech to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA): “One size does not fit all when it comes to being a successful teacher. We are satisfied as long as the children are engaged and learning.”
Wilshaw is absolutely right. One size does not fit all and teachers should have different styles and methods but we can all be “good” using divergent approaches.
So what do you do if you have been judged to be “requiring improvement?”
Primarily, do not hide. The issue will not go away. As a profession we need to move from dependence on others to a greater interdependence. This includes you and I as practitioners. As the headteacher of St Mary’s Catholic College in Blackpool Stephen Tierney (@Head_stmarys) said in a recent tweet: “Take the next step … Better never stops no matter where you are on the journey. Keep going and take people with you.”
Some other tips include:
• Utilise the support around you and do something about it. Do not expect everyone to put the cogs in motion for you every step of the way. You are the professional. However, I do appreciate that support offered in schools will vary widely, especially from the senior leadership team. But in every school, there should be a cohort of good to outstanding teaching staff who are more than happy to help.
• Consider speaking with a clandestine group of teaching staff; these are the kind of staff who would jump at the opportunity to coach a colleague, yet have never been given the chance.
• As corny as it sounds, seize the day. Find your own coach. In or out of school hours. Whatever it takes, begin.
• Source your own professional development. There is an abundance of collegiality online, in various networks such as the GTN, Twitter and other forums.
I appreciate that this is not an easy challenge. School priorities; the leadership team, the students and life events can all make or break a good bout of enthusiasm in any teacher. Bereavement and a recent redundancy period created a blip year for me. This is entirely normal and acceptable, but not taking control of your own practice is unthinkable.
Teachers, soon after their induction year, can be left, indirectly, to rot in flagging departments and schools without support and mentoring to help shape and define their emergent practice. It is vital those standards are set high from the outset and that trainees are equipped with the mindset to be self-sufficient and reflective regardless. This can also apply to teachers well into their career and should be maintained and supported throughout.
There is also a responsibility on the school and those in the leadership team to hold under-performing teachers to account and ensure rigorous support and challenge. To ensure teachers produce a “good” lesson is a start; but what we must strive for, is for students to go from one good teacher to another good teacher, lesson after lesson in a secondary school or year after year in a primary school. This is the growth mindset needed to go from “requires improvement” to “good” to “outstanding” – both for the teacher and the school.
To quote Dylan Wiliam, who always sums it up so fittingly: “Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.”
The link to this article is:
There is a very popular article link below – which explains the CPD system I have used, to support teachers.
- #GoodinTen – Requires Improvement CPD programme, by @TeacherToolkit #SLTchat (teachertoolkit.me)
- So what is #Stickability? by @TeacherToolkit and @Head_StMarys (teachertoolkit.me)