Is Teacher-Autonomy For You?

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Autonomous Teaching


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can schools create a climate in which all teachers, regardless of age or stage, can thrive?

There is no shortage of research being undertaken to help try to improve the quality of education provided in schools across the world. You might think that after hundreds of years of teaching, we would have discovered rather more about the best ways for teachers to teach and students to learn, but somehow there appears to be more disagreement than agreement.

In this post, I discuss how we may create a climate within a school where all teachers can thrive…

Experience is a rare commodity…

Did you know, that the average life-span of a teacher in England is 13 years of service?

As a teacher ‘ages’ throughout their professional career, they become wiser, yet the students’ age and wisdom always remain the same. Therefore, year on year, the energy from the students is constantly high in comparison to a teacher who gradually gets older, tired and slows down. Teaching is exhausting, particularly when you are expected to achieve higher standards in the next academic year.

Of course, life gets in the way and external factors such as age, mortgage, health, location to work and childcare all play a factor in our length of service, as well as where a teacher chooses to work, but so does the school culture and its leadership…

What generally happens in the classroom, is that experienced teachers become wiser, get jaded (or labelled ‘cynical’) with ever-revolving policies and methods, whilst inexperienced teachers lap up new concepts, and, depending on who is around them, sink or swim based on the quality of mentoring within that school and the wealth of knowledge (professional capital) around them. We also know if those are lacking, inexperienced teachers leave the classroom prematurely…

Creating a positive teaching culture …

I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without the expertise of the colleagues around me. The school context and culture mattered – this starts at the very top – and every teacher must be actively seeking to have a professional dialogue with their peers on a regular basis. With workload at excruciating levels, newer teachers are increasingly lacking the colleagues around them as experienced teachers leave or are squeezed out of the profession. Who can offer our newer teachers the professional wisdom they need to resolve complex classroom problems?

The vast majority of teachers I have worked with or meet, yearn for a culture of classroom practice where they are free to share and be trusted. Teachers also want a profession where they are participating with passion and purpose to enable deep and powerful learning to happen. Today, more than ever, they want to be research-engaged yet often a) don’t know where to start b) don’t have the time or c) cannot afford to access expensive journals and academic research/courses.

School leaders, therefore, must make this a priority and protect it fiercely!

Chasing the elusive ‘consistency’…

From the 150+ schools that I have visited, not one has been able to claim 100% teaching consistency. Why is this the case? Interestingly, as part of my work with each school, I ask for a copy of their teaching and learning policy so that I can get a better understanding of the aims, as well as the pressure to improve standards and improve consistency.

However, increasingly I have been asking myself, ‘Are we over-complicating our expectations?’

In today’s culture, it takes a brave school leader to protect their staff from external pressures, to reduce workload and to ignore various policies, in a climate of high accountability, which (supposedly) guarantees better student outcomes. If we are to do things that really work in schools, then we need to start using one another’s experiences in the classroom as evidence in itself.

Yet, we must do this reliably and with a degree of commonsense.

Teaching and Learning Policy Accountability versus Autonomy

High-stakes or nothing at all?

How do schools move away from high-stakes accountability (compliance), whilst avoiding any possibility where teaching and learning is to loose (absent)? On my travels and in all settings, I have seen first-hand that what we need, is a sensible balance between both extremities (autonomy).

How we achieve this in all schools is another matter?

Watch me explain this …

Teaching and Learning Policy Accountability versus Autonomy

Watch me explain the balance between high-stakes and low-stakes accountability…

Trust has replaced compliance…

The schools that are getting it right, are creating the conditions where compliance and frequency have been removed, regular professional teaching conversations are happening, and teachers are sharing ‘worst’ examples of lessons rather than showcasing the ‘best’. Using this approach, allows all teachers to solve complex problems together, as well as helping one another to improve. Me? That’s a school where I’d like to work…

If schools want to do great work, they need to enable teachers to meet more regularly to share ideas about what is working with their students. ‘Allowing everyone the freedom to follow their interests sends an important message: that good ideas can be found anywhere, by anyone.’ (Price, 2013)

5 thoughts on “Is Teacher-Autonomy For You?

  1. Very thought provoking. The challenge is ensuring teachers utilise the time they are given for personal CPD, and not use the time for admin tasks!Its definitely about mindset regardless.
    Thank you for sharing.

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