Damian McKew, Principal, Clonard College, Geelong, Vic.
Although Clonard College’s record of consistently achieving good and solid VCE results is excellent, our leadership team believes that there is always room for improvement.
Many of our long serving staff members, although attaining good results rarely had the opportunity to reflect on their own teaching practice.
As such, we’d been looking for some form of appraisal system aimed at improving teaching performance.
We were aware that in order to improve teacher capacity, we needed to base it on the model of reflective practice.
The Catholic Education Office Melbourne (CEOM) mentioned that Group 8 Education’s John Corrigan offered an appraisal program that would be worth looking at.
We decided to work with Group 8 Education’s Performance Development and Coaching program for two reasons.
First, we were impressed by John Corrigan’s passion, depth of knowledge and research as well as his strong belief in school improvement through cognitive coaching. And second, his model fit our beliefs around our teachers’ need for self-reflection on who they were and where they could improve their practice.
I liked the concept behind the Performance Development and Coaching program and felt it is a very positive way of working with teachers to improve individual aspects of teaching. Rather than having someone come in and assess teaching capacity, I thought this was a very collegial approach, and it made sense.
We started implementing the program in late 2011, and rolled out the project to staff in 2012.
One of the best aspects of the program is its flexibility. This allowed us to work with our leadership team and front-line teachers to individualise particular goals that they would like to achieve in their classroom practice and talked about ways to achieve these goals.
We then asked them to select from one of the ‘school established’ goals:
- To use each student’s name at least once each lesson
- To move throughout the classroom to allow for interaction with as many students as possible
- To acknowledge and support smart choices with regard to behaviour and work ethic
- To transform teacher talk from directive (giving instructions) towards a focus on student learning
- To achieve an equal balance between teacher and student talk during each lesson
- To give genuine positive feedback and celebrate achievements by the students and/or the class each lesson
The Leadership Teams goals were in 2012 to gently expose staff to this system and break down any barriers that were seen to exist in terms of visits to classrooms and working with teachers on establishing and attaining goals.
This year we will be more directional in getting staff to also respond to school goals in line with our School Improvement Focus on leadership.
I do admit that there was some resistance from a small minority of our staff, which was mainly centred on having enough time to complete the assigned tasks. Others felt they were ill equipped with the skills to be a coach. However the vast majority saw the great benefit of what the program would be able to help them achieve.
Teachers are very busy and the program takes this into consideration. Teachers do need to invest some time documenting their goals and reflecting on their practice. We felt it was only fair for the school to facilitate the time.
Middle leaders were also required to be trained, but frankly this wasn’t more onerous than spending a day completing any other personal development assignment.
As to tangible results, it is early days yet.
Change does take time and we’ve only been running with the program for one year. However I can see positive changes in the following areas:
- The cognitive coaching model has allowed our staff to become conscious of improvement and how they might develop the skills necessary to achieve this improvement.
- Teachers at all levels have increased their ability to engage in professional dialog. There is more openness to sharing ideas and visitation of classes by leaders and peers.
- Coaching helped break down the process of “what happens in the class room stays in the class room”
- Teachers are happy to observe and share knowledge and expertise which has had a direct impact on improving the culture of teaching and learning.
One of the most powerful parts of Group 8 Educations program is the “Student to Teacher feedback”. We knew that there would be some teachers that would feel threatened by this approach.
To break down the barriers, we decided that each teacher should get feedback from two classes. One class was chosen by the teacher and the other one by the leadership team. This approach worked very well, and it took away a lot of anxiety.
We are very committed to the program. 2013 is a year of consolidation for us and we want to keep the ball rolling.
I believe our greatest challenge is not to become complacent, and we are focussed and committed on implementing new and fresh ways of improving teaching and learning at Clonard College.
In closing I say this… The program has absolutely been worthwhile and the beauty of it is that we can run it ourselves, we don’t rely on anyone and we can keep the ball rolling.