Imagine that you open the newspaper tomorrow to find that the government has decided to change the rules for issuing driving licenses. Anyone that now wants a license must undertake a year-long university diploma, where they will study Newton’s Laws of Motion and learn about the history of the car industry. For about 10 percent of their time, they also get to practice driving an actual car. At the end of the course, trainee drivers sit some exams, defend a 10,000-word thesis and take a short driving test.
So, here’s the question: a family friend was just awarded their Driving Diploma under the new system and proudly shown you their thesis entitled Marxist Perspectives on Car Ownership – would you be a willing passenger in their car? Most of us would recoil at the prospect and would rightly question whether, after taking the diploma, they had developed the skills necessary to drive a real car on a real road.
Now onto the interesting part: the parallels to teacher training are quite startling. Many teachers in many countries are licensed to undertake their craft in just the manner parodied above.
There are many research studies that have compared the effectiveness of trained and untrained teachers. Depressingly these have largely concluded that there is no real difference in student outcomes between the two. Initial teacher training isn’t giving teachers that critical edge – perhaps partly because in many parts of the world it’s too theoretical. The research findings also suggest that teachers learn most of their craft during their early years on the job – after they have already been licensed and left to their own devices. Then, after around 3 years on the job, many educators seem to stop learning altogether. They literally plateau.
So how do we ensure that teachers continue to evaluate their own impact and refine their pedagogy throughout their careers? Professional learning and development is key but it has to be the right type.
One of the most effective forms of professional development is called Micro Teaching and it involves educators videoing and reviewing their classroom practice to identify areas for improvement. The approach, which was pioneered at Stanford University back in the 1960s, has strong research evidence supporting its effectiveness. It seems to work particularly well when teachers share their videos with each other and use structured questions to support their collective improvement.
We have been piloting this approach with schools in Australia and New Zealand using IRIS Connect. The IRIS Connect technology enables teachers to record broadcast quality footage and audio of their classrooms from multiple angles, share this online with colleagues of their choice and use digital forms and rubrics to collectively analyze areas for improvement.
IRIS Connect can also be used to deliver live in-ear coaching, where an offsite coach in, say, Sydney can watch a live lesson in, say, Adelaide and whisper real-time feedback into the ear of the teacher. This is the equivalent of having a driving instructor sitting next to you and giving commentary on your gear-change technique.
There’s a lot of independent research supporting the efficacy of the IRIS Connect platform from projects in the UK, US and South Africa. The best implementation often involves school Film Clubs, where educators come together with popcorn and hot dogs to watch and comment on each other’s flicks.
And the unrelenting focus? Revving up teacher performance, of course.