If it is indeed true that “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”, and that the variation of teaching quality within schools is greater than that between schools, then it goes without saying that schools wanting to improve the quality of teaching must find some way of improving the professional capabilities of their teachers.
It seems that most efforts to achieve this goal tend to focus on making training accessible to teachers and on enforcing whole school initiatives to deliver ‘best practice’ teaching techniques.
I actually believe that our understanding of the nature of human motivation and what produces the most powerful forms of teaching places us in the position to do a whole lot better than that.
In this two-part post I want to present a vision for how professional teachers can be the best that they can, creating a model which might harness their commitment and personal best practice – no matter what stage of their career.
In this first half, I’m going to lay out the rational for the CPD framework which I will go on to present in the second half.
To start off then, what are the fundamental ingredients of the model?
I have drawn upon three key realities:
- The reality that the best teaching by any individual teacher can never be fully ‘Evidence Based’ and be dictated by ‘Best Practice’. Rather, it needs to be ‘Evidence Informed’, guided by ‘Best Principles’, but fundamentally dictated by their professional judgement of how they as an individual might best affect learning in the unique context of the children before them and the relationship they have established at that time. See here for my own development of Dylan Wiliam and Tom Bennett’s summations of this.
- The reality that – using traditional forms of ‘managerial motivation’ – teachers at different career stages simply won’t be motivated by the same things to produce the same outcomes:
Example: “Implement this (dubiously explained) initiative!”
- Trainee/Newly Qualified Teacher: “Yes!” – because I want to ‘make it’ as a professional teacher.
- Aspiring educational leader: “Yes!” – because I want to further my managerial career prospects.
- Experienced teacher with no particular career development plans: “Yes!” – because you will threaten me with capability proceedings if I don’t…
The last category of teacher is often seen by managers as the kind of person who needs the ‘stick’ rather than the ‘carrot’.
“I just want to teach and be left alone”… “I’ve seen it all before – we’re just trying to reinvent the wheel here” … “There’s only so much you can do…” etc.
- The reality – now well established if you dig down into the research (see Dan Pink’s book here for a compelling summary of the position) – that additional extrinsic motivators DO NOT produce better results in areas of human functioning which require original, creative, problem-solving forms of thinking. Rather, humans perform at their creatively productive best when given autonomy to pursue personal mastery and flow. Carrots and sticks actually impede performance in these kinds of task.
There has been a bit of a stir in educational circles regarding the potential of flow as something we should strive to facilitate in learners in our lessons, as a means to them developing an intrinsic interest in learning (see my own formulation here), but there seems to have been very little thought regarding how this could be a tremendous route to enabling teachers to perform at their best in the classroom.
Essentially then, my “Thirst for Mastery” model of CPD is based on the following 3 principles:
- Fundamentally, CPD is most successful when arising from the inherent drives of a teacher to develop themselves.
- Teachers, almost without exception, would like to be professionally respected and to experience the satisfaction which comes from the pursuit of ‘mastery’ and ‘flow’ in their day to day teaching practice.
- Teachers are at their most compelling when they are utilising teaching methods which, as well as being based on good pedagogical principles, are fully consonant with their beliefs, experience, personal qualities, and the practical classroom situation that they are faced with.
In part 2 I will outline a framework for how this could work in practice – fully harnessing the unique qualities of individual teachers whilst more than achieving the accountability goals of school leaders and inspectors.