How often did you hear this at teacher's college? "Make sure that you get lots of ideas from the classrooms that you are in, as once you have your own class, you'll be stuck in there and you'll never get to see anything!!" A dire warning from the days prior to classroom release time! But nevertheless, something I heard from almost every lecturer when I was training to be a teacher.
To me, one of the key benefits of teaching in a Modern Learning Environment, is the deprivatising of teaching practice. To have the opportunity on a daily basis to observe others teach, share planning and ideas, have professional learning conversations about a lesson, discuss student progress, plan early interventions - all with someone who knows exactly what I'm talking about?? Priceless! I have often been envious of the early childhood model - having other teachers to share the day with. Working in a MLE is giving me the opportunity to have this experience.
Last year I was trialling a team teaching situation with my team leader, when she took a maths lesson about drawing 3D shapes on isometric dot paper. Being extremely spatially challenged myself, this lesson was amazing! In 5 minutes, I learned a whole lot of new skills! I could now confidently replicate the lesson myself. Afterwards, we discussed her teaching of this lesson and she said how great it was to get some feedback.
It was with interest that I watched this TED talk by Bill Gates, on the subject of teacher feedback.
In this talk, Bill Gates argues that teachers do not receive enough feedback to make improvements to their teaching practice. He throws out some alarming statistics -" there's one group of people that get almost no systematic feedback to help them do their jobs better. Until recently, 98% of teachers just got one word of feedback: "satisfactory." Today, districts are revamping the way they evaluate teachers. But we still give them almost no feedback that actually helps them improve their practice. Our teachers deserve better. The system we have today isn't fair to them. It's not fair to students, and it's putting America's global leadership at risk."
He goes on to advocate the use of video cameras in the classroom, so that teachers can video themselves and evaluate their teaching performance. He would like to create a bank of videos, so teachers can watch exemplary lessons. The price tag - around five billion dollars!!! Which, just so you know is less that 2% of what the US spends on teacher salaries per year.
When you delve more deeply into this talk, several issues arise. Have a read of this blog post for some challenges to Bill's ideas. The author, Anthony Cody, questions the validity of Gates' statistics, his reliance on standardised test data, and notes the lack of collaborative time teachers have together: "evidence suggests that time afforded to educators to collaborate and problem-solve is eroding quickly. As recently as 2009, a MetLife study indicated that 68% of educators had more than an hour per week to engage in structured collaboration with colleagues to improve student learning. By 2012, only 48% had an hour or more per week for this essential work. In what professional field can practice improve if most practitioners don't have even an hour a week to work together collaboratively?"
I believe in New Zealand, our procedures and processes for teacher feedback are quite good. Every New Zealand school I have worked in has always had some kind of observation and feedback procedure in place. Many New Zealand schools have teachers in Professional Learning Groups or using the Teaching as Inquiry process to make sound, researched based decisions about teaching and learning.
However, teaching and learning in a MLE creates new possibilities! If you are teaching collaboratively, you have someone available to give you feedback and be that critical friend. You have someone to observe and gain ideas from. Way better than watching yourself on video!!
I think the key issues for continuous improvement when teaching collaboratively will be:
Making time for those important conversations and reflections.
Giving teachers the skills to critically reflect and potentially engage in courageous conversations.
Adapting appraisal processes and teacher induction programmes to reflect the changing pedagogy in New Zealand classrooms.
How do we construct the systemic changes required to enhance teacher feedback and collaboration?
Are teachers entering the profession being prepared for the education system that is developing?
How can school leaders support teachers to work collaboratively? What other changes might be required to traditional school timetables, meeting schedules and systems?
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.