Teacher Self Reflection Tools: a double edged sword

I have been pleasantly surprised with the work the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has undertaken to develop a number of seemingly high quality, well tested and useful self reflection and learning tools for teachers to support AITSL’s core work of building the capacity of teachers and school leaders. For example The 360 student feedback tools[1] the teacher standards illustrations of practice[2] and the teacher self assessment[3] tools all have real potential to be useful for teachers who are taking responsibility for their own learning and development in schools that support and encourage collaboration, mentoring and peer support.

In fact I would like to suggest that the work of AITSL has the potential to be a very important counter point to all the US borrowed corporate reforms represented by NAPLAN, Performance pay and all the rest.

But to be effective the work of AITS needs to be able to stand apart from all the less worthy reforms.  The self-reflective tools are a very good example of these challenges. If they can be kept apart from the evaluation, performance management tendencies of corporate reform and be quarantined for the use by teachers and their schools for authentic professional learning, they have the potential to be very significant tools for building collective teacher capacity.

If however they are captured to be used as part of the new performance management practices that are being imposed on teachers, all the wonderful work involved in developing them will go down the toilet.

Anthony Cody talks about these same tensions in the US context.  In a recent blog[4] he responds to a Bill Gate TEDX talk on the value of videos in classrooms. According to Cody, Bill Gates rationale for promoting video cameras in schools goes as follow

… there’s one group of people that get almost no systematic feedback to help them do their jobs better. Until recently, 98% of teachers just got one word of feedback: “satisfactory.” Today, districts are revamping the way they evaluate teachers. But we still give them almost no feedback that actually helps them improve their practice. Our teachers deserve better. The system we have today isn’t fair to them. It’s not fair to students, and it’s putting America’s global leadership at risk.

Cody notes that Gates slides from feedback to evaluation without pause as though they are one and the same.

Do you notice something? He starts out talking about feedback, but then slides into describing a formal evaluation process. There are LOTS of ways to enhance feedback that could have nothing at all to do with our evaluation systems ….

They are not.  There is a world of difference between:

  • Professional learning:  as teachers working together, observing each others practice; using tools that give them information about their practice for them to use as they see fit; reflecting on their practice alone or in teams; trialling changes; reflecting; and giving mutual feedback; and
  • Performance review: where external parties apply standards to an assessment of practice

The problem is that as soon as a tool is captured for use for the second purpose – performance review – the less likely it is that teachers will trust it and see it as useful.

But this slide happens all the time.  And we are in danger of this happening with the tools developed by AITSL.  This is because we are focusing on the wrong things.  The Commonwealth Government tells us that what we need is a national best practice performance management framework and high quality tools.

Linda Darling Hammond on the other had argues that it is not a good framework that is lacking.  Rather what we lack, is time – time in schools for teachers to collaborate, to work with others to reflect on their practice and a culture where this is expected not as a fearful evaluation process but as an integral part of professional development

As I see it the work of AITSL could go either way and I just hope that it is possible to corral some of the best of their work and make sure it is not captured to serve the performativity agenda, For as Anthony Cody says:

Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility, waiting for the right conditions to come about. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life.

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