“A teacher who has reflective thinking skills is able to identify problems that may occur in the teaching/learning process and to produce solutions for overcoming such problems.” (Shoffner, 2006).
During my PGCE year, I can recall having to maintain what seemed like endless sheets of reflection pages. After each lesson I would routinely jot down my thoughts on my teaching, resurrecting the experience, some of which I would have consigned to perpetual amnesia if possible! However, this discipline proved very fruitful. It was empowering as it allowed me to identify patterns and anomalies. These patterns and anomalies allow us to forge a road map we can use to better navigate our experiences and manage the day to day goings on.
This led me to consider the question: what if entire teaching teams in our schools reflected more deeply and habitually? Would this improve the quality of instruction? Would we create a better educational experience for our students?
So, how do you reflect on your own practice as an educator? -blog? -journal? -dialogue with others?
Collaboration between colleagues isn’t just some feel good moment where we get to have a casual chat about teaching over some biscuits and coffee. It’s where the real work of school improvement begins; the deep evidence driven dialogue that is tightly focused on delivering better outcomes for students. In the field of education research, this practice is called collective teacher efficacy (CTE). Educational researchers John Hattie, Jennie Donnohoo and Rachel Eells assert that CTE occurs “When a team of individuals share the belief that through their unified efforts they can overcome challenges and produce intended results” (Educational Leadership, March 2018). What’s more compelling is that this form of school practice is a high impact mechanism with robust data to prove so. See the below image (high ranking effect size d circled in red).
The average effect size is d=0.40. CTE (Collective Teacher Efficacy) is purported to have an Effect Size of 1.57. This is a whopping three times more effective than the average school practice used to influence student achievement. So if this is such a high impact mechanism, how can we as school leaders go about building this into the culture and practice of our schools. I can think of three broad questions leaders can ask to begin to think about developing CTE in their schools.
What can we do differently to drive student outcomes?
What will these changes look like in practice? I.e. what changes do we need to make to our behaviour to live out this new way of doing things?
How will we measure the impact of what we are doing to see if we are achieving our intended results?
These questions are broad but critically important. They offer a strategic starting point to then pose more detailed sub-questions. The approach requires high fidelity- a real long term commitment to school improvement. If you are a quick-fix, off-the-peg ready meal kind of leader, this isn’t for you.
Recent protests against racial injustice has once again shone a spotlight upon disparities between different ethnic groups. Naturally, as an educator I found myself thinking about how issues of race play out in schools and what teachers and leaders can do to narrow such disparaties. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as someone who has educated black boys for over ten years, these are just a few of the things that are effective in helping them to achieve academic success.
Create a classroom culture where it’s okay to be intellectual. Some, but not all black boys will mock each other for appearing smart and bright. You must challenge this, everytime.
Ensure that some of the curriculum is culturally responsive to the culture of your black students. Find out about their backgrounds and create opportunities for them to see their own cultures in the world’s narrative. Never use lazy arguments to practise the contrary, such as “the curriculum doesn’t allow me to” or “it’s not on the exam specification”
Keep your expectations high and don’t compromise your demands for excellence. This applies to both behaviour and academic standards. Don’t be overbearing, but send a clear message that you expect their best on all occasions.
Forge a connection with their families but do this before any problems that might occur. By doing so you are showing that you are invested in their whole being. It will benefit you also as you’ll find that their families will often support you all the way to ensure the best outcomes for their children.
Make it an expectation that they’ll go on to further study. Speak about college, university and post-graduate education as if you expect this is the natural path for them. Normalise black achievement so that it becomes the rule and not the exception.
The beauty of taking these approaches is that they’re beneficial to all students. You are not a magician. You are not God. You are a teacher. Just teach as well as you possibly can with the resources you have.
Consistency in leadership is important. It’s a bit like doing the dishes, and here’s how.
You know the state you desire – a clear sink. Simply by doing the dishes you can achieve this.
You can do the dishes once and do a good job, even a good deed, as it serves others. The trouble is, if you don’t do it the next day you have a full sink. Not doing it a further day is worse still. The problem just keeps growing before your eyes until the mounting pile of dishes is overwhelming. You yearn for the day when the sink was clear. You can see it clearly in your mind.
A leader’s influence and impact is very much like this. Only through daily action will we move towards clearing our sinks.
One of the beautiful things is that you don’t have to do the dishes by yourself. You can ask for help. You can build a team of dishwashers.
This is hugely empowering because you have the capacity to do something about it. You can change the situation through daily action. You can decide to do the dishes. Just be consistent.