Friday, 20 September 2019

Caution: Collaboration & Competition

Sitting in the hairstylist’s chair, I hesitated to share with Euan that one of my previous careers was hairdressing. Euan asked what I’m doing now. We talked about education and postgraduate study with Euan sharing how his mother completed postgraduate studies later in life and how challenging it was for her. I shared how I finished school in Year 10 because I was offered an apprenticeship and my family thought that it was a wonderful opportunity for me. Euan had a similar experience. After completing my 4-year apprenticeship, I managed one of six salons and later owned and managed my own salon. Later, with a Canadian work visa I worked with 22 stylists in a large salon in Calgary. I asked Euan how hairdressers were paid in Scotland. Apparently, they are given a standard salary and then they received commission or a bonus based on their profits. I shared how in Brisbane I was paid per hour, regardless of busyness or bookings but if you made your target you received a small bonus. In Canada, I worked on commission, which was an entirely new experience.

View from our apartment in Banff.
As my accent and blow-drying with round brushes were novel, clients often requested me. Unfortunately, this created competition within the salon as I was taking others’ income away from them. Being reliant on commission creates strong competition. I was working more for the experience. Unlike my colleagues who were working to pay house or car repayments; we were working for travel money. I felt guilty taking colleagues’ income and struggled with the fact that money and competition was coming between us. Fortunately, we moved to Banff for my husband’s new project and I relinquished the 3 months left on my working visa.

I shared with Euan that currently politicians and some organisations are suggesting that teachers should be paid on merit and sanction those who underperform. Additionally, I explained how some want outcomes-based funding. I agree with Piccoli who states outcomes-based funding is unfair. Research in other countries have shown paying teachers on performance to be less than successful. If research suggests collaboration and collective responsibility is key to student success and effective teaching, it is vital that this proposal does not have teachers pitted against each other. The proposal seeks for about 0.5 per cent of educators become ‘master teachers’, paid $180,000 ($80,000 increase). Personally, I am not entirely convinced that the Highly Accomplished and Lead accreditation process identifies the most effective teachers. I don’t believe we should rely on one process to ‘reward’ or ‘identify’ the most effective teachers. There are many effective or quality teachers who chose to spend their time either completing postgraduate study/research or chose to spend time learning about other interests. This may take the form of additional reading, traveling and visiting other schools and countries, or spending time gaining knowledge in another subject area.

If instructional specialists are paid a lot more than regular teachers, a power imbalance will be created. Paying some teachers more may not create a better education system but a more divisive system. I read this article, ‘10 Reasons Teacher Pay for Performance Is Ineffective’ and agree with the author. After working in the US, I have always thought Australian teachers are paid quite well. I do think however, that the level of administration and box ticking processes I’ve experienced in Australia are much higher. I don’t believe teachers want more money in their pay packet but less classes. This will provide more time to analyse data, collaborate, plan and provide student feedback. It will also mean employing more teachers, which can only be a positive, as the workload is overwhelming many teachers. I am not stating that I have all the answers but I think we need to be asking more questions. We need to include all stakeholders when making these monumental decisions. Most importantly, we must ask the teachers what they need to develop professionally and to positively influence student outcomes. We should also review the findings from other countries.

Reviewing Fullan's four criteria to judge a driver's effectiveness, does it-
      1. foster motivation of teachers and students;
      2. engage educators and students in continuous improvement
      3. inspire team work; and
      4. affect all teachers and students?
Do any of the suggestions for reform support intrinsic motivation, instructional improvement, and teamwork? You may think instructional improvement will result from having instructional leaders but I can assure you that an effective teacher does not guarantee an effective instructional coach. Do the most effective teachers make the most effective principals? Here are some wonderings...
  • To increase the level of professionalism, could we increase all teachers award salary?
  • If teachers become instructional leaders, why not simply decrease their teaching load? 
  • If we want to create a collaborative and authentic partnership approach to professional learning, we need to have a balance of power.
  • If we want teachers to develop professionally and instructional specialists are the answer, we must be careful that they are not used as performance managers.
This blogpost concludes with Hargreaves & O’Connor’s (2018) powerful statement,

In education, professional collaboration and building social capital among teachers and other educators improves student learning as these educators circulate their knowledge and take more risks. It improves teacher recruitment and retention as teachers in collaborative cultures realise there are others who can help and support them.

Always wondering...