Tuesday 18 February 2020

Teacher Growth - Director's Cut

Preface to The Director's Cut
I am angry and I'm thinking anger is OK isn't it?"  

It's possible to be angry and, at the same time, thoughtful, even reflective isn't it?  
Well, I've been angry for years about this issue and controlling that anger, at least in public. 

Why? I believed that when I was calm, reflective and measured, my words would hold more impact. They don't. 

And sod it.... I've just done it again this week, controlled my anger and, chivvied by an excellent editor, wrote a cool analysis of why and how a #Teacher Growth approach works better than any other - but I was left thinking, "Something is missing - maybe a heartfelt, anger fuelled, Director's Cut would get more Box-Office?" 

So, here I let let rip...



The XXX rated version 


For the sensitive a UU rated Short here

I wrote a despairing email to a friend this morning,

"I have an image in my head of all those creative teachers and heads I've worked with, over all those years, standing in a weary, downtrodden line, drenched to the skin in a rain of patronising abuse of their professionalism... Down hearted, cold, drained and turning away from work they once loved and were so good at.... There is one such head I am thinking of today...and I’m still angry about it…We failed so many and it's still happening..."  

It became this: article

I have to say a little more, whilst maintaining confidence....

This is a true story... That head is now at home, for the second month in a row, crying through hours each day.  I’m updated by a close relative and spouse, gate-keepers both, who tell me some of the things they hear between sobs. There's another valued colleague I spoke to, directly, this week too.  She stunned me, mid conversation, suddenly opening up with similar words and phrases.  They echo conversations that have haunted me down 50 years in the profession but I'm hearing them more and more these days. 

"I'm broken, drained, exhausted, unable to sleep, tearful, emotional, unable to think of work, can't seem to get out of bed... on medication.  It's a deep despair. It's the inability to deal with negative colleagues, as I used to do.... I'm ground down, had enough now....can't face any of it it anymore...."  

The latter from the headteacher who has decided not to return to school.  Do I hear these cries because I have uttered the same phrases?  Do all colleagues know this is happening around them?  If so what are they DOING?   If they don't know, or are doing nothing why not?  

So, our first challenge! 
Do not be a #SilentWitness. When we see such behaviour, or the symptoms it generates, we first support the victim and then we cry, "Unacceptable" and whistleblow our lungs out.

Our second challenge! 
Do not be ignorant of the theory, research and evidence of a professional growth approach. We know about #TeacherGrowth and can apply it beyond Education across all other areas of human endeavour.

Well, we know there are those who can't hear the cries of struggling colleagues, or don't want to.  They are either ignorant or evaders. My worst experience of this? When speaking of professional pressure at a Local Authority conference and alluding to a colleague who was "Off sick" and detailing some of the distress, there was an audible smirk, "Ah dear.... poor little man.."  followed by a chuckle and a deep silence that brought the session to an early end.  After an enforced break, the organiser made a retraction and sincere apology, on behalf of the unsympathetic headteacher.  But the stark reality of that emotionally unintelligent perspective had been exposed. No one was convinced the individual had wanted to apologise.

Yes, we all know, there are some who simply do not accept a teacher growth model - despite the wealth of research proving its value.  That view has a pedigree.  There are reasons it persists.  We have to understand those reasons.

What is this Teacher Growth?
Search #teachergrowth and you’ll find animated debate out there on twitter, facebook and Linked-in. The phrase and the associated: #GrowthMindset #studentgrowth, has re-captured something about professional learning, by the individual, for the school, supported by peers. It’s there in a proliferation of #Blogs and on #Headteacher, #SLT and #TeacherChat forums. 

Teacher Growth is about self-discovery, self-evaluation and home grown CPD - pun intended. Thousands of teachers and leaders are finding solace, support, well-being and fulfilment in Teacher Growth activity at #teachmeets, #learningfests #EdConferences..  Supportive professional sharing on-line in #Edutwitter #WomenEd is palpable. In these virtual Teachers’ Centres Ofsted, student testing and lesson observations are not popular concepts.

We must celebrate this re-emergence of professional self-discovery and self-reliance. In one sense we have no alternative.  We become stronger as a profession when we nurture each other’s openness and willingness to debate - don’t we?  Yes, of course, but whilst supporting each other, we must remember that not all professionals inhabit the echoing chambers of these forums.  Indeed, a worrying trend is the emergence of educational “trolls” who criticise "Snowflakey" content on-line and pull down hopeful and enquiring thoughts, often of younger and, yes, female colleagues. On-line discussion is becoming increasingly abusive. Are these people harking back to a golden age of more control?  

Remember, “give a man a fish”?  Well, Quality Controllers (QC), stand at the end of processes, judging outputs.  They inspect arguing, “Give a teacher a judgement and a list key issues and they’ll know what the nation wants them to do”. While Quality Assurers (QA) argue,  "Teach them self-evaluation and planning for improvement and they’ll know how to do it for the rest of their lives"  I've always argued the most sensible approach is, "Give them a fish to eat and then teach them how to fish for themselves - we learn best on a full stomach" but I'm jumping too far too soon… let’s look into the reasons why some remain unconvinced….

Taking Back Control
Never forget that the "professional development/QA" or teacher growth approach took a bashing in the decades either side of the millennium.  In these years Ofsted and SATs imposed a regulatory/QC model aided by the rise of data crunching computers and those oh so sexy scatter graphs.  The seeds of Action Research, Heron’s Facilitation Styles and GROW coaching stages were still there but had to follow the leaders and the leaders were Ofsted. In short, Teacher Growth went underground.  (For more history see *Appendix)

Many will never forget HMCI Chris Woodhead’s, “15,000 incompetent teachers!” jibe, based, erroneously, on Ofsted Lesson Observation statistics.  Early Ofsted’s were riven with fear - they were nowhere near a growth model.  I know - I was one of the first Ofsted inspectors trained but refused to inspect after my first experience.  

It felt just wrong walking away at the very point we were needed - when issues had been identified and the school wanted support.  So, many of us continued to work with and alongside our colleagues in schools and some of us majored in Post Ofsted support, especially in what were termed "failing schools".

It’s more than interesting to reflect that the current generation of school leaders, and their younger colleagues, many now embracing teacher growth, lived their school days through the early Ofsteds and testing years when a common cry from their teachers was, “You don’t help plants grow by pulling them up and looking at their roots!”  The metaphor exemplified a frustrated and often angry profession who felt objectified as operatives and diminished within a system that was being dissected, measured and refocused by teams of inspectors who came, judged, left Key Issues ToDo and went. 

Can we presume some students, now our School Leaders, welcomed their teachers being scrutinised, whilst others felt sympathy for them?  Did this mould their attitude to their own leadership?  Is there, alongside a burgeoning Teacher Growth, a rise in the less sensitive, controlling, approaches that hark back to the tougher days, of the Black Papers and a presumed golden age of, "Back to Basics"?  

Is the "Take Back Control" strapline, that many British voters swallowed, beginning to influence some of our modern managers and leaders? Is the belligerence of emerging political leaders like Trump and the combative style of Dominic Cummings giving some inspiration to be tougher, macho and utilitarian? Mixing more metaphors... Is the heat being, deliberately, increased in some kitchens, in an expectation that those who can't stand it will, "Get Out"?  Constructive Dismissal by stealth?  Speak to my two struggling colleagues.  What then for the "Teacher Growth Snowflakes"?  "Ah...poor little men and women.." 

Two tribes - one profession?
The profession, at large, certainly became tribal in the 1990's - for Ofsted, or against. One major Teacher Union began advising colleagues against getting involved in preparation for Ofsted, appraisal and self-evaluation, others were silent.  Lesson Observations were resisted, as they often still are.  A view pervades in some schools and chains of schools that observations can only be done in inspector mode - experts judging operatives and awarding grades.  There have always been other ways - there still are - but the folk memory of, “Ofsted Lesson Obs” remain so strong... too strong?

Tribes parted either side of a false dichotomy Ofsted v Teacher Growth.  Just as they had before on: Traditional v Progressive; Active v Rote Learning; TA v SATs;  When answering the old question,  “What makes a good lesson?” answers were often judged tribally - some quoting experience, others looking up Ofsted descriptors.  

One question is, “Did Ofsted and other inspection regimes, in their first incarnation, inflict too much professional damage?”  A better question is, “What can we now do to repair it?” 

The answer is by deploying a unified professional approach
We do so by recognising two important, evidence based, conclusions:

1. The most effective school improvement work begins with a Teacher Growth model. 
We now know that Teacher Growth achieves Quality Assurance by creating the permitting circumstances for school improvement and success.  It does this by respecting and building individual professionalism through team self-evaluation and planning.  Implemented with rigour, this ensures there is an increasing professional experience, together with associated evidence of impact.  Teacher Growth provides each professional with a solid set of arguments ready for any scrutiny. How do we know?

The shift towards a unified approach was heavily influenced by the work of School Improvement Facilitators in and out of schools.  We knew that emerging global research best exemplified by John Hattie’s “Visible Learning”, demonstrated that student achievement is best influenced by an emotionally intelligent mix of methodologies BUT the best foundation is when School Leaders,

“Create school, staff-room and classroom environments where error is welcomed as a learning opportunity, where discarding incorrect knowledge and understanding is welcomed, and where participants can feel safe to learn, re-learn and explore…”

Now even Ofsted Inspection Frameworks have move further towards a validated self-evaluation model, where colleagues in school were becoming an inextricable part of the process.  There are still some evangelist Ofstedders v Teacher Growers but the ground is more fertile for a more unified professional burgeoning.

The work of successful School Improvers has always been based on a philosophy that recognised the best of both QA and QC approaches. Work in Post Ofsted schools and lead tutoring NCTL programmes (LftM, Leadership Pathways and NPQH) demonstrated, for many of us (not all) that leaders, teachers and schools must first work out and describe their own vision. Doing so they were equally foolish to either slavishly follow Ofsted and NCSL descriptors or pretend they didn’t exist. 

Professional respect, grown this way, demonstrates, time and time again that colleagues, leaders and those who scrutinise schools are best when adopting a “teacher talks first” approach, rather than assuming they hold a supremacy of judgement over each colleague’s day to day experience.  I have very rarely had to challenge a teacher’s, or leader’s judgement of their own performance because, invariably, they know already. 

They don’t need telling, indeed they often resent patronage.  BUT I have been prepared to do so when emerging evidence indicates it is necessary.  I’ve learnt that the vast majority of teachers and leaders have an unerring nous for accurate judgements.  How dare outsiders proffer judgement without at least listening to the professionals first?  What does ignoring, or dismissing, their views do to the self-esteem of colleagues?  Well, ask my two colleagues at the start of this Director's Cut for their views on that.

School Improvers, working “alongside and with”, rather than “on” colleagues encouraged them to see that the wisest leaders (and teachers are leaders too) factor in the full context in which they work and, at least, know what the system requires of them - whether that be Governing Body, Trust Board, Academy Chain, Governmental Statute/Guidance, inspection criteria or whatever. They know it’s equally foolish to either slavishly follow given guidance or pretend it doesn’t exist. The best of them chant,

         "Rules are for the adherence of fools and the guidance of the wise"

So, yes, a Teacher Growth model works and it works well.

2. Educational Systems that cost 5% of GDP require both regulation and scrutiny.
However, Nevertheless, Of course, national, politically driven scrutiny, regulation and measuring will not go away - ever.  Who could possibly believe it could? But we now know the Teacher Growth movement has influenced the way such scrutiny works. It is clear the English Ofsted Inspection Frameworks have already moved closer towards a validated self-evaluation model, and other UK approaches have gone further.  Colleagues in school are now, inextricably and increasingly part of the inspection process.  Teacher Growth is burgeoning but if we want to be even more effective it’s clear we have to inject more rigour in our search for quality and success and also a quest for better professional well-being. We have to challenge those who still reject, or ignore the very idea of scrutiny and the need for accountability.

So, how do leaders deploy a realistic, unified, Teacher Growth model?
An obvious point is this is as much more about a school’s culture than its systems and procedures.  Teacher Growth gestates in the mind of leaders.  They accept there are always going to be judgements about performance, achievement and success.  The question is, “Who is making these judgement and on what basis are they coming to their conclusions?”  School leaders, who wish to harness a growth model must first believe their colleagues have the professional capacity to improve and achieve their own success, as an integral part of the school’s.  Beware of the leader who speaks of Teacher Growth and practices a different model. "It ain't what you say - it's the way that you do it - that's what gets results".

Only when leaders become fully convinced of these possibilities will they prepare the ground by explaining what change, or development, to plant a growth mindset means.  They’ll start well by sowing seeds in the most fertile areas and spreading out from there. A few keen early adopters are worth far more than a dozen, press-ganged, heavies.

It’s then about signalling professional respect, whenever appropriate, by asking enabling questions of colleagues and looking for opportunities to do so.  Investing in these opportunities means seeking answers by working with and alongside receptive colleagues.  This is time well spent.  This doesn’t remove a right to be clear, decisive and provide given ways forward, but it does mean leaders challenging themselves to consider that factoring in the methods, thoughts and approaches of colleagues might strengthen their initial ideas. This does take time, it might well take longer initially, but these efforts will bear fruit.

And, thinking of the bruised and damaged colleagues I started with... Convinced school leaders will know and learn it is possible to care for the individual who struggles - whilst leading an organisation to success. They’ll know we all struggle from time to time. They'll learn to argue, from experience, that’s it’s possible to be tough on standards of student achievement and performance of staff whilst taking time and care to attend to the emotional, physical and motivational needs of each. 

They know and will show that students and teachers are not robots who just require power and programming.  They will celebrate that they/we are all sentient human beings with hopes, fears, anxieties and strengths and we all respond well to praise for success and training for more.  Of course, the best leaders know there is room for tough love, for redirection, even redeployment and they'll demonstrate this can be done with care and compassion.

They will never leave an individual alone, vulnerable and abused, in plain sight.

How can it work in a school – in any workplace? 

How does Teacher or Professional Growth work?  
4 Questions to fuel Teacher Growth

Over the years, in schools and business settings I developed four hierarchical questions for colleagues to ask themselves in order to, “Look at what I do with a view to doing it better”.  These proven self-coaching questions build a capacity for strategic thinking.  I regularly use them myself.

1.  How well am I performing now?  (in relation to my vision/success criteria)
2.  What evidence justifies this judgement?
3.  What will help and hinder success?
4.  (So) What am I planning to do next? 

They typify Action Research, they are reflective prompts, designed to facilitate learning but don’t ever underestimate the complexity they unearth and the message they communicate. These questions can be asked of colleagues: generally, at the start or during, any number of processes: work scrutiny, lesson review, moderation, appraisal and pre-inspection.  When we ask questions, we want answers – obvious?  Yes, but sometimes we can be too eager to answer for others. Asking these questions signals we expect colleagues to take responsibility for their own work.  They are tough questions - especially when an individual must answer themselves, unprompted.  We are requiring them to be self-evaluators, capable of collecting their own evidence, doing their own analysis and making their own plans. If we help them do this well – to fish -  they should never be surprised by another's judgement.  Over time their own judgement will become more secure.  In my experience colleagues welcome this – even find a release in it.  They do require support and time to do it properly.  Over time and through cycles f the 4 Questions, Their noted answers become: Professional Profiles, Performance Management Documents, Diaries, Portfolios and Blogs. They become Subject/Area/School Improvement Plans,

It’s a statement of the obvious that encouraging professionals to share this kind of thinking sustains their development and growth. They will bring their reflections and evidence of impact to meetings with colleagues, leaders and others, including inspectors.  This turns those meetings into dialogues, enriched by the views of professionals in situ. It is in these respectful professional dialogues that sustained school improvement blossoms.

Where there is hope
Even more important... back to the colleagues I began with and am still very angry about.  If they have been using a Teacher Growth approach, they’ll have a detailed record of evidence to answer those 4 Questions.  In their current deep despair they will not be capable of referencing it, but when, eventually, they become strong enough to begin their climb back to any sense of professional pride - the evidence will be there for them to put into any discussion about their future.

Just think for a minute…. How could anyone - any system - deny them that right?

Finally, The iAbacus
I wrote earlier of the systems in schools and want to say a little more…. There was and there remains a need to ameliorate the proliferation of “School Admin Systems” designed in a Quality Control mindset.  They spread in the late 1990’s and early 2000s and heavily affected thinking about School Improvement.   Almost all began by gathering and mining data.  We’ve all seen eyes glaze over when some SLT Nerd opens an electronic filing cabinet, and fuels up over complicated screens.  We know it demotivates teachers!   I’ve been in meetings of teachers, governors and inspectors when hardly anyone understands what they are seeing.

I’ve never said never do it – I do say, first create the permitting circumstances for such complicated data to be understood, needed and real and ALWAYS allow for questions of scrutiny and solicit the classroom view.

Dan O'Brien and I launched the iAbacus into this mix in 2012.  It’s a unique Teacher Growth model that starts with the professional in situ’s view.  We wanted iAbacus to be set within the real context of school scrutiny.  I wrote, “the iAbacus Model combines the emotional intelligence of coaching with the rigours of criterion referenced inspection”  https://www.iabacus.co.uk/model/  you’ll hear echoes of this Director’s Cut in that paper.

The iAbacus is proving to be unique because it exemplifies the unified approach described above.   It deploys the 4 Questions and guides the user through the questions and captures, in sequential reports, their judgements, evidence, analysis and planning for success. To find out more visit  https://www.iabacus.co.uk/

To help users come to their own judgements we prepopulated the software with a range of criteria for judgements, as supplied by National Bodies like Ofsted, Estyn, and Teachers’ Standards.  We included these “templates” for reference not adherence. Most colleagues saw the possibilities, built into the software, to augment, edit and modify criterion to suit their schools and classrooms. Many now write their own criteria using blank templates and we work alongside colleagues creating bespoke templates.

A minority of teachers and leaders who veer towards an evangelist Teacher Growth Model cannot see how they benefit from setting their own judgements against expectations in National Inspection Frameworks, or criteria sets. Some heads and CEOs still use the iAbacus as a tool for the most senior.

It’s great to work with colleagues in schools and now wider contexts who see our deceptively simple iAbacus as a powerful way to self-evaluate and plan for success.
Contact me to find out more.  Or:

* Appendix - a little history

Before the "Take Back Controllers" or "Teacher Growers" rewrite history let me remind them that older professionals, like me, remember discussing with colleagues in the 1970's and 1980's , “What makes a good lesson?”  “What teaching methods work best?” We’d get into the detail, based on our experience and come up with practical ways forward and ideas which meant something real to us, in our own classrooms.  We shared materials and methods and, of course, we disagreed, often vehemently.  There was a freshness, a sense of exploration and discovery.  We didn’t have reams of criteria to plough through. There were books but fewer. There weren’t the statutory papers, and later, digital guidance, checklists and data avalanches to bury individuality.  It was all so much freer. I was just after the 1960’s. The latest Education Act was way back in 1944.  Inspectors were few and far between, they were well selected and paid far more than head teachers.  We were, largely autonomous professionals. So far so good....

But it was not all wonderful!  The cane was not banned until 1976 and other abuses were hidden, or misunderstood.  Many left school unequipped for work, and there wasn’t much work, but we teachers were working on it. We shared stuff, we met at actual Teachers’ Centres, we formed Subject, Phase and Specialist “National Associations” and ran conferences. The point I am making is that we had to rely on each other to strengthen our professionalism. We grasped at the wisdom in Kolb and Boyatzis Learning Cycles and Senge’s Five Disciplines.  Sadly, we were unable to convince a sceptical public and so Ofsted, testing, regulation and quality control took centre ground, for a while.

I was, at that time a Local Authority Adviser and required to train as an inspector.  many of us were initially sceptical about the inspection regime becoming supreme.  The hardest question we had to answer was, "Can you honestly say that schools would have improved so much without Ofsted?"   The true answer was we needed Ofsted but maybe the pendulum swung too far to the control and regulation side, to the detriment of professional teachers and leaders.  Maybe it had to do so to be brought back.

For me this indicates that an either or model, one for or against scrutiny, can never work.  In short, we need to nurture professionalism within an emotionally intelligent system of checks and balances. There is rarely one simple answer to a complex issue.