“The Wasted Day”

Geoff Moss & Elizabeth Floyer

Published in Managing Schools Today February 2008

THE WASTED DAY

Performance Management and professional development are now inextricably linked within the management activities of our schools.  “All teachers should have a professional responsibility to be engaged in effective, sustained and relevant professional development throughout their careers and all teachers should have a contractual entitlement to effective, sustained and relevant professional development throughout their careers. There should be a continuum of expectations about the level of engagement in professional development that provides clarity and appropriate differentiation for each career stage. The expectations about the contribution teachers make to the development of others should take account of their levels of skills, expertise and experience, their role within the school, and reflect their use of up-to-date subject knowledge and pedagogy. In all these cases, performance management is the key process.”[1]

Here’s the big question – so how will you set about using this “key process” of performance management to promote professional development? If past experience of managing the process of an INSET day is anything to go by, then no small revolution in professional attitudes will be required. While the TDA acknowledges that CPD can take many forms, the perception of many teachers still is that a significant chunk of it is provided through the traditional In-Service Training day.   Over many years of practice as trainers we have by now had ample opportunity to observe – both from the front and from the sidelines – the responses of teachers to that typical INSET day.

When we ourselves are the presenter it can feel at times more like being a classroom teacher – this time with a rather large class, and indeed quite a mixed class in terms of the variety of learner types.  In our own Classroom Behaviour Management programme we talk about how to understand the classroom dynamics of the three types of pupils who typically enter the lesson – the intrinsically motivated who want to learn, the floating voters who are initially undecided, and the disaffected who are determined not to cooperate in any learning activity [2].  When observing teachers entering the venue for their training day we can see very similar characteristics to pupils entering the classroom.

First there are the intrinsically motivated learners. They arrive on time, they sit somewhere near the front, and they are usually equipped for learning (i.e. they come with pen and paper).  If they catch the presenter’s eye they smile encouragingly. They listen carefully, they take notes, they ask questions for clarification, and they attempt all the activities readily.

Then there will be another group of teachers who are more like the floating voters in a classroom. They look around the room to spot their friends, sit down with them for a chat, and wait to see which way the wind blows (i.e. is the presenter up front going to be worth listening to or not?). Often, before the presentation has started, one of them will approach the presenter with one of two encouraging questions –  “What time are you finishing?” and “We’re not going to do any role play, are we?”  If they are won over, they become more like the intrinsically motivated, but their motivational levels are temporary, and need to be won with each change of learning task.

Finally the disaffected and unmotivated arrive – eventually. They always sit right at the back of the room. If there are no chairs remaining at the back then they walk to the front row, where of course most of the seats remain unoccupied, to collect one and then take it all the way to the back. As long as they are at the back of the room they are content, even if it means they can barely see the screen or hear the presenter – but that doesn’t seem to matter to them; they are clearly not here to learn anything. They never arrive equipped with paper or pens. They don’t need to ask what time we will finish because they’ll leave when they feel like it. They seem to feel they can enter and leave the room at any time – including in the middle of a presentation.

At last, when a critical mass of the staff seem to be present then the day gets underway.  It is rare for the programme to begin on time. (Indeed, after each break it is rare to find everyone back in the room promptly for the start of the next session). Sometimes the head teacher introduces the day, puts the training into context, explains where the school is going with this. And then sometimes the head teacher isn’t present at all. Worst case scenario – sometimes the head has set up this session and booked an outside presenter so that someone else will stand there and take the flack for some major issue that’s boiling in the staffroom about discipline (or the lack of it).  Then the day, or much of it, can be hijacked by a debate about whether teachers should be expected to deal with misbehaviour, and whether this training is relevant or shouldn’t senior management be taking a tougher line with difficult kids – and what are they doing in this school anyway! And I’m only prepared to teach those who are prepared to learn!  You get the picture.

Flack or not, the presenter works through the programme, and tries to win over the floating voters.  If the content is relevant and the presentation is lively then this is rarely a problem. Most, if not all, of the floating voters are soon engaged. On a good day even a number of the disaffected begin to switch on. However there will always be some at the back who if not vocally dissenting from the programme remain, one way or another, switched off.  When asked to do something, they don’t do it. If it is to write something they don’t have any writing equipment. If it is to talk about something, they talk about something else. If it is to stand and enact something, they remain seated.  If it is to listen to the presenter, they talk among themselves.  The older disaffected may use the remainder of the time by taking a nap, the younger ones by passing notes, exchanging comments, and giggling. For them an INSET day is a day off.

And, just as with our pupils, there will be those teachers who physically take a day off – the absentees. They can’t really truant but they phone in sick that day, to avoid listening to something they don’t want to hear. It is not unusual for a presenter to be told by a head teacher “Of course the people who really need to hear this are not present today.”  Our question is – so when will those teachers who are absent actually receive the training? And for those who are present, what are your expectations of what they will do now as a result of training? What new skills will you expect to see of teachers in their practice now, or in the future?  In other words, what do you expect to be the outcome of this training – or was it just another wasted day?

It is readily observed that when teachers become learners they exhibit the worst features of their own pupils. The truth is somewhat more complex. Our own observations of teachers in their classrooms reveal that those teachers we see in our sessions as being “intrinsically motivated”, those committed to their own professional development, tend to have better managed lessons themselves.  Those who represent the “floating voters”, who need to be won over before learning takes place, often themselves have to win over a swathe of their pupils in many of their lessons before they can begin to teach. Meanwhile the disaffected and unmotivated teacher typically wages a permanent war with hostile pupils and unruly classes in which very little positive teaching seems to occur. Now which is cause and which effect we may only guess at, but the fact is that those teachers most in need of skills development are those least motivated to acquire it – under the prevailing conditions of the typical conventional INSET day at least.

So by the end of such a day there are some people who feel empowered to go ahead and implement the skills straightaway. Perhaps they were doing much of the programme already without putting a name to the skills we taught. They bring with them transferable skills, and so they are able to learn enough on one day and are sufficiently self-motivated to now go it alone.  Then there are those who might be willing to attempt bits of the programme, but who will not really be able to establish mastery of it independently, and so without ongoing support they will lose any knowledge and skills they have picked up. And for the rest the training makes no difference to their practice at all; they don’t develop either the competence to apply it or the commitment to pursue learning it.

So for how many teachers on your staff is the typical INSET day really not much more than a day off from the classroom? How does this training day fit into the school’s improvement plan, not just as something that can be ticked off the list – “Ah yes, we’ve done Assertive Discipline” – but as something that will really improve professional practice and make a difference to the lives of children and young people?  Not surprisingly, research shows that CPD is most effective when it is sustained, as part of a deliberately planned process [3]. So how will you sustain it? Here are some questions that need addressing –

  • What are the expectations for each person after this training day in terms of their own CPD programme?
  • How will teachers be helped after this day to develop their skills in this particular area?
  • Who will provide this help?
  • How will skill progress be monitored?
  • How will teachers receive feedback on their performance?
  • What are the timelines for the stages along the way?
  • When do we intend to complete this process?

Let’s begin by looking at the first question. (We’ll consider the others in later articles in this series). What are your expectations of each teacher? Not just that they will attend but hopefully that they will also learn from this training. So what do you expect teachers to know as a result of this training? Teachers often expect to complete evaluations of the training day – they are asked to rate the competence of the presenter, the content of the programme, the activities they undertook, even of the food (this one can often prove a critical determinant of the “success” of a training day). That is the common situation when teachers are learners.

But when our pupils are learners it is far from common practice to invite them to evaluate our lessons in the same way (although we have been working with some pupils along these lines with a few schools). Rather, in our role as teachers, the evaluation is made of our pupils’ performance. We expect them to have learned something from the lesson – that means we expect them to arrive on time, pay attention, do the tasks set, and be tested on the outcomes.  Would you be prepared to require the same of your staff i.e. test the learning of teachers after their INSET lesson? Probably not! You will more likely answer that you would expect to see teachers making use of the ideas and strategies in their lessons.

However if you are to manage this aspect of teacher’s performance you will first need to be clear about what exactly you will be observing. Mostly what we find (and the TDA is no exception) are somewhat vague expectations of performance. For example within the core skills about managing the learning environment (C38) teachers should  “(a) manage learners’ behaviour constructively by establishing and maintaining a clear and positive framework for discipline, in line with the school’s behaviour policy.(b) use a range of behaviour management techniques and strategies, adapting them as necessary to promote the self-control and independence of learners.” So for the observer the question is “What does that actually look like in real practice?” What is it that the core skills teacher will be doing – what are her teaching behaviours at this stage? Just as we need to be clear-cut about the behaviour we are teaching to our pupils, so too we need to be explicit about the behaviours that teachers will demonstrate in the classroom. We mostly need a much higher level of specificity about this. What we say about the classroom -“fuzzy expectations lead to fuzzy behaviour” – will also be true for the staffroom.

So this is not about putting in place a ‘policy’ and expecting everyone to follow it – then despairing when they don’t. We have to take a developmental perspective, indeed a truly educational approach to teacher skills development – particularly in the area of behaviour management. These are difficult skills to learn and to apply. Those learning the skills don’t require traditional ‘management’ – after all, there is often little in place yet to ‘manage’ – what they need is skilled leadership to take them on what can often prove a long and difficult journey.

Why so difficult? The point we have frequently stressed is that the children we face in today’s classrooms are not the same as previous generations. We have witnessed a technocultural revolution in the last ten years that has contributed to a rapid change in expectations and attitudes about adult-child roles and relationships. This rapid cultural shift has, in may cases, created a ‘social disruption’ between teachers and pupils within our schools – one requiring a more sophisticated set of skills to create the necessary social mediation than would have obtained in the past with traditional ‘discipline policies’ [4].

When teachers are engaged in the acquisition of such social mediation skills, they are taking part in a developmental process, and those who are leading this enterprise are as much involved in a process of professional development as one of organisational change.  The methods that leaders then adopt are those that provide the necessary and appropriate levels of support and direction for each teacher.

This sort of  ‘performance management’ task is transformational – more than a judge to determine someone’s pay scale, but more a leader – at times coaching, at times supporting, at times directing, and eventually delegating. All the time the feedback on performance is formative rather than summative.  In our own work on leading change in organisations we have begun to train managers in our Situational Leadership® II programme [5], a method which we find entirely congruent with our own approach to classroom management using the Assertive Discipline® method.  In consequence the leadership shown by teachers in the classroom and the leadership of senior managers shares a common methodology – being clear about what should be done, supporting it when it happens, and redirecting back on course when it doesn’t.  Both approaches are also informed by a common philosophy – this is not something we are doing to others, whether they be teachers or pupils; it is something we are doing with others and for others.

So before you begin this journey you need to ask – What is our expectation of teacher performance? Are we clear about the skills that teachers should use? Have we enumerated them as a list of competencies? Have we taught these skills and are we continuing to coach them? Have we differentiated the SIP targets to meet the different needs of different teachers – personalised learning for teachers!

Situational Leadership® II provides an ideal framework for analysing each teacher’s CPD needs. And for leaders it provides an open and clear approach to managing the development of others; it provides a readily understood framework for assessing what people need and how to provide them with the right kind of leadership to help them move forward. It defines the role of the leader as one whose primary concern is the development of those who follow.

Leadership is about setting or clarifying the goals, identifying the skills needed to reach each goal, diagnosing the development level of the follower in respect of those skills, and providing appropriate direction and support to assist the follower develop those skills.

The Professional Standards for Teachers in England at least goes somewhere along the road to articulate the ways that teachers will promote learning for their pupils. Albeit in general terms it speaks of the ways teachers use planning; assessing, monitoring and giving feedback; reviewing the impact of teaching on progress; creating a purposeful and safe learning environment. What hasn’t much happened so far is to take these principles for the classroom and apply them to the staffroom.

In the past Performance Management has often been viewed with suspicion and defensiveness not just by teachers but by any workers whose job competence is being assessed. This is a natural reaction to a perceived threat. The challenge for managers now is to demonstrate that far from Performance Management being a threat it is a framework for personal support and professional progress. But without every manager possessing the skills, these will remain just worthy aspirations.

In future articles in this series we will start to unpack some of those leadership skills with particular reference to Performance Management. We will show how all three types of teacher – the intrinsically motivated, the floating voter, and the disaffected –  can be helped, each according to their needs, to develop their professional skills. In the meantime the checklist appended gives you an opportunity to reflect on your present stage of leadership development.

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Checklist of Leadership Skills How do you rate your present leadership skills in respect of the team that you lead i.e. your direct reports?

  • I am able to translate the School Improvement Plan into clear goals and roles for team members
  • I am able to develop clear objectives for team members
  • I establish unambiguous team performance targets
  • I strive to reach agreements on specific individual performance targets
  • I know how to diagnose the development level of each team member for the different tasks they have been allocated
  • I understand how and when to provide the appropriate leadership style for each team member on each task – how and when to direct team members  – how and when to coach them in the skills – how and when to support them with their efforts – how and when to delegate tasks to them

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Working on the “what” question of performance management – Select a particular category from the Teacher Professional Standards -e.g. C38 : Teachers will “use a range of behaviour management techniques and strategies, adapting them as necessary to promote the self-control andindependence of learners.”

Now begin to list some of the range of possible behaviour management techniques and strategies that your teacher may know -e.g. Assertive Discipline, Circle Time, Restorative Justice, Solution-focused approaches.

Selecting one of these e.g. “the Assertive Discipline programme”, now begin to list the competencies that it teaches -e.g. “gives clear activity directions at transition times”, “provides supportive feedback”, “takes corrective action”

Now select one of these e.g. “takes corrective action”, and break this down into its component skills, expressed in behavioural terms – e.g.

  • “uses non-verbal low level redirection for non-disruptive off-task behaviour”
  • “uses verbal redirection”
  • “uses refocusing”

We could break anyone of these down into further sub-skills e.g. “verbal redirection”   –

“makes steady eye contact, uses non-intrusive physical proximity, uses pupil’s name, pauses, uses quiet voice, restates direction, uses refocusing, offers a corrective as a choice” etc.

By now we are getting to a level of behavioural specification where a knowledgeable observer could begin to tell whether a teacher was using such skills or not, and as a result be in a position to give some quality feedback about performance, rather than offer some bland generalisations. However it takes time to do this – not just to analyse these competencies into their discrete skill areas but also to train and coach teachers in their use. That is the cost of professionalism – and its value too!

References

[1] TDA (2007) Professional Standards for Teachers Training & Development Agency for Schools

[2] Moss, G; Bayley, J. (2005), The New Assertive Discipline® : A Master Class CD Resource Training Pack  Behaviour & Learning Management, Cheltenhamtel: 0870 241 8262

[3] TDA (2007) What does good CPD look like? Training & Development Agency for Schools

[4] Moss, G. (2005), Behaviour : The Social Context  Managing Schools Today March / April 14:4 53-57

[5] Blanchard, K et al. (2000) The Situational Leadership® II training programmeBlanchard Organisation, San Diego