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…
“Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.” – Peter Drucker
The life of a leader is full of surprises and the balancing of competing workloads and tasks is often one of the key causes of leader stress. Furthermore, managing multiple priorities can result in important tasks being either pushed aside or attended to, too late.
Remember, you can’t do everything at once and there will be occasions where multiple priorities are on your plate. Here are a few of my “truths” that help keep me on task.
Understand Your Limits: Knowing your limits is essential to self-growth. However, Recognising your limitations is only the first step. It is what you do next that matters.
Focus on What You Can Do: The leader is responsible for the overall operation of the school. As we are all “time poor” it is critical to tackle those tasks that you can do well. Coming to terms with what you are capable of handling allows you to focus on what you can do, and allow others to do their tasks.
Look for Support: There are two benefits from seeking support to help manage your priorities.
Sharing the Load: If there is a task someone else can do for you, then delegate. Your role is to get things done but that doesn’t mean you should do everything. A great book by Todd Whitaker titled “Shifting the Monkey” makes the great point that you shouldn’t be doing anything that other people should be doing themselves.
Getting Good Advice: Connecting with your peers helps to keep you on track. While some may call it networking, reaching out to your peers helps to gain access to information and help hone each other’s skill in leading complex organisations. Shared communication is a real asset.
Always Be Positive: My old football coach always proclaimed “Don’t let them know you’re hurting”! No matter how things are unfolding around you, everyone needs the leader to under control. The saying that the organisation reflects the leader underpins this sentiment.
Be Organised: Whether you use a checkbox list, online task builder or “post it” notes, an effective leader is well organised. The need to keep track of tasks is pivotal in completing them. When deciding on what priorities to add to your schedule ask (& then answer) two key questions: ‘What will happen if I do this?’ and ‘What will happen if I don’t?’. Your answers will allow you to determine priority of the tasks.
Prioritise Tasks: Schedule time for tasks. Determine what needs immediate attention and what can wait till later. Some say you should “Eat the Frog First” and get them out of the way. Whatever works for you to keep on schedule with leading your school, keep doing it.
Keep the Promise: In the busyness of the school day when everybody wants something from you, it is easy to say “I’ll get to that shortly”. When you do, your integrity is on the line. If you make a promise to a teacher to provide feedback, ensure you keep the promise.
Be Kind to Yourself: Things will fail. Be cheerful!
Finding balance and strategies to help make your day run smoother is in itself a difficult task. Some success can be achieved because of your role as leader and other successes can be achieved by influencing others and there will be some things you cannot change in your school however–despite your best efforts. And at the end of those types of days be kind to yourself. Tomorrow is the start of a new day and you can begin afresh!
Effective teachers know their students, have strong content knowledge and possess a wide repertoire of teaching strategies. They are well planned and very intentional about the practices they implement in the classroom. Effective teachers do not leave learning to chance!
School leaders (and indeed the school community) can identify the effective teacher through the preparation of their lessons. This is the teachers’ “bread and butter”. Researchers show that effective teachers include a number of distinct processes and stages in their lesson planning.
At Al Yasat we have taken the research and built a targeted lesson outline that ensures not only quality teaching and learning but also consistency across the school. We call it the “8 Elements of an Effective Lesson”. It helps teachers direct their planning to the needs of students, while implementing our school’s written curriculum; it offers school leaders direction in our class observations and walkthroughs; it provides a platform for our coaching and mentoring practices and most importantly; it is embedded in the best practice research and the many studies of what works in enhancing student learning.
Let me introduce the elements to you.
Beginning of Lesson
Element One: The Essential Question
We believe in the use of an inquiry approach to our teaching and learning and the need for students to have an understanding and the purpose of the lesson. We know that good questions direct students to dig deeper into content and processes, and delve deeper into the subject matter. More importantly they propel students to learn to ask their own questions. And within a subject they help focus content on the crucial and important parts of that subject. This is more than just letting the students know what they are learning to do in the lesson. It is about connecting prior knowledge to future applications.
Essential questions are non-judgmental, open-ended, meaningful, purposeful and they relate to the students. It is through the essential question that we as teachers, connect to our students.
Element Two: An Initiating Strategy
The purpose of an initiating strategy is to help students frame their thinking and focus on the concept at hand. The most important part of a lesson occurs during the first five minutes. If the activity engages students right away, you know there will be enough “sparks” to fly for the rest of the lesson and your job will be relatively easy. If the activity however is not challenging, repetitious, (”We’ve done this before!” Sound familiar?) there will be “lulls” that more often than not, result in discipline problems. The key of course, is to keep the “sparks flying,” but it all really depends on how you can spark up your classroom right away.
Simply google “best lesson plan hooks” and you will have plenty of ideas to “hook” your students into the lesson.
The Main Body of the Lesson
Research tells us that 80% of what a child learns is from their peers. Therefore we need to be more student centred with bulk time in co-operative/collaborative activities.
Element Three: Limiting Teacher Talk
We all love to talk in the classroom! So, we should; after-all, we are teachers! But ‘teacher-talk’ can (not solely) be a root-cause of poor behaviour and debilitate student’s acquisition of knowledge and skill during a lesson. Reducing teacher talk and allowing more time in lessons for students to be active participants in their learning, we believe is an important aspect of developing outstanding teaching and learning.
Element Four: Use of Graphic Organisers
Graphic organizers are important and effective pedagogical tools for organizing content and ideas and facilitating learners’ comprehension of newly acquired information. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences posits that students are better able to learn and internalize information when more than one learning modality is employed in an instructional strategy. Since graphic organizers present material through the visual and spatial modalities (and reinforce what is taught in the classroom), the use of graphic organizers helps students internalize what they are learning.
For today’s classroom, nothing is more essential to successful teaching and learning than strategy-based instruction. It is through the use of specific teaching strategies and learning tools that students can be more successful learners. Graphic organizers are teaching and learning tools; when they’re integrated into classroom experiences, students are better able to understand new material. Creating a strong visual picture, graphic organizers support students by enabling them to literally see connections and relationships between facts, information, and terms.
Graphic organizers have dual functions. They are effective as both a teaching and learning tool. As an instructional strategy it helps teachers:
Introduce a topic
Activate prior knowledge and linkit with new information
Organize content to be presented and a visually summarize the lesson once taught
Assess student comprehension, identify and address any questions or clarifications needed
Element Five: Differentiated Groups
Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leader in the area of differentiated learning and describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan. Research on the effectiveness of differentiation shows this method benefits a wide range of students, from those with learning disabilities to those who are considered high ability.
Differentiating instruction may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require the teacher to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student.
We know that teachers who practice differentiation in the classroom:
Design lessons based on students’ learning styles.
Group students by shared interest, topic, or ability for assignments.
Assess students’ learning using formative assessment.
Manage the classroom to create a safe and supportive environment.
Continually assess and adjust lesson content to meet students’ needs.
Element Six: Targeted Instructional Strategies & Active Teacher Movement
Connected to the differentiated groups is the need to decide on the essential teaching strategy for that engages small groups of students. Educational researchers have known for decades that a student learns best when teaching is targeted to what he/she is ready to learn. If the material is too easy, students can become bored and disengage. If it is too hard, students will flounder and may choose to misbehave or give up rather than face continued failure. In either case, little is learnt. But if teaching is targeted at what students are ready to learn, powerful progress can be made.
Choosing appropriate teaching strategy is the key to this element. It is not about “busy work” while you work with a group of students. It is your direct intervention, checking for understanding, monitoring and providing feedback as you move from group to group.
The active teacher is roaming, identifying the disengaged student, and bringing them back on task.
Element Seven: Higher Order Questioning
In today’s world it is necessary, but not sufficient, for students to achieve minimal competence in areas such as reading, writing and numeracy. Beyond the achievement of minimal competence, students also need to develop what are often called ‘higher order’ thinking skills including critical literacy, critical numeracy and cross-curricular competencies. A useful conceptualisation of higher order thinking skills distinguishes two contexts in which these skills are employed: contexts where the thought processes are needed to solve problems and make decisions in everyday life; and contexts where mental processes are needed to benefit from instruction, including comparing, evaluating, justifying and making inferences. The ability to employ higher order thinking skills in both these contexts is seen as essential in a rapidly changing world and the first context in particular is being adopted as a starting point for international assessment programs.
Afterall, isn’t this is the outcome of implementing the vision of the school.
Remember: Retrieving relevant knowledge from long-term memory (recognizing, recalling)
Understand: Determining the meaning of instructional messages, including oral, written, and graphic communication (interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, explaining)
Apply: Carrying out or using a procedure in a given situation (executing, implementing)
Analyze: Breaking materials into its constituent parts and detecting how the parts relate to one another an to an overall structure or purpose (differentiating, organizing, attributing)
Evaluate: Making judgments based on criteria and standards (checking, critiquing)
Create: Putting elements together to form a novel, coherent whole or make an original product (generating, planning, producing)
Information learned and processed through higher-order thinking processes is remembered longer and more clearly than information that is processed through lower-order, rote memorization. This may be the most important benefit of high-order thinking. Knowledge obtained through higher-order thinking processes is more easily transferable, so that students with a deep conceptual understanding of an idea will be much more likely to be able to apply that knowledge to solve new problems.
End of Lesson
Element Eight: Summarise and Reflection
The closure of the lesson is the time when you wrap up a lesson plan and help students organize the information in a meaningful context in their minds. This helps students better understand what they have learned and provides a way in which they can apply it to the world around them. A strong closure involves summarising and reflecting on the lesson. It can help students better retain information beyond the immediate learning environment. A brief summary or overview is often appropriate; it doesn’t have to be an extensive review.
In order to maximise the lesson there are a number of tactics which can support you to make the time more organised and productive.
End early. Don’t try to cover too much material in one hit. Don’t mistake pace for manic activity. Leave at least eight minutes to finish off the lesson properly.
Use a structured plenary/reflection to end the session. This should be a group or individual reflection on what has been learned.
Ask the pupils to identify two or three key points they have learned from the lesson. These can be shared in small groups either written or as drawings and cartoons. A review of these points could become a regular feature of a homework routine.
Summarise the learning.
Set the scene for the following lesson.
Have clear routines for an organised departure. Don’t fall into the trap of not clearing away apparatus in good time.
Vary the way in which the pupils are dismissed, for example, row-by-row, small groups, alphabetically, one by one after answering a question. This will help keep the lesson focused right until the end.
The impact of effective lessons can not be underestimated, even for the more experienced teachers. Our lesson expectations offer teachers guidance and support for the teaching and learning, but more importantly, helps lead to improved outcomes for our students.
How will you start the new year? Will you provide the same learning experience as last year or do you have some new initiatives to experiment with?
Seymour Papert in 1993 was quoted as saying “Nothing is more absurd than an experiment to place computers in classrooms where nothing else has changed”.
Technology has certainly evolved in the proceeding years with the influence of smart phones, interactive software and the connectivity and accessibility of the internet enabling teachers to be more creativity and innovative in the delivery of learning. At their fingertips, teachers are providing blended learning experiences, offering opportunities to both consolidate as well as extending students’ (and their own) learning. Providing a more personalized and targeted learning experience is now being seen as an important strategy for the effective teacher.
There has been many changes to the resources at our fingertips to value add to the learning experience which brings me back to Seymour’s quote. Simply providing new resources, technology will not in itself make sustained improvement in student learning. As George Couros’ recent tweet ponders, is simply placing the latest technology in the classroom innovative practice?
There needs to be a change in pedagogy, the way the teacher delivers the learning. Instructing the same way, doing the same thing, albeit with different resources, will not have the required impact. Simply replacing traditional classroom furniture with contemporary furniture may look different but if the teacher is still standing and delivering content, not much will change for the student. However, the adoption of an inquiry pedagogy with a collaborative expectation, peer to peer engagement and an engaging assessment approach will.
There will be plenty of teachers trying not to reinvent the wheel by utilizing last years units of work. While this is a useful beginning point, how they meet the needs of their new students will be the focus of the effective teacher.
How will you prepare for the new year? What are you going to do differently this year to improve your teaching and make sustained learning gains for your students?
During this winter break I have revisited one of my favourite books “Drive” by Daniel Pink. Published in 2011, the book provides insight into how to create high performance and increase satisfaction (at work, at school and at home). He puts forward the case for the human element (motivation) and our need to “direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world”.
For me here are some key learnings gleamed from a quick revisit to his book:
We need to prepare our children for their future, not our past.
It is the skills that the various professions require that we should be instilling in our learning delivery in school
Right brain thinking is just as important as left brain thinking.
Three key forces (Asia, automation and abundance) shifting the abilities to deal with the global economy..
Automation: Last century machines replaced our physical work, this century software is replacing our thinking work (left side of brain thinking – facts, financial analysis, )
Abundance: Give something you didn’t know you were missing
Develop new metrics: Are the new right brain qualities measurable?
Need to move to install STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) into the pedagogy – thinking, artist skills, connect technical skills
The power of asking questions supersedes the vending machine delivery of recalling right answers.
Arts education has gone from ornamental to fundamental –writing across the curriculum, music across the curriculum.
Literacy/numeracy are stepping stones for great teachers to help support higher level learning.
It would be useful for leaders to take stock of what is motivating staff and to weave some of the many strategies contained in Daniel Pink’s Book into the new year strategic plan. Happy reading!
(PS. To help you further understanding this era we are travelling through, read Mark Treadwell’s “Whatever! The Conceptual Era & the Evolution of School v2.0″. It will help you tremendously.)
A recent professional conversation with a small group of staff members on what makes an outstanding school led to the realisation that next year will see the 10th anniversary of the Ken Robinson’s TED talk on changing educational paradigms. Given the focus on a technological revolution coupled with Mark Treadwell’s explanation of the paradigm shift in education we are experiencing right now in his text Whatever!: School Version 2.0 and other leading educationalists purporting the need to transform education systems the question seems to be lost in translation…. Has learning been transformed?
With the prolific attention to school improvement through standardised testing measures and the subsequent outcry of its impact on learning, it might be an opportune time to see if learning has been transformed outside a few pockets here and there. The growing “personalising learning” commentary might have traction in professional development sessions but is it being embedded in the mainstream educational systems? Maybe a revisit to the infamous TED talk might garner a re-invigoration of schooling. Are we still in a factory model? Is it still a one size fits all approach?
Maybe its a matter of talking the talk but not walking the walk!
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.
The summer break (although almost over) is often referred to by educators as the “Brain Drain” holiday. Commonly referred to as the “Summer Brain Drain,” learning loss happens to nearly all students during the months of June, July and August. Researchers are now in agreement with what parents have already known (see ‘Summer Brain Drain’ Robs Some Students of Skills Gained During School Year). In fact there is a school of thought that suggests that “Most students — regardless of family income or background — lose 2 to 2 1/2 months of the math computational skills that they learned during the school year.” Over the life of a school student it is possible to lose up to two years of learning!
Furthermore, there is some scholarship that suggests teachers too face a similar regression in learning. When everyone returns from the long break, while the main talk in the staff room might be about time spent with family and friends, I would hope there will be time for some professional learning as well. (In the article Sizzling Summer Tips for Super Teachers there are a number of great ideas to help teachers prepare for the new academic year).
However, the beginning of a new academic school year signals the start of new beginnings with teachers working overtime to minimize the impact of the summer break on learning. Watching teachers breathe new life into their classrooms and seeing students enthusiastically engaged is a sight to behold.
Recently I finished re-reading one of my favourite reference books by Fullan and Hargreaves, “Professional Capital – Transforming Teaching in Every School”. It has, as its central message, putting teachers and teaching at the forefront of school improvement. Through the path of breaking down the barriers of classroom isolation and engaging in a collaborative culture of learning, raising teacher status will improve student achievement.
Without doubt we need to set the bar higher in our schools and I believe this starts with the teacher. Even a poor teacher will inevitably produce some improvement in students’ learning over a year. What role does the educational leader of your school play? Are they visible? Do they complain of bureaucratic endeavours hiding behind their desk (is the door open?) or are they in the trenches along side their colleagues. There are many views on the role of the educational leader in the contemporary learning environment but the high performing schools have the teacher at the heart of providing an effective learning platform.
Fullan and Hargreaves discusses the need for colleagues to work more collegially and to bring leaders to account for their actions. They urged teachers to become a true pro. Not just a good teacher. This is where you need a strong educational leader to nurture the talents and guide the professional learning.
Educational leaders need to be focusing on the things that our best teachers do which make a difference to student learning. Its simply not best practice in expecting teachers to improve by handing resources to them. Professional learning is an active intention not a passive one and needs active engagement by all members of the school. Improvement, and more importantly, sustained improvement comes from teachers thinking differently about teaching and learning. It is having professional conversations about their practice, learning from each other and then implementing the teaching strategies that work.
Re-reading “Professional Capital” reinforces my view that the unfortunate reality is that many schools still promote leaders based solely on performance in roles vastly different from the one they’re being promoted into. Unfortunately, with less aspiring leaders about, too often managers are thrown into executive leadership duties without the skills and guidance required to excel.
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.