Quantum particles and teachers share something in common- they both act rather strangely and become unpredictable when observed. One of the laws governing the quantum world says that particles change their nature according to where, when and by whom they are observed-spooky stuff. When considering the practice of observations I am sure teachers can relate to this. I once worked in a school where a number of teachers questioned the judgements of their observers. After being observed, these said teachers had long protracted conversations with their observers and felt that the observer had serious flaws in their judgements. Needless to say that their received judgments were highly critical. Such were their apprehensions that they decided they’d had enough of this poor judgement of teaching and learning and they’d be better appreciated elsewhere. With a desire to prove their observers wrong a number of these swiftly exiting teachers tried a little experiment. When they secured their next interview, they used the very same lesson where they were judged inadequate. Interestingly all of these teachers were judged as being outstanding with the formerly inadequate lesson.
Having one lesson judged differently in different contexts and by different people reveals the quantum nature of observations. This occurrence does not necessarily mean that the judgements of the initial observers were completely inaccurate. Perhaps those lessons really were inadequate. Who knows? But what it certainly does reveal is that judgements can change with the most simplest of variables: observer and context.
If we are quantum like in our observations as teachers what does this mean for the profession? A sea of uncertainty? Wobbly discrepancy in the fog of grading teaching and learning? One approach is to accept that this is the way things are-accept that there is uncertainty. But how helpful is this really? A more valuable approach would be to scrap judgements all together. In this I mean one off judgements at the end of a lesson. I once read some great advice about this from two educational bloggers whom I highly regard- @teachertoolkit and @johntomsett. In my role as a middle leader, when observing colleagues I always place emphasis on the diagnostics (strengths and areas for development) during the feedback phase. In fact, my language explicitly says this as I begin with “it’s not about the judgement but how you can get better”. Nobody wants to be told they are inadequate for this often breeds feelings of failure and it’s just as unhelpful to be called ‘Outstanding’ lest we become well rested upon our laurel foliage. As teachers we should all want to get better regardless of where we are in our craft- graded judgements can be an impediment if they are a destination in of themselves. I believe we should move to a more dialogic approach- guided and purposeful discussion about what actually makes good teaching and learning.I have recently become very interested in the role professional coaching could play in the profession. If schools had designated teaching coaches, they could guide each teacher towards becoming better practitioners. This is more attractive and potentially overall more effective in that it involves a long term commitment to improving teacher effectiveness. Of course, coaching needs to be done in the right way with well trained persons possessing the right disposition. Coaches will help teachers do the the following:
- Identify where they want to be
- Where they are
- How they can get there
Of course there are more intricacies and nuances embedded within each of these stages but a well skilled coach will have the abilities necessary to handle these. This is a starting point at least. A far more useful tool in helping to improve teacher effectiveness.
If you’d like to respond, critique or expound upon any of these suggestions please do so.