12 June 2016

Schools should be more teacher-centred.

Filed in Leadership Issues, System Change, Uncategorized

The idea that schools should be more teacher centred has been gathering momentum in my thinking.   In fact, the whole education system should be more teacher centred.  Ridiculously, to some folk, that will sound regressive  – because we’re supposed to say that everything we do…

Schools should be more teacher-centred.

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The idea that schools should be more teacher centred has been gathering momentum in my thinking.   In fact, the whole education system should be more teacher centred.  Ridiculously, to some folk, that will sound regressive  – because we’re supposed to say that everything we do is for the children.  Well, of course.  Schools are set up to educate children.  It barely needs re-stating.  The point here is that, in order for us to deliver the best education we can, the mechanisms, structures and cultures that constitute that delivery need to be very much teacher-centred.

In recent times, we’ve experienced the development of school cultures where teachers have been sandwiched between outrageously excessive top-down accountability structures and a discourse about pedagogy that has elevated student-centred learning above teacher-led learning to the detriment of the actual learning.  Both of these tendencies have had a de-professionalising effect.  In my view. Thankfully, I think the tide is changing.

In terms of pedagogy, we’re emerging from a period where ‘chalk and talk’ has been considered a crime against children, where school leaders have felt compelled to call themselves ‘Headlearners’ and when various people have stressed the use of ‘learning and teaching’ instead of ‘teaching and learning’ loading that reversal with righteous significance.  All of that guff is fading away.  We’re re-connecting with the crucial value of teacher-led instruction and recognising that ’empowering students to own their own learning’ is an empty phrase unless/until students are at the right point within a well-structured programme.  (There’s a mix of course; let’s not go all black and white here – see Trivium and Mode A; Mode B references elsewhere in this blog).

If learners are going to learn, teachers should teach and teach well.  Our emphasis in schools should be on making sure teachers have the opportunity to develop their subject knowledge and the associated pedagogy, to engage with the latest research, to absorb information about their students’ learning needs and prior attainment, recognising the complexity of synthesising all of this into a knowledge-base that informs the delivery of effective lessons.  Everything we dream up or write down as the ideals for teaching and learning and the curriculum – for groups or individuals – are pointless unless teachers have the knowledge, skills and determination to put them into practice.

In terms of accountability, it’s a terrible indictment of our whole system that we’ve created school cultures where unions will fight to limit formal teacher observations to a maximum number per year.  Three?  That is a product of an accountability culture with teachers at the bottom of the pile, forced to hoop-jump instead of being developed as professionals.  Some SLTs (oh, the delusion of it) still grade lessons, believing themselves to have special powers.  The machinery of targets, floor standards, lesson grades, OfSTED judgements (graded book scrutinies for heaven’s sake!) – all of that – has corrupted our professional culture such that teachers are nervous about being observed (judged).  We’ll know we’re winning when unions complain that their members are not observed enough or do not receive enough feedback because, then, we’ll have established the principle that CPD, observation and feedback are all focused on supporting teachers in their work.

(I can think back to a lesson observation I took part in a few years ago where an inspector (self-important ex-Head, ex-PE teacher, knowing nothing about chemistry) judged a one-off lesson to be less than Outstanding because the  teacher (best chemistry teacher I’ve ever known) hadn’t used any differentiation. Instead of thinking that, just maybe, this teacher knew more about what to do than him and taught in a way that he could learn from, he presumed to assume authority, to judge and diminish. That scenario was a product of the system.  A truly teacher-centred system would not allow for that. Some SLTs are still doing this. )

There are other dimensions to this too.  Behaviour systems should be designed with teachers’ needs at the centre.  Teachers should have access to systems and tools to insist on impeccable behaviour in their classrooms and also be supported in developing the skills to manage the complex array of relationships that make-up any classroom.  At the sharp end, teachers’ emotional well-being needs to be supported in the face of challenging behaviour.   Yes, students’ needs and emotions matter hugely; yes, we want positive, warm relationships and to repair them when they break;  but let’s not be afraid to restate the simple truth of the authority/responsibility structure that exists in happy, caring schools, just as in happy, caring families.  An effective behaviour system is a teacher-centred behaviour system.

(An interesting recent conversation with a student  led to her querying ‘so, you’re saying that, because teachers are the adults, they get to tell me what to do?’ My response was clear. I did also explain why – we are responsible for you; you are not responsible for us; your behaviour has an impact on other people; compliance with rules doesn’t stop you expressing yourself in other ways etc etc.  However, for some people it seems that the idea that teacher or parental authority/control is not at odds with respect, love, care… has to be restated and re-asserted repeatedly.)

Data and assessment systems should be teacher-centred,  designed primarily and explicitly to generate useful information for teachers about how their students are progressing to inform the actions they will take; reporting this for whole-school monitoring or for parents is secondary to the needs of teachers, especially when the workload to impact ratio is so ludicrously  high.  I’ve been thinking recently about how we support teachers to engage with SEND information so they can act on it effectively; that needs to improve. If we place mainstream teachers at the centre of our thinking on SEND provision, we’ll be doing more to support the students.

CPD should be teacher-centred (as opposed to school-centred); it needs to be designed and tailored so that it has a chance of making an impact on individual teachers: their knowledge, beliefs, attitudes or skills need to change as a consequence in the long term.  In the same spirit, appraisal or professional review systems should be geared towards supporting teachers in their career development – rather than serving accountability processes as the prime objective.  Teacher-centred appraisal can still be rigorous at the same time as being developmental and positive for all concerned.

And so it goes on.  In this spirit, teacher-centredness is an essential precondition for establishing a high challenge/ high trust /high performance professional environment – from which every student benefits.  It would certainly help if Secretaries of State and HMCIs were inclined to support teachers more explicitly in their rhetoric and policies but, actually, most of this comes down to school leaders; no excuses.

So, now I’m asking myself whether my school is teacher-centred enough.  It’s not; not yet. Is yours?

 

 

 

14 Comments
  • Jomo40
    Posted at 11:54h, 12 June Reply

    HI Tom
    I don’t often comment here but I think you have a point with this post – however, I think it means then that leadership in schools (at all levels) need to be absolutely committed to the idea that all HR and recruitment processes in schools are designed to ensure that schools are full of student-centred teachers. This is not necessarily say to do during a recruitment crisis but it does then alleviate some of the tensions you were talking about in your SEND post because if you have student-centred teachers then the only support they require is the understanding of what support is in place in regards to SEN. Their student-centredness will ensure that they engage with the SEND information because it is about supporting children to make progress. Ultimately the risks are from a government who present teaching as something that anyone can do – removing the element of teaching as a ‘vocation’ and presenting models management that suggest that running a school is a lot like running a PR firm, or running a company in the city. Clearly, if you have a student-centred ethos and a school that is full of student-centred adults, then a teacher-centric view makes sense – because we are looking after those who look after the children (all adults – not just teachers)
    Keep up the good fight…

  • Brian
    Posted at 17:15h, 12 June Reply

    Tom
    An interesting post, however I would make a couple of comments.

    I am not sure a “school” can be teacher focused.Schools comprise a variety of systems and processes and each will be designed to meet a particuar purpose particular purposes). It is quite possible for one process/system to be focused upon one stakeholder group and a different process on another. It is also possible for a process to be purposed towards more than one stakeholder group simultaneously.

    There is no need to make a school either learner focused or teacher focused. These are not mutually exclusive and may be designed to meet the needs of both.

    Thinking that a school must be either learner or teacher centred is for me that root of many of the issues we find in education including the traditional vs progressive. These descriptions appear to imply teacher centredness and learner centredness respectively.

    I believe that once it is clear that a process can be both teacher and learner centred then the whole thing becomes remarkably straightforward and most of th etensions disappear.

    • Tom Sherrington
      Posted at 17:23h, 12 June Reply

      I agree with that. I’ve said ‘more’ teacher focused, not to suggest that it’s a choice of one or the other. I haven’t suggested that. My emphasis is that we could be less accountability and institution focused and you can’t be student centred unless you deal with teachers’ needs as a priority.

    • Greg Wright (@IC_Teaching)
      Posted at 08:33h, 20 June Reply

      Surely the school supports the teachers so the teachers can support the learners.

  • Andy
    Posted at 19:23h, 13 June Reply

    brilliant !!! So true

    >

  • Rufus
    Posted at 13:53h, 17 June Reply

    What an inspiring vision from a Headteacher.

    I agree with all you’re said; I would like to add that perhaps there should be a more structured approach to developing teachers in the years immediately subsequent to their NQT year.

    This could mean that there is a prolonged period of induction, and that teachers in more senior positions, or with more experience, take the more ‘challenging’ classes. Perhaps Heads of Department should identify the most ‘difficult’ class of the previous year, and then resolve to take that class the next year.

  • teachingbattleground
    Posted at 11:41h, 10 July Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  • ijstock
    Posted at 13:58h, 10 July Reply

    What a refreshing read – spot on. However, I am tempted to point out that some/many within the profession have been arguing this all along and have been over-ruled at every stage of the way. If, as you say, things are changing then maybe sense will prevail.

    I would also question the other all-demolishing orthodoxy that you mention: “everything we do is for the children”. I believe that this thinking is responsible for so much of the guff that we have had to put up with, which has prevented us from doing our job. As you say, it erodes behaviour and imbalances the discussion about methods and priorities.

    I have never believed that this job is ‘for the children’. It is for society at large – the society that needs those children to be integrated into it, to understand its values and to assimilate and transmit its culture. That need not be as Big Brother as it might sound – cultivating a degree of autonomy and freedom is definitely part of it within a democracy. I would argue that the best benefit we can bring to children is not indulgence but giving them the ability to live fulfilled lives and exercise their responsibilities within a societal framework. That is for all of us.

  • Matt Hardman
    Posted at 10:25h, 30 July Reply

    While it uses business language (and I would hate to start referring to students as customers) I have long been a fan of the Richard Branson philosophy of:

    “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers.” As well as:

    “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat people well enough so they don’t want to.”

    I think a lot of what is written here echoes those sentiments and I think it is absolutely the way we should all be thinking. The comment below about ensuring student-centred teachers are recruited is really important though. The moment you have teacher-centred leaders AND teacher-centred teachers, that is when students stop getting a good deal.

    Thank you for another good read.

  • Paul Larner
    Posted at 16:23h, 24 August Reply

    Hi Tom,
    I never comment on blogs normally but, and I have no doubt you didn’t mean it to come across this way, your comments on the ‘self-important’ ex-Head are extremely harsh. I, like many who live in this area, knew instantly who you were talking about – you’ve named him without naming him. Personally I have not met too many more humble people in our profession and he has had a hugely positive influence on the lives of thousands of students. Like you can’t judge a teacher on the basis of one lesson I don’t think you can judge a person’s character on the basis of one observation. Just a thought but to me it comes across as very harsh.
    Best wishes, thanks for all the interesting and thought-provoking blogs and good luck with results this week.

  • monkrob
    Posted at 10:02h, 30 August Reply

    Let’s see if the teaching world agrees with your 80:20 ratio.
    https://leadouteducation.com.au/2016/08/30/how-do-we-teach/

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