First, Do No Harm !

These are the opening words of the Hippocratic Oath, sworn solemnly by every new entrant to the medical profession and taken very seriously as a cornerstone of their profession.

Teachers’ Day in India should be a time for us to evaluate our profession, what it does and (most importantly) how it could do it better.

As an offering to that introspection process, here are a few things to read;

a) This is an article from an Assistant Professor from Utah State University. It sets out the case for a Hippocratic Oath in the education profession – a focus on each individual student, instead of how we process them as batches and cohorts:
Education Week Article: Do No Harm

b) A Hippocratic Oath for educators is something I’ve been advocating for a long time. The earliest reference I could locate here on the blog was from an article I wrote about teacher standards in 2010:
Blog – That Teacher Performance Issue

c) I set out my thoughts on the need for such an Oath in more detail this time last year:
Blog – Teachers’ Day 2013 Article

So, whilst there’s nothing wrong with raising a toast to our profession and celebrating on this day, let’s also ensure that we use the occasion for a little introspection about where we want it to go in the future.

The Gates Foundation’s Approach on Teacher Assessment

In the last article posted I highlighted the research being done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in to the issues of how to assess teacher performance effectively and fairly, in order to bring about improvements in teaching standards.

This New York Times article contains a very good summary of the research they’re doing and their approach/ aims and objectives:

New York Times article

Teacher Performance & Assessment

Here’s another article looking at the options open for mechanisms to monitor teachers’ performance, to work on teacher motivation and raise standards of education.

Business Standard – Motivating Teachers

The article highlights just how difficult it can be to create systems for performance management for teachers without, inadvertently, causing undesirable outcomes. The writer correctly identifies that a system that sees more testing of children just to assess the teacher is fraught with difficulties and potential injustices.

As I was reading it, I recognised that this has a link to a wider concern that I have been feeling for some time. The way school education systems today are structured and designed, we have millions of people working towards objectives that are almost certainly the wrong objectives. What I mean by this is the following.

Suppose I am a ‘very good’ teacher, with the result that every year the children in my class perform well above the mean for children of their age in the standardised tests which have been set for them. What does that actually mean? Does it mean that I have done something that fully equates to and reflects the bigger purpose(s) of school education?

In fact, can you really know when a child is 9 years of age and you have interacted with her and her peers for one year that you have done right by her as an educator? What about, for example, if somewhere, the teacher when teaching Maths planted a seed in the minds of a few of the children that a topic they are going to learn later is very difficult and some of them will struggle with it? What if, unconsciously, the teacher conveyed certain messages to both boys and girls in the class about expectations of the kinds of careers that women should pursue, with the result that future decisions and attitudes were negatively impacted. On the positive side, what if a teacher was able to counteract a negative attitude in a child brought about by a home environment marked by negative criticism, with the result that that child was able to break out of a family cycle of failure and disillusionment?

None of those outcomes would have left ‘marks in the sand’ at the time when the teacher was working with those children. The outcomes of what teachers do with children, positive and negative, can sometimes take years to manifest. It is bad enough that our education systems already motivate teachers towards short-term thinking and goals, because the systems themselves discourage them to think beyond the time within which they are to fulfill their duties in relation to that child.

I was once speaking at a conference of English teachers. I asked them to put their hand up (honestly), if they had ever said or thought “Well I taught them it, it’s not my fault if they don’t know it.” Every hand in the room went up with much embarrassed laughter. Somewhere, education systems need to address the fact that the child is ‘in it for the long haul’ and needs certain outcomes which are life based. A system in which the teachers have outcomes based solely and purely on a one year time frame cannot be sure to meet those longer term aims – even accidentally!!

So, is it time for some out of the box thinking? A few countries have experimented with having teachers stay with one class of students for two or more years (at least some longer term perspective coming in to the child’s experience). Or, do we say that it’s the task of school management to make sure that what teachers are doing serves the long term needs of the learners (even whilst rewarding their short term actions)? Do we give parents a bigger say, on the basis that they (of all people) should be most attuned and aligned to the child’s long term needs?

Would be great to have people’s views and thoughts on this.

Measuring Performance of Schools & Teachers

I’ve carried a few articles already here on the blog, particularly about what’s happening in the US with regard to the strong drive to be able to measure and report performance of schools and individual teachers.

Here’s an article relating to the UK response to the same issue and some of the differing opinions about the route being taken.

BBC Article

I would share the concern that paper qualifications is pretty meaningless information. My guess is that there’s a far higher proportion of masters and even PhD holders in Indian schools than British ones, but that tells us nothing about relative quality of teaching delivered.

I certainly get concerned when the perceived need for checking/ monitoring of schools or teachers leads to testing of children that has little or nothing positive to add to their process of learning and development.

Plainly this is a debate that will continue to run.

Teacher Accountability & Performance

Here’s a follow up to some earlier articles I’ve shared on this blog around the issues of assessing teachers’ performance and how to create school climates and culture that promote excellence in teaching.

Earlier articles:
What Motivates Top Teachers
What Makes a Truly Great Teacher
Evaluating Teacher Performance

This is a new article that questions what is happening in the US right now on this front. There, the new approach is that teachers should be paid according to the results of their children in standardised exams. With, I think, lots of justification there’s a lot of criticism that this will see teachers simply teaching to the test and/ or will not. Cynics and those who doubt would say that, at least they would have some certainty that teachers would be teaching and some focus in their work is better than none.

This article shares an approach which is adopted and taken very seriously in Japan. I have read elsewhere of how seriously the ‘lesson study’ approach is taken. A teacher will put together a lesson which will be observed by (sometimes dozens of) his/ her peers. They will sometimes be the very best and most reputed teachers of that subject from all over the city, not just the observed teacher’s own school. After the lesson has been observed it is debated and discussed in great detail.

The article acknowledges that to introduce such an approach in American schools would require a fairly significant culture change and similar would be the case in India. Teachers would have to be willing to open up their work to expose it to the critique of their peers . They would need to be comfortable with sharing frank feedback with peers in a spirit of professional growth. They would also need to be willing to focus upon school-wide quality of teaching, looking beyond their own individual perspective.

What could make this attractive to teachers is that if the desire is to be for accountability then this is far more attractive and less intimidating than the alternatives.

Student Voice – Cautionary Tales

A couple of weeks ago I put an article on the blog about ‘student voice’. Strangely, whilst there’s been quite a lot of interest and comments online and offline – nothing has come to me from students!!

Maybe they prefer to go in for expressing their views a little less directly?

Here’s an article from Telegraph newspaper in England which highlights what can go wrong if attempts to increase student voice are done with inadequate forethought.

Telegraph Article

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