In New Zealand, we are fortunate to have teacher inquiry/research written into our national curriculum document. This asks teachers to ensure they are experimenting with strategies to improve their practice and recording the process and results. My own school has put together a planning group to bring all of the school-wide improvement strategies together. The aim in doing this is to make more sense of why we have each component. It is a common complaint from teachers that school organised PD is irrelevant to what they do. It is also common for teachers, when asked to quote school vision or goals to draw a blank.
As a way of structuring my own thoughts around this, I have sketched out a model that I’m referring to as SITTI (School Improvement Through Teacher Inquiry). The aim of this is to link the components and increase awareness amongst the whole school community of why various strategies to improve the school and professional development are taking place. By the way, I’m pronouncing SITTI and one says “City.”
Here is a summary of my thinking regarding each component of this cyclical process.
School vision is generally universal around the world but should be tailored to local circumstances and current research regarding the needs of young people given the world they will be entering after school. It’s from this vision a school should build its goals.
Aimed at achieving the vision. Based on research & data within the school plus worldwide initiatives and research, the school needs a limited number of annual goals that are realistically manageable and measurable through teacher action. I would recommend about 3 based around pedagogy, tech integration and community collaboration.
This is becoming the norm in New Zealand but some schools are still struggling with implementation. These inquiries are measured and documented teacher or department experiments with teaching practice.
The key here is that teachers:
- Consider the school goals
- decide on something they can experiment with to improve outcomes (Student surveys can offer teachers ideas)
- Collate data or carry out surveys with the students to gage current status regarding the targeted improvement.
- record / blog the experiment
- Compare results at the end and evaluate to decide the next steps
- repeat forever!
There might not be “an app for that” when it comes to the chosen strategy experiment but I am sure technology can assist in some way. This might be in how communication takes place, recording results (Socrative survey) or just a useful website not used before. Technology can make things more interactive, more personal and more efficient. I would talk to you technically minded colleagues to see if what you are trying could be assisted by technology.
If PD is centred on aiding the specific inquiry that the teacher has chosen themselves, there’s naturally more relevance and meaning and so more engagement by the teacher in question. Often schools provide or issue so much generic PD for all staff that strategies don’t embed because too many staff fail to engage meaningfully. This way, the teachers feel in control of their own development and can even work in teams to experiment with the making new strategies work for the students. There’s much talk online about student-centred learning, well we now need to ensure personalised teacher-centred PD too.
This is the important bit. One issue here is that the evaluation should never be carried out alone. Students or other teachers should be involved in analysing results or offering suggestions as to whether improvements of any kind have been achieved and what still requires further inquiry. If possible, good data should be used and class surveys be carried out to ascertain which aspects of the strategy should be worked on and which dropped.
In New Zealand we have to provide a portfolio of evidence every 3 years to renew our teacher registration (eligibility to teach in NZ). This is expected to include an inquiry and in doing so fulfils many of the 12 professional standards that NZ teachers are held to by the government. By working through this SITTI model, a school can be sure that awareness of vision and goals, teacher research and inquiry, collaborative working environments, teacher registration / professional practice and steady school improvements will all be more successful. Presenting it in one model also makes the 6 components make more sense and connect all the activities into one process.
I hope this helps teachers worldwide but particularly in New Zealand. Many of these issues are becoming more problematic as schools develop and modernise expectations of teachers to not only use technology but also connect and show more awareness of their profession and be more transparent regarding the work they do in the classroom.