The response to my recent post on supporting teachers’ standards of literacy was overwhelmingly positive, although, as expected, there was also some criticism.
Some of the criticism was directed at my suggested process and several people were unhappy about the use of self-report to audit teacher’s current level of confidence. I acknowledge that self-report is a notoriously unreliable tool for determining what people think and believe – often respondents simply answer in the way that they think the questioners wants them to and they are at pains to present themselves in the best possible light. Additionally, some readers felt that many teachers lacked the self-awareness to accurately asses their own level of mastery and we might witness a Dunning-Kruger Effect were the least skilled mistakenly rate themselves as proficient, and the most knowledge are most aware of their own lack of complete mastery and so underrate themselves.
My recommendation is for teachers to be told that they will be held accountable for the answers they provide. My survey asked teachers to indicate their level of confidence with specialised concepts like subject-verb agreement. If you’ve never heard the term before then it’s a safe bet that you will rate yourself as ‘red’ (requires support). If you sort of know what it means but would be unable to support other teachers in developing their proficiency then you would indicate your level of mastery as ‘amber’ (unsure). It wouldn’t matter to me whether a teacher who should properly have answered ‘red’ but, either from shame, pride or confusion incorrectly answered ‘amber’; both answers will be treated in essentially the same way. Any teacher who considers themselves either red or amber will be expected to demonstrate how they have sought to improve their professional understanding over the following year.
It may well be that some teachers are proficient in subject-verb agreement but have never encountered the term. This is a very simple matter to rectify and move a teacher from an implicit to an explicit understanding. The advantage to knowing the term is that your understanding of a pupil’s mistakes and advice on making a correction will be much more efficient. Instead of reading “the snake slide over the sand” and thinking ‘that sounds wrong’ you can point out that the verb from needs to change to fit with the subject of the sentence; that where the subject (the snake) is singular the verb (slide) needs the letter s added. When both teachers and students share the same explicit knowledge, teachers can simply say, “Your subject doesn’t agree with your verb,” and everyone will understand what needs to happen.
Admittedly, there is more scope for mistakes with a term like ‘paragraphing’ which has entered common usage. Every teacher will be familiar with the concept even if they lack the confidence to explain why another’s use of paragraphs might be incorrect. I wouldn’t expect any teacher to be ‘red’ in this instance, but neither would I expect every teacher to be ‘green’.
Any teacher who mistakenly identifies themselves as ‘green’ would – I hope – be rapidly spotted as out of their depth when it cam to providing support or training for colleagues. A more difficult to spot problem might be those who know they’re ‘green’ but can’t be bothered to go to any extra trouble. On the whole, I don’t really mind too much if this is the case – the fact is that they do actually possess the required standards which is the whole point of the exercise. That said, I would hope that a well designed appraisal process would pick up any teachers on the Upper Pay Scale and direct them into activities which met the required standards for post-threshold professionals.
Having consulted with three different schools on implementing this sort of system, self-report is the best approach I’ve found for a light-tough, low-threat knowledge gathering exercise against which priorities can be established and teachers held to account for their responses.
As I tried to make clear in the first post, all this requires two essential ingredients in order to be effective:
- Sensitive handling: teachers are not responsible for what they haven’t been taught and don’t know they don’t know.
- Intelligent accountability: we only get the best out of people when we trust them to be their best and support them in that endeavour. Teachers are responsible for being the best they can and accessing the support offered.