I’ve recently read the Gratton Report “Making time for great teaching“. In the executive summary is says:
Government regulations restrict schools. Enterprise bargaining agreements restrict changes to work schedules, and duty of care requirements restrain schools that want to free their teachers from child minding to focus on improving teaching. We cannot expect teachers to lift our students to the world’s best while also insisting they spend time on yard duty, pastoral care, and supervising extra-curricular activities.
While this quote might appeal to a great many teachers I would just caution that I hope pastoral care is not another word for relationships with students for that is at the heart of great teaching.
The report argues that one of the effects of decreasing class sizes is the increase time teachers must spend in classrooms. Parents here might say well this is a good thing isn’t it? The writer, Ben Jensen, would argue only if the teaching students engage with is of high quality. That begs the main question of the report – how do we make sure teachers get the time for quality professional learning and feedback to meet these high instructional capabilities. The report alludes to nations that score highly on international tests that do the opposite – increase class size (up to 45 students in a class) and decrease the time teachers actually teach so that this professional learning and feedback occurs.
Lets explore what this professional learning looks like then. The report highlights 5 essential elements in a schools plan:
- teacher mentoring and coaching
- lesson and grade group planning
- teacher appraisal and feedback
- classroom observation and feedback
- research groups
Probably the 4th point of classroom observation and feedback is the bigger sticking point. The report suggests that schools might consider appointing up to 8 (for a school of about 1,000 students) teacher coaches who would conduct fortnightly teacher observation and feedback sessions. Of course there are trade offs to do this and in fact any of the 5 elements.
In reflecting on this at EPS I would make the following comments.
- We have 3 leaders with time allocated for mentoring and coaching duties (essentially about 15 hours in total each week). They each have laser like foci on building classroom learning communities based on open and trusting relationships, one on using data to effective instruct at the students point of need and building the capacity of less experienced teachers at their point of reflected need.
- Each grade group meets weekly for about 90-100 minutes. They plan on a subject rotation basis for a specific curriculum area for the following fortnight. The rotation means they can spend up to 50 minutes each fortnight on planning for say English (regularly looking at student work and determining the next points of learning). These groups also meet for a day each term to examine standardised data to measure both progress or effect, next major points of learning and develop a framework around clear learning intentions.
- Research Groups: We have several research groups operating – one on the effective use of formative assessment data to determine next points of learning in association with Harvard University and one on creating learning tasks in mathematics that promote the transfer of skills to new contexts in association with Monash University.
- Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: well new teacher standards and appraisal systems are in progress at this point but there are few principals I know who wouldn’t acknowledge the need to spend more time in classrooms doing this.
- In order for classroom observations and feedback by teacher coaches to be effective it means substantial culture building work around a common instructional language, the art of description not judgement in observation and feedback, having sufficient relational trust in one another and time which I addressed above.
I think we have achieved more on some points than others but it constantly involves making trade offs to create the resources to do these things well. A number of trade offs are now well embedded (e.g. use of staff meetings as professional learning time, buying time for testing and data to be compiled for teachers, focusing PD on our major improvement initiatives rather than a lot of small personal teacher pd off campus).
I think the journey is never complete to achieve this and we live in a political world where some measures have been sold really well and are harder to change (e.g. small class sizes in Western countries is one of them).
On the whole I think the report serves a read and others might reflect where they are at with tradeoffs and the 5 essential elements.