How do we know if a teacher’s any good?

Obviously enough, not all teachers are equal. But how do we know which ones are any cop? Well, we just do, don’t we? Everyone in a school community tends to know who’s doing a decent job. But how do we know? Rightly, most school leaders feel it important to evaluate the effectiveness of their staff, but how can they go about this in a way that’s fair, valid and reliable?

Over the past year or so I’ve spent a fair bit of time explaining why lesson observation cannot be used to evaluate effective teaching. Mostly, the message has been received and understood. Even Ofsted got me to redraft the Quality of Teaching Section of the current Inspection Handbook to make it clear what can and can’t be achieved in lesson observations. But how then, I’m often asked, should schools judge the effectiveness of their staff?

It’s a good question. My initial response was to say, look at the data: if a teacher’s exam results are good then whatever the teacher is doing must also be good. This is beguilingly simplistic and I’ve come to understand that this is only slightly preferable as a proxy than lesson grades. You see, exam results are achieved by children. We see correlation and are fooled into believing it is causation. This is the Input/Output Myth. Students’ performance tells us relatively little about what a teacher has done. There are some children who will not make progress whatever you do and some who will fly despite you. Teaching is leading the horse to water; learning is having a drink.

Teaching input only really results in proxies; well-behaved classes; lots of work in books; homework in on time; reams of marking etc. Students have to do the learning all by themselves. As Graham Nuthall put it,

Student learning is a very individual thing. Students already know at least 40-50% of what teachers intend them to learn. Consequently they spend a lot of time in activities that relate to what they already know and can do. But this prior knowledge is specific to individual students and the teacher cannot assume that more than a tiny fraction is common to the class as a whole. As consequence at least a third of what a student learns is unique to that student, and the rest is learned by no more than three or four others.

Teacher input does not inexorably lead to student output. Jack Marwood explains further:

Teachers can teach, and some children will not learn. Yes, children may engage in activities which a teacher has prepared for them – often at painstaking length, taking into account their current knowledge, skills and understanding, their age, aptitude, learning preferences, social needs and cultural heritage, and so on, and on, and on. But children will react to teaching in their own individual way. Sometimes children are keen to learn, wanting to please themselves, their friends, their families – someone, anyone. Sometimes children do not feel this way. Learning is at times hard, unpleasant and pointless. It always requires effort. It matters little whether a child’s teacher is a subject specialist, or a subscriber to progressive or traditional theories of education, or dull, or interesting, or any of the other myriad of descriptions of teachers. It does not matter if the teacher teaches in a way which outside observers identify as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ teaching.

No one thinks teaching has no effect on student outcomes, but quantifying it is extraordinarily difficult. Nick Rose quotes Daniel Muijs from the School Improvement & Effectiveness Research Centre at Southampton Education School as claiming, “teaching probably only accounts for around 30% of the variance in such outcome measures.” It’s really worth reading Nick’s summary of Muiji’s ideas on developing teaching. He concludes that student value-added measures, used carefully with other measures might allow us to reliably judge teacher effectiveness, but at a considerable cost:

It may be possible, through a rigorous application of some sort of combination of aggregated value-added scores, highly systematised observation protocols (Muijs suggested we’d need around 6-12 a year) and carefully sampled student surveys to give this summative judgement the degree of reliability it would need to be fair rather than arbitrary. Surely the problem is that for summative measures of effective teaching to achieve that rigour and reliability they would become so time-consuming and expensive that the opportunity costs would far outweigh any benefits.

So, if you can’t rely on lesson observations or results, how can you judge teacher effectiveness? Rob Coe et al put a lot of thought into this question when the wrote the Sutton Trust report, What Makes Great Teaching. This does a pretty good job of telling us what great teaching is, but does less well on how we might measure it.

They suggest seven methods for evaluation:

  1. classroom observations, by peers, principals or external evaluators
  2. ‘value-added’ models (assessing gains in student achievement)
  3. student ratings
  4. principal (or headteacher) judgement
  5. teacher self-reports
  6. analysis of classroom artefacts
  7. teacher portfolios

We’ve already dealt with the first two, but let’s quickly review some of the report’s points. They offer Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching as a way to improve observation. I’m not a fan. Eric Kalenze points out in his great book, Education Is Upside Down that,

…observed degrees of students’ initiative, self-direction, and expression are ultimately used to determine a teacher’s level of effectiveness on Danielson’s ‘Engaging Students’ scale. In other words, for a teacher’s rating to progress up and up through this domain element’s levels of performance, students must be observed exercising more and more control of the classroom environment. (If we take this to a logical conclusion, the perfect Danielson teacher is one who does no actual teaching whatsoever.)

… the message is clear: while all teachers are expected to bring their students into learning, great teachers involve students by getting them to help determine matters of behaviour, learning activities, content, and all the rest – while never, of course, losing control of the classroom.

We’ve been there before, haven’t we?

What about value-added measures? Apart from the critique above, the report finds them problematic too:

Gorard, Hordosy & Siddiqui (2012) found the correlation between estimates for secondary schools in England in successive years to be between 0.6 and 0.8. They argued that this, combined with the problem of missing data, makes it meaningless to describe a school as ‘effective’ on the basis of value-added.

So, could we rely on student ratings? Most teachers will recoil in horror at this idea; there’s the very real danger that this would quickly turn into a popularity contest as often happens in Higher Education with the ‘coolest’ profs getting the best ratings. The report doesn’t really reach a judgement but does cite

The report doesn’t really reach a judgement but does cite research that suggests school students “responded to the range of items with reason, intent, and consistent values”. However, it also states that “student ratings of teacher behavior are highly correlated with value-added measures of student cognitive and affective outcomes”. I’ll just bet they are! So, students who are performing well and feeling good rate their teachers highly. No surprises there.

My view is that student evaluations can be a useful self-improvement tool, but provide weak evidence of teacher effectiveness. For interesting ideas on how student ratings could be used effectively, take a look at Nick Rose’s excellent blog.

Of the remaining methods, the analysis of classroom artefacts (students’ work) and teacher portfolios are interesting ideas but difficult to implement. Teacher self-assessment is unlikely to gain much traction – Yeah, I think I’m doing great actually, thanks for asking.

This leaves us with Headteacher evaluations. The report isn’t particularly keen, but this is where I think we should place our bets. You see, any half-way decent Head has a pretty good idea of the quality of her teachers. She knows who the high flyers are and she is most certainly aware of who is causing concern. Every Head I’ve asked has been able to reel off their Top 3 and Bottom 3 almost without pause for thought. As I’ve shared before, heads find it easy to place staff into this matrix:
Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 21.20.24

Observations and data trawls obscure that fact that we just know.

But hang on, can we really trust Head Teachers’ subjective, value-ridden judgements? Can we really trust them not to play favourites and fall victim to cognitive bias? No, of course we can’t. Kev Bartle makes an excellent point in the comments below that actually Heads should be trusting their senior and middle leaders to form these judgements. We are all only human and it’s all too human to err. But then, there are no valid and reliable objective measures of teachers’ effectiveness – this at least makes no pretence. The trick, I think, is to make these judgements more transparent and to make leaders accountable for their evaluation process.

What I think we should do is find a set of questions leaders could use to give shape to their subjective judgements. I confess I’m not sure what these questions should be, but I set a challenge to Steve Higgins, one of the co-authors of the Sutton Trust report, to come up with questions which would force evaluators to really drill into precisely why they feel teachers are effective or ineffective.

While he thinks about that, what do you think of these?

  • What is the teacher’s attendance and punctuality like? If there are concerns, are there any mitigating factors?
  • Does the teacher follow school policies on uniform, standards of behaviour, professionalism etc.?
  • Does the teacher collaborate with other staff?
  • What is the opinion of teacher’s line manager and colleagues?
  • Does the teacher take part in extra-curricular activities?
  • Does the teacher ‘add value’ to the school in any other way?
  • Are you confident in the teacher’s classroom performance? How do you know?
  • What actions has the teacher taken to develop professionally?
  • Are students confident in the teacher’s performance? How do you know?
  • Are parents confident in the teacher’s performance? How do you know?
  • What are their results like? How do they compare to other teacher’s results?
  • What are their students’ books like? Does it look like students are making progress?
  • What does the teacher’s classroom look like?
  • What does the teacher make of their own performance?
  • Do you like the teacher? Why? [This is to interrogate biases in the evaluator.]

I’m not suggesting a hierarchical order, or that any one question should determine a judgement. Together they help paint a paicture.

And of course, we should have a similar set of questions to guide governor’s evaluations of Heads. All of this depends on the Headteacher to trust teachers and leaders to be professionals. If schools are led by a weak head, all is lost.

Anyway, this is just an idea. I think it has legs, but I’d appreciate thoughts and critique.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

66 Responses to How do we know if a teacher’s any good?

  1. I’m more than a little troubled by the notion of Headteacher judgment being a key arbiter in making decisions about teacher effectiveness, and yet I found something redemptive in the set of questions we might make of Heads as part of this process. It was the one about line managers. Instead of Headteachers making these key decisions, it ought to be the line manager who does so, drawing on all of the things you suggest (and possibly more). After all, how much can a Head with 73 members of teaching staff (not to mention 53 members of support staff – for I think that this should be an issue of staff effectiveness) really know about all of these things? The answer is “precious little” that isn’t informed by more than one of these. A teacher with great results might get a positive ‘effectiveness judgment’ in spite of doing badly against all the other criteria. Another with great commitment to extra-curricular stuff might similarly benefit. One with poor attendance might lose out for the same reasons. Only a direct line manager can see the full picture. For all its faults our current performance appraisal system gives the opportunity to really empower ‘colleague evaluation’ if we would let it. That would demand a significant transfer of responsibility, a consequent need to develop effective training for line managers, a well-formed quality assurance mechanism and – above all else – a commitment to ensuring that every member of staff (support as well as teaching, standard scale teachers as well as middle leaders) has high quality line management. It’s a huge challenge, but one we are already working on at Canons. Exciting times ahead.

    • David Didau says:

      That’s a really good point Kev – yes, maybe line managers need more responsibility in this process.

      That’s why they pay you the big bucks and I’m unemployed 😉

  2. Tom Burkard says:

    Objective tests of pupil knowledge are not difficult to write. I know a teacher who is doing this for the science curriculum at his school because teacher assessments vary so wildly with exam results that they are all but useless.

    Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend school before the progressive tendency planted their secret garden were routinely tested in all subjects on a termly basis, Teachers used their own quizzes for what now would be termed ‘formative assessment’ on a weekly basis. The value of testing for improving retention and recall is beyond dispute.

    Variables within the child obviously affect test performance. No one ever supposed otherwise, Prior knowledge, Intelligence and dilligence are the most obvious factors. Prior knowledge will not be problematic at my friend’s school–indeed, the tests will save pupils having to study what they already know as well as ensuring that pupils have the requisite prior knowledge. Verbal and non-verbal intelligence are easy to measure; I’m not an expert, but I believe that quite reliable tests of diligence have been around for a long time. So testing, as a measure of teacher effectiveness, is not really all that difficult.

    All the rest is really bollocks that creates work for SLTs and creates a lot more dubious hurdles for working teachers. Tick box evaluations always have a large element of subjectivity, and are wide open to abuse. The guiding principle for anyone who has to make something work in private enterprise is Occam’s razor. The guiding princle for the modern manager is to make evaluation so intricate and obscure that outsiders have little or no chance of penetrating the fog within.

    • Don says:

      Not necessarily bollocks, character and confidence can be associated with many points which often stand out with a good teacher .

  3. It can’t be much better than this can it…? There’s not going to be any perfect measure of an imperfectly defined, value ridden aspect of human performance.

    I think what you gain in having an immediate line-manager evaluate you, you lose by not having the Head. One would hope that the Head would have the best combined understanding of how the school-specific circumstances link in with ‘bigger picture’ educational currents (call it ‘wisdom’) and might be less susceptible to interpersonal vagaries than someone who knows you too well and for whom how you function might interact too directly (for good or for ill) with their own issues.

    I guess that those who know us the best can be the best to judge us, and the worst to judge us…

    Maybe we should start by asking ourselves what our conception of ‘objectivity’ should ever hope to be in such a judgement, and that might make it easier to reach a settling point.

  4. davowillz says:

    I think we should monitor teaching not teachers and I’m not convinced that head teachers always know who their 3 best and worst teachers are. I also think that you need to be an expert to assess anything properly. I know of 2 SLT who always got the lesson observation game right and who therefore rose through the ranks. Their results were nowhere near the best in the school. If one of these becomes a head teacher how do they even understand that I’m more successful by not doing what they did. In fact by doing the opposite to them I may be able to achieve better outcomes. One of the best teachers I know Is unpopular with the head because he makes very clever and astute arguments against some policies. That’s why I think you were on a better track with starting with results. For example take a department’s results and compare to other departments in the school first. Did they do better? Why? Talk with HoD SENCO and teachers. Ask how did they achieve the results they did? How did each teacher contribute. Also compare to similar schools? Do they do better? Why? Are they better supported by SLT? Does the other school dept simply do things better?
    I do think there is a place for student and parent feedback, but this must be tempered with common sense. I know of a teacher who is incredibly popular with pupils and actually despised by some parents. Head teacher needs to find out why.
    I think heads should also ask, Is this teacher following standard operating procedures? And again look at results. Is he doing better BECAUSE he isn’t doing what he is asked to do?
    The other aspect to consider is time. Has teaching in this dept been consistently good according to results? Is good it for all levels of learner but more importantly is it sustained. Do the pupils who do well at kS3 carry on to do well at ks 4 and 5? Why? Why not?
    I think teachers should be accountable for the basics of punctuality, attendance and marking, but teaching is a collaboration of many parts and really the evaluation of a single part of this will always be a little spurious. I think you can judge teaching as a head teacher, but if you do, you have to remember when you do, that you are also evaluating yourself.

    • David Didau says:

      I’m fairly sure a HT will know who they think they’re best 3 worst 3 are – you may disagree with them.

      My issue is that I just don’t think it’s possible to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching in any meaningful measurable way. You might like the idea of judging based on results but that rests on almost as flawed a premise as lesson grading.

      And yes, everything needs tempering with common sense.

      • Dominic salles says:

        I don’t buy the aversion to progress data. My English department had value added against FFTD every year since targets were invented, both before and after I was head of department. That must be 15 years or more. This would be impossible using the figures Coe cites. My own classes have achieved above FFTD every year since it was evened, except one, and that wasn’t because the data was wrong, it was because I was pulled in other directions that year.

        In my present school, pretty much the same teachers achieve value added every year, and new ones are added every year. The picture is not volatile.

        The solution is to include at least three years’ data, in order to account for sample size.

        Added to this, you have the relative performance of your students in your subject, compared to how they did in other subjects.

        Added to this, the 7Cs from the MET project, which also provides percentages for student responses based on whether or not the teachers achieve value added results. If value added were unreliable the percentages would show no clear pattern of correlation, but instead they do, both for the top 25 percent and the bottom 25 percent.

        I can accept that there are lots of poor proxies for learning, but exam results over time certainly isn’t one of them.

        The idea that we can be brilliant teachers without very good exam results is also self deluded nonsense.

        • David Didau says:

          I don’t think anyone is deluding themselves that you can have great teachers with very poor exam results. But those exam results are not yours. They are your students. Clearly there’s a correlational relationship but I think it’s “self-deluded nonsense” to claim that the teacher is primarily responsible. Children have agency – they exercise a choice. This cannot be controlled, although it can, of course, be influenced.

          I know nothing of your school so cannot make any kind of judgement about the children you teach, but let me give you an example. In a school where I had taught for years, was happy and confident and supported by my HT, my students did very well. I congratulated myself on my excellent teaching. Then I moved schools and was given a Yr 11 class whose experience of the previous 4 years was that there was no expectation to work. I strove mightily to make a difference but got no support from the school. As time went on it became clear that in this particular context, with this particular class, nothing I was going to do would make those kids get decent exam results. Should I be judged on that?

          I’d also be interested in why Coe’s figures make your results a logical impossibility?

          • nappits1443 says:

            Hi David. I would never seek to take complete credit for the success of a class of mine. If my kids succeed, it’s because of many factors. Primarily, in my opinion, it’s because somewhere in another group is a student (or group of students) that could have ensured my class failed, had they been part of the group. (Perhaps a colleague took them away for a spell? Perhaps they were simply part of another group?) The work I do with my form, for instance, hopefully makes their subject teachers’ experience of teaching them more productive and successful. (I’d therefore like some of the credit for their success). Success should be celebrated as a collective – dept or school wide – never on an individual ‘I always achieve high value-added scores with my classes’ level. And as for performance related pay based on individuals’ ‘successes’.. Christ.

  5. Phil Stock says:

    Hi David

    Thanks for this post, which has some useful ideas. I tend to agree with Keven’s concerns around evaluations resting mainly on the shoulders of head teachers, though I certainly think there could be a role for them in the process. Your questions are a helpful starting point and could quite easily be used by a direct line manager, perhaps tweaked with a range of other departmental / team focuses, such as levels of support, responsibility for setting helpful cover, professionalism during meetings or training.

    For me, one of the most important aspects of evaluating teacher effectiveness is commitment to and impact of professional development, which you have alluded to by referencing exam results and the competence matrix. I think that beyond a fair and reasonable minimum expectation (which I think we have achieved through using minimum rates of progression, attendance of students and other mitigating factors that might make class targets unrealistic) the main evaluation comes down to engagement with and effectiveness of individual development. By effectiveness, I don’t necessarily mean that which is tied to student outcomes.

    Like Nick Rose, I am also in the process of using student voice for teacher development. He has used the MET Tripod survey items, which i think are a helpful starting point and from my experience produce reliable formative feedback. I think they may also have a place – along with other measures, such as exam outcomes, line manager’s professional view – in evaluating performance. To this end, I have added an eighth section entitled ‘craft’. My intention is for teachers to identify (in conjunction with their line managers’ input) 2-3 micro elements for professional development across the year during appraisal e.g. improve use of modelling exemplar writing in year 9 set two. I think the students’ view on the relative impact of these goals throughout the year would be a helpful addition to the overall evaluation. So, the 7 MET sections are for development and the additional eighth is more for evaluation.

    Finally, I think teachers can be evaluated on how much they have clearly tried to develop as the course over the course of the year. Some kind of learning journal that documents the ideas, notes, reflections of successes and failures over the year would help to demonstrate commitment to improvement. Obviously, as Keven points out with the training of line managers, proper time and guidance is needed to make this effective, which is what we are trying to achieve by enshrining two hours of professional development at week starting this September.

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble. I enjoyed your post.

    Phil

  6. julietgreen says:

    What is the teacher’s attendance and punctuality like? If there are concerns, are there any mitigating factors?

    Turning up to school would seem to be a base level requirement, but I know what you mean.

    Does the teacher follow school policies on uniform, standards of behaviour, professionalism etc.?

    Really? I’d fail on the first of those three. I have very little interest in the pupil uniform code and I strongly object to the inclusion of ‘no hooded tops’ in the teachers’ handbook! Expectations of behaviour, on the other hand… I have 2 rules – ‘courtesy and safety’.

    Does the teacher collaborate with other staff?

    OK. A desirable feature, perhaps, but dependent on the other staff, too.

    What is the opinion of teacher’s line manager and colleagues?

    This one I’d most definitely not wish to use. These days the line managers are those who seek a little more power than they had as mere class teachers. That does not presuppose any greater knowledge, experience or understanding.

    Does the teacher take part in extra-curricular activities?

    This shouldn’t be necessary.

    Does the teacher ‘add value’ to the school in any other way?

    This either.

    Are you confident in the teacher’s classroom performance? How do you know?

    Back to the nub. How do we judge it?

    Are students confident in the teacher’s performance? How do you know?

    Are the students really able to judge? Are the students happy to be with the teacher? Do they feel safe? Do they wish to take part in this teacher’s lessons?

    Are parents confident in the teacher’s performance? How do you know?

    Even though I think (based on history) this would be a high scorer for me, parents see very little of what goes on in school. Are they really in a position to judge?

    What are their results like? How do they compare to other teacher’s results?

    Difficult for all the reasons you’ve already mentioned. How do their classes compare to the classes of other teachers?

    What are their students’ books like? Does it look like students are making progress?
    Do you like the teacher? Why? [This is to interrogate biases in the evaluator.]

    Books might indicate very poor performance.

    I feel that there’s a crucial set of questions missing here:
    Is the teacher well educated?
    Does he/she have very good, secure specific subject knowledge and a broad general knowledge?
    Does he/she impart quality information to the pupils with few errors?
    Is he/she prepared to undertake continuous CPD and research in order to maintain a level of awareness and understanding?
    Does the teacher take the business of education seriously within the classroom or does he/she seem more concerned with the appearance of competence?
    Does the teacher question the validity of what he/she is expected to do?
    Is there evidence of extended learning (beyond the tick boxes) in this teacher’s classroom?

    • David Didau says:

      Hi Julie

      I have to say, I would reserve a special corner of hell for teachers who fail to uphold school uniform rules. They undermine everyone else in the school. They make it harder for students to understand expectations and they make it harder for other teachers to do their job without confrontation. I don’t care about uniform anymore than you do, but as far as students are concerned, I’m a zealot. If I ran a school where staff had this attitude I would be keen to explain their moral duty to get on board.

      Thanks for your other suggestions – I’ll give them serious consideration.

      I understand (although disagree) your reservations about most of the other questions – the point to remember is that none of these questions should result in pass or fail, they merely help to establish a picture. DOn’t forget, people are making these judgements anyway, whether you know it or not, making the process transparent is surely preferable.

      • julietgreen says:

        ” I don’t care about uniform anymore than you do, but as far as students are concerned, I’m a zealot.” That very statement should at least set up a degree of cognitive dissonance. I would seriously wager that the shoes they wear has no bearing on the respect they give me. That comes from something else entirely. I would feel sorry for the staff in your school where you ‘explain their moral duty’ to enforce meaningless rules, because I would suspect the priorities are skewed. However, I’m open to persuasion as always.

        • David Didau says:

          If a school has decided uniform isn’t important then fine – do what you want. But if you work in a school which has deiced to draw the line at the wearing of trainers, or doing up top buttons or whatever and you then fail to support this school, regardless of your personal opinions about the rule you are not behaving in a professional way.

          I too doubt footwear could ever have a causal relationship with outcomes. But in schools where students get inconsistent messages about their behaviour the newest, least experienced teachers suffer most. Nothing is so likely to undermine the ability of an NQT or supply teacher to do their job than an experienced member of staff being too cool for school rules.

          I visited a school recently with very draconian rules. If a student fails to bring a pen to school they are sent home and given a behaviour point. If they get 10 behaviour points they are permanently excluded. No one fails to bring a pen to school. A few years ago this school was a chaotic place with children deciding where and how they would follow instructions; results were poor, morale was low and children were miserable. It is now a transformed place.

          Some children will always want to challenge authority. Where you draw your battleline matters. If you draw the line on something that doesn’t matter much (uniform) then that is where children will challenge. If you lower the bar, then that is where the challenge will come. I’ve worked in schools where the line was whether you had spat at a member of staff. This, I think, is wholly unacceptable.

          • RichTeacher says:

            Hi, forgive my ignorance but I have a lot to learn. When you say this school can permanently exclude a pupil for 10 behaviour points, which in this case could be for forgetting a pen 10 times, is this actually possible? I have heard that it is actually very difficult to permanently exclude pupils, if pupils can be perm excluded for 10 instances of lack of pen, then I will be very interested, not to actually exclude pupils for this but for future discussions about behaviour consequences etc. Thanks, sorry about my lazy punctuation and keep up the good work!

          • David Didau says:

            Yes. It’s actually possible. Although they haven’t to my knowledge excluded anyone for forgetting a pen 10 times.

        • teachwell says:

          To be fair Juliet you don’t actually state why you disagree with school uniform so I don’t understand that aspect. I agree that it has no impact on behaviour and attitude for some individuals and can only give the anecdotal example of my fellow primary school pupils who had no uniform who went onto a secondary school where they did. It didn’t change the behaviour.

          However, I do think that if the school has a policy on uniform then it should be upheld. If one disagrees the correct forum for this is discussing it as a whole school and trying to change the rule from the top. Ignoring it in front of the children just shows that there is an inconsistent belief in the rules the school has set in the first place and in my experience has a wider (negative) impact on behaviour. Hence if there was a uniform I would reinforce it, if there wasn’t I wouldn’t ask for it. If I were really against certain policies in a school I would seek to work somewhere else rather than undermine what is there or as I said seek change behind to the scenes.

          Playing out ones disagreements with school policy in front of the children is not fair on them or the rest of the staff. Don’t forget this also happens with behaviour policies and one of the reasons for the messy state it is in.

          • julietgreen says:

            I think you’re both misunderstanding my point which is that you can judge a good teacher by their upholding of uniform codes. I don’t actively undermine the rules but here is an important and crucial point: if you attempt to enforce rules which have no real purpose other than to make them do what they’re told, even if you yourself see them as meaningless, then the important rules are much harder to enforce.

          • David Didau says:

            I don’t think you can judge a teach merely by they vigour with which they uphold institutional rules – it’s one part of a suite of ideas. But this for me is a bottom line. If we disagree so profoundly with the rules of the institution you work in, leave. If you stay work to make them better but never by undermining colleagues.

          • julietgreen says:

            “Never by undermining colleagues”. Perhaps. Unless, I presume, the colleagues are behaving in a reprehensible manner. Here I’m not referring to issues of attire, but there are ‘disciplinary’ tactics which can be considered questionable, even if they are part of the ‘rules of the institution’. I don’t believe in rule by fiat and I don’t believe in ‘if you don’t like it, leave’. I think we’re doing more than training a compliant workforce.

          • David Didau says:

            If there is an institution which requires teachers to behave in a ‘reprehensible manner’ when the moral obligation is to blow the whistle.

            If this is not the case then institution will (or certainly should) be required to deal with said behaviour.

            As long as you do the right thing, all will be well.

          • teachwell says:

            The issue is that different teachers will see different rules as important or place different values on them personally. I can guarantee that if you sat in a room full of teachers some would say that lining up for example is important and others that wouldn’t. We all have to compromise to some extent so long as it isn’t unethical I don’t have a problem with that.

          • julietgreen says:

            I agree. This is why there has to be a rational reason for the imposition of rules, otherwise it becomes something that is subject to the whims of the leadership and the degree to which they can demand that their staff step up or leave. If you know that a rule has no basis in anything, you can bet the pupils do too. I’m happy to explain exactly why I expect pupils to line up quietly and exercise self discipline when walking around the premises.

          • teachwell says:

            I know what you mean about leadership. I do often wonder why they insist on rules that they don’t then enforce anyway!! It would be different if it actually did matter to them and I do know that uniform is one that they turn a blind eye to when it suits them. I’ve been in a situation where we have had drives to improve certain things but then the momentum goes for everyone else and I have ended up being the only doing anything!! It’s just pointless if you don’t get backing. The whole ‘pick your battles’ with children is a nonsense – if the only rules were the important ones like you said then there would be no need to pick battles at all!!

          • julietgreen says:

            Exactly so. I prefer to be in a position where I can explain exactly why a certain rule is important than just ‘because I told you so’ or even worse ‘because somebody has told me to tell you so’. I totally sympathise with what you say about drives to improve things and the shifting priorities of leaders. ‘Courtesy’ and ‘safety’ are my two rules, plus one extra – ‘nothing gets killed in my classroom’. It’s quite difficult to teach courtesy when a senior leader grabs a child’s sleeves and yanks them down because he’s flouting the rule ‘you must not push your sweatshirt sleeves up over your elbows’.

          • teachwell says:

            But to be fair is that really any better than the senior leader who lets a child wear a baseball cap to stop them having a paddy only to expect you to get them to take it off the next day because that’s what the rule actually is. To be honest the uniform is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is that behaviour policies need to be drawn up for the needs of the school and one that all stakeholders know about. I would actually give children a say over a new behaviour policy as they tend to be stricter than the teachers in the first place. Then it is about maintaining it. The frustration for teachers and pupils is rules that are either pointless or important but not followed through. I’ve watched a class full of children look at me to say how is that fair over a particular child and the truth is – it’s not but it’s one of those situations where it is in our capacity to make it fair.

          • julietgreen says:

            I can see where you’re coming from. It’s the distinction between rules that leave the pupils mystified and rules that are being deliberately flouted to assert their ill-conceived dominance/demand for special privileges.

          • teachwell says:

            Indeed!! I think you’ve summed it up nicely now could you send that out to all SLT in England!!!

  7. […] A half-truth is more dangerous than a lie. Thomas Aquinas Obviously enough, not all teachers are equal. But how do we know which ones are any cop? Most school leaders feel it important to evaluate the effectiveness of their staff, but how can they go about this in valid and reliable way? Over the past year  […]

  8. chemistrypoet says:

    Interesting. To paraphrase: there are no quantitative measures that can be considered as reliable and robust with which to measure how good a teacher is. This leaves us with subjective measures. Basically, accountabiity at the teacher level is difficult to envisage. On the other hand, some teachers will be more effective than others (for various reasons). I’m not sure that this can be dealt with at the individual teacher level (which is how the accountability system tried to deal with it until recently, when Ofsted apparently saw the light). My view is that the system-wide (or school-wide) context is where focus should really be. What does the school think is important? How does it communicate that to students? What are the consequences of this to teacher behaviour? How does the school go about understanding the teachers? How does the school go about supporting the teachers? [One size doesn’t fit all, of course….and tick box approaches are a waste of time]. Does the teacher operate in a way that is consistent with how the school wants to work? This begins to come down to how effective is the Head, because it is the Head who sets the context for the school.

    (I gave some thought to what the important characteristics of a teacher might be: What’s a Teacher- summary so far http://wp.me/p3watv-12)

    • David Didau says:

      I completely agree. And thanks for the link.

      • Tom Burkard says:

        I couldn’t disagree more strongly. I have never worked in an organisation that wasn’t riven with cliques and intrigues. Subjective evaluations put undue power in the hands of the dominant cliques–the ‘who’ in Lenin’s ‘who-whom’. Objective measures give the ‘whom’ a fighting chance.

        Let’s take your last post and the link to Greg Ashman. He recounted the resurgance of whole-language practices like encouraging pupils to use context to ‘predict’ words. People like Kenneth Goodman and Frank Smith, who originated the discredited concept that learning to read was a ‘psycholinguistic guessing game’, rejected all forms of objective measurement. In the UK, they were rumbled by the late Martin Turner, who conspired with eight other LA Educational Psychologists to release confidential test scores that revealed a precipitous drop in reading standards between 1985-1989, when the ‘Real Books’ craze was at its height. At a stroke, the teaching of reading became a political question that could no longer be bottled up in the secret garden. Cognitive scientists like Stanovich and Ehri conducted studies that relied upon objective measures to demolish Goodman’s and Smith’s fanciful speculation. By 2005, the game was up–but this would never have happened but for outside pressures backed by the kind of objective measures that are taken for granted in the private sector.

        Now that we are talking about teacher effectiveness, it sounds as though educators think they can retreat into a new secret garden, one which pays lip service to Dan Willingham and allows that the purpose of education is to transmit knowledge, but is prepared to resort to the most elaborate measures to avoid measuring how much knowledge has been transmitted.

        Looking back at my long and eventful life and the teachers (inside of education and out) who shaped my intellect, I cannot think of any consistent patterns other than having a thorough mastery of the skills and concepts they passed on to me. Juliet Green’s critique of your bullet points was spot-on.

        • David Didau says:

          The problem with your objection to subjectivity is that it is inevitable. People always make subjective judgments and then conceal this (especially from themselves) by constructing post hoc justifications. That’s how lesson grading worked. (Obviously student outcomes are more objective than that, but they need to be treated cautiously as part of a broader picture.) Making subjectivity more transparent – and holding leaders to account for their subjective opinions – is surely a better than to pretend it isn’t happening.

          I think you mistake the reason I would have leaders ask these questions when forming judgments of teacher – it is not to make the teacher accountable for things outside their control but to make the leader carefully consider why they think as they do and to investigate the causes for their opinions. If you think the questions fail to do this then I’d certainly appreciate some suggestions of ones that do a better job.

          How would you prefer your effectiveness to be judged?

          Does anyone really think the purpose of ed is to transmit knowledge? Surely that’s just a means to an end. For me the purpose of ed is make kids cleverer and better suited to the world they’ll have to live in.

          • Tom Burkard says:

            David–Fortunately, my teaching days ended before performance management came in. Insofar as my performance was judged, it was by my pupils’ progress. I was teaching basic literacy skills to SEN pupils, and they were all tested with standardised reading and spelling tests on a termly basis. Pupils whose age-standardised scores had improved at a rate of a few months per year throughout primary school usually made progress of around two years per calendar year. Some of my results were published in the Dyslexia Review.

            Needless to say I was extremely popular with parents, who helped teach their own children and were delighted to find that what they’d been told by their primary school teachers was all cobblers. I was popular with staff who were fed up with teaching kids who could barely read and write. But no one ever dreamed of suggesting that my performance needed to be managed. I would have walked out had anyone done so. And I think that this is what performance management is doing now–excluding potential teachers who don’t fit into a management culture, but have a strong enough vision of what they want to do so that interference is positively harmful.

            And yes, the purpose of education is to transmit knowledge and skills. As you allow, higher-order skills are absolutely dependent up prior knowledge, and it is very easy to quantify and measure progress in the latter. We may (and should) argue about what knowledge and skills should have priority, and even what knowledge is appropriate for low-ability pupils. Teaching kids how to think has the danger of sliding unconsciously into teaching them WHAT to think; Gove can be thanked for ensuring that the new science GCSEs have been stripped of green propaganda and sociology.

            I also utterly reject the notion that schooling should be about making pupils ‘better suited to the world they’ll have to live in’. For a start, we have no idea what kind of world they will have to live in. We have a much better idea of the intellectual world they will inherit, and these days we seem to expect them to progress by standing on the shoulders of moles. Nor is it true that our economic progress depends upon the quality of our schools–were this so, the US would have the living standards of a banana republic. Also, the idea that we should ‘suit them to the world they’ll have to live in’ could be interpreted as ‘teaching them the correct attitudes and thoughts’. I find this chilling.

          • “Also, the idea that we should ‘suit them to the world they’ll have to live in’ could be interpreted as ‘teaching them the correct attitudes and thoughts’. I find this chilling.”

            I’m sorry Tom – whilst I appreciate the persuasive power of much of what you said here (which admittedly was based on your experience of being in a position where it was easy to value your direct influence on relatively narrow educational outcomes) I find your last comment rather blinkered.

            However we may wish to believe that it would be nice to see ourselves as educating children purely for their own benefit, we educate them for OUR benefit as well. We ALL rely to one degree or another on those around us following some societal norms, whether it’s as neighbours, co-workers, fellow shoppers & park users, fellow commenters on internet blogs etc. etc. Yes, educate for independence of mind, but also give habitual reinforcement of how to respectfully live in a society of others. We educate for necessity as well as opportunity.

            Perhaps you could argue that that’s a parent’s business. But we simply can’t escape from the influence we have as teachers on the socialisation of young people – whether for good or for ill, so we should take that seriously.

            We also can’t escape from the ethical necessity to evaluate teachers according to a triangulation of the many contributions they make to a child’s education – not just the most easy to measure objectively. Many factors should be taken into consideration – any of which on their own might seem unnecessary or inconsequential.

          • David Didau says:

            I have no interesting scrying or soothsaying. I most certainly have no interest in 21st learning or other garbage common peddled in the current climate. I’m not concerned in the least with economic progress either. By fitting students to the world, I’m talking about preparing them for the institutions of society – university, careers, buying a house whatever. As such intellectual heritage is all. I’ve recently shifted my views on this after read Kalenze’s book – he argues convincingly that student-centered, holistic education is like an inverted funnel – only the most suited children make it through. He suggests turning the funnel around puts the needs of society ahead of the needs of children and as such prepares them better for the rigours of life. It’s an interesting view and I’d recommend his book.

            For the record, here’s what I instinctively believe: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/disagree-purpose-education/

  9. teachwell says:

    What is the teacher’s attendance and punctuality like? If there are concerns, are there any mitigating factors? Yes – makes perfect sense and that’s just the real world of working!!

    Does the teacher follow school policies on uniform, standards of behaviour, professionalism etc.? Again agreed but there are plenty of managers who don’t do this!!

    Does the teacher collaborate with other staff? Agreed having worked in schools where this has not been the case. In primary it is vital that the year group teachers cooperate to ensure consistency of teaching. It is also a vital part of their development and CPD.

    What is the opinion of teacher’s line manager and colleagues? I would have come unstuck on this manager one in many an instance as the shit rises to the top was evident in many schools. I see many people have ignored the views of the colleagues – interesting one and would make sense as it could provide a counter balance to unscrupulous managers. Proceed with caution in primary schools.

    Does the teacher take part in extra-curricular activities? Agreed for once the workload is reduced but not until then. I ran after school clubs every year I could but the truth is that it started to kill me to do it and the ‘quality’ marking!!

    Does the teacher ‘add value’ to the school in any other way? I think this is one where actually those that go above and beyond in terms of seeking grants, school visits and visitors, etc could all be part of this.

    Are you confident in the teacher’s classroom performance? How do you know? I agree because the truth is that while head teachers can be subjective they do understand if it is essentially working in a classroom or not. There is either purpose or chaos and this is evident long before any observation as I argued in a blog post recently.

    What actions has the teacher taken to develop professionally? I agree wholeheartedly however there is a caveat – I once worked in a school which simply did not give members of staff access to courses, except for a favoured few. Cue annoyed teachers and a letter questioning CPD in the school. I managed the feat of leaving that school being described as both outstanding and a trouble-maker.

    Are students confident in the teacher’s performance? How do you know?

    A dose of skepticism here from me – primary pupils are going to be skewed even more from the progressive nonsense. I have always been found to be strict so no doubt would have this reflected in the answers – whether that is considered a positive or a negative is down to the head.

    Certainly I have been under pressure from the progressive elements to ‘let go’ more which I have steadfastly refused to do as I see no benefit to the children’s learning if I do. However, I would argue that the majority in the end have been happy. It depends when you ask to some extent as well. This needs to be defined so that it can’t be skewed against the teacher. I don’t really believe that they know enough about what we do to be able to assess our performance. I would focus on the extent to which children are learning – Are they able to speak about their learning? What have they improved this year? How do they know? Also I would argue that we need to be able to see if there are patterns with both this and parents – i.e. is it the same child complaining? Did they complain about other teachers? Why? If the teacher is the source of the issue fine but if this is recurring regardless of the teacher type or year group then there are other factors at play.

    Also as that teacher who always got the challenging classes in the school – how is that going to skew things?

    One big thing – this needs to be done discreetly. Already children think they can get you sacked – how much more power would this give to them?

    Are parents confident in the teacher’s performance? How do you know? This is another one that could be a double-edged sword. However, I would say that currently only the parents who complain about a teacher are heard. I think if the majority of parents were listened to it might actually help the teacher as heads would have to seek a broader range of parents to discuss what happens in the class. As above – are the parents complaining the same as the previous year? What is the cause of their complaint? Unprofessionalism fine. If it is simply that Annie doesn’t get more of the teachers time or Ahmed should be the apple of the teachers eye to the exclusion of all others then no.

    What are their results like? How do they compare to other teacher’s results? Fair enough with caveats for the class you got in the first place (i.e. I spent three months undoing the damage of the children going through one teacher after another – it actually did take that long to convince them that I was staying and that they had to do what I asked.

    What are their students’ books like? Does it look like students are making progress? Fair enough although the former can be a battle if lax rules further down.

    What does the teacher’s classroom look like? Agreed but we need to have time and budgets for this.

    What does the teacher make of their own performance?
    Do you like the teacher? Why? [This is to interrogate biases in the evaluator.]
    Fine and fine.

    To some extent it depends on the weighting of these questions – should they all be equal?

  10. Simone Harrison says:

    Many interesting points raised above and in comments. I think what it all illustrates is that, as with assessing students, there is no one size fits all approach to evaluating the achievement of teachers. It requires a mix of qualitative / quantitative and subjective / objective measures applied by insightful, skilled leaders who lead and manage their middle managers well.
    No two teachers are the same and what success looks like for one may well not be the best way to evaluate another.
    Having a wide evidence base from a range of sources to draw on seems the most sensible approach.
    That said, a set of initial prompts for leaders to consider whether they have a full enough picture seems a very sound idea.

  11. Lisa Collins says:

    In your mix of what makes a good teacher, you don’t seem to have mentioned the teacher who builds a positive relationship with the students ( combination of respect, good humour, feeling appreciated…) I remember from my own time at school that I always worked best for teachers I felt valued me and made the time to support and challenge me. The longer I’m in teaching, the more apparent it becomes that a sound relationship trumps everything else. Without it, you can use all the fanciest teaching techniques and skills you like, but you may not take the students with you.

    • David Didau says:

      One of the questions I suggested was to enquire about students relationship with the teacher. Your points are exactly what I was getting at, thanks

    • Tom Burkard says:

      Lisa–The teacher I recall most fondly was my Year 9 English teacher, June Roethke, the sister of poet Ted Roethke. She was morose, over-weight and unapproachable, yet such was her moral authority that even the most disruptive pupils behaved immaculately in her classes. And that authority rested upon her teaching ability. Without her, my knowledge of formal grammar would be almost nil. But what I recall as clearly as it were yesterday was her poetry reading. She lived and breathed the great Victorian poets.

      On the other hand, I also had an enormous amount of time for my Chemistry teacher, who was very good on postive relationships with his pupils, much as you describe. An so it goes right on through university, but many of my best teachers were personally as aloof as June Roethke.

  12. Nic says:

    I think you are still working on the basis that any such exercise is worthwhile. I disagree. You need to know that teachers are not bad but, beyond this, attempts to grade or rank teachers do more harm than good in my opinion.

    To drive performance above the minimum standard leaders need to do some actual leading. Sharing a vision, setting challenging objectives and working with their people to see them realised. Instead, we have a culture of micromanagement: school leaders who worry if teachers are ‘good’ and waste time trying to grade and categorise.

    • David Didau says:

      I’m really not working on that basis 🙂 I have zero interest in grading or ranking teachers.

      • nic says:

        The whole post is about how you know a teacher is good. If you have zero interest in grading teachers then this isn’t the question you ask. That you can write so much about it suggests you haven’t yet left behind the notion that there is utility in categorising teachers in a very simplistic way.

  13. As someone who has moved into teaching from industry/consultancy, I find it surprising that 360-degree appraisal hasn’t made it into teaching. This would involve asking for anonymous feedback from line managers, students, parents (yes!) and peers about staff performance. Handled properly it would remove a lot of the potential bias of relying on head-only assessment while retaining the vital all-round picture!

  14. […] A half-truth is more dangerous than a lie. Thomas Aquinas Obviously enough, not all teachers are equal. But how do we know which ones are any cop? Well, we just do, don’t we? Everyone in a school community tends to know who’s doing a decent job. But how do we know? Rightly, most school leaders feel  […]

  15. Tom Burkard says:

    Chris–schools, like other organisations and society itself, have rules and they should be enforced fairly. Even Russell Brand would think twice before arguing with this. In other words, teachers are perfectly within their rights to discipline a pupil who makes a homophobic remark. But if as a consequence of this the pupil is made to sit through a gender-awareness course, I would argue that this is unjust and profoundly counter-productive. You don’t have to be a disciple of JS Mill to think that our thoughts should not be policed.

    Another egregious example of the way thought-policing has crept into education is circle time, a gross invasion of pupils’ privacy more attuned to Mao’s China than the cradle of liberty. SEAL was another such invasion, but (unlike a lot of New Labour educational innovations) it was properly evaluated. They found that it

    “failed to impact significantly upon pupils’ social and emotional skills, general mental health difficulties, pro-social behaviour or behaviour problems… Analysis of school climate scores indicated significant reductions in pupils’ trust and respect for teachers, liking for school, and feelings of classroom and school supportiveness during SEAL implementation”.

    There is no doubt that pupils respond positively to role models, which may include teachers they admire. The SEAL evaluation shows that this is something that cannot easily be ‘managed’, even if we think such activities are justified.

    Ironically, one of the most salient aspects adult life is competition–yet even on this blog, it appears to be a taboo subject. I used competitions at the end of every lesson I gave my SEN pupils, and if I were a few minutes late, I could be sure that a hand would shoot up and some pupil would ask, “Please Sir, can we have our competition?” Video games have taken over from sport as the primary outlet for kids’ competitive instincts, but I find it wholly bizarre that educators remain in denial, and go to such great lengths to find alternate means of motivating their pupils.

    • David Didau says:

      Competition is taboo on this blog?! Why d’you think that for heaven’s sake?

    • Tom – thanks – I’m actually fully with you on just about all that you said there (although I think the circle time comment was perhaps a little sweeping – as, seemingly, the comment about David’s blog being anti competition!).

      I too am dubious about active attempts to teach character, and would suggest that it is something which we will always better influence obliquely. I also fully support the regular participation in competitions of many kinds.

      Your comment about pupils responding positively to role models I think gets to the crux of my point. In evaluating the quality of a teacher, should they not be positively valued for being a good role model to pupils…?

      • Tom Burkard says:

        Chris–one person’s ‘good role model’ might not necessarily be another’s! Seriously, one of the best teachers I know busked for three years after getting his first degree before deciding to do a PGCE. Whilst doing so he got into an accident whilst driving under the influence and was lucky the case was delayed until after he’d qualified. This isn’t anything he advertises, obviously. However, his pupils love him because he’s a bloody good teacher and the little devils know when they’re actually learning (as opposed to producing Ofsted’s ‘evidence of learning’). After ten years in the trade all this has been forgotten, but in his first three years his career was on a knife edge because his SLT were far more interested in producing Ofsted lessons than what their pupils learned. In the end, it gets down to qui custodiet ipsos custodes–and this is another reason why I think performance management is a dangerously closed system, especially when there are no external objective measures of pupil progress. even Chris Woodhead argues that we’re now treating teachers as half-wits whose every action needs ‘managing’.

        David–I’ll happily withdraw my charge if you could show me where The Learning Spy advocates the use of competition to motivate pupils. I’ll admit I haven’t got the time to read everything you’ve written, but the times I’ve mentioned it here, it has been met with a deafening silence.

        • Again – I agree with much that you say Tom, but I feel that you’re passing the ball from hand to hand slightly!

          Yes – judgement of what constitutes a good role-model is surely subjective as is pretty much every way of judging a teacher. That’s the point David is making! Hence the need for multiple ways of viewing a teacher. But probably in a Christian/Humanist Liberal Democracy (or whatever we are!) we have a broad set of things which would seem pretty widely agreed on if contrasted with another time or place, and hence we had no difficulty in mutually realising that “drinking under the influence” is (in isolation) not good role modelling.

          In a sense, your story about your teacher friend actually backs-up the need for taking in multiple views of a teacher – indeed you seem to have settled on the views of the children he taught – which most people here would agree is about as dicey a measure as any of them 😀

          Even yearly changes in standardised scores is subjective insomuch as whether you believe that doing so is a good proxy for ‘education’ or not, and in terms of how you interpret the causes of the scores. Should the overall achievements of a Year 5 Primary Teacher really be summarily assessed purely according to her children’s end of year scores in English and Maths, simply because that data gives a fleeting glimpse of objectively comparison data…?

          I feel bad quibbling on this, as I like the vast majority of what you say – I keep having the urge to doff my cap to you respectfully and say no more…

          …However…! To reiterate my main point, and why I am quibbling…! I really think that the best we can hope for here is a system where we have a ‘fuzzy logic’ approach to triangulating different subjective data sources on the quality of a teacher, taken in combination with another ‘fuzzy logic’ approach to combining different perspectives as to what this whole education business is about after all.

          I guess I can’t state my point any clearer than that – so I will indeed ”doff my cap to you” now! 😉

  16. mrbenney says:

    Another thought provoking blog David. The questions you pose at the end are interesting and are certainly a step towards a more holistic view of a teacher. I note your comment and link to Jack Marwood’s work on the input/output fallacy. I agree with much of this but only up to a point. Perhaps I am taking it too far but a final conclusion of the input/output fallacy is that the quality of the teacher is fairly negligible on the results of the pupil. I think we all know that final conclusion just isn’t true. A pupil can switch teachers and find their learning/performance/progress improves dramatically.
    One teacher might get their pupils to achieve C grades whilst another teacher in a very similar subject (e.g. Biology compared to Chemistry) will help the same pupils achieve As, A*s and Bs. This may be simply because the second teacher is “better”. It happens in many/every school. However, I agree that the pupils have to do the learning. This is why data IN CONTEXT is, for me the key to judging teacher effectiveness. FFT Data, performance against YELLIS/CATS, subject residuals etc need to go into the mix but understanding the story of the pupils within the data is vital. To judge you purely on your KS4 class performance (as mentioned by you above in the comments) would be nonsensical because of the story behind the data. Great blogging, lots to think about.
    Damian

  17. […] How do we know if a teacher’s any good? 9th May (2,747 views) […]

  18. […] take the drink; they have to do the learning by themselves. In response to comments resulting from this blog of Didau’s from last month, he goes on to state that ‘children have agency – they exercise a […]

  19. […]  Didau, again. This time referencing EIUD‘s takes on teacher evaluation, the Charlotte Daniel… […]

  20. […] how might this work in practice? Despite the fact that it’s much harder to identify good teachers than we tend to believe, very headteacher I’ve ever spoken to has a pretty good idea who their most hard working, […]

  21. Matthew Evans says:

    Should we distinguish between being a good employee, a good colleague and a good (effective) teacher? Most of your questions relate to the former two and not the issue of teaching quality. I would argue that it is easier to judge whether the teacher fulfils their contract in the sense of their desirable behaviours than judge if they teach well. Perhaps we underestimate these qualities?

    When judging teaching effectiveness I favour a ‘probability’ model. Whilst it is difficult (impossible?) to link teacher actions to student learning (cause and effect) we DO know a reasonable amount about, in aggregate, what effective teaching looks like. If teachers do certain things then it makes it more probable that students will learn.

    To take an extreme example, if the teacher doesn’t turn up to teach then they will add no value. There is a high probability of poor teacher effectiveness. More subtly, we know that teachers that scaffold learning where required will on average be more effective. Perhaps not in this instance, at least not that we can prove, but teachers that do this are more likely to be effective. Through the study of the research evidence in to teacher effectiveness we can not say that a teacher IS more effective, but we can say they probably are.

    Pulling these strands together, we can conclude which teachers do the things we want our paid employees to do and we can say which are probably better teachers. This may have to be enough.

    • So, are you saying then… judge teachers according to how much they do what evidence suggests is useful to do? Sounds reasonable if a clear list of such things can be shortlisted. However… the evidence defaults to averages: There WILL be outliers who make seemingly limited approaches work really well in their own hands, and others who use the most vaunted approaches to no avail…. HOWEVER: Can there be any better approach…?

      Possibly – but it is open to human frailty: To have an experienced practitioner evaluate all kinds of evidence in real time at the coal-face – technique, situation, outcomes – and to take a stand on what it represents.

  22. […] The best approach is one of earned autonomy. There will be times when it’s right and reasonable to remove freedoms and give tight constraints in order to support those who struggle, but does it sound like a good idea to make all staff feel this way? The bottom line is that we are far, far worse at spotting underperformance than we believe. […]

  23. pepperdog says:

    Your questions will harm the maverick teacher who actually knows their stuff, makes a profound impression on students and gets fantastic results. It is a truly terrible top down approach. To effectively evaluate teachers we have to teach alongside them, get to know them and understand them. That would mean leaders have to get out their offices, lead by example and listen.

  24. Richard says:

    I respectfully disagree where you mention “We see correlation and are fooled into believing it is causation.”
    Although there might be considerable noise in the results the children achieve (caused by many factors mentioned by yourself and others in the comments), good exam results are caused in part by good teaching. The quality of the teacher can be in part seen in the value added scores that he/she gets over a number of years, measured through an annual test thoroughly testing the children. If I were a headteacher, and saw one teacher consistently achieving good VA scores, I wouldn’t want to lose that member of staff; I’d want to know how they did it. This can encourage the most effective teaching methods.

    I speak as a primary school teacher who helps children make good progress (as shown up in their test scores) using traditional methods, whole class teaching where possible, who doesn’t see the point of laborious marking (except to ensure that I don’t see my own kids in the evening or weekend), assesses with many mini-tests, and in general is fighting against a tide of ineffective ideas that float around the primary system.

    I don’t agree with this “What actions has the teacher taken to develop professionally?” A headteacher cannot possibly see what actions the teacher has taken. Just because a teacher goes on a course to improve some area of practice does not mean they are improving. Improvements came to my teaching when I reflected on lessons I taught (what worked, what didn’t), watched other professionals in action (hm…I’m going to nick that!). and started following some very talented practioners on twitter and the blogosphere (Lemov, Christodoulou, Willingham, Didau, Old, Bennett, Radice, Weinstein, Corbett etc.)

    I also don’t agree with this “What does the teacher’s classroom look like?” If I had my way, my primary classroom would not be cluttered with posters, examples of children’s work etc. An ineffective use of teacher time and a distraction from what I actually want children to be focussing on. But I think I am in a minority on that one.

  25. […] data allows us to say with certainty that some teachers are definitely better than others, for all sorts of complex reasons it doesn’t allow us to reliably identify who those teachers are. The best measures of teachers’ […]

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

%d bloggers like this: