This is my second year as a head of faculty and I really enjoy the job. My first year was hard (the second is better, so far), I had some tough issues to deal with. One of the main issues was how to deal with a ‘struggling’ member of staff and as I was working through the problems, one question was paramount:
“How do we help teachers develop and progress?”
The question has been sitting in the back of my mind, still not fully resolved. It has come up again several times in the last couple of weeks.
Identifying what progress and development are, is on the face of it a simple question: we want teachers to get better at teaching. The absolute minimum must be to maintain a well-ordered classroom with clear expectations, helping students access the curriculum and making progress over the year against agreed standards (something for a later post). There are other admin requirements on top of this and these will vary a great deal depending on where you work. Now, depending on your particular education philosophy the ‘absolute minimum’ may look different, but the idea remains the same. There are many ways that teachers can improve their practice. I expect the most valuable method of improvement in terms of sustained development will be where teachers identify their own areas for development and look to improve these; this could be because of their own introspection or engagement with other teachers in their school or the wider community. At other times, improvement might only come through an intervention from colleagues or managers, and here in lies the problem.
When one member of the faculty was having some issues and not really meeting the ‘absolute minimum’, the question then became ‘How do we help so that we are not undermining the teacher needing help?’ The observations and feedback progressed along a familiar path:
- Hope that through the observation feedback that they will identify their own areas for development. This was partly achieved but the issues did not seem to go away and in some cases they got worse.
- I highlight areas that seem to be needing development and have them devise solutions. Again this seemed to work but many issues remain unresolved
- Suggest some solutions to try and see if these work. This again did not seem to be very effective.
As the feedback didn’t seem to be effective I started going into the class a lot more, providing support. This was not particularly helpful as it led to what I was afraid of at the start, which was undermining the teacher. Many have commented on the negative effect of pointing out issues or areas for development and then specifically going into observe these. Namely, that it could lead to anxiety which actually makes the teacher perform less well in the area being focused on, as well perhaps causing the teacher to neglect other aspects of their teaching.
The last thing I wanted to do was have this impact on the member of staff, but issues in the class were getting more serious with several incidents a week and several students requesting to move classes – this was handled with a firm ‘no’ but it highlighted the need for direct action.
We implemented a sequence of in-class support utilising all members of the faculty. Unfortunately, this ultimately had a negative effect on moral in the faculty to the extent we couldn’t maintain it. After this played out for half the school year management stepped in and the member of staff decided to resign rather than face the alternative.
This left me with the question I started with, “How do we help teachers develop and progress?” I’m not sure I got to a concrete answer looking back on the process but I know what I won’t be doing in similar situation.
After the teacher left I had other questions; “Did I do the best I could have done?” “Should I have done more?” “What could I have done differently?” Several of the blogs I had read made me feel on some level that I failed, as I hadn’t been able to help the teacher. Sometimes you have to accept that no matter what you do you can’t move people on. In the parlance of the day you have to have a ‘growth mindset’ and perhaps that was just lacking.
One of the questions that arose out of “how do we move teachers on?”, was whose responsibility is it for ensuring teacher do progress. This will be the focus of my next post.