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Who is Your BEST Teacher?
Is Billy Bloggs your best teacher? You know him, his class is always orderly, the students are on task whenever you walk past, his kids line up quietly before the lesson, he never sends any students to the office, there are never any parental complaints, he cooks the staff breakfast on break up day and never rocks the boat?
Or is it Joe Doe who is passionate about teaching, works long hours, is loved by his students but outspoken at staff meetings and complains often about the lack of resources?
What are the factors that should be considered when deciding who the best teachers are AND more importantly how do we build these factors in all teachers!
Increased teacher accountability and moves to performance pay make measuring teacher effectiveness more topical than ever before. However I’d argue that clarity about what makes teachers effective is even more important. Being clear about what makes a difference to student learning enables us to build every teachers capacity.
Debate about how to measure teacher effectiveness is raging in the United States. Student outcomes have been touted but offer a simplistic measure that doesn’t acknowledge the backgrounds of the students. It’s not surprising that good students from good families in ‘green, leafy’ suburbs generally achieve good results, some may say in spite of their teachers.
Value added measures were then advocated to recognize ‘distance travelled’ by students. However again this is too simplistic as the standardized tests didn’t cover all years or all outcomes. It is impossible to fairly allocate credit where it is due.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned research known as the MET Project (Measures of Effective Teaching). In their initial report in 2010 (Learning about Teaching), the MET Project team found that a well-designed student perception survey can provide reliable feedback on aspects of teaching practice that are predictive of student learning.
This is an area that I believe has great potential for increasing teacher effectiveness. In my pilot programs I have utilised the SurveyMyClass instrument so that teachers receive feedback from their students at the end of each term.
The MET Project report in 2012 (Gathering Feedback for Teaching), presented similar results for classroom observations as reliable predictors of student learning. They also found that an accurate observation rating requires two or more lessons, each scored by a different certified observer. With each analysis they reported that they have better understood the particular contribution that each measure makes to a complete picture of effective teaching and how those measures should be implemented to provide teachers with accurate and meaningful feedback.
Ensuring Fair and Reliable Measures of Effective Teaching
Culminating Findings from the MET Project’s Three-Year Study
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2013
Teaching and learning are complex! It therefore isn’t surprising that no single measure will acknowledge the multi-faceted profession of teaching. Multiple sources are therefore needed.
I believe that increasing teacher effectiveness should focus on how engaged the students are, how much time the students are in the ‘learning zone’ (appropriately challenged) and how much the students’ actually learnt (the value-added). I therefore believe that at least three aspects are needed when considering teacher effectiveness.
The 2013 report from the MET Project states, “Estimates of teachers’ effectiveness are more stable from year to year when they combine classroom observations, student surveys, and measures of student achievement gains than when they are based solely on the latter.”
John Hattie recently added to the debate about observing teachers and highlighted that ultimately what matters, is what students are doing during the lessons. Hattie rightly points out that much has been said and done about observing the behaviour of the teacher. However the ultimate gauge of the effectiveness of the learning experience should be evident in the student, their engagement and their learning.
It therefore makes sense that lesson observations should focus on what the students are actually doing and what they have learnt.
Contestants on My Kitchen Rules are judged according to the food that is produced, not for the activity that takes place in the kitchen (although I’m sure that the show’s ratings come from the characters and the drama!)
The quality of the chef is evident when tasting the food. The proof is literally in the pudding! Whilst viewers see what is happening behind the scenes in the kitchen, the contestants are not judged for the process nor the dirty pots and pans left in the kitchen but for the food that they serve.
Whilst the criteria for judging the meal that is served are fairly evident (taste, presentation, temperature, time between courses etc), learning is far more complicated and much more difficult to measure.
By definition, teaching is effective when it enables student learning.
However what each student actually learnt in a single lesson may not be clear. Progress can be incremental. Measuring the difference between what each student could do at the end of a lesson when compared to what they could do at the start of a lesson is not always feasible.
Hattie’s often quoted research about effectiveness highlighted that the teacher is the factor that has the most significant impact on student learning, that schools have influence over. The quality of teaching that the student receives is the key factor that school’s have most control over and must therefore leverage.
It is therefore essential that in helping teachers be the best teacher they can be, we must look at what the teacher does AND what the students are doing.
Are all students engaged in their learning?
Are all of the students in their ‘learning zone’ – sufficiently challenged but not overwhelmed?
Are they learning or being kept busy?
What can the students do at the end of the lesson that they couldn’t do before?
What is the teacher doing to optimize theses outcomes for all students?
What could the teacher do more of (or less of) to increase each students’ time in the learning zone?
It is imperative that lesson observations look at both the teacher and the students.
The Fastest Way to Improve Your School
The fastest way to improve your school and boost staff, parent and student satisfaction is to identify and address the problems that annoy and frustrate people.
One of my biggest frustrations as a Principal were the ‘car park’ conversations that occurred before and after school. At around 8.30 am and 2.50 pm on most days, small groups of parents would congregate in the school car park. Sometimes they’d discuss the good and bad things that were happening around the world. More often than not they’d be whinging about some aspect of the school.
There always seemed to be something that was annoying them. I could generally tell how well we were going as a school by the severity of the issue they were complaining about.
If the issue was that the school had run out of paper towel in the toilets we were doing okay. If the issue was bullying or the poor standard of reading, I’d be more concerned.
However it was the 4.30 pm STAFF car park meetings that were EVEN MORE frustrating! After staff meetings I would often see staff, deep in conversation in the staff car park, complaining about an issue at school.
My greatest frustration was that both parents and staff seemed content to whinge to each other rather than raise the issue at school with someone who could help resolve the issue. Some people just seem to like to have something to whinge about.
I genuinely believe that the fastest way to improve your school and increase the satisfaction levels of all concerned is to identify the problems and then work towards addressing them.
I have specifically developed the SurveyMySchool instruments to support the leadership team to IMPROVE schools. The interactive format of the surveys identifies specific issues and potential solutions.
School opinion surveys that only provide data have VERY LIMITED use. Whilst data alone is helpful it can be misinterpreted and isn’t helpful if you don’t know what people’s specific concerns are.
SurveyMySchool is interactive. Respondents who express dissatisfaction with an aspect of the school are asked clarifying questions to provide further detail about their concern and potential solutions. The survey report provides useful information to improve the school and increase the satisfaction of staff, parents and students.
Click here for further informationSurvey My School overview
Or email steve@SurveyMySchool.com.au to start setting up a survey of staff, parents, students or ALL three.
Are You Getting Enough?
I’m not sure whether the headline grabbed your attention because it doesn’t seem to fit with the usual content of this website or it hit a raw nerve! It’s important that we talk about this vitally important issue.
Teaching is REALLY demanding. Jobs that work with people can be unpredictable. At times we can feel that we are at the mercy of other people’s moods. Whether it’s students, parents or colleagues, we never quite know what is going on in the rest of their lives. People can sometimes be unreasonable, emotional and erratic. At times THAT person might even be us.
Often we work in challenging environments. Playground squabbles, neighbourhood disputes and dysfunctional families often impact on our work.
A class of upset four year-olds who are exhausted at the end of the day or a class full of smelly Year 9 boys, who just finished PE and we are supposed to engage in a double English lesson on poetry? I’m not sure which class I’d prefer to teach.
We are constantly ‘on stage’ in front of a demanding audience. We are expected to be engaging, entertaining, knowledgeable and effective.
It’s important that we are at the top of our game, can access on-demand, reserves of energy, good humour and wisdom in equal measures.
So back to my original question, are you getting enough….job satisfaction?
There are six key factors that determine the level of satisfaction that people gain from their work.
People want to feel that their work is important – This should be a ‘no brainer’ for educators. Our work is vitally important. We play a critical role in society.
Most adults, when asked about what is important to them, reply that family and in particular their children are their highest priority. They are more valuable and important to them, than their car or even their house. We are not only charged with the responsibility of looking after the safety and wellbeing of their most prized possession, we also expected to educate them and prepare them for the future!
Teachers also have a significant role in passing-on and imposing community expectations. This aspect appears to be growing, on a daily basis, to reflect changes in society. Whilst parents are (and should be) their child’s first teacher, schools should be partners in setting and maintaining community standards and expectations.
I make a difference is the second key factor in achieving job satisfaction. This factor should also be easily achieved by educators. Whilst at times we can feel frustrated that some students don’t achieve as much as we had hoped, we have the opportunity to make a difference each and every day.
There can be a LONG lead time between helping a student and seeing the difference that we made. One of the benefits of having taught for 20 years is that I often meet past students who say nice things about something that I had done for them. (Perhaps past students who wouldn’t have anything nice to say, avoid running into me!) It can take a number of years to have this experience. It can feel a bit like planting seeds that take a long time to shoot. We might not see the results of our work every day, but we should be confident that we do does make a difference.
At times the progress of our students can appear to plateau (flat lining is never good in any industry – frustrating in education and tragic in health!) Even when learning is painstakingly incremental, each and every day we make a difference to the students and adults who we work with, through listening, showing concern and helping them.
We don’t work in mindless factories, making widgets! We work with people! We have an opportunity to make a difference every single day!
I’m good at what I do is the third aspect of achieving a sense of job satisfaction. For many teachers, ticking this box can be difficult.
Most teachers when asked, “Are you a good teacher?”, respond, “Yes I think so!” The vast majority of teachers receive little, if any feedback. They continue to do what they have always done and presume that they are doing a good job.
At times it can feel like we are operating in a void. 99% of teachers want to do a great job and are committed to continuous improvement. At the end of each lesson we reflect on what worked, what didn’t and how we could tinker with the lesson for it to be even more effective.
What I do is appreciated is also a factor that contributes to our sense of job satisfaction. All of us like to be appreciated. A pat on the back or a simple note of thanks is always welcome. At times it can feel that our work in schools is not appreciated. The difficult situations that we deal with, troubled students, cranky parents and crashed IT systems, often go unnoticed. At times we can feel that nobody cares.
Whilst teachers don’t do their job for the thank you notes and small gifts that some receive at the end of the year, it can be a long time from March until the end of the year. It is important to treasure the small tokens of appreciation that we do receive. Collecting the little handwritten notes or cards in a folder can be helpful in times of despair.
A sense of belonging and feeling part of a team also contributes to our job satisfaction. Connecting with colleagues, developing friendships and offering mutual support are all important and helps us feel a sense of satisfaction. It is important that we venture to the staffroom to catch up with colleagues, let steam off, share strategies and offer support, especially when we are feeling stressed. Isolating ourselves in our classrooms, eating lunch alone and working excessive hours are all counter-productive.
Schools provide an opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Engaging in school events and initiatives can lift our spirits, reenergize us and help us to see the big picture of what we are achieving.
The final factor that contributes to our job satisfaction is having some autonomy about our work. People don’t like to be micro-managed. Whilst there are clear boundaries about WHAT needs to be taught and WHEN our lessons are timetabled, staff in schools generally have a lot of flexibility about HOW we do our work.
Acclaimed author Daniel Pink in his book “Drive: The Surprise Truth About What Motivates Us” highlights the importance of autonomy to engagement. Pink argues that a strong motivator is the desire to achieve mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters. He states, “The opposite of autonomy is control. And since they sit at different poles of the behavior compass, they point us toward different destinations. Control leads to compliance, autonomy leads to engagement….Only engagement can produce mastery.” Pink, D. 2012, p.110
If you aren’t getting enough satisfaction from the important work that we do in schools I have three suggestions.
1 Reflect on these six factors and why you might not be feeling enough satisfaction.
2 Monitor your self-talk (that little voice inside your head) and catch yourself whenever the conversation is undermining your sense of satisfaction.
3 If you have revisited the six factors and tried changing your self talk it may be time to investigate exit strategies. If teaching or working in schools isn’t satisfying you then start to plan your exit strategy. Explore other fields that you believe would give you more satisfaction. This may require doing some extra study or considering a completely different path. However this is important for both you and your students.
Your work takes up a large component of your waking hours and SHOULD give you a sense of satisfaction. If it doesn’t, do something for you!
Teaching students is too important to have someone in front of a class who isn’t passionate and dedicated. If you aren’t, do it for them!
Last week my own children returned to school after the long Christmas break. The start was delayed by a day due to the flooding and storm damage affecting Queensland in the recent weeks. For Sarah and Michael the school year started on Thursday. We joked about how a short week would ease them back into school after such a long break! But reality would bite in week two, as it was a WHOLE five days.
Sarah is starting Year 11 and Michael is starting Year 9. They are good kids. They do well at school and are never in any trouble. The start to this year should be really interesting as they both get to start new subjects and have had the opportunity to make choices.
After two days back at school I asked both of them how the start of the year had been. Both said they were bored. Both relayed stories of disinterested teachers who lacked energy and enthusiasm for their subjects. Passion for teaching was not evident.
I can’t help but worry about the lost opportunity. The start of the year is a great time to engage and connect with a new class. To demonstrate enthusiasm and excitement for the year ahead. To start to build positive relationships with a new batch of students who are eager and ready for something new. Passion, energy and a positive attitude are contagious.
Instead both students seemed to get a distinct lack of energy and enthusiasm from their teachers. Now maybe they are just typical teenagers and a ho-hum response is standard, but maybe we as teachers are missing a great opportunity to engage and interest our students.
An ounce of prevention is better than a ton of repairing. What if the first lesson in each new subject set the seen for an interesting year ahead, where the students could see how what they would learn was connected to the real world and the teacher genuinely displayed passion and enthusiasm for teaching? I know I’d be far more excited for the second lesson.
My concern for the lost opportunity is exacerbated by modern teenagers. A colleague recently commented that today’s teenagers have great ‘crap detectors’! They are so inundated by information through media, social media and google that they are quick to judge and move on.
If my concerns are correct then many students will have been less than impressed by their new teachers lack of passion and enthusiasm and will have switched off! If that is the case it will be a difficult challenge ahead for those teachers. Repairing damage is much more difficult than engaging the students in the first place.
If I was the teacher I’d make sure my passion and enthusiasm were turbo-charged for the next lessons with each of my classes.
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