Overnight experts, True competencies, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined once again by Fiona Aubrey-Smith to discuss teacher development. Does teacher development need to be more personal to each teacher? What are the stages of learning and implementing something new? Plus, the crew discuss the issue of teachers being seen as employees over human beings.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
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Welcome back to another episode of The School of School podcast. It's with great pleasure that I can say that we've got Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith with us today. Fiona, how are you?
I'm great. Thank you very much, Adam. It's great to be with you guys today.
Brilliant, brilliant. Now your list of what you've done and what you continue to do is huge. So, I'm going to put the impossible task back over to you and just to say, can you just tell our listeners a little bit about what you do and some of the things that you're looking at the moment?
Sure. Okay. So, I'm a strategic education consultant and I work with schools and groups of schools and ed tech partners and publishing partners and with my academic hat on as a university lecturer specialising in education, pedagogy and technology. And I'm absolutely fascinated in the kind of golden threads coming together, knitting together schools and ed tech industry and academic work where each is playing a significant role in supporting the other.
Yeah, I mean we've spoken before. It's a huge amount to weave in altogether. I think what I'm really interested in is teacher development because that's going to make or break, I think in a lot of circumstances, children's education. So, if I just leave that wide open and talk about teacher development for you, what are the things that are most important?
So, I think for me the golden thing in terms of teacher development is remembering that teachers are human beings first, I think is a tendency at the moment in various corners of the world to see teachers as employees first, second, third and last. And although there's an increasing line of support in wider teacher wellbeing, I think we have to recognise that teachers have a lot of knowledge and understanding and expertise and ideas about how the world works and about how relationships with different people work that comes from outside of education and outside of school.
So, that idea about the teacher is a human being first and brings all these kinds of things with them to the classroom is really, really critical. So, when we then think of teacher development, we have to kind of recognise that the teacher will bring with them into different kinds of professional learning assumptions about what their role as a teacher is and what they believe teaching means because it's not necessarily just about being a teacher in a school.
That's a very specific view on teaching, isn't it? If we are a teacher when we're in school, teachers often have a view on teaching that is much broader than that and much wider than that. So, I think recognising that and how that shapes development and support is really important. And also, then recognising little things we're not little things, profound things probably like how teachers feel that knowledge comes to exist.
Where do we get our understanding about the world from? How is new knowledge formed? Who do we learn from and with? Can we learn on our own or do we learn in groups? Is it through conversation? Is it through really or some really, really big questions. And all of these things, whilst they are a fundamental part of teaching and learning and of pedagogy and teacher development, actually they're very human questions as well and they're applicable to every single human being. So, it's a really broad palette that we're working with.
So, I'm putting all sorts of hat on, I'm putting a classroom teacher hat on, I'm putting a school leader hat on. And I think one of the things that jumps out when you talk about that is the sort of, well, it's the individual it, how do we and the influence that has on our classroom practise. And I'm just wondering how often that focus when it comes to teachers development actually happens or whether it's led by these are the best practises, therefore Fiona, you are just going to do this right? Because yeah, we're all individuals at heart, but really in this school we all do the same thing to make sure that the children get the best deal. And I'm just wondering mean you see a lot of schools is a shift taking place that recognises that, as you've said the word profound influence that our beliefs and what we bring to the classroom have on our children.
Great question. I think that there is a shift, but we're early days in this shift. I think one of the important things for us to remember is that we think a lot about how we shape student learning in the classroom, an individual student needs and what their next steps are. And we think about their special educational needs or aspects of inclusivity or accessibility, all these pastoral matters, all sorts of things. But then, when we think about teacher development and professional learning, we don't tend to apply quite that level of broad thinking to the individual teachers that we're supporting development of. I think there is a direction of travel going on there, but I don't think we are there yet, but we need to be because if we think that's behind what makes good learning for children, then that's behind what makes great learning for teachers, right.
And teachers, the best kinds of teachers are always those who are active learners themselves. We teach more effectively by learning more effectively. It's an ongoing cycle, isn't it? And if we look at maybe some of the research about what makes effective professional learning, there's four very distinct aspects. There's first of all that it's got to be personal. And so, that's what I was just referring to about being specific to the teacher's background, where they've come from, what their ambitions are, what their existing strengths are, what they know are their areas for development, what they need to develop, but they don't yet know that kind of Johari window, blind spot, unknown, unknown thing. So, teacher development has to be absolutely personal to the individual teacher. We can't just kind of plunk a course on somebody and expect it to have the same effect as it would on someone else.
We know that doesn't work for students, so it's not going to work for teachers either. Secondly, that professional learning has to be part of a longitudinal development journey. So, gone are the days where we just go to a day-long course, have a nice lunch and come back to school again the next day. Things have to be longer than that. They have to be woven into the fabric of a teacher's life in terms of their daily practise, in terms of the school strategic priorities, in terms of what they're going to do next and the application in terms of drawing on evidence, all of those sorts of things. So, personal to the teacher long term in terms of its vision of what's going on. The third of the four things is that professional learning needs to be really active. So, there's no point just going on a course and sitting and absorbing stuff and then going back to school thinking it's going to change the world.
It doesn't work like that does it? It's got to be all about the teacher being able to reflect on their own practise to be reflexive, to try things out and then reflect on them, review them and try something out. There's action research cycles and teachers need to be supported as part of that, whether that's your mentoring or coaching or doing things as teams is sort of researching triads or whatever it might be. So, the activeness of professional learning is really critical. And then, the fourth thing, ultimately the reason that we are teachers and the reason that we are looking at teacher development is because we want to make learning better for our students. So, that as has to absolutely be embedded, permeating the development that teachers are going through is what will the impact of this be on the students you have in front of you right now, not the students that you might have in five years time or the students you had last year that you're thinking about, but the students right now this year.
And that makes, that forces us to think, okay, this is all this idea, this theory is very interesting, or this model or resource is very interesting, but how's it going to make a difference to Joe in my class or Charlie in this class? What difference will it make to their learning experience and therefore the impact on the learning? So, those four strands are really, really critical. And if we think about it, they're not that different to the four strands of what makes great learning for students. So, it's just closing that gap, seeing teachers as much as students, as active learners.
Just curious, and you speak to this often when you're training and teaching others about, I'll call them the three Cs, I don't know if you call them that, but taking what now you've helping with professional learning and bringing it to the classroom. How do you build that confidence in teachers to be able to do that with their students? So, they're focused on the students in front of them, as you say, and now and they've learned all of these wonderful things, but where does the confidence come from to actually do it? Do you know?
That's another great question. Yeah. Well, it's really interesting, isn't it? Because with teacher development, we often assume that if a teacher does something often enough, then confidence will just kind of come automatically as if it's this magic thing that appears. But actually, learning anything, we go through kind of three distinct stages. We go through a sort of stage where we kind of become aware of something, we might have heard of it or we might hear someone talk about it or see someone do it or read something or watch something. There's that just awareness building. And at that stage, we are not necessarily doing anything different ourselves, we're just building up a greater awareness. So that's the kind of first in the three Cs, the cognizance, the awareness after that phase or after that stage becomes that kind of competence development. And that's either developing particular sets of subject knowledge or pedagogical knowledge or subject pedagogical knowledge or whatever it might be.
And we can talk about skills, and we can talk about understanding, but they're all forms of knowledge. They're all kind of forms of epistemology. And so, developing that layer of competence is really, really important. We have to be aware of it first and then we try it, we do it, we keep trying it, we keep doing it, we apply it to different contexts, different students, different subjects, different classes. We do something, we reflect on it, we improve it, that it's a long period of becoming competent at doing something. And true competence is partly when we feel we're competent in it, but actually it's also when we have triangulated evidence from others that we are competent. And that doesn't necessarily have to be through an accountability structure that can be students feeding back to us or student outcomes or student progress showing us that we're having that impact as well as it might be peers or leaders saying, "Yeah, you are really good at that."
But then that final layer, the one that you're referring to, Robin, that confidence comes when we feel that we can do it. Now, we can have two permutations of that. We can have a scenario where we can do something really well, but we don't think we can do it well. And we can have a scenario where we think we are awesome at something, but actually we're terrible. So actually, confidence and competence might go in sequential order, but not necessarily. But we do need to treat them differently and we do need to build confidence and plan for building confidence in teachers. Some of that's about encouraging teachers to share what they can do with others to get those positive feedback loops. Some is about teachers then teaching others the things that they're already competent in. So, it's just kind of getting those cycles implicit and embedded within teacher development.
Fiona, do you feel that the system as it exists right now and I guess particularly talking about the UK here, is supporting this kind of professional development for teachers right now? Or do you think that there's some significant changes that need to happen?
Sure. Really interesting question that, so I think there's a huge range of professional development available for teachers. And of course, when we say teachers, that's not a kind of one size fits all model, isn't it? If you, you meet a teacher out socially, say, "Oh, what do you do?" And they say, "I'm a teacher." "Oh, what do you teach?" And teachers will identify themselves maybe by the age group they teach or the subject or we have a kind of teacher subidentity don't we, even within that and the forms of professional development that are available can range from really structured qualifications through to informal Twitter chats or whatever it might be in everything in between. So, I don't think there's kind of a sort of even playing field of what professional development there is available in terms of how it mirrors what teachers needs. I think it would just reflect that.
So, and we have this kind of issue at the moment where there's a lot of professional development that assumes that you can pick up a model or an idea, go into your own school environment, your own classroom, and kind of plug it in as if it will definitely work and have the same effect. And we just know that's not true. That's the inherent floor of what works agenda. It works in a particular context. And if we want to use those ideas, those pedagogical approaches, those pedagogical methods, if we want to use the ideas of what works, the evidence says works, then we need to understand the context that it worked in and we need to know whether the teachers doing that had similar beliefs and ideas to us. And if the teachers for whom it was successful were focusing on the same things or had the same kinds of students as us, we can look at macro level and look at these lovely probability metro-analysis things in an invisible learning ranking is fantastic for that.
We've got a big picture ranking of what's got a higher probability of working in different environments, but it is still large-scale probability. I mean even Professor John Hattie would say, so it doesn't mean it will work in your own setting. You have to unpack the detail to work that out and all of this in order to actually make all of this brilliant professional development available, all the brilliant evidence and research, it all ultimately comes back to the teacher being able to look critically at what there is being offered to them and reflecting on how does that relate to what I want to do in my classroom with my students today? And that's the hinge that it all pins upon. And so, I think what we perhaps need to do is focus more on giving teachers support to be able to have that kind of critical thinking because most teachers do want to do that. It's busy people with lots of things being thrown at them. So, providing that encouragement, that support and direction to do that is critical.
So, you said at the beginning the ways of thinking about teachers as either as employees right or as human beings. And that was a really interesting point, and I wrote it down and I thought, "Well, what does that mean teachers as employees?" And then, I said, "Is there another layer in there maybe, and maybe it is the employee one," I don't know, but teachers as, and this is really cynical, but teachers as cogs in a big machine in the sense that effectively, if you look at the education, if you step way back and look at the education system from far away, not the details, we have a pretty good idea for the most part, what Ed good education should look like. I think, I know we argue, and let's leave the politicians out of it because another thing that you talked about was implicit beliefs and politicians have a lot of implicit beliefs, so let's leave that factor out of it.
But if you look at the education system as a whole, largely we kind of know what we need to do. We also know it's really difficult to do it. How much freedom should teachers have to be human being individuals in the system versus fulfilling a very specific role because there really is a lot at stake. And I don't know that there's a right answer for this, but I'd just be interested in hearing your thoughts. By that, what I mean I guess from a teacher development point of view is teachers interests might lead them in a particular direction, which might be very much in line with how they see the world, but we also as let's say as a school leadership team, need to take a view of what's important for the children and what's important for the institution to be effective. How much freedom should teachers have in their own journeys about teacher development, I guess is what I'm getting at.
Absolutely. I think some of that comes down to school leaders being able to understand teachers beliefs about teaching and learning at the point at which they're recruiting and developing staff. So, if we think about the very great best schools you've visited where you just sort of go into that school and you say, "Yep, this is a real hub of learning. Everyone's knitting together and it's all really working here." It's because there's that shared vision and shared set of values and they're lived out really deeply believed values. And if you go into a school where you think, "Okay, this is not quite right here, something's not." It's because there might be on paper, on the wall, usually a vision and set of values, but actually no one quite aligns with them or believes them or they're not being lived out in practise. And they're kind of-
They're not aligned.
... fairly basic. Yeah, exactly. And they're fairly basic, but really, really profound things. And I have to sort of respectfully disagree with you slightly at one point, I'm not sure, we do have an overarching shared consensus on what education should do. I think in different schools, different regions, different political stances, different personal beliefs, people have got sort of slightly subtly different views on that. But where we can make that work is if within a school, everybody within that school has a shared sense of what education at that school should look like, then I think we can make that a very successful thing.
And that's where we get wonderful variety in different types of schools, which then mean that parents can choose for their children to be in particular flavours of schools if you like, or teachers can choose to work within particular flavours of schools. And in some places that choice is more of a choice than other places. And that will vary depending on the culture of the local area or the culture of the country or the national sort of broader policies and things like that. There's all sorts of dynamics going on, but that alignment of vision and values, I think that's ultimately what it comes down to.
Can I jump in? I thought, I think this is all part of this one I'm about to ask. It's a really simple question, but I think it's a really difficult answer. Why is it so difficult for so many people in education to realise that adults learn, we've got children and these models of learning that take time, support, individualization, all of those things you've talked about. Why is it so difficult for so many people in education to realise the same applies to teachers and adults? And that what I mean by that, and I'll just do real quick, I see so often that teachers do some form of professional development and they're supposed to be experts the following day, and that would be utterly ridiculous. In fact, it would be, by any measure, a failure if you expected the same thing of children. Why is it an education so many people ascribed to this lunacy?
And do you know? It's a really good question. I don't have an answer for you for that, but I do think sometimes we are all really busy, being busy.
And sometimes we can actually build, give ourselves more capacity by just pausing for a moment and thinking, what is important here? What do we need to focus on here? And then, let's really focus on that. And I don't think we need more time to do that. I think we just need to just revisit our priorities a little bit sometimes and get the focus back to, if a school is a hub for learning, it should be a hub for learning for everybody within it, children and adults. And therefore, just thinking at every time we think, should I do this task? Should I do that action? Is that contributing to this being a hub for learning for everybody within it? If the answer is yes, that's worth doing. If the answer is no, then maybe park that and the pending train come back to it maybe or maybe not.
No, I think it's a fair statement and I think that the best schools that I've ever been into and are a diverse range of schools, I think that that's widely accepted is that it's that learning journey for everyone that's in that school. And I don't just mean teachers and children, I mean every member of staff, whether it's staff that come in after school or staff that don't work directly with the children. That's what I tend to see is that the learning aspect of it and the time and structure. I think it's so important.
Doesn't that just model beautifully for our students, that we are modelling ourselves as learners? We are modelling that, we all learn that we all learn together with each other for each other as a learning community. And isn't that the very best profound message that we can give our students as because that will be absorbed and internalised by them and then that frames how they will see themselves as a learner and how they see others around them for the rest of their lives. As we talked about earlier.
There's so much to unpack here. There really is. But I think we just have to have Fiona on again because there's too much. Is that fair? Would you please come back?
I would love to. I would love, there's so much to explore and talk about together, isn't there?
Agreed. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you for having me. It's been a real pleasure to meet you all and be with you all today. Thank you.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.