Teacher appraisal is a fairly hot topic at the moment.
Figuring out how best to appraise a teacher’s skills and how best to improve those skills have been on the ‘to do’ list in schools I’ve worked in for virtually my entire career.
Many of us have undergone the annual ‘chat’ with our Principals. Nervous anticipation in advance of the chat subsided into a sigh of relief to see the signed document acknowledging strengths and weaknesses quietly filed away ready for retrieval the following year for a repeat performance. I’ve also been involved in the ‘buddy system’ in which my partner and I had to critique each other. This was a more private, non-documented affair, and because we were able to choose our own partners, it was far less ‘threatening’. Then of course, a long, long time ago, there were the mandatory observations made by ‘Inspectors’. My first experience, as a very young and inexperienced teacher, was high up on the ‘feeling threatened’ scale. Nervous shaking was hard to control, but like others before me, I survived, and somewhere or other I have written proof that I was on some occasions an OK teacher with a stamp of ‘satisfactory’ and other times revelled at being categorized as an ‘excellent teacher’. Never though did I have an understanding of what it was that distinguished me as either ‘satisfactory’ or ‘excellent’.
Sytems come and systems go. But have any of these systems had an impact on improving the outcomes so that we have better skilled teachers or better student achievement?
Bill Gates is one who thinks that not much has changed at all and in fact suggests that the low ranking of the US in all three indicators of reading, science and maths could be a direct result of the lack of systematic feedback to teachers about their performance. In a TED Video published last May, he talks at length about those very frightening stats which I recently blogged about: Frightening stats about reading! Stating the obvious – everyone needs feedback to improve – Gates raises pertinent questions. If you don’t get useful, systematic feedback
- how do you know who is the best?
- how do you know what to do differently?
- what helps teachers improve their practice?
To try and make a difference, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation took a look at the 14 countries that did better in reading than the US. Of these 14 countries, 11 have formal systems in place to help teachers improve their teaching practice. The overall best academic performer, Shanghai in China, which ranks number one in reading, maths and science has specific strategies in place:
- younger teachers get to watch master teachers at work
- weekly study groups in which teachers talk about what works best
- teachers have to observe and give feedback to their colleagues
In a study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called “Measures of Effective Teaching Project” (MET Project) involving over 3,000 teachers across the country, observers watched videos of teachers in the classroom and ranked them on a range of measures such as did the teachers ask students challenging questions and did they find multiple ways to explain ideas to their students. They also had students complete surveys questioning whether the teacher knows when the class understands a lesson and whether students learn to correct their mistakes. The final research report released in January 2013, incorporates an interesting paper: MET Project: Feedback for Better Teaching,
Many of the questions raised by Bill Gates in this talk as well as issues focused on in the MET Project are valid, relevant and give pause for further thought and consideration. Take ten minutes to have a listen.
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