Thursday, June 19, 2008

The only way to change your mind.

With the aid of a digital camera a visiting teacher collects 'evidence' of quality teaching ideas. Back at school teachers reflect on the visit and consider what ideas the school might implement.

I have aways believed the best way for a teacher develop ideas is to learn off creative fellow teachers. Inspirational teachers as leaders has been ignored as in recent decades as teacher have been encouraged to implement 'best practice' ideas 'delivered' by contracted advisers.

The way teachers interact with their students during the school day depend on the beliefs they hold about teaching and learning.

All too often the assumptions teachers hold are never questioned making it difficult for teachers to evaluate and accept new ideas.

All learning involves changing ones mind but to do this you must be able to articulate what it is you, and your fellow teachers, believe. Following this an openness to new ideas is vital for any learners future success. Learners who are overwhelmed with imposed expectations, or fear failing, easily 'turn' off learning or, in the current terminology, become 'disengaged'.

The best way to change ones mind is to see for yourself what others who are developed exciting ideas. Visiting other schools that have developed worthwhile ideas are by far the best source of inspiration.

For several decades I have had the privilege of taking groups of teachers to observe quality teaching in selected schools in my own area. Such visits involve considerable expense and time and so it is important that schools selected that are worth the visit. There is no point in visiting to see a school that is doing much the same as your own. The schools I choose are ones well known to me that reflect ideas that fit in well with my own beliefs. Obviously there are other schools in our area with things to share but I can only visit schools with confidence that are known to me.

Selecting schools to visit requires some thought so as to be worth the expense. That schools continue to visit schools I am associated with suggests that valuable ideas have been gained.

As mentioned visiting inspirational schools is a far better professional development than implementing imposed 'best practices or' contracts 'delivered' by people who have themselves never put such ideas into practice. Even reading 'best evidence research', cannot match the reality of seeing for yourself creative teachers in action.

This week I watched a group of teachers visit two selected quality teaching and learning schools that I had selected. They had been told about why they might see but it was only when they visited real teachers, with real students, that the ideas became exciting.

The foyers of both schools indicted that something different was in store for them. A short introduction to the school by the principal set the scene but it was the classrooms that made the 'eyes light up'. We visited every classroom to show it was a whole school approach but it was almost impossible to keep the visiting teachers moving as they did their best to absorb, and photograph, what they were experiencing.

Each room visited had the 'wow' factor with quality displays of students research, language and art work. The current class study was an obvious feature of all room each with impressive headings, key questions and finished work. Teacher blackboards were equally impressive with clearly defined tasks, goals and group organisation patterns. With closer observation the visiting teachers were impressed with the quality of students thinking and presentation seen in the individual student books and research charts. What they commented on, in every room, was the 'engagement' of the students.

All the above is the result of clearly thought out school philosophies, or belief system, 'owned' by all teachers.

Such schools are 'philosophy led'. Although they implement the imposed expectations of 'evidence based teaching' and 'best practices' these are secondary to the power of their shared beliefs. Both schools have defined clear expectations in their literacy and numeracy programmes, but they have ensured that such programmes have not 'gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'.

Both schools, while having clearly defined, and owned' shared expectations value the individual creativity of their teachers and students.

Such a visit confirms that it is creative schools and teachers we should be looking towards for developing teacher professionalism, and not taking advice from those distant from the reality of the classroom.

It will be interesting to see what evolves when the teachers return to their own school. One thing is certain, the visit will make a difference.


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to our visit.You are so right about this being a professional development must
Indiana Bob

Bruce said...

Great to hear from you Indiana. Your school is one that I regard highly as creative and well worth a visit by other schools. Look forward to showing you and your team around 'our' schools later this term.

George said...

Seeing other teachers in action, looking at the way they use resources, or interact with students, is a great training opportunity.
At our school we always say "yes" to a request for a teacher to participate on an accreditation visiting team - one week away looking at the complete operation of a school. The big plus for us is that the teacher comes back full of ideas and enthused by what they see.

Bruce said...

Thanks George

Nothing like experiencing somebody's reality to learn about yourself.