Friday 5 February 2016

Forget about Becoming a "Better Teacher"

Earlier this week I had a small epiphany. From reading The Teaching Gap, which I talked about a lot in my previous post, I discovered that in Japan, teachers are not judged in the way they are in the UK, as "outstanding", "good", "requires improvement" or "inadequate". In Japan, individual teachers are not judged at all. Instead, the lessons themselves are scrutinised routinely to make sure they are as effective as possible. Ofsted inspectors say they inspect lessons, not teachers, and your senior management team at school probably claim to do the same, but if your lesson is bad, the implication is that you are a bad teacher and you need to improve as a teacher. In Japan, as the lessons are planned by a group of teachers, and based on a previous group of teachers' lessons, the teacher who delivers the lesson is only held partly responsible for the effectiveness of the lesson, and if the lesson is bad, this is not seen as a reflection on the teacher.

Over the course of the five years or so I've been writing this blog, I've contemplated my development as a teacher and how I've become a better teacher over the years. Perhaps for my first five years as a teacher that was useful, but I've decided to move away from that kind of thinking. I will no longer attribute external circumstances to my internal failings (a very female way of thinking, according to Sheryl Sandberg), or even attribute successful learning to my skill in the classroom, and instead approach teaching from a more objective point of view. If a lesson does not work, I will look at how to change the lesson. I will not tell myself I'm a bad teacher. I will ask other teachers for lessons that worked well for them, and try them out. I will not tell myself, "well it worked for them because they're a better teacher than me", and will instead use a scientific approach: "can the results of their experiment be replicated with a different class?" 

I am also going to teach myself to respond to all setbacks (by which I mean ineffective lessons) in the manner of Boston Philharmonic's Ben Zander and simply say "how fascinating!"

Here's a before and after as an example:

Before: "the students learned nothing this lesson, I'm a completely useless teacher."
After: "how fascinating! The students learned nothing this lesson. I wonder which aspects of the lesson could be changed to improve this?"

I believe that this way of thinking would really help departments to improve together as a team. Some departments have a few "outstanding teachers" who are often asked to share good practice or be observed, and often one or two "inadequate teachers" who are given a support plan and are under a lot of scrutiny. Wouldn't it be better if we removed these labels and stopped thinking individually, and instead focused on improving all lessons by planning together, testing out lessons, and continually refining these lessons until learning improves throughout the school? How often do these "outstanding teachers" actually share with their department detailed lesson plans for others to use? It is more likely that they share general techniques (like assessment strategies, or three ways of differentiating a lesson) rather than specific learning episodes (like: this is how I explain carrying remainders in bus stop division). 

My department has started to move towards this way of working. We all split into pairs and worked on planning a series of three or so lessons on specific topics. These lessons have been saved in a central location so everyone can access and use them. What we really need to do now is make sure that every time a teacher uses one of these lessons, they document how effective the lesson was, what bits didn't quite work, and give suggestions for adaptations so that the next teacher can try a slightly refined version. If we repeat this process every time, by the end of the year we will have a good set of lessons, and after five years we'll have an amazing set of lessons. 

Does your department do something similar to this and how effective is it? Do you have any other ideas for implementing a more Japanese approach to professional development?

Emma x x x

1 comment:

  1. Hi Emma. Lovely post as ever. I really like those ideas. I'm in the highly fortunate position of starting at a new and amazing school as head of department in September and I reckon that I'll be developing something like that after the first yer there (where I'm promising myself I won't meddle too much too fast!). I'm getting a highly experienced and competent team, fantastic and hard working students .... And 5 hours per fortnight of lesson time even at gcse! So we're going to need to share those really efficient lessons that evyone chances upon every once in a while to save time.