As a researcher for our school leader service specialising in curriculum and learning, I’ve looked a fair bit into developing teaching practice, but I still find myself asking: How can school leaders encourage good teaching? To help answer that, I’ve started local by gathering opinions at our office at The Key. Add your views below or by tweeting @TheKeySL using the hashtag #keyinsights.
Asking around my team, I found everyone agreed that schools need to be able to manage the performance of teachers, but some were more cautious than others.
Will, a former secondary teacher, made the point that when it comes to teaching, defining ‘underperforming’ is a minefield. Children’s progress, particularly in the early years, is not necessarily steady, so measuring teachers’ performance against pupil outcomes alone can be misleading.
Classes also vary, so a teacher may be doing sterling work with a particular class, but still seem relatively unsuccessful against national standards. For this reason, the best way for leadership teams to set their performance management targets is to use flexibility, close understanding of pupils, and professional judgement, rather than use standardised assessment of a teacher’s ability using data
Our partnerships manager, Nicola, also drew on her teaching experience – in a primary school with a strong focus on collaborative learning. In Nicola’s school, the careful planning and formal co-operation needed for this approach weren’t popular with all staff members, but the results were impressive, and she stands by the tough performance management put in place so the whole school pulled together.
When a school’s ethos, principles and processes have been developed by senior leaders working closely with staff, a teacher who doesn’t toe the line can undermine the efforts of the rest of the staff. There ought to be consequences to this, Nicola said.
With collaboration to the fore, Nicola’s school was particularly reliant on a tight-knit staff team. In other schools, particularly big secondaries with their wide range of teaching styles used by different teachers, this kind of firm line may not be needed, she said.
While I was making a round of tea, researchers Jess and Elaine chimed in to the discussion, pointing out that if performance management really aims to improve performance, the best way to do that is to tell teachers how to improve. Jess told a horror story about a headteacher refusing to grade a teacher outstanding on a school’s performance management system, despite all of her colleagues recommending this. Of course, the teacher wanted to know what she would have to do to get to where she wanted to be, but the head couldn’t suggest any steps to improve her performance. Without that commitment to support and continuing professional development, performance management can become a rather cruel exercise. New teachers, in particular, will be motivated by being given clear steps to improve, and will burn out quickly without these.
All of my colleagues agreed that professional support for teachers was more important than being punished or rewarded. At the same time, we all wanted to see more sharing of excellent practice as a way of motivating teachers.
Two thirds of those who responded to our recent survey of school leaders said morale in the teaching profession is poor. So let’s do our bit to help by celebrating the good teachers out there, to encourage their development and to inspire others.