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Teachers have to be co-collaborators in the construction of their own performance related data

I’d like to pick up on something David Didau posted on his BLOG recently. I think it’s really important for two reasons. Firstly, because it identifies a couple of real problems in education. That is to say, the deficit model that seems to be run by most schools and colleges and secondly; the outlining of a more complex process of assessing performance.

The deficit model is, at it’s most simplistic, the deficit of knowledge that non experts have when dealing with expertise. It explains the scepticism towards science by the general public who (so the theory goes), do not accept scientific premises because they simply don’t know enough about science. Scientists are therefore exhorted to; “communicate better”, “spread the word” and so on and so forth.

There is a definite feeling amongst the educational elite that, if only teachers listened to what they have to say things would get better. Things, as in, whatever it is that needs to get better at any particular time.  It’s not always necessarily clear what it is ,but nonetheless it needs to get better, and that’s that. Teachers, it seems, can’t be trusted and need telling what to do.

Often it seems, by people who don’t know what to do themselves. In the educational deficit model the experts aren’t necessarily that expert. This has a very corrosive effect on education. It leads to a lack of trust, an erosion of confidence and a general animosity between teachers and their managers. Often with very negative consequences.

David offers a range of weighted factors that could be used to analyse performance. I think there are issues with this, but in the current climate it seems to be a way forward, with one proviso; and that is teachers need to own their own data. That is to say that the leaders go out of it’s way to make data and the process that generates that data more transparent and to include teachers when they weigh up data and make judgments. There is downside, it could make the environment more competitive and less collaborative. I think that is a real issue, and something to bear in mind.

David also makes this point:

The job of a school leader is to strip out every demand on classroom teachers save that they plan and teach to the best of their ability. There is always an opportunity cost. Anything you ask teachers to do just for the sake of accountability is time that cannot be spent doing something more worth while.

This is absolutely true, and should be the mantra of every leader, and sometimes is, but and it’s a big but, it doesn’t work if the hierarchy itself doesn’t buy into it.  Often it is the fear of accountability that is transmitted from a senior leader to middle managers and downwards, that causes the problem. Senior leaders are imbued with the kind of power to decide that teachers need to focus on teaching and learning, but middle managers are often the ones held culpable for problematic data. Middle managers in education get it from both side.

You see I’ve noticed an increasingly disingenuous culture emerging whereby teachers aren’t always told all the facts. A manager isn’t going to persuade a teacher to take on a problem group, if the teacher knows that that they will also be inheriting the data. The colleague struggling might be a friend of the manager. They may be  a colleague who, in days gone by, colleagues would have been happy to help. Data though, persists long after good intentions have been forgotten.

A culture of transparency can ironically make things less transparent. The key is confidence, everyone buying into the ethos. More to the point, buying into the fact that teachers need to own their our own data, even if they don’t always believe that data is the key to a good education. The more complex the data the more it has to be a collaborative effort to understand it.

We are,  it seems to me, on the cusp of a new era. Complex data systems and enhanced performance monitoring are exposing the little wheezes, cheats and tacit behaviour that has enabled the profession both to claim to teach as we should do, when in fact often (if we’re honest), we aren’t, we can’t, there isn’t enough hours in the day, which leads me to the last point of David’s that I agree with and that is:

Teachers already work hard and can’t reasonably work (any) harder

If teachers are to to be trusted and performance monitored on a range of increasingly complex data, then teachers have to be included in the process that decides what that data is and how it is to be used for the purpose of accountability. I think the era of the manager as expert educator is nearly over.

We are heading towards a professional model whereby teachers are co-collaborators in the construction of their own performance related data. I hope so. I don’t think that a model whereby the learning environment is at the bottom of a long hierarchical model is sustainable. Something has to give, and I think that the notion that everyone is an expert in education, except those doing the job, is the point at which the current education system will be break. I hope so anyway.

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