The "Good Enough" Teacher


This is one of those "thinking out loud" posts.  I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say, nor that my argument holds water, and I suspect that I am simply paraphrasing Dylan William. But I'll put it out there and see what you all think!

At the risk of being accused of setting up a straw man,  I get the impression when I speak to some teachers about school improvement that they have the following model in their minds:

  • There is level of teaching competence which is "good enough";
  • Action needs to be taken if teachers fall below this level or fail to reach it;
  • It is the job of PTs and SMT to discover those teachers who are not "good enough" and do something about them - this is what we mean by "quality assurance". 

I'll call this the "good enough" model. This model is dead and gone from Scottish education, if it ever really existed. It is replaced, I hope, by something like this:

  • Every teacher needs to improve (as does every school leader) - they have the capacity to do so, and therefore have a moral imperative to do so, given the massive impact they have on the futures of young people;
  • It is the job of every teacher to assess their own impact on the learning of young people, and to explore their own capacity to improve;
  • PTs and SMT do have a role to play in dealing with "fitness to teach" issues, but this only concerns a tiny minority of teachers, whereas professional improvement concerns every adult working in schools.
I'll call this the "continuous improvement" model. This model is written large into the new teaching Standards from the GTCS , developed following Donaldson's "Teaching Scotland's Future".

School leaders are on a hiding to nothing if they push for continuous improvement without explicitly tackling the assumptions inherent in the "good enough" model (or if, heaven forbid, they hold them themselves!) .  If the "good enough" model has some currency in a school, then it is only natural that teachers will view CLPL (Career Long Professional Learning) as a threatening imposition - asking them to improve implies, as far as they are concerned, that they are currently not "good enough", which feels close to "incompetent".  That's not a pleasant implication is it? Of course they resist, usually passively. And if school leaders still hold the "good enough" model, teachers are quite right to feel threatened by the school improvement agenda!

I'm not suggesting that a failure to embrace "every teacher needs to improve" is the only reason why  teachers resist change, but it is an important one.  It follows that school leaders should attach a high priority to changing the school's cultural attitude towards improvement. 

Are we? If not, why not?  This short clip of Dylan William is a great litmus test.  Teachers that react negatively to his message are, I would suspect, working in a school where something like the "good enough" model still holds some sway: in their own heads, in the culture of some subset of the teaching staff, or worst of all - in the culture of the SMT.

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