Thursday, 19 December 2013

Teachers that leave...

This [http://theconversation.com/why-good-teachers-leave-teaching-21339] is a great article about a significant issue for the profession of teaching and one that only seems to be growing more prominent - the attrition rate of teachers and particularly those early in their respective careers.
Whilst there will always be a small proportion of new teachers who quickly work out that they are not suited or up to the job, there are more and more who are calling it quits simply because their enjoyment of and motivation for teaching has been overwhelmed by high accountability, high workloads and the need to 'fit in' with the plans, policies and procedures of the school and the broader system.

The article is a good reminder about the responsibility schools have for supporting new teachers to fulfil their potential. Newly-graduated teachers should be valued as staff members that are in possession of some of the most current knowledge about teaching and learning, given the recency of their university experiences. Schools need to ensure that they are 'tapping into' this, not blindly assuming that new teachers - although lacking in practical experience - are 'empty vessels' with nothing to offer... 
Yes, it is important that new teachers are scaffolded into the school they are working in - learning about the important philosophies and approaches that drive the school's teaching and learning, as well as the variety of other 'need to knows' that ensure the day-to-day functioning of the school happens smoothly... The challenge for schools is to ensure that this induction into the culture and ways of the school, leaves room for the valuing of what the new teacher brings with them in terms of knowledge, skills, passions, etc, as well as ensures that support is provided for teachers to develop as intelligent and skillful practitioners, rather than just following directions from others without thought.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Don't look weird

Here [http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7343.html] is a fascinating article that flies in the face of what a lot of workplaces [including schools] are trying to move towards - high accountability, high transparency, as well as high standardisation and control.
The article outlined some research, which found that - in a lot of situations - regular observations of workers can actually inhibit their productivity and effectiveness. This is quite counter-intuitive - less observation, control and accountability = better quality results and productivity?!?
The theory behind why this might be the case is that the workers being observed and checked upon would refrain from any form of innovation or practice of efficiencies learned through doing the work day in, day out. Instead, they would revert to doing the work 'by the book', even if their own experience and knowledge from doing this work had found that some chapters of the book were dated and had lost relevance... So, instead of performing their role the best way they knew from their experience and daily practice, or actively trialing and practising some new ideas and methods, when they were being observed it was "a show being put on for an audience"...
In other words, they were doing what they were 'supposed' to be doing, rather than doing what they knew to work best, or actively trying to improve their practice by tinkering with a new idea or way.

The researchers put this obedience down to the anxiety and stress involved in having to justify new ideas and ways. The workers in these situations had found that it was more valuable to wait until the tinkering, experimenting, etc. had demonstrated success, before going to "explain them to management", when these new ideas would be more fully-developed and better-placed to be shared and spread...

This article was not specifically about school contexts, but does it apply a little bit..? Do teachers sometimes shelve their willingness to tinker with a new idea or strategy, to avoid making any perceived mistakes or to give themselves the best opportunity of showing what an observer wants to see..?
Thinking broader, do schools and school leaders, when visited by 'higher-ups', avoid exposing distinguished visitors to any colouring outside of the lines..?

Not everything needs to look good all of the time. Not everything needs to be a perfect extraction from the manual... It might actually be a problem if this is always the case - where then would the tinkering, trialing and innovating be happening..?