Recently I had shared an article that I had posted via LinkedIn that I had came across in the same space titled “Telling another teacher how to teach? It’s a sin, says leading academic“.
I will refrain from going in to depth about what the main points of the article were yet only to say that Prof. John Hattie basically sums up the importance for teachers, and leaders for that matter, to build professional cultures of trust within the school organisation to ensure that all teachers are learning, growing, and doing the best that they can for their their students. As important as I feel that this message is, and as much as I believe in it, I also firmly believe it is pure common sense. It should not take the likes of Hattie to spread this message. It should just be, ‘the way’, things are.
Unfortunately, it is not.
Too often teachers either work and plan in isolation or are pigeon holed to working with colleagues who only form part of their teaching team/s. And, even then, the importance of building capacity and improving one’s ability to be an outstanding educator by using the collective knowledge of those around is minimal. And we can debate the ‘excuses’ as to why.
The graphic featuring Pasi Sahlberg at the beginning of this post says it all. The Finnish school system is well known to most of us for their outstanding school system and the results they achieve and if this statement from Pasi forms part of their educational mantra then it is easy to see why the Fins and their education system are held in such high regard. The work of Timperley and Fullan for example often talk about the importance of teachers needing to work together. To learn from one another. And make this a culturally common practice is widely discussed. And proven.
Another wonderful paper that places a focus on peer to peer collaboration is the Grattan Institute’s “Turning Around Schools: It Can Be Done” (Jensen, 2014) mentions that one of five common steps needed to turn around a poorly performing school is;
“Effective teaching with teachers learning from each other. Turnaround schools implement teaching practices that dramatically improve learning. Professional collaboration, such as teacher observation or team teaching, helps teachers to develop new or improved approaches and reinforces change through peer feedback. Working together gives people greater ownership of the dramatic changes occurring in the school.”
If we know from the academic research and literature that has been written and undertaken that teachers teaching teachers works, why is it NOT a core focus the world over. Or is it, and it is not just done purposefully and with intent.
If I am to think about myself professionally here and the impact that I have had on others and others have had on myself I would be looking at a 70/30 split. In a perfect world it would be evenly split however, again, it is not the case. When I think about the professional interactions I have had throughout my career and the opportunities I have had for others to comment on my teaching performance and capabilities, the opportunities to gain purposefully and meaningful feedback have been few and far between. Because of this, it lends me towards thinking that the ideology of all of the above is certainly 2 fold.
On one hand we have have those who give the feedback and offer the assistance and notice the change and improvements needing to happen. These people are also the ones who act on these observations with a “Hey, I noticed in your class today that… Have you tried???”. A comment such as this takes courage to be brought up and passed on. Not all people have the ability to do so. However, if there is a culture of trust, honesty, and sheer willingness for school wide improvement and improvement in oneself, then these comments are much easier to say. Remember, you do not have to be a leader to comment on a colleagues performance. In getting slightly sidetracked, a comment such as “I thought how you did X in your class today was great”! makes a huge difference and inroad to building and sustaining that culture trust, honesty and sheer willingness for school wide improvement.
Now in the other hand we have those on the receiving end of these comments. In all of my years working within schools I have learnt that there is really no other profession that is as interpersonal as what teaching can be. By human nature we are all quick to judge, critise, critique, and, albeit not often, positively reinforce our peers for the work they do. What we all need to realise is that if feedback comes our way it is because someone has noticed something – good, bad or otherwise. And the feedback we receive can either be taken on board, or quickly forgotten about. That’s the beauty of feedback. There is never a need to take any comment personally. It is not an attack on you as an educator or on you as a person. Take it on board from the point of view that someone cares and is looking towards helping you improvement your craft.
As Hattie states in the TES article – “I should be learning something about what impact I had, who I had an impact on,”. If each and everyday we have a greater impact on on our students and settings due to the continual improvement we make individually and collectively, we will without a doubt see our students and education systems flourish.