In What Works Best In Education: The Power of Collaborative Expertise, John Hattie writes,
If we are to truly improve student learning, it is vital that we identify the most important barrier to such improvement. And that barrier is the effect of within-school variability on learning. The variability between schools in most Western countries is far smaller than the variability within schools (Hattie 2015). For example, the 2009 PISA results for reading across all OECD countries shows that the variability between schools is 36 per cent, while the variance within schools is 64 per cent (OECD 2010).
For full disclosure I work with Hattie as a Visible Learning Trainer.
Within school variability is not only the area of concern, but the area that instructional leaders can have the biggest impact. Every school has teachers who excel at student engagement and others who struggle with being innovative in that area. Looking at the issue of within school variability is not about who is doing well and who is failing, but it may have something to do with the level of efficacy they feel in their profession, which is why instructional leadership is so important.
How we can all come together to grow as professionals in our individual buildings?
In her doctoral dissertation focusing on collective efficacy, Rachel Eells writes,
Teachers differ in efficacy levels, and the differences show up in teacher behaviors and student performance; that efficacy beliefs are not permanent and they can be influenced from without, by a variety of forces; and that feelings of efficacy can be difficult to maintain (Ashton & Webb, 1986). Efficacy is "negotiated daily" (Ashton et al., 1984, p. 380) and can be either threatened or supported by contextual factors. Efficacy is related to achievement, positive classroom climate, organizational structures, and high academic expectations (Ashton et al., 1984).
According to Eells, “Together, people can accomplish that which one person cannot. Social action depends on the belief that a group can effect change. Collective efficacy helps people realize their shared destiny, enabling agency at the group level” (2001. p. 51).
Bringing teachers of varying abilities from the building together to focus on one area at a time is a great method for trying to lower the within school variability in schools. One way to do that is through flipping faculty meetings.
Faculty Meetings - Co-construct ideas with staff that they want to learn more about. Use data or evidence to help guide in that process. Instructional leaders find articles, blogs, podcasts or videos that will help them with the area of focus. Leaders should send one of those resources out a week (or 3 days) before the faculty meeting (flip!) so teachers can view or read them and come prepared to the meeting. Some areas to focus on:
- Move from a sole focus on grades and moving toward providing effective feedback to students.
- Find articles, blogs and videos that focus on the process and send it them out to staff with 3 questions to focus on.
- Ask staff to bring examples of their feedback that they provide to students. Look for commonalities and model practices.
Want another focus for faculty meetings?
- What about the number of positive vs. negative interactions between a teacher and a student.
- Look at the level of questioning that happens in classrooms. Are the questions more surface or deep?
- How about looking at the number of times teachers ask questions rather than the number of questions students ask?
- The growth mindset is an area that teachers are interested in but many times the growth mindset doesn’t work, which you can read more about here. Why not use a form from Jim Knight, which are available from the link I provided above, and use a video from the teaching channel to focus on how many times statements from teachers focus on growth as opposed to those that focus on fixed mindsets.
- Use a Teaching Channel video first because it’s easier to critique someone we don’t know. It also allows us to get used to observing growth vs. fixed mindset statements. Then, encourage those teachers interested in going deeper to use this as a small focus for their goal setting requirements as part of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). This is also a great time to encourage teachers to film themselves teaching.
The point of the flipped faculty meeting is to inspire dialogue among teachers, and because the areas that faculty focus on require open dialogue, it also means that the school climate would be safe and supportive. Without a positive school climate, many teachers will not feel as though they can be open and honest.
Many times when it comes to areas of growth, people (teachers, principals, independent consultants, etc.) do not always know where to begin. Flipping requires instructional leaders to find areas that teachers may not think about as an area of concern.
According to Otto Scharmer we all have a blind spot. It’s an area we don’t see because we can’t. It’s why having instructional coaches or critical friends is important to our growth...and yes, I’m referring to the growth of school leaders as well (and independent consultants!). Some of the examples from above are areas we don’t necessarily think about as areas of focus.
Flipping faculty meetings is about focusing on our learning, as well as, the learning of our students. In these times when we are still hit with heavy mandates, accountability measures, and high stakes testing woes we do not always feel as though we have time to take on anything new. The reality is that the faculty meeting is the one area where teachers and leaders have some sort of control over the dialogue.
Co-construct those areas of focus together, build teacher efficacy, and work to minimize within-school variability.
Connect with Peter on Twitter.
For more on flipped faculty meetings, check out this video created by Bob Greenberg.
More resources about flipping:
Flip Your Leadership (NAESP)
The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.