Self doubt is a natural condition of perhaps all humanity. We catch ourselves in moments where our vision of ourselves does not quite line up with that which we either project, or indeed, that others project our way. For one reason and another, in recent months, I have been in several positions in which I have had to present the effectiveness of my areas of responsibility. I am reasonably secure and am buoyed by the exclamation of an Ofsted Inspector who told us that our Self Evaluation was, “brutally honest”. However, and particularly for an institution which “Requires Improvement”, the green shoots of recovery, or indeed the evidence of improved performance can be more unsettling than it is reassuring.
This is true in the case of both teacher performance and that of student performance, leading to achievement of course. The two trajectories inextricably linked. The necessity for both to improve is clear and the consequences of a dip in achievement equally clear. This is why we scrutinise and monitor performance so closely. Aware, at the same time, that performance is not necessarily synonymous with achievement or indeed learning. David Didau’s blog is the best place to read an exploration of this idea: “The Problem With Progress”. Effectively, the fact that performance may be improved and indicators back this up, does not mean that capacity has been built or learning has taken place.
I started this year with the statistic 60:40 clearly in the forefront of my mind. This was the proportion of teaching throughout the previous year judged to have been “Good” or better next to the proportion that “Required Improvement” or was worse. This statistic hangs heavily whenever you consider a whole school improvement. Those colleagues who have proven capability, who have built their capacity and that of others can carry and implement ideas that will effect change. Those that have yet to make those improvements are in a less secure position. We have invested a significant amount in CPD targeted at improving and enhancing the skills of the “40%”, monitoring focused on those areas that can be “leveraged”, such as marking and we have made several appointments, of which I was one, with a proven track record at “Good” or better. Performance has improved, the question that is more pertinent is, has capacity improved? Crucially, have we gotten “better”?
I began the year by asking the staff to tell me what percentage of CPD teachers felt made a difference to their classroom practice. This is a sobering 1% (http://tdt.ncde.org.uk). I’ve written before about the difficulties with teacher learning and the idiosyncrasies of teachers in terms of wanting to be told what to do and yet resisting it at the same time. Early on this year, we made the decision to modify our CPD delivery to a model more like that of “Lesson Study”. Many of my Twitter colleagues have written from detailed experience. Our decision was largely based in a shift of culture from colleagues being dictated to, to a model where “answers” are generated within the culture and practice of the staff body. The aim is to bring the two quivering needles of improved performance and concrete learning or capacity improvement closer together. To ensure that performance is not the “ghost” of direction and monitoring and beginning to ensure that we really are “getting better”.
In constructing this model, however, I have hit upon a couple of particular points to consider. Firstly Adult Learning Theory but also the concept of Foundational knowledge.
Adult Learning Theory
A simple google search will provide a huge basis for your starting points in reading up on Adult Learning Theory or “Andragogy”. The idea that adults have a different set of principles by which they learn first gathered popularity throughout the 1950s and was pioneered by a chap called Malcolm Knowles. Knowles identified six principles under which adults learned effectively or through which adult learning could be better designed:
- Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
- Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
- Adults are goal oriented
- Adults are relevancy oriented
- Adults are practical
- Adult learners like to be respected
Nothing particularly scary or unexpected here I suppose, but they do challenge the models of CPD that we’re so very used to. If you’ve ever delivered CPD, you’re very aware of the moment when someone gets up half an hour before the end to leave as they have “childcare” issues or are disengaged and thinking about the lunch. There’s a careful line when preparing to “teach” teachers. They know all the tricks in the book and don’t like them being “done” to them. They are also amongst the worst “students” you will ever meet. Essentially, I don’t have a problem with numbers three to six. It’s one and two which present me with problems.
Adults are internally motivated and self-directed. Correction, many adults are internally motivated and self-directed. Correction again, many adults are internally motivated and self-directed when their working conditions allow for the space and freedom to be. I work with so many dedicated people who mark books on an almost backbreaking rota, I also have worked with colleagues who have come to see me to enquire as to when I will be organising work scrutiny so they know to mark their books or not. It’s another difficult line to tread. How much direction and how much freedom allows performance to indicate real improvement and not a higher level of monitoring?
Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences. This is true, of course, of students in school too. Our varied experiences colour our perceptions and determine how we progress in future learning, our ability to acquire new concepts, be analytical, identify bias. This is a crucial weapon in the toolkit of an educator at any level. The issue arises when this experience and knowledge is inaccurate. When previously, practices have been encoded which do not align with what can reasonably be called “Good”. Here is where the problem lies in terms of Foundational Knowledge.
“Foundational Knowledge” is a concept which requires learners to first master what is already known. Criticism of this approach is grounded in the theory that this requires learners to be so entrenched and almost “hemmed in” by knowledge and skill acquisition that they are unready for the challenge of creating their own answers to problems that they are subsequently presented with. My issue is more to do with the encoding of poor practice as opposed to a lack of creativity in approaching new problems. I would also like a feeling of freedom to innovate, to make a few mistakes whilst working towards better practice to be at the heart of what we work towards.
In order to do this, the basics, the “Foundational Knowledge” must be established and become almost the “muscle memory” of every working teacher. Once this is in place we can begin to enhance what we need and want in terms of improvement not just measured by performance but also in outcomes, routines and practices. In essence, we’ll only “know” we’re good when we’re “Good”.
We are good at what we do, we’re just not “Good” yet. “Yet” being the most important word of that sentence. We’re tight and direct and honest and driven. We will be good. And it won’t just be in terms of performance. The hard work and the pain, but also the innovation that we are hoping and trying to effect will ensure that we are better, that we have capacity, not just that we have got ourselves over the next boundary. We really will be “Good”.