Collaborate your way to more great lessons

What’s the first thing you would do if I gave everyone at your school a list of all classes and their value-added?

I suspect that most of you, with a slightly tight feeling in your stomach, would scan down the list to review your own classes. “Please don’t let it be bad”, you’d think. If you’re anything like me you’d go straight to the class that you think is going to be the worst.

If it confirms your suspicions then you’ll get that sinking feeling. All the nagging doubts will come out. You’ll reflect on whether you’re a decent teacher, you’ll bring back all the other times that you’ve doubted yourself, and you’ll feel terrible.

Next comes the thought that the managers and all of your colleagues will see the same thing. Maybe you’ll feel scared, maybe you’ll feel angry. Perhaps you’ll start finding those reasons why it isn’t fair. You’ll probably feel angry at the kids, angry at the school, and angry at yourself.

The thing is, most of us will go straight for the negatives. Whether its exam results, value-added scores, internal tracking data, pupil satisfaction surveys or anything else, we beat ourselves up, and label ourselves a ‘bad teacher’.

The fact is, the huge majority of teachers also have really great classes. Every year they deliver inspirational lessons, beautiful lessons, and I-wish-someone-had-observed-that lessons.

For any teacher to have stayed in teaching for more than a year they must have had a few of those amazing moments where the students’ eyes lit up, and ‘Aha!’ moments were occurring all around the classroom. Teaching is just too hard for anyone to survive without them.

The data cannot tell you if these wonderful things are going on in a classroom. No one piece of data tells the whole story, but it can reflect some of the realities in the classroom and can be useful when the class teacher uses it to constructively reflect. But if the process stops there, you’re wasting an opportunity.

In the classroom where things aren’t working perfectly you may just need a nudge in the right direction. A little bit of inspiration, and maybe some support, and things could really turn around. Maybe one of your colleagues has the answer, but in the ordinary school culture you’d never know, and you’d be scared to ask for fear of looking weak.

If we could create environments where teachers could proudly share their best ideas, and could confidently ask for help, we could all have more great lessons.  We must foster a supportive culture that eliminates the fear of sharing ideas and data. If teachers can collaborate then they can grow.

Data by itself is not enough. Replace fear with sharing, and keep thinking review, reflect, and collaborate.

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