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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

The Emperor’s New Clothes: Tales from the Frontline

So the tale goes … the people realised the emperor was parading naked through the streets as the illusion of his fine new clothes was literally seen through.

Photo Credit: elycefeliz via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: elycefeliz via Flickr cc

I know how that emperor felt as just about everything which has been common practice for the past few decades, of my professional life, is being slowly ripped into shreds and consigned to the dustbin of history.

As we work in a name and shame system where someone or something has to be blamed, I’ve decided to blame twitter and the army of bloggers who are sharing their own thoughts and work as well as that of others.  It sometimes feels more comfortable to revert to a familiar World where everyone believes the annual lesson observation is reliable and valid, Ofsted measures a school’s effectiveness, being busy is the same as having impact, progress is linear and performance related pay is the solution to producing great teachers.  This is actually the only World that many teachers and leaders inhabit.  Strength can be found in numbers and great minds think alike … but equally fools seldom differ.

Time to Redress

Getting dressed is difficult when some of your main clothing items have so many holes in them as to essentially render them useless.  Your proverbial is continually exposed.  Or putting it another way, if key story lines have been so totally discredited you can’t stick to the same narrative.  You need a whole new story.

Photo Credit: valerierenee via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: valerierenee via Flickr cc

What might schools and the education system as a whole look like if we were to refashion it: without lesson grades and Ofsted, with performance related pay a distant memory and simply focussed on helping children through the fits and starts of their sometimes erratic learning journey.  It feels to me like an uncomfortable, unfamiliar and disconcerting set of clothes which don’t fit all that well.  If you’re not careful you end up down a cul-de-sac thinking that no-one will care, no-one will go the extra mile, no-one will strive for excellence and that mediocrity will be the order of the day.

No Halfway House

There’s a point at which you have to put your faith in teachers and the people who lead schools and follow the inevitable consequences of your decision.  I think we’ve hit a halfway house at the moment.  We have performance related pay but only after M3, teachers move automatically each year from M1 to M3 before we look at three year’s evidence of their work and then from M4 to M6.

We now look at a series of lessons over time and try to give feedback to teachers against a set of agreed criteria with triangulation against the whole class’ progress.  We’ve set up a mechanism to gather data on each teacher’s strengths and one or two areas they would like to focus on improving in the year ahead.  By linking teachers with strengths in a given area to those who want to improve that area, through coaching or professional instruction, we hope to help everyone take the next step in their professional learning journey.

The discussion about life after levels is causing significant reflection on whether we are collecting the right data at the right time – the conclusion is that we are not.  We need to stop aggregating data to a single figure or letter so often and start identifying precisely what each child does or doesn’t know then teach to their gap in knowledge.

Photo Credit: gexyday via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: gexyday via Flickr cc

It is challenging working in a counter-cultural way but sometimes you need to totally commit.  There’s no halfway house and we’ve much more work to do.  What would happen if we ditched performance related pay altogether, only used lesson observations formatively with weekly rather than annual feedback and collected student progress data once or twice a year?  The thought makes me smile.

Twitter can be an uncomfortable bubble to visit and spend any time in.  Many things you believe and hold true are almost certain to be challenged by someone.  Keep your wits about you as some are like the tailors in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes selling you another myth or illusion … however, also keep your mind open as others are holding up a mirror exposing the errors of your ways.

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Please click to share this post

 If you would like to read another Tale from the Frontline, why not try:

The Ugly Duckling, it’s all about teacher development.



One thought on “The Emperor’s New Clothes: Tales from the Frontline

  1. ah……..The Emperor’s New New Clothes

    Posted by Brian | May 26, 2015, 5:38 pm

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