Thoughts on implications for variability in teacher effectiveness…

hattieThis post is an initial reaction to a recent read of Hattie’s What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise and some conversations at my principal PLG.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, would have been great to have this publication in my hands when I was completing the lit review for my final masters paper, never-the-less I have found it a thought provoking read that I am still fully understanding all of the implications and takeaways for my situation.

For me, the main purpose of the piece is to suggest a set of conditions i.e. collaborative expertise, to counter the known variability of teacher effectiveness within schools.

There are many causes of this variance within schools, but I would argue that the most important (and one that we have some influence to reduce) is the variability in the effectiveness of teachers. I don’t mean to suggest that all teachers are bad; I mean that there is a great deal of variability among teachers in the effect that they have on student learning. (Hattie, 2015, p. 1)

I really like the grounding concept discussed which clearly sets out that the effectiveness ‘measure’ of the teacher is progress made by students, not simply students meeting standards of achievement. This is a great reminder and reinforcer especially in the era of line-in-the-sand achievement milestones where learning progress is not always seen, or maybe overshadowed by a tick in the Below or Well Below column.

Other highlights, there are lots and I am not doing them justice here, but here’s a snapshot: importance of moderation, high expectations, the use of smart assessment tools, discussion about assessing more than just the basics but also the how-to aspects of learning, the role of the school leader in creating an evaluative climate, use of student voice to evaluate impact of teaching, that if students are not learning we need to change the way we teach and of course the underlying principle of using the expertise of effective teachers to lift teaching across the educational community.

Anyway, my train of thought went off on a tangent and began exploring what this meant for teacher appraisal, performance management, professional inquiry and professional learning and development, especially after this discussion:

Yes, the essence of many teachers’ sense of professionalism is their autonomy to teach as they wish. But they do not have a right to such autonomy if they are not systematically teaching in a manner where the majority of their students gain at least a year’s progress for a year’s input.

So this got me thinking, that with a variety in teacher effectiveness, that amongst other things, there must also be a variety in the way teachers are appraised and monitored, variety in what professional learning and development they receive, variety of expectations surrounding their professional inquiry, and a variety in the length of the “leash” of professional trust. These thoughts are not new to me, but reading this publications has brought them back to the top.

Of course in my mind this mirrors what we should see happening with our students, that learning is personalised to their needs, they know where their strengths and weaknesses, set goals and critically reflect on their progress, to have a growth mindset, the list goes on..

So what could this look like for me, relatively fresh into the current school I am leading?

Currently, for better or for worse, there is generally a one size fits all approach where teachers have them same expectations and checkpoints, and opportunities for PLD as each other. The is the same minimum expectation for collecting assessments – the key word is consistency. Some of the thinking behind this is that a lot of this has come about to establish some norms and expectations to a new way of thinking and new approaches to building teacher effectiveness. Teacher inquiry is still in its infancy, there is a new assessment regime, and a clear focus on our priority learners. In establishing these the strategy has been a consistent one.

The only real opportunity for teachers to have choice and direct their learning is within the approach to teacher inquiry where there is scope for them to determine the focus and plan the interventions. I guess this happens though within quite a tight structure. However the intent here is to take in a gradual release of responsibility approach i.e. pull in the reins before letting them go, over time, full stem ahead, but only if they demonstrate their participation and understanding (effectiveness?). We have also budgeted for teachers to have a PLO (personal learning opportunity), where they are released to engage in their own choice of PLD such as a school visit/observations, talking to experts, engaging in professional reading…

Some questions though arise the more I think, for example:

  • How will teachers react when some receive more PLD than others, based on their effectiveness as a teacher? (think equity vs. equality debate)
  • How so when some get ‘appraised’ more often than others?
  • When some get the own PLD budget to utilise, while some are ‘required’ to attend certain PLD opportunities?
  • Is my thinking being constrained by my mental image of what PLD looks like? By what appraisal looks like?

I would hope that a purely professional viewpoint would be taken by everyone as they acknowledge that everyone has different needs (and as mentioned above, just like the learners in their class).

Where to next is the closing ponder. It was suggested to me today that the future of PLD is in 1-1 coaching, personalised to each teacher. This conceptually fits with the direction my mind is going in. I am committed to exploring this further, finding schools who have a personalised approach but also ones that haven’t lost sight of the power of collaboration. Thus any future design would still need to incorporate opportunities to come together for dialogue and that collective problem solving and sharing of expertise, all within a personalised approach first and foremost. I find the thoughts quite exciting and the future direction full of possibilities. Who out there has already started the journey – I would love to connect with you…