Thursday, 5 February 2009

Great Teachers need great leadership

My last entry mentioned building teacher excellence. And this week a TEDTalk by Bill Gates talked exactly about that! You can check out what he says through the TED Fellows 2009 blog

What Bill Gates is talking about is how important great teachers are. As he says in his Annual Letter on US Education 2009 "it is actually more important to get him [the student] assigned to a great teacher than to a great school." It is the role of schools and school leaders to develop good teachers and that is why we should be focussing on really supporting schools - financially and through strong professional learning. He emphasises the importance of building a strong school culture, of having high expectations of staff and students and providing challenging work. The schools that are making the biggest difference are those that focus on supporting teachers to be effective in the classroom. And that is the role of leadership. He comments:
...we believe improving education is the key to retaining our position of world leadership in all areas, including starting great businesses and doing innovative research.
In other words education is fundamentally important, especially as we move through difficult times. We must replicate what works best (which implies a need to analyse what does work best first!), and find innovative ways of leading staff in their own learning. Bureaucratic rules that get in the way of effective teaching need to be removed. Compliance deadens creativity. Even unions can get in the way of change. And poor principal development can stymy the growth of powerful learning communities.

Technology, the easy access of information and the greater ability to collaborate have helped leaders and teachers to learn from each other and to teach in creative ways. This networked environment is crucial in moving schools order to move teachers forward. It is interesting to note, in the NZ context, that the Ministry of Education seem to be placing less emphasis on the use of technology or the future focus of student needs. Currently teachers are provided with laptops and free license agreements to use key software. If the NZ Ministry of Education, as is rumoured, withdraws these supports we will be taking a step into the dark ages and the whole idea of preparing students for the future will have another barrier put in its way. What does that say about building our position in world leadership?

And if you want to see Bill Gates TEDTalk - here it is hot off the press!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

How should high performing teachers be recognised?

We have some great teachers in schools, but let's face it we also have some mediocre ones. So how should teachers be 'rewarded' for excellence and what would 'excellence' look like?

Many companies have a component of their salary that is 'at risk', depending on performance. My experience with this is that it doesn't necessarily make a difference to performance and indicators are often inexact and based on linear thinking. Even companies that focus on a quadruple bottom line fdo not always identify what makes a difference. Internationally, organisations have typically bowed to CEOs by supporting large bonuses for dubious success. This has led to a breed of business executives who are greedy, self serving and sometimes dishonest. Is this the model we would want in our schools? Do we want individuals to focus on the team or on themselves? It is an interesting debate and one that I do not have an answer for.

There is no doubt however, that we need to manage talent more powerfully in order to maintain the great teacher leaders in the profession. I recently conducted a survey on twtpoll asking how great teachers should be recognised. Although the sample is small it makes for interesting reading.

People do want recognition. They do need to feel valued by the organisation and to feel that they are listened to. With an increasingly diverse workforce employers do need to be more flexible, be open to different work combinations and provide for the ongoing learning of staff. If principals, and other organisational leaders, don't get this right they may find themselves with disengaged staff or those whose performance is questionable. In difficult times it is even more important that we keep our staff growing and building their skills.

Some schools would say they need to focus on the development of the team more than the individual and I do support the need to build a strong professional learning community. As well though (not instead of), schools need to think differently about growing staff. Maybe there is more opportunity for staff to be individual contractors and being paid accordingly. Or is it time to work hard to support all teachers to be of an exceptional standard? And to suggest that some teachers might be better suited to other occupations? In my book teachers are role models who make a difference to students - either positively or negatively - and all teachers need to be competent leaders of themselves and others. Principals must provide strong professional learning opportunities, confront poor performance and develop leadership in others. Or get out of the way of the future.