In a short, yet thought-provoking article, George Couros reminds us that it is people that bring missions and visions to life. At UWCSEA, most teachers ascribe to being lifelong learners. We have a great mission, but it’s nothing without the people who can turn it into a reality. Therefore, as a school, we must constantly strive to improve our effectiveness in delivering that mission. How do we do this? Well, the concept is quite simple: keep improving teacher effectiveness. The delivery, however, is always more challenging. It’s also important to note (and I thank Nick Alchin for taking the time to comment and raise this point – see comments section) that the mission also helps the people involved with the school to become better versions of themselves. In a sense, both the people and the mission are interdependent. With this in mind, it could be said that having a fantastic mission is also a form of improving teacher effectiveness.
This got me thinking about a phrase that I adore: “It’s people, not programs” (Whitaker, 2014). If you want to make a vision a reality or improve a school, then you must focus on the people, not just a shiny new initiative. In the classroom, the teacher is the variable. They are the ones who can make a difference, therefore it is they that we must help improve. How might we do this? Whitaker talks about several strategies, but I will highlight a few that I think to be the most important:
1. Clarifying your core principles
I am currently working on developing my principles. These are fundamental beliefs that I believe to be true about the world and that I will use to support my day to day life and decision making. Much of this is based upon my readings of Stephen Covey’s work and I have a rough idea of what my core principles are. If you were to ask for a summary, it would be something like: to achieve primary greatness. You can read in more detail about my developing philosophy here. What my philosophy is is a story for another time, however. What’s important is the effect this has had on me as a teacher. Even the process of thinking about it has turned me into a more effective teacher. I have been reinvigorated. I have remembered what I hold dear and I remind myself of that with every action I take in the classroom. Of course, I am human and there are occasions where I might fail in upholding my principles. However, I am now aware of every time that this happens, and am able to seek to repair any damage that this might have caused (seeking always to repair is itself a hallmark of an effective teacher according to Whitaker). I think every teacher (and indeed every person) should clarify what their core is. What are their principles? Next year, I will even do this with my mentee’s. They will know my core principles and I will know theirs. Then, the magic can happen.
2. Make it cool to care
I love this concept. At every level of a school, it should be cool to care. It’s cool to be excited about education. It’s cool to read about education. It’s cool to care about the mission. It’s cool to have intellectual conversations rather than gossip. It’s cool to talk about educational philosophies in the staff room. It’s cool to want to connect with your students on an emotional level. It’s cool to learn. It’s cool to care about the subject you are studying. It’s cool to be organised. It’s cool to be proud of studying. It’s cool to care about the teacher. If the teacher can demonstrate a commitment to “it’s cool to care” then maybe the students will adopt that approach too. The best teachers make this a reality. How? Well, according to Whitaker, the following can help contribute to such an atmosphere:
- Treating everyone with respect and dignity
- Always taking a positive approach
- Always modelling how to treat others
- Understanding that what matters is people, not programs
- Making every decision based on the most effective people (not so sure about this one…)
How you might do the above could be the subject of a whole different blog post!
For me, creating an environment where it is ‘cool to care’ depends upon you having identified your core principles. If these principles are the right ones, then an atmosphere in your classroom where it is ‘cool to care’ should be an eventual outcome.
3. Teachers learning from teachers
A fact of life is that some teachers are more effective than others. So what makes these effective teachers so amazing? This is a question that every teacher in the school should be asking. If we hear something cool about another teacher’s methods from a student, we should be asking that teacher how they do it. One of my goals next year is to become one of the most effective teachers in the school. How might I do this? Here are some of the things I think might be important:
- Read about what makes the most effective teachers so effective!
- Identify the most effective teachers in the school. In a school like UWCSEA, every teacher is pretty darn effective in their own way. However, there will still be some teachers who are more effective than others. I want to find out who these teachers are. Most likely, these are the teachers that student’s love and talk about all the time.
- Go and see the most effective teachers in action. Luckily, UWCSEA has a very open atmosphere when it comes to seeing other teachers in action. It is important to see effective teachers modelling the very things that make them effective. When we see these things in action, it will become so much easier to take them into our own classrooms.
- Take your time! It is important to take a methodical approach. Focus on becoming great at one new thing at a time. With this in mind, it is important to prioritise what you would like to implement first.
These are just some of the things that might help your ‘people’ become even more effective. What do you think might help you to get even more from the most important resource in a school?
Food for thought: I leave you with this TED talk from Christopher Edmin on teaching teachers to create magic. Maybe, the most effective teachers are those that have the magic ability to engage. What do you think?
- What great principals do differently: 15 things that matter most (Todd Whitaker)
- What great teachers do differently: 15 things that matter most (Todd Whitaker)
- TED talk from Christopher Edmin