Evaluating Teaching Not Teachers by @beautifullyfra1

How Did We Get Here?

I have never been someone to make excuses or not have the very highest aspirations and expectations for teachers and students.  I have also never thought that these aspirations and expectations are realised by measurements.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Jennie Giovanelli and published with kind permission.

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In 2010, I developed a cycle within school that did not base the evaluation of the quality of teaching on lesson observations alone.  At the time, this was a significant shift from previous school policy, and also from a lot of other schools I knew.  Over the last 5 years, this cycle has ebbed and flowed with the removal of lesson observation grades taking place a few years ago.  It used to be my biggest frustration that schools didn’t believe it possible to make informed statements and judgements about the quality of teaching without lesson observation grades, and the preoccupation with ‘having to have something to show Ofsted’ seemed absolutely the wrong way round to me.

But it wasn’t until @benbainessle joined our team, and we created our evaluating teaching not teachers cycle, that I finally feel I have squared the circle.  Prior to this, the model was fit for purpose, it was welcomed by staff, and it was driven by my core beliefs:

But it still wasn’t quite right.  It still seemed to be masquerading – whilst it was not driven by measurement, it still didn’t feel ‘authentic’.  Whilst we are only at the start of our evaluating teaching journey, I am convinced this is what I have been looking for.

The Catalyst

Leverage Leadership was one of those books you read that transforms the way you think about things. Having led learning and teaching, I was always the biggest advocate that the very best way to improve outcomes for students was by implementing a coaching model which focused on giving teachers regular, bite-sized feedback. Imagine my surprise when I found myself reading that the content of my very vocal soap-box was questioned. And that there were credible arguments that it was, in fact, data-driven instruction which would have the biggest impact on student outcomes. I subsequently read and saw the term data-led instruction changed to data-informed instruction and this sits much more comfortably with me. Data gives you no answers and as soon as we take the data as absolute, we sacrifice in my view, everything that is important in education. Data is just the starting point and we have worked hard with staff over the last couple of years to get them to view data as a check for the effectiveness of teaching strategies and approaches that they have already implemented, rather than as a catalyst for starting actions. It is our job as leaders to question the data and look to find the story behind this before we make any rash, uninformed decisions.

@LeadingLearner has written here about how his school teams have adapted the principles outlined in Leverage Leadership.

Data and Feedback Informed Teaching and Learning

We have adopted a slightly different approach.

Principles of the Model

The principles behind our evaluating teaching cycle are straightforward:

  • We are evaluating the quality of teaching NOT teachers. There is a subtle but important difference.
  • It is a flawed methodology to arbitrarily judge the quality of teachers through lesson observations.
  • The best schools promote a collaborative and shared commitment to improving outcomes for students.
  • There is no prescriptive approach to quality teaching – what’s good is what works.
  • Data is merely the starting point – it gives no answers, just generates hypotheses.
  • The most important aspect of any evaluation cycle is the input – the quality and personalisation of research, actions, and strategies which recognise that different approaches work differently for different teachers, departments and students.

The Cycle

These principles led to @benbainessle and I designing the following cycle as our methodology for both evaluating and improving the quality of teaching:

Data Collection

This is just the start (or once the cycle is implemented – the checking process!). This is not the post to discuss the process we go through to collect data, but needless to say it has been through a process to ensure that it is meaningful and robust. For us, this is just summative data and we do not pretend for it to be anything other than this. @benbainessle has written here about how we are using PLCs and grain-sized data as the most important form of assessment to inform teaching for students.

Key Questions

This data forms the basis for Directors of Learning and SLT line managers to draw hypotheses from:

  • What are the trends for key groups across the subjects?
  • How are the students performing in relation to their prior attainment?
  • Is there a difference between performance at key stages?
  • Is there in-subject variation?
  • Where is there good practice?

Cause and Effect

Our Directors of Learning are constantly evaluating the quality of their department’s work, but following the generation of the hypotheses from the data collection, we have a consistent review week across the school to allow for quality assurance, and joint work between middle and senior leaders, to ‘test’ these hypotheses. If the data is suggesting, for example, that in Year 8 maths the high prior attainment disadvantaged students are underperforming in comparison to the advantaged students, we will make this a focus for further investigation on top of our everyday evaluation. We will visit lessons, look at schemes of learning, look at books, talk to the students, look at parental engagement, compare attainment of these students in maths with other subjects and so on.

Once we have interrogated the data and our initial hypotheses, we discuss as a department team, and as a team of middle leaders, what our priorities are as a whole school, as well as highlighting any in-school variation. I am a fan of Patrick Lencioni and we have “if everything is important, than nothing is” displayed throughout the school. Whilst there are inevitably going to be nuances within departments, for maximum impact we know we need to identify the common strands.

Making the Difference

Once these have been identified, we move to the most important part of our cycle – how we use what we know to ‘productively tinker’ with our practice. We tackle this from both a teacher and student perspective. Some of the strategies we have found effective for us can be seen here:

The work now really begins and students, teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders work together to implement the actions with an emphasis on shared ownership and collaboration. Our data scrutiny meetings have completely changed emphasis. Rather than focusing on the numbers, they are instead driven by a discussion and commitment to the changes that will take place in the classroom in schemes of learning, teaching approaches, assessment approaches and department work. Our SLT leads for data, and learning and teaching are present – the two cannot be separated. @benbainessle often says his destiny is intertwined with that of @RhiLlGant.

The next data collection is then an opportunity to ‘temperature check’ the impact of the work we have been undertaking. And so the cycle begins again – in all likelihood, we will need to continue with what we are already doing as sustainable improvements don’t happen overnight, but ‘checking in’ allows us to track progress against priorities and alert us to anything else which may need investigating.

But what about?

The concept of the cycle was welcomed unanimously by Directors of Learning, and their input into how the cycle would work in practice led to some effective changes to our initial thoughts. Unsurprisingly for them, the collaborative approach was the most important aspect.

It is worth noting though that this is not a ‘soft’ option – this model does not excuse under-performance. And whilst I wrote here about my view of accountability, my driving belief is that I want all teachers to be teachers who I would be happy to teach my own children. So, this model is not one which precludes tackling and addressing individual underperformance. Nor is it only during ‘review’ weeks that teaching is evaluated. We all know that you don’t need an observation or a data collection to tell you that a teacher is not performing. If at any points, there are concerns, these are raised and addressed in the appropriate way.

And whilst I would hope nothing I do is driven by Ofsted, I am not naïve to these pressures.   I have every confidence that when we are next inspected, our approach to evaluating teaching – with not a single grading of a teacher in sight – will be welcomed. In fact, I won’t allow it to be up for discussion.

Next steps

Alongside trialling and refining this cycle, @benbainessle is also currently working on a teacher PLC which we will use to forensically identify where we have areas of strength in terms of pedagogy, and where we need to do further work at both a teacher, department and whole school level. I am excited about the potential of this and again, this has been welcomed by staff. I know he intends to blog about it in the near future and I would definitely recommend looking out for it if you are a senior or middle leader.

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