- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
Teachers and Teaching
Workplaces for learning
Dahle Suggett discusses a change management program in Victorian government schools specifically designed to build an organisational culture to support teachers as professionals.
There are many avenues to school improvement. The one that has the most direct impact on student learning outcomes is the quality of teaching but it is only recently that schools and systems have identified the need for an integrated set of workforce development strategies.
The ‘Performance and Development Culture’ program did not derive from a conventional focus on how schools do their work. The organisation of a school is surprisingly similar to workplaces in other government and private sector organisations that comprise professionals whose core business is knowledge and people. But schools are relatively late in coming to see the workplace culture as a site for reform. Many commercial and government sector organisations are also engaged in transforming the culture of their workplaces so as to ensure improved productivity and better outcomes overall. A high performance workplace is a central feature of any organisation’s strategy to be successful in the 21st century, so why not include schools in this endeavour?
This article is a brief account of the Performance and Development Culture accreditation scheme introduced in 2005 in Victorian government schools as part of the Blueprint for Government Schools reform.
Changing workplaces in the global knowledge economy
At a recent education forum in Shanghai for IBM, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School, talked about the extraordinary changes in business organisations over the past five years and how schools might learn from these changes. Value is now being created though intangible assets, such as the capacity to innovate and be flexible in adapting to changed requirements, and through networks. Networks are vital for business organisations to grow and improve but whereas they were previously about technology they are now also about highly autonomous and flexible individuals spreading information and ideas and finding solutions in different ways and combinations. She stresses the skills needed for this environment are those that deal with concepts and relationships, transparency and interconnectedness as well as broad technical competencies.
Peter Drucker, in writing about organisations in the 21st century, said that hierarchies and predictable entities in working life will increasingly dissolve. He proposed that managers who talk about people who report to them will be outdated in a more flexible and information rich environment. You will no longer talk about ‘managing’ staff or subordinates but rather talk about success requiring access to information to complete a job, the different kinds of relationships a job requires, how work is outsourced to specialist designers and so on. This is an environment where individuals will be taking more responsibility for themselves and where information will replace authority.
Research over the past decade in Australia and elsewhere has consistently shown that successful and sustainable organisations are those that are not only operationally effective—get the job done—but also engage and develop the commitment and creativity of the people that make up the organisation. These are also the places where people want to work.
Is this organisational thinking relevant to schools?
Box 1 below summarises some of the attributes of high performance workplaces for the knowledge economy that should also apply to schools.
- Evidence of innovation and creativity
- A sense of workforce cohesion
- Flexible attitudes and workplace practices
- Values aligned with behaviour
- ‘Can do’ attitudes
- Self-management and professional capability building
- Teamwork and leadership
- Advocacy for change and improvement
Box 1: High performance workplaces— key features
Creating a Performance and Development Culture in schools
This Performance and Development Culture reform takes these ideas about a high performance workplace and develops a road map for schools. It broadens the thinking about school improvement as it focuses on reforming those school workforce and organisational practices that have the greatest potential for substantially improving teaching and learning practices within classrooms.
The scheme is based on the understanding that, in order to take the next step in improving student learning outcomes, the focus must be on improving how the staff of a school work together, reflect on their teaching practice, innovate and adapt and individually and collectively become accountable for improving their students’ learning outcomes.
It is designed as an accreditation scheme that provides quality assurance for the developmental and management processes in the school that enable teachers to teach as well as they possibly can. The objective is for all government schools in Victoria to be accredited by 2008. It operates as part of a broader set of inter-related strategies for improving leadership and teachers’ capability.
The Performance and Development Culture initiative:
- introduces evidence-based performance improvement through multiple forms of feedback
- ties development plans clearly to performance needs
- shifts the focus of professional development from one-off external activities to ongoing classroom/school focused professional learning
- is inclusive; assumes that all take part as each person plays a part in forming the culture of the school
- clearly identifies the importance of organisational culture in meeting the ultimate goal of improving student outcomes.
The scheme includes a self-assessment process and external verification. Schools use five elements described to map their Performance and Development Culture. (See Box 2.)
|Element 1||Induction for teachers new to the school|
|Element 2||Use of multiple sources of feedback on teacher effectiveness for individual teachers and teams of teachers|
|Element 3||Customised individual teacher development plans based on both individual development needs, student learning and school priorities|
|Element 4||Quality professional development to meet the individual development needs.|
|Element 5||Belief by teachers that the school has a Performance and Development Culture|
Box 2: Performance and Development Culture Self-Assessment Framework
Induction for teachers
Teaching is a complex and demanding task that a beginning teacher should not be expected to take on without structured support from more experienced practitioners. Appropriate support for beginning teachers not only assists them to be more effective teachers; it also makes their introduction to teaching more rewarding and helps to improve their sense of efficacy. This also focuses on the induction required for experienced teachers who are new to a position, role or school.
Performance improvement and feedback
Data from a variety of sources provides teachers with indicators of their teaching effectiveness. Increasing numbers of schools are designing their own tools, such as student surveys as well as drawing on data on student outcomes, student perceptions and parent satisfaction. What has generally been missing from teacher feedback is regular and informed feedback from peers that comes from structured observation of classroom practice. This, however, is changing as more schools adopt the practice of observing teachers work and giving feedback.
Professional learning needs analysis and planning
Highly effective professional learning moves away from traditional modes of professional development—with features such as external workshops, reliance on experts, separation of training from work—to ensure professional learning that is embedded in practice and includes characteristics such as collaboration, use of evidence, and is ongoing.
Evidence that change is occurring
This provides a check on how effective the school has been in developing the expectation that the school supports individual professional growth and development. It is one thing to have processes in place; it is another to receive endorsement from the staff they are designed to assist. A quality assurance process always looks for evidence of the breadth and depth of implementation. Schools have different ways of approaching the accreditation as a Performance and Development Culture school.
Collecting new data at a regional primary school
Central to this school’s approach is the use of action research. Teachers decide the questions to pursue to gain insight into what is happening in their classrooms. They select a focus, collect, analyse and interpret data, and then take action. To gain professional development funding, action research plans must involve three or more members of staff, seek to improve student outcomes, complement the strategic plan, be completed in terms 2 and 3 with a defined duration, and incorporate the use of student learning or other relevant data.
Peer coaching at a rapidly growing metropolitan secondary college
This rapidly growing school of just under a thousand uses peer coaching as a key element in the process. In an effort to improve both student learning and teacher effectiveness, teacher coaches provide collegial support, in classrooms, to teachers and students through a process of pre-observation conversation, observation and debriefing in a program that is ‘confidential, non-evaluative, flexible, voluntary (but encouraged), based on trust, and focused on observable behaviours’.
Customised performance development plans at a metropolitan primary school
This school has initiated a teacher development program that included aspects such as using a team focus for development plans, a peer-assessment program, professional training in giving and receiving feedback and a tool to assess the impact of this program on student learning over time. All teachers have an explicit development plan linked to both their personal as well as schools’ needs.
This approach to improving the organisational culture of schools is based on the understanding that, in order to take the next step in improving student learning outcomes, the focus must be on improving how the staff of a school work together, reflect on their teaching practice and individually and collectively become accountable for improving their students’ learning outcomes. That is, the ultimate test is the degree to which it contributes to improving student outcomes.
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