If I were the school leader…

I have a student teacher on placement in my class at the moment. It’s interesting to remind myself of the long list of criteria in the teachers’ standards, that we have to consider in observations. As a teacher giving advice, I know which of these are important and which I’d give a lot less weight to when making any kind of value judgement.

I’ve never been a fan of classroom observations – for all the reasons that are now part of general discussion – particularly those that attempt to grade the teacher based on a snapshot of 20-40 minutes. It’s not how I’d do it. But the job of a school leader is a tough one, I believe, and nowhere tougher than in securing quality of teaching among the staff. If it were me, what would I look for?

When teachers are worrying about trying to tick the increasing number of boxes put forward to us, actual performance deteriorates. We’re focussed on what we think will be the assessment of what we should be doing, not on what we are actually doing. Humans can’t multi-task. By thinking of the process, the process itself suffers. This is a well-documented tactic used by those who would seek to remove unwanted personnel: increase the level of scrutiny and nit-pick every move so that eventually the subject can hardly function. This is a hard-nosed game that often ends in resignation, mental breakdown and sometimes suicide.

It’s not really the way I would go, and if micro-management is not the best way to ensure the pupils are getting a good education, then perhaps it boils down to a much reduced but more important key set of desirable features/skills. I think my list would be brief. I’d be looking specifically for evidence that the teacher:

  • Knows the subject(s) (and the curriculum) well
  • Knows what the pupils have learned and what to teach next
  • Manages behaviour so that pupils can focus
  • Teaches clearly so that pupils can understand
  • Picks up on issues and remedies them
  • Is compassionate

Everything else, surely, is either part of the craft or derived from opinion?

Challenge to this is welcome.



5 thoughts on “If I were the school leader…

  1. I think the only other thing would be collegiate. The reason why I say that is because working effectively with year group partners or members of the same department itself reduces workload, improves pupil outcomes and demonstrates a deeper moral sense of purpose to the role they are playing.

    • There are lots of possible things to put on the list, but those are really things to look out for if there are issues. For example, I don’t need to include ‘works well with colleagues’, or ‘turns up to work sober’ etc. I just need to watch out for those things not happening.

  2. I read this post a couple of weeks ago, and have come across it again, which I am pleased about. I had not really formed any sort of answer then…
    A few years back I was part of a committee (that dreaded word) which made an instrument for self-appraisal. Following months of negotiation with the faculty, I realized that this was a seemingly impossible task. But as a teacher and professional, I would agree that your list is sound.

    We are faced with the impossible scenario that part of what we really do is unquantifiable: building an curious mind, a love of learning, self confidence, etc. and is radically different to the other part of what we do, facilitating understanding if our subjects, and albeit with some caveats, facilitating results.

    There is no doubt that some sort of measure is required for administrators. And most of us can identify the teachers who were inspirational, for whatever reason. But clearly, a retrospective or historical measure is of little use. I look forward to reading further comments on this post.

    • Thank you for your reply, Gregg. It’s interesting that your committee found defining the criteria to be so challenging. It may be because, as you say, it’s difficult to reduce the complexity of the art of teaching for fear of description becoming prescription. It’s easier when you ask yourself what you’d want in a teacher from the point of view of a head, a parent, a pupil or a colleague. It becomes more apparent then, particularly in comparison with what you’d definitely not want. The details of pedagogy then pale into insignificance beside something as important as knowing the subject well.

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