Sunday, 23 June 2013

Monday Night Blues

Second draft - started as a Tom Waits influenced blues type number at the piano - suffering from a recent Gilbert and Sullivan tendency but I wanted to capture the essential truth that 450,000 teachers make their classrooms "learning homes" every day and are trusted by students, parents and carers to hold the power, the real power, within a system that seems to have been atomised over the last years....  Yes, the pundits hector from the margin, behind the doors... "we professionals do the work".

Monday Night Blues

As I review my Lesson Plans on Monday night
And scan new curriculum content -  I delight
In blue penning the political oughts
From the matters to be taught
And selecting what I professionally know is right

        The classroom, our classroom, the classroom is our home

For when I open up my classroom door each day
It echoes with the sounds of yesterday
And in that precious time alone
I re-plan the shape and tone
And mouth the words to lead them all away          (astray?)

        The classroom, our classroom, the classroom is our home

Yes, I’m the trusted teacher in their midst and I care
For the students know it’s me who’s always there
Distant critics may spew derision
Or reverse an earlier decision
Whilst I smile and point to what and how and where

      In the classroom, our classroom, the classroom is our home

Our learning journey starts and off we go
To stunning places where only we will know
There is much work to be done
And there’s always time for fun
As I guide them, chide them, challenge them to and fro

     In the classroom, our classroom, the classroom is our home

Contemporaneously in dusty ivory towers
The politician and pundit spend their hours
Tapping out negative witticisms
Or balanced relative criticisms
Whilst this teacher studiously empowers

  In the classroom, our classroom, the classroom is our home

Then when I lock my classroom door each day
The hurtful headlines quickly fade away
As I recap our time alone
And how we made this space our home
As we travelled, on our journey, in our way

  Oh the classroom, our classroom, the classroom is our home

(so tempted to have astray as last word in Verse 2)


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A tale of two appraisals - the worst of times and the best of times.

In which Mr Pearce tells two tales, quotes quaintly and bemoans bad behaviour in his profession. We meet Mr Gradegrind, some revolting teachers and eventually find a reason to be cheerful.

I've just heard two almost unbelievable stories.  Ha! My spell checker changed unbelievable into make-believe - I wish it were but these stories are true - trust me.

First, a highly intelligent, able and caring colleague told me she has resigned from her Head of Faculty post without a job to go to, despite me advising against it.    I could tell you the full story but we haven't time - trust me.  In short, her senior team are not listening. I can feel the distress as she tells me, "Our school is falling to pieces and the Senior Team are just not hearing what staff are saying.  We are sworn at, the kids are taking over and I, just one amongst many, can't take any more - so my resignation went in today".

My second tale is from a reliable source about another school - trust me.  A head teacher is, bang the table, frustrated, that teachers have put up signs on their doors, "Will not be observed".  Do I need to say more? No, I don't - trust me.

Hear no evil and see no evil?

A senior team has stopped listening and a group of teachers don't want to be seen. Why are we still getting these, stand-offs in our schools?  I spy two monkeys with hands over their ears and eyes and this in the term before new appraisal arrangements.  Hard Times ahead...

I'm not listening     You can't see

Well this old monkey is not covering up his mouth and neither should any of us when we witness this kind of behaviour.  But to, "Speak no evil" we need to look back to a darker age before leaping to a happier future where there are reasons to be cheerful - trust me.

Mr Pearce speaking no evil

Teachers should be seen and not heard.

My hypothesis is that these deadly embraces arose because some leaders persist in treating modern adults like old fashioned children.  Despite the appearance of pedagogical sophistication some leaders still behave as though teachers should be, "Seen and not heard", like Victorian children. Predictably, some teachers treated like this respond by behaving like Dickensian children, or revolting workers in an industrial revolution.  Others learn helplessness, despair or resign, and, this is awfully true... a few commit suicide.

All this because yet another generation has failed to slay the shibboleth, inconsistency and hypocrisy that, "Children learn one way but adults another".  To be fair not many argue this any more - it's worse - they behave that way. "Don't do as I do - do as I say" was the strapline (pun intended) of Mr Gradgrind, the schoolmaster in Charles Dicken's Hard Times, who was to emotional intelligence what cholera was to the water supply.  I'll call his modern equivalent Gradegrind - blindly and deafly grinding out the grades with no thought for the impact on people.  I'm thinking of some politicians, some Ofsted inspectors, some heads and senior leaders and, to be equally unbiased, their anathemas, the revolting teachers.  They are just as hypocritical - trust me.

"Don't patronise, direct and hector at every turn"

Let's start at the top with our  Secretary of State and, if the mortar board fits, other politicians too.  

Many of us applauded the line in the 2010 White Paper, "Head teacher and teachers... do not need to be patronised, directed and hectored at every turn".  But for many, especially perhaps in the NAHT and NUT Michael Gove appears to have done just that.  But as John Lennon imagined, he's not the only one.

Inspectors behave in an educationally hypocritical way.

I can't escape entirely either. I have personal experience of the pressure to be inconsistent. As one of the first uneasy Ofsted Inspectors in the 1990s I realised I would be graded inadequate if the criteria I was using to observe teachers were to be used on me whilst observing  (*)   I imagined a teacher behaving like we did.... the inspector (teacher) walks in, without any previous dialogue with the teacher (students); sits at the back, makes notes and leaves, often partway through, uttering the shortest of phrases, "Thank you - that was inadequate / satisfactory (**) / good / outstanding.  I am unable to give you any direct feedback". Weeks later an inspection report listing general, not teacher (student) specific, key points arrived. The school is be expected to sort it before the next visit.  So, I let my Ofsted badge lapse and did as an adviser, to adults what I had done as a teacher with students.  I listened to how they saw their world before offering advice - respected their context and professionalism.  I am no less rigorous, have no lower expectations or standards I just know how to get there most effectively.  I simply wasn't prepared to act out the educational hypocrisy of judging colleagues without entering into the kind of dialogue I expected them to have with students.
The Gradgrind tendency

It's not just some politicians and inspectors who are Gradegrind clones.  Teachers are routinely patronised and hectored by some advisers, consultants, head teachers, senior and middle leaders too. Gradegrinds at these levels preach, run CPD and BLOG that it's important to involve students and listen to "pupil voice", whilst in their leadership roles they are making judgements, awarding grades and managing change without entering into meaningful dialogue.  These are blatant double standards in the modern equivalent of Dotheboys Hall.  I suppose it would be an Academy, or a Free School these days but Gradegrinds lurk in and around schools of all types.  We see them extolling teachers to provide high quality feedback to students but not hearing the feedback from the teachers.  Mr and Mrs Gradegrind will lead us to Hard Times - the worst of times.

We know how Mr and Mrs Gradegrind will manage the new appraisal, capability and payment by results arrangements in September and there are only 40 school day get ups to go before then.  These pedagogical hypocrites are already making judgements, grinding their grades and lurking for the evidence to justify their decisions.  The more pre-appraisal thinking they do, the more unlikely they'll enter into any kind of meaningful dialogue and the less dialogue the more ineffective their appraisals will be - trust me.

You don't get me, I'm part of the union

So, Hard Times if you have a Gradegrind as appraiser.  We have all have witnessed poor leadership spark mistrust and lead to despair but, "Will not be observed" signs on doors, refusing cooperation and going on strike is unlikely to move us forward.  Industrial action must be, demonstrably, the last resort and will be most effective when threatened and used sparingly only after high quality feedback has been refused, written criticism ignored and grievance procedures exhausted.  Whilst my hand is not over my mouth I'll cry, "Hypocrisy" at some revolting teachers who, rightly, demand the best professional development available but support a blanket limit of one observation a term, whilst they robustly observe children learning in order to understand their needs.  Some unions are advising against any form of self-evaluation prior to appraisal.  Refusing to enter into dialogue merely reinforces the view of the Gradegrinds that the adults are behaving like children and so, need not be heard. Like magnetism its the hypocritically similar poles that repel each other.  

Quality reassurance

So, what to do if faced with a Gradegrind appraiser?  What to do if faced with revolting teachers?  If you've been a good observer you'll have noted the clues - 20 mentions of trust so far - because trust is the foundation of meaningful dialogue and meaningful dialogue is the basis of quality observations and dialogues about quality observations are the basis of excellent appraisal / performance management / professional development / learning.  Trust is the surest of foundations  - we all know that deep down - trust me.

My advice for a teacher faced with a Gradegrind appraiser  

(i.e. one who does not enter into dialogue prior to appraisal and starts making judgements without considering teacher voice) is based on our best wisdom about learning:

1. Get Prepared - trust in your own judgement, self-evaluate now. (use the iAbacus Free Trial at to help you if you want) but gather your own evidence about your effectiveness.  What is going well and not so well?  What helps and what hinders progress?  What do suggest needs doing yourself? and by others?  (At worst think of this as preparing your defence, or revenge).  This means you have to ignore and contest any advice to avoid self-evaluation because you know entering into appraisal without good self knowledge is professional suicide. 

2. Object to the Gradegrind appraiser and request someone you do trust. The Dfe model policy states the headteacher will decide who appraises teachers and wise heads will select sensitively. What if your request is refused?  

3. Ask your union/professional association for advice.  The joint union model policy states, "Where teachers have an objection to the head teacher’s choice, their concerns will be carefully considered and, where possible, an alternative appraiser will be offered" 

My advice for a head faced with revolting teachers 

(i.e. those who refuse to cooperate and enter into dialogue about the Agreed Union Policy)
1.  Advise the teachers to self-evaluate first.  Then provide good CPD (Consider providing them with a personal iAbacus to self-evaluate in their own time, or  become a FREE Pilot School at - there are other self-evaluation and school improvement systems available.) Then guarantee that any appraisal dialogue will begin with their judgements and their views.  Let them work at their own pace and do not push the appraisal process until you:

2.Ask the unions/professional associations for advice (See above at 3.) respond to requests for alternative appraisers because there are plenty of colleagues out there who are not Gradegrinds.  If you can't find any in your school call for help (Consider employing a consultant. My website is - there are other school improvement consultants available.)

"See the best, hear the best and speak the best"

If appraisal is going to herald the best of times we should all see the best in each other and speak of the best - at least as a starter.  Of course most will.  Remember I have been writing "some" leaders are Gradegrinds but like badly behaving students, they are the significant minority who spoil it for the rest by grabbing headlines and setting the tone of debate.  Remember only some teachers are revolting.  We know, the majority of educational leaders, inspector/advisers, heads and teachers do practice what they preach and work from a quality assurance model of school improvement.  

Live through professional development

These colleagues live by and through professional development. This most significant majority of reflective colleagues see the good, hear the good and speak the good, tweet, BLOG, write and TED talk the best.  They shine lights into the dark and distressing Dickensian extremes - they talk and listen to each other - trust me as you trust them and they trust you.

Ethically consistent

Professionals like this have always had an holistic and ethically consistent view that good learning and leadership apply to all who learn and are led - goose or gander, lamb or mutton, adult or child.  They, dare I say we, know that "belief" is never enough and now we have evidence.  Look to John Hattie's "synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement".  Impressive eh? Translated that's qualitative and quantitative research  about what works (and what doesn't work) in teaching and learning, across the world.

John Hattie's conclusions are well founded, clear and illuminating. This excellent infographic, from, (that's diagram for the Gradegrinds) shows the MOST effective strategies for learners.

John Hattie identifies the 3 most effective strategies for teachers as:

1. Self reported grades - students self-reporting their own grades are more successful
2. Teacher credibility - those commanding credibility make a difference
3. Feedback - just in time - just for the student

All I am arguing here is that the very best leaders in our profession will treat adult teachers like modern children and they will appraise in the best of times knowing that:

(Therefore) The 3 most effective strategies for effective appraisal will be:

1. Self reported judgements teachers self-reporting their own judgements will be more successful
2. Appraiser credibility those commanding credibility make a difference
3. Feedback - just in time - just for the teacher

I rest my case... QED as we used to stick at the foot of problems...

Finally an offer:

I spent years working out how to get teachers and leaders talking about how they feel they are doing, without getting buried in data mountains and then move on to doing something about it.   A simple child's abacus was the breakthrough. Now, its on-line as The iAbacus.  So, if you do want a deceptively simple process and on-line tool to support self-evaluation (to prepare for appraisal) have a look at  We still have places for our FREE 100 school pilot scheme.

We look forward to hearing from you - even if your name is Gradgrind I love a challenge.

John Pearce May 5th 2013

(*) Ironically, I first wrote about the tendency, to treat adults like children, in "The Giant Awakes" IMPROVEMENT Magazine Spring  2008 which highlighted Ofsted Inspectors' self-evaluation was being discounted in training when it should be the starting point of their accreditation. 
(**) This was before Framework 2012 refined the judgement SATISFACTORY to be a condition REQUIRES IMPROVEMENT