Why do teachers and schools impose silly ideas on one other?
Over the last two weeks I have watched a prominent ITT provider post a recruitment video, sadly promoting the fact that teaching and learning could be assessed from walking past a teacher’s classroom door … and another school leader boasting about the fact that they could evaluate the culture of a complex school environment within the first 30 seconds from being on-school premises.
Have we not away from this dialogue? If we want to ‘talk-up’ our profession, why do we impose such silly concepts onto one another? Why do we take pride in the fact that we believe we can understand the complex world of the classroom and a large institution is a mere 30 seconds or less?
If this is all it takes to determine a ‘good’ teacher, why do we need to train at all? Can you really walk past a classroom door or stand in the school reception and gauge the flavour of what is going on? If we truly wish to raise the status of teaching with the public, our politicians, or parents and with one another, we need to ‘talk up teaching’. We need to stop making foolish assumptions about one another’s ability to teach.
I was promoted in my third year of teaching – Tom Sherrington appointed me! I was 26 and had barely mastered the classroom. Six or seven years later in my heyday as a middle leader, I began to understand what was working and what I should continue to develop. Overall, I was confident, but I knew nothing at a deeper level about the complex world of the classroom and schools …
In 2004, I was confident, experimental and had overcome most of the difficulties we all face in the earlier parts of our teaching career. I certainly hand’ mastered anything and I accept that I was also a world apart from the policies of senior leadership and how successful schools sustained a balance between high-stakes teaching and unsolicited autonomy.
In 2008, despite leading a team of 13 staff and being on the cusp of school leadership myself, I was still a good step away from having any whole-school perspective. I was leading on one or two initiatives, but due to the nature of my role and responsibility, I rarely observed colleagues outside my own department. This was in a climate where all of our English state schools were grading lessons…
Collaboration or Isolation?
In the early 2000s, it was rare to observe another teacher unless it was your job or you had been told to do so. It was often voluntary and something you did in the little free or non-contact time you had available. Whole-school systems for using observations to develop and help coach colleagues were few and far between. This is still an issue for many in our cash-strapped schools today!
I also had not yet faced having to support or challenge experienced teachers who were reliable and all-around solid practitioners, but whose personal confidence sometimes undermined the collective school vision because they would ignore policies and procedures. They were simply isolated and demotivated.
Drawing reliable conclusions …
Twenty-five years on, I now kind of understand why. I had not yet understood, or been encouraged to recognise, that these behaviours may not be helpful to the overall success of a school, but there was often a good reason for these behaviours in our colleagues. I was still developing a repertoire for observing a wide range of teaching practice and methods, holding colleagues to account, as well as developing them.
The challenge of supporting colleagues and ensuring high standards in your team is a fine balance to master for everyone. It is a very real issue for many. My experiences of lesson observation have grown significantly and I have just immersed myself into academia. I now find myself emerging into an entirely new era of methods and processes I knew very little about.
Today in 2019, I am still trying to gauge reliability from observations into the complex world of the classroom. Perhaps I am a rare breed, or maybe you also have this feeling? It’s definitely not imposter system. I know the classroom very well, but our observations of others are merely the tip of the iceberg and to understand ‘what works’ is a lifetime’s work.
Let’s try to find out what makes good teaching, but for goodness sake, let’s not do silly things to one another by actively promoting that we can make any reliable judgement about our colleagues from walking past their open classroom doors or standing in a school’s reception area
If I could offer one piece of advice to every teacher across the world, observe your colleagues at every given opportunity, no matter how busy you are. Everyone is busy, but good teachers make time for observations. It’s the only way to truly learn about classroom pedagogy and avoid making silly and unreliable assumptions.