Friday, 31 May 2019

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

Professional Learning Coach
My previous role as a Professional Learning Coach was clear and defined. Supervised by the Dean of Professional Practice, I worked a 3-day week and was situated in the area of Professional Learning. This role was not at high leadership level and I’ve recently wondered where this role should sit. If a coach assists with teachers’ growth, and teachers are the most influential factor regarding student achievement, how can we acknowledge the importance of coaching? Consequently, if the coaches are at the level of senior leadership, how likely is there to be an established partnership of trust? If we want teachers to be vulnerable, is it best to have the coach-

·      from another school
·      from a higher leadership level
·      at teacher level that is well respected and trusted
·      that teachers select
·      that is a peer, as all teachers are trained coaches

In my role as professional learning coach, it was made very clear that I would not share any conversations, goals or successes, unless the coachee requested it. There were times when I asked if I could share their successes and they proudly agreed. Sharing the great practices that are happening in our own schools should happen more regularly. If schools and leaders value coaching, should it sit with professional learning, should it sit independently, or should it sit within accreditation?

This last year, I have struggled with the idea of utilising coaching within the accreditation process. Accreditation is often seen as a boxing ticking exercise that is extrinsically rewarded with money and status. I have determined that you can use a coaching approach when supervising, but if you are the supervisor, you have to make judgements determined by standards and evidence. It aligns more with mentoring than coaching. I do not think you can honour the ethos of coaching, while judging the evidence of a colleague. I have coached people through the accreditation process, but I was not their supervisor. The supervisor should be their line manager or head of department and blurring the lines between supervisor and coach confuses these independent roles.

Performance Management
Performance management should always be differentiated from coaching. One is about professional growth with a level of autonomy, trust and partnership, and the other is about intervention and judgement. One is done ‘to you’ and the other is done ‘with you’. I would also argue that managing performance must be carried out by line managers or heads of departments. When I was a professional learning coach, there was a strong level of confidentiality and the executives never requested details regarding any teacher and only requested identification of those who elected to be coached. If at any point there was a performance management issue, that would sit with the heads of department. Typically, there is a strict process in place for performance management. It is my belief that coaching is proactive and performance management is reactive.

Performance Development
Coaching is a long-term investment in teacher growth and wellbeing. Depending on your context and culture, performance development can be seen as an accountability measure or a framework for professional growth. I opened up the question on Twitter asking teachers about the expectation of a professional learning plan. I had 86 responses that were very interesting. I also wonder if they believe professional learning plans are effective and purposeful.

I will always believe that coaching should be opt-in with a high level of teacher autonomy. Teacher agency would suggest that the goal, progress and evaluation should be self-determined. A coach can actively listen and ask questions to help develop self-awareness. My coaching experience has been very broad as I have utilised instructional and growth coaching. Often used with early career teachers, instructional coaching consisted of using Swivl to record observations, model lessons and feedback that was strategically designed through questioning. I would also visit classes to learn what teachers were doing with the intention of sharing with others. I was the conduit between teachers. In-house teachers are an untapped resource and we need to share their strengths within our school walls and beyond. The Growth Coaching framework assisted in areas such as to developing self-awareness to create more collaborative teams, determine career pathways, or develop time management skills. As a coach, the teachers always lead the process and determined their goals, process and evaluation.

I’ve been trying to determine why or when performance development plans become a box ticking exercise that is solely about accountability or fuelled by extrinsic motivation. I think the confusion comes when we try to kill two birds with one stone; where we blur the lines between accountability and responsibility; when performance development plans are created because we have to and not because we want to; when we blend some form of autonomy with a mandated process. I’m reminded of Dylan Wiliam’s quote, teachers want to get better because they want to, not because they have to. What is needed to create a culture where teachers are intrinsically motivated to learn?

Here are some questions I’ve been struggling with-
  • What is the purpose of your Professional Learning Plan or Performance Development Plans?
  • Who determines your goal?
  • Are you provided a coach?
  • Are you provided time to work through your plan?
  • Do you make your goal something you know you can easily achieve?
  • Does your goal require you to research, implement, reflect and evaluate?
  • Do you really take a risk with your learning if it is a SMART goal?
  • Does your Head of Department have any influence on your goal?
  • At any time, is your plan used to determine or appraise your performance?
  • What if you don’t have a trusting relationship with your Head of Department or the person who works with you to determine your goal?
  • What happens if there is no evidence of professional growth or achieving your goal?

Taking into account individual contexts, schools and leaders must determine the purpose of professional learning plans. Blurring the lines only causes confusion and ambiguity. Problems arise when we try and kill two birds with one stone.

Thank you to Dale Zawertailo, Yvonne Thompson, and Peggy Mahy at Scots College. Brad Russell and Susan O'Shea from Albury/Hume Network (NSWDoE). As always, good conversation generate more questions. Thank you Dr Peter DeWitt for your informative webinar on Instructional Coaching. It has been a big week of learning.

Always learning...


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

A Book Review with Bias.

Book Review: Flip the System Australia: What matters in education (2019), edited by Netolicky, Andrews & Paterson

With a clear intention of sparking discussion, generating curiosity and enticing a stronger movement towards ‘Flipping the System’, Netolicky, Andrews and Paterson collated and edited contributions from numerous practitioners and academics from Australia and around the globe. Advocating for professionals to have more voice in the policy discourse, this text was sectioned into five themes. I acknowledge my bias, as I elected to review the chapters that relate to my interest of creating a culture that builds teacher capacity and supports teacher wellbeing. Additionally, being connected with many of the authors on Twitter and reading their books, articles or blogposts, I already had insight into most of the topics and views. But for those who aren't familiar with the authors' work or connected with them on Twitter, the arguments and viewpoints in this book may be new, innovative and/or unorthodox.

1.     Teacher identify, voice and autonomy turning the system inside out.
While the various authors provided well-written and interesting arguments, Gert Biesta’s chapter that focuses on reclaiming education as a public concern invoked reflection of my current beliefs, my contextual experiences and generated questions regarding the future of education. Biesta notes that teachers’ professional judgement and agency are being diminished due to the micro-management of their practice. However, Biesta does not commit to the notion that teachers should be exclusively responsible for ‘Flipping the System’ but collectively, parents, students and teachers need to commit to education as a public concern.

Biesta also highlighted that objectives began to go awry with the introduction of ‘outcomes’, which were developed to judge the quality of education. One may also argue that this pertains to the teaching standards, as we inform teachers which particular descriptors need observing, and so they ‘perform’ accordingly. For the sake of measurement, authenticity is lost. Biesta’s thought provoking chapter has generated further interest in his work and his references, such as Ball’s article, “The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity” (2003) will be reviewed.

2.     Collaborative expertise: professionalising the system
I believe it is imperative for every preservice teacher to read Thompson, Rutkowksi and Sellar’s chapter on ‘Flipping large-scale assessments: bringing teacher expertise to the table’. This chapter provides clear, concise information regarding PISA, and a solid explanation of validity. The authors argue for teachers to provide a voice in interpreting results and implore them, as domain experts, to be involved with the technical experts to create more balance in testing. Throughout Campbell’s chapter, ‘Developing teacher leadership', she highlights the importance of moving from vertical hierarchies of power and authority to ecosystems that are professionally led to value, engage and empower teachers. An advocate for valuing all teachers’ expertise, experiences and professional judgement, she warns of the danger that can occur when reforms dismiss all voices.

It was refreshing to read ‘Teacher’s wellbeing in crisis’ by Hargreaves, Washington and O’Connor, as sustainable solutions are suggested. Teacher wellbeing is a constant point of discussion and one of the six threats to teacher wellbeing that really resonated was regarding the many initiatives that others impose on teachers. Consequently, teachers are not given the opportunity to instigate their own initiatives. This is reflected in Gonski’s (2018) recommendation for ‘active collaboration’, such as peer observation and feedback, coaching, and joint research projects. These strategies promote professional learning that is contextual, teacher-driven and collaborative. This chapter also suggests that teachers feel like they’re losing control over their professional decisions, which is reflected in other chapters in this book. Although, it is suggested that teachers should be valued and paid more, the media suggests that in New South Wales, teachers are seeking fewer working hours.

3.     Social Justice: democratising the system
Again, the chapters under this theme are interesting and thought-provoking; however, to ascertain a broad overview of equitable education in Australia, Sahlberg’s chapter is concise and perspicuous. In this chapter, teachers are provided with a strong overview of his research and its pertinence to Australia. Sahlberg’s concludes with three essential questions, however, he invokes the bigger question of what is the purpose of education? This should always be at the forefront whenever a decision about the education of students is required.

4.     Professional learning for a flipped system
Close to my interest, passion and research is the chapter by Andrews and Munro, ‘Coaching for agency the power of professionally respectful dialogue’. Chapter after chapter, a constant premise emerges that teachers need to feel valued, trusted and respected. Browning reinforces the importance of trust and support rather than accountabilities in a following chapter. Andrews and Munro convincingly argue that coaching builds agency that promotes a sense of value, respect and trust. Taking this concept further, it is my experience that the benefits of coaching are only truly revealed and hence valued, when embedded within the school day,

5.     Leadership for a flipped system
Familiar with the work of Eacott & Browning, my level of agreement was high, but I found Cody’s chapter perplexing. While Cody argues that ‘flipping the education system does not mean rejecting testing, academic rigour, measurement and accountability” (p. 202), I question why trust, professional judgement and teacher agency are not emphasised in this chapter. In comparison, Sahlberg’s earlier chapter questioned the minimal level of data necessary, while still maintaining confidence and trust in the education system (p. 158). Without a national consensus, various states and territories have differing accountability measures, as do various schools and sectors. Are we expected to assume that the accountability measures in place, result in rigorous academic achievement for all?

It is puzzling why testing, measurement and accountability, which are typically imposed on teachers, are characterised with academic rigour. Without teachers and their professional knowledge, judgement and expertise, there is no rigour and consequently, I argue teachers need to be in the driver’s seat, not straddling two horses. Principals are in the unenviable position of having to accept and support the authority, policies, and principles of various Australia education systems.
While probably more anticipated from a principal’s perspective, stating that ‘accountability is not harming Australian schools’ (p. 202) is a huge call to make. This leads me to suggest that perhaps we should be asking the teachers about the levels of accountability, as they are the ones riding the two horses of holistic education and rigorous academic achievement.

Reviewing this book reaffirmed my passion and commitment to providing teachers with a stronger voice and agency in the education arena.