What are the teachers discussing in your school?
My 15 years of working in schools tells me that high school teachers talk firstly about non school issues, secondly about problems with the school administration and thirdly about current progress on the course calendars. Talking about non-school matters is fine as we are only human after all . The other 2 common topics for teacher discourse not only trouble me but also worry education supremo, John Hattie. Here you can hear him discuss a number of issues central to improving education but mainly that quality teacher collaboration within schools is what really drives change for the better.
When it comes to talking about education and learning, most teachers still focus on content and one’s progress through it. A focus on content means that many teachers see themselves as subject first and teacher second. For example, Math teachers will discuss students’ handling of Math topics far more than their own teaching of it. Teachers often assume that their colleagues teaching practice is either something they’re not to concern themselves with or something they can do little about.
Many schools have little in the way of successful systems for encouraging professional dialogue amongst staff and this leaves leaders frequently assuming that tolerating whatever practice is in place is probably safer that tackling it. This is so because most senior leaders feel it should be their job to instigate improvements directly and doing this without treading on toes is difficult. This leaves many elementary school teachers isolated to do their own thing in their room and most high school teachers to only worry about the delivery of their subject content. Photo Credit
The problem that arises when staff become isolated inside what they assume is their only relevant grouping is that the teachers fail to understand themselves as a profession with shared objectives and similar problems to solve. When I talk to teachers in other schools, or other departments, the issues we face are essentially identical and having these discussions always makes me reflect on my teaching practice and pedagogy and less about the content I might be dealing with.
Schools must look to increase the quantity and quality of cross-school teacher discussion. There must be encouragement for challenging one’s own assumptions. Most humans are selective when focusing on evidence that backs up their preconceived ideas and schools must start a dialogue that takes this into account. Only when school leaders and teachers (as classroom leaders) present their ideas as possibilities instead of absolutes can real progress be made in learning.
Filling a void
There is a growing number of teachers finding professional growth and dialogue outside their own school environment and with what seems like a faster pace of life, use the various online networks like Twitter as a more convenient way to continue professional discussion, many claiming it greatly re-energises their work life. This is often because they are not experiencing this within their school. These teachers then evaluate their own practice against the ideas presented by their network. This can only lead to better teaching and learning and this self-evaluation is what’s lacking in more fragmented schools where departments or individuals are left to work things out alone. Photo Credit
Challenging one’s own beliefs and practices is what many teachers still struggle with. Opening up to dialogue around these issues is difficult for some as it presents the possibility of being wrong or in many cases openly accepting the failures one secretly knows already exist. An encouraging and supportive school environment can change this. Teachers can start to see the benefit of general professional debate about how to move forward and both cope with a rapidly changing world and make direct improvements in their own classrooms. Please start talking about teaching and do it with teachers who are not in your normal discussion circles. Set up systems within the school that are centred around general teaching issues such as boys education, differentiation, technology integration and the like. Photo Credit
School practices should encourage the behaviour in teachers that we hope for in children. Good luck!