Recently I had a conversation about teacher performance and the role of leaders in supporting teacher growth. Everyone has an intuitive feel for how they are going but it is important to go deeper than just a feeling. Even school leaders need a process to evaluate their own current performance. You need to begin examining your impact.
How to do this? If you really want to improve as a leader, decision-maker, administrator, manager or simply a co-worker, then collecting some data on your performance in your role is essential. Unfortunately many school leaders see the annual performance review as an intrusion or a chore.
It need not be. A quick meander through some of these standard measurement techniques will offer some insight into the status of your performance. (However, the reflective leader looks further afield than the standard appraisal process). Here are four (quick) key measures to look for to help you begin your self reflection:
Questionnaires & Self Assessments: There are the usual commercialised 360 questionnaires that can be sent to your staff to answer. These can provide neat graphics and tables outlining your strengths and weaknesses but rarely gives the necessary insight into next steps for improvement. Taking time to speak to staff and genuinely seeking advice on your impact can be more enlightening than an anonymous survey.
Intuitive Reflection: Effective leaders know when “things” are working and are able to respond in a timely manner when they are not. “Gut feelings” are often based on reality and help the leader make the necessary adjustments to keep them on the right path to achieving their goals.
Examine your community: If your performance is of a high standard then your organisation is humming along. If there is continually improvement in your bottom line (academically speaking) then you are making a difference. This means you are managing (leading) your middle leaders and teacher leaders. Your staff are engaged and focused on the school vision. There is good harmony and peace in your world!
What’s Happening outside Your School?: Schools are about improvement and leadership is the vehicle for fostering the strategies and keeping alignment to school vision. Looking at what other schools are doing can offer insight into how you are performing as a leader in the school. Questions around innovation, attainment levels, programs and courses of study should be raised to see how your school compares. Effective leaders forward plan!
Ultimately the first real step in measuring your own performance is your internal desire to improve. Unless you want to improve you will keep doing what you are doing…. and in turn, will be an absent leader to your community…
This time of year is busy for school leaders as they forward plan for the new academic year. A key task at this time of the school year is the appointment of new staff that are good fits for your school will value add to the school’s teaching and learning agenda.
But how you you attract quality staff?
One of the first steps is writing your advertisement. But how do you write an effective teacher advertisement.
Even if you are using a recruitment firm (which is useful and sometimes cost effective) preparing for the advertising/recruiting yourself helps to solidify your expectations of teaching and learning in your school.
Briefly, here are my 8 steps to securing quality staff to your school.
Be clear on your needs: The cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland offers simple, yet profound advice: If you don’t know where you are heading, it doesn’t matter which road you take! As a leader if you don’t know what you are looking for it will be difficult to distinguish between the CVs. If you are replacing a maths teacher, what are you looking for? Maths knowledge? Experience? Innovation? Charismatic? Firm? The Super Teacher? A clear profile of the type of teacher you desire should be established.
Attract Teacher’s Attention: When writing your advertisement use a catchy headline to attract job seekers to read your announcement.
Be Specific with the Role Description: To help differentiate the numerous CVs that come across your desk it is important to be clear about what the role entails. This ensures the candidate knows exactly what is expected of him/her if finally appointed to your school.
What makes this role different to others?: Every school needs a maths teacher, but why would a prospective maths teacher choose your school? What is it about the role (and your school) that wants candidates to apply.
Outline the School Vision: Every school has its own charter as they work towards fulfilling the vision of the school. You need teachers who can value add and help drive your school improvement plan.
Be Clear on the Application Process: Prospective candidates are looking at multiple positions and if you are clear on how easy it is to apply to your school the more likely they will submit an application. Be precise on the timing, application procedures (eg cover letter and criteria to address), and shortlisting criteria. It also demonstrates a well organised school.
Distribute your Advertisement: Whether using recruitment agencies or going it alone, the distribution of the advertisement is critical. Choosing the media for distribution (eg newspapers, social media, educational journals) to help increase readership is pivotal. Don’t discount your current staff and the word of mouth as a means for distribution.
Interview Strategically: Once you have shortlisted your candidates, preparing for the interview is an important next step. Be prepared, write your questions for the interviewee based on the role description and seek questions about their previous roles as they relate to the role they are applying. Look for potential, takes notes to make comparative judgements against other candidates you interview and always follow up with the candidate afterwards; whether successful or unsuccessful.
Finding the right staff that fit your school can be an arduous task. However, having the right staff makes your school life a lot more exciting.
In recent times the push towards innovation and creativity as a vehicle to both lift educational standards as well as meet the future skills required of the knowledge economy workforce, is an admirable stance. It appears that the Sir Ken Robinson crusade is finally gaining traction with education agencies beginning to require schools to provide evidence of innovation being enacted (for example, see the new UAE unified School Inspection process).
A google search on innovative schools will see a plethora of entries that denotes innovation as a measure of a school being different to other schools. The Steve Wheeler blog post on 4 Things Innovative Schools Have In Common should be catalyst for for all leadership teams in raising the conversation of how we meet the needs of our future learners (and ultimately workers). His analysis of the common ingredients are:
students are seen as unique individuals rather than groups
schools are connected with the outside world
curriculum is delivered in a manner that encourages critical and creative thinking
design of the learning spaces is creative
To contribute to this discussion I’d add that innovation is played out by the creativity and expertise of the classroom teacher. Two vital ingredients necessary are having a bold vision and strong leadership within the school. It is through these two elements that the fruition of the innovation can become reality.
While every school is concerned with school improvement initiatives as a means to improve student learning, research would suggest that the vast majority of these fail. The problem lies in the emphasis on what teachers believe ought to work rather than investigating and using evidence of what does work. It is not simply the programs that schools offer.
Typically, round table conversations follow a similar pattern. That is; a problem is identified, a brainstorm of possible solutions is held, a discernment process to choose one from the list to implement and the task is done! (How many times have you walked into schools to see a reliance on text books to ensure content is covered or see a number of commercially based programs peddled by a publisher as the panacea to the problem (eg spelling; writing; reading, etc)
Now when you look across the globe for exemplars of what outstanding schools do to raise student achievement you see some common threads. For me, I see the following:
Know what outstanding looks like: If the school leader or the classroom teacher is not able to define what outstanding is, it is unlikely they will be outstanding. Most likely they will keep doing what they are doing and hoping that somehow they will get a better result.
Teachers working in teams: Collaboration uses the wisdom of all to get a more informed result. Working in teams invites others to help you improve your practice and offers a focus on raising standards.
Responding to student and school data: One of the difficulties for the classroom teacher is the sustained response to individualised student data. The need to differentiate to meet student s’ learning needs relies on an effective evidence based approach to teaching and learning.
Focusing on effective teaching: Teachers need to be responsive in their teaching and know their craft.
More than classroom teaching: Outstanding schools attract and retain self driven/motivated teachers yearning to value add to their classroom teaching. They often (willingly) take on extra curricula activities to help meet the needs of their students. They see a need and not only offer a solution but implement it themselves.
However the most important consideration is that creating outstanding takes time. There is no silver bullet; it is through a positive collegiate culture that the essence of being outstanding is sewn.
I recently read a book called “The Leadership Triangle: From Compliance to Innovation” by Paul Kimmelman. In triangulating the three key concepts; Compliance, Leadership and Innovation he offers a framework for leading school improvement initiatives in a compliant driven world. It’s a useful tool a for leadership teams in schools to open up the dialogue and to make substantial improvements.
As a principal focused on improving student learning I was heartened by the recent presentations at the Dubai International Education Conference recently held at Al Ghurair University, Dubai. With the key message that the teacher is the centre of improving student attainment, the various keynote and concurrent presentations offered insight into the effective impact of the role of the “Teacher as researcher.”
The teacher as researcher can be distinguished from their colleagues as they attempt to better understand their TEACHing practice and how it impacts upon their students. In researching the relationship between teaching and learning the teacher researcher actively contributes to the conversation of what makes a difference to student learning. This is an evidenced based process and involves reflective inquiry, working in collaboration with other teachers, their students, parents and the community.
Interpreting real time data, analysing the data and them making informed decisions based upon this information is pivotal to improving the school outcomes. The challenge is ensuring that all schools improve. However, as shared by Professor David Lynch (Southern Cross University):
“It is interesting to note that the latest figures released by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (Dubai’s education authority) show that the number of private schools in Dubai will reach 250 by the year 2020 or 16 per year. There are currently 169 private schools in Dubai as of last year, but this number will increase by almost 50% in the next six years to accommodate the projected 50% increase in student population from the current 243,000 level to 366,000 by 2020 or by 24,000 per year. One of the big challenges for the UAE is to prepare or engage enough teachers to meet this demand profile.”
With the rapid increase in the number of schools in Dubai to meet the increasing demand and the KHDA prescribed inspection process identifying what makes an “outstanding school” on what constitutes an outstanding school will continue to create much debate. To help foster the dialogue perhaps our latest publication “Creating the Outstanding School” will help.
Schools today are charged with addressing ever-increasing demands: reducing the achievement gap, adopting evidence-based practices, meeting improvement in attainment levels, managing the requirements of special-needs students, and (most importantly) being up to date with changes in pedagogical approaches. Teachers must keep in front of the important developments that are occurring in education. This is where professional development is needed.
One key PD activity is the professional reading circle. Teachers and school leaders should read professionally on a regular basis to stay current within the various fields of teaching and learning. From professional blogs to google scholar to podcasts to journals and books, there are plenty of sites to build a selection of professional articles for this purpose.
In addition to professional reading undertaken individually, it is imperative that teachers and schools leaders discuss with each other the ideas and strategies gained as a result of reading the articles. Collaboration is essential to moving schools forward.
Here are six thoughts to help you use the readings on this website effectively. However, make sure teachers see the relevancy of what they are reading and how it applies to their personal context.
1. Determine interest: As a leader in the school/department you need to gauge the interest of your team and try and choose readings to match both the needs of the school and the needs of the teachers. Giving teachers the freedom to choose their professional readings, or at least letting them pick from a few pre-selected topics, gives them more ownership on this PD activity. (PD should be driven by student behavior and student performance.) 2. Keep the your team small: While you need the team to come together to discuss the readings, you need to have a small group to allow they have time to share thoughts and ideas. 3. Meet as often as possible: While monthly gatherings seem reasonable, given a busy school environment it may not be possible. If you have a large department, be sure to be organized so that people can easily break into groups and have ample time for discussion during the larger meeting. 4. Have teachers report on what they’ve learned: By doing so, others will benefit as well. You need to encourage each teacher to give feedback and to continue learning. 5. Provide Nibblies at Meetings: Providing snacks during a professional development session also puts teachers at ease because the food is an unexpected or appreciated perk, and this can make teachers comfortable enough to ask questions they might not have asked in a stiff setting. 6. Development Action Plans: As a leader you need to help teachers connect the essence of the reading to their role in the classroom. You need to identify what success will look like when implementing the targeted actions and what (after reading the article) teachers must expect to see reflected in student performance.
As we begin a new academic year, school leaders need to help keep professional learning focused on improving practice.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
As a principal in a school it is important that my school community is clear on what I stand for. This is not just about brainstorming a list of strategies and putting it into a plan. Its about exploring ideas and developing a clear vision.
The ability to visualize and articulate a possible future state for a school has always been a vital component of successful leadership. Once developed, the vision should provide the cornerstone for everything that you do in the school.
A vision is about creating a short statement that will guide you over the next 3 to 5 years. It should be specific enough to say something about what you will do and equally what you will not do. It should be capable of driving the school to achieve its goals, and be somewhat motivational so that you have a constant reminder of what you are trying to achieve when the going gets tough.
Without a vision, a school is like a ship without a rudder and is in danger of drifting aimlessly. Many schools lack a clear vision and so they tend to jump from task to task without a clear understanding of what bonds the individual tasks together and/or the value created by the individual tasks. Schools are notorious for jumping on the next “bandwagon” as they chase the panacea for improved student outcomes.
When I begin leading a new school I am always reminded of the quote form Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” where there is a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t much care where –” “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Remember, vision and strategy are both important tools for the school principal. But there is a priority to them. Vision always comes first. Always. If you have a clear vision, you will eventually attract the right strategy. If you don’t have a clear vision, no strategy will save you. This is the challenge for the school leader! What do you stand for?
As a school principal for many years I have learnt that experience might not always be the “best” teacher, but it almost always results in the most enduring lessons.
We know from research (and by experiences) that a great teacher will create ways to give our students the reason to learn specific skills or knowledge. Great teachers then provide the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. A great teacher will keep the students wanting to come to school just to see what interesting things they will explore and discover each day. We call this inquiry.
To produce great teachers you need leaders who are capable of taking risks, to support staff during tough times and to hold fast when others begin to falter. Principals are the central piece in the learning journey and the key factor in building teacher teaching experience. They need to be able to communicate their support for teachers to take measured risks and in doing so work closely with their teachers; side by side in discussion and planning.
Principals that encourage build learning experiences for their teachers (and not just offering PD courses) and seek justification on the teaching practices used. Such principals instill a reflective practice that engages teachers in examining their teaching practice. A desire to self improve is the outcome of such deliberations.
Given the plethora of research around the teacher being the biggest factor in raising student achievement, the way we treat and support our leaders could well be the most important determiner of an education authority’s success.
Albert Einstein once said “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards”. I think the success of experience can be determined by how we implement the lessons learnt.
I have been in Dubai for 8 weeks now and have been bowled over by many things; the climate, the unprecedented growth (people, buildings and business) and the enthusiasm people have for learning.
Meeting my new leadership team, getting to know them (and them to know me), setting up the parameters for how we are going to work together and learning about their personal vision and dreams for the school was uplifting. As a new leader, in a new country, in a new system garnering the support of your leadership team was an important foundational step. They need to know what your thoughts are so they can reflect on how to connect their vision with yours.
For me it is important to start with a focus on the ‘bigger picture’ so that there is a clear understanding of where the school is headed, whether the right culture, competences and resources are in place to support that journey and if the learning framework is right to achieve the defined goals of the school. In essence, it’s about ensuring that the school is focused on the longer term and not just the here and now, important as that may be.
For a young school where the focus is shifting from ‘setting up’ school practices to building the next phase in the journey, keeping an eye on the big picture is one of the main roles of the designated leader.