I recently came across this statement in the book ‘Leadership for Learning‘ by Carl Glickman. I love the sentiment and challenge expressed:
If, as a teacher,
- I present the same lessons in the same manner that I have used in the past;
- I seek no feedback from my students;
- I do not analyse and evaluate their work in a manner that changes my own emphasis, repertoire and timing;
- I do not visit and observe other adults as they teach;
- I do not share the work of my students with colleauges for feedback, suggestions and critiques;
- I do not visit other schools or attend particular workshops or seminars or read professional literature on aspects of my teaching;
- I do not welcome visitors with experience and expertise to observe and provide feedback to me on my classroom practice;
- I have no yearly individualised professional development plan focused on classroom changes to improve student learning; and finally,
- I have no systemic evaluation of my teaching tied to individual, grade/department, and schoolwide goals;
I have absolutely no way to become better as a teacher.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if we truly to create learning environments which teach children to love learning, to engage creatively with the world around them and to develop the skills needed for them to be successful adults in our ever-changing world, every teacher in every school will need to create a culture of continual learning and a commitment to a growth mindset. There is simply no more place in our schools for teachers who believe that they can no longer adapt their practice through professional learning and feedback.
Glickman also states,
“Successful schools stand in great contrast to mediocre and low performing schools where faculty work apart from each other, and without common purpose, and with self-centered beliefs that they are doing the best they can.” – Glickman, Carl D. Leadership For Learning. 1st ed. Alexandria: Assn Supervn & Curr Dev, 2002. Print.
This is such a powerful challenge and one which those of us working in schools need to take seriously if we are to provide places of dynamic and relevant teaching and learning.
When I decided on teaching as my career of choice, I was under no illusion that this was an easy career path. I grew up around schools as my mother was a successful teacher who received several accolades over the course of her career. The hours of dedicated preparation, the weekend and after-hours events, the challenge of helping pupils reach their unrealised potential, the late afternoons of school-imposed professional development and the effort required to build positive relationships with parents, were ingrained in me as a child and teenager. I grew to love the idea of one day teaching in my own classroom and perhaps even one day leading my own school.
Many years later I now find myself as principal of a well-resourced independent school and am now in a position where I am able to set expectations of delivery from my team of teachers and ancillary staff. Over the past few months I have been challenged to examine those expectations in light of various discussions had in either one-on-one meetings or comments made in staff meetings.
Upon reflection I have had to examine my own thinking on staff commitment, the professional life of teachers and my own assumptions about the profession and individual staff members. It seems the busyness of life has taken its toll on teachers who regularly remark on how little time they have. I want to have a team of well-balanced professionals who are able to teach with enthusiasm and energy each day and who are also able to enjoy life with family and friends outside of school. How then to make this happen?
The reality is that teaching is not an easy profession. The physical and emotional demands are very real and it can become easy to become bogged down in the day-to-day pressures of the job. Perhaps the challenge then is to help teachers learn to work smarter not harder (a cliché perhaps but real nonetheless). We also need to re-examine the curriculum and stop chasing marks (grades) but rather aim at authentic assessment which reflects true learning. The CAPS documents make this increasingly difficult but I still believe it can be done despite them. Add to this the extra-mural commitments of teachers and the expectation that they take ownership of professional growth, as well as other school commitments such as attendance at sport festivals and professional development seminars and one begins to understand concerns about time and achieving life-balance. Many teachers are also under pressure from parental expectations and this needs to be managed carefully as well.
That all said, I believe that our school provides a caring and supportive environment for our teachers. One of our strengths is the sense of community which prevails in our staffroom.There are always going to be times in the year which are more stressful than others. That is the nature of any profession. I would far rather be in a school which sets the bar high for its academic professionals than be in one in which anything goes. In order for us to remain a leading school we have to realise that change, hard work and high expectations are par for the course. Achieving mediocrity takes work but who wants to be mediocre? Achieving excellence is a much harder task and demands more of everyone in the team. My job is to ensure that every member of our team is supported, encouraged and given the tools and skills they require to remain excellent at what they do. It is also to be the sounding board for when the pressure is on!
As a school principal, I believe in what I do. I still hang on to the idea that teaching is the noblest of professions and that teachers have arguably one of the most important jobs in the world. I am passionate about leading our school towards more effective 21st century education and about developing a team of teachers who are leading educators. The example set to me by my mother and other outstanding teachers and school principals with whom I’ve come into contact, continues to burn deep inside me. I know that lots of hard work lies ahead and that I need to manage the workload of my team well so that we can build our preferred future together.
Video source : http://www.mentorcloud.com/resources/weekly-insights-19/
Although this video is aimed at business leaders, I believe there are take-away pointers for school leadership as well. What follows is my attempt at summarising some of the key points from the various speakers and a few thoughts on their application in a school context.
My wife and I recently attended a rather special show at Sweet Valley Primary in Meadowridge, Cape Town. What made this school concert different was that no children were involved in the show. All parts were played by members of the school staff. It was a wonderful evening’s entertainment and was certainly value for money.
I could not help wondering as I watched these academic professionals perform their hearts out in music, dance and song, how many other professions would happily give many, many extra hours of after-hours time to prepare costumes, decor, sets, practise lines and perfect dance steps so that they could perform in front of 300 people (many of whom may be unknown to them) for three nights running with no extra remuneration other than the applause of the audience and the knowledge that they have contributed to a greater sense of esprit de corps.
One must remember that this was done in addition to the ongoing responsibilities of lesson preparation, marking of assessments, extra-curricular activities such as sport coaching, parent meetings and all the other responsibilities inherent in teaching.
I salute the Sweet Valley Primary staff and all other teachers who continue to give way over the expected time and effort they are paid for in order to improve the school experience for pupils, parents and community.