Self(ish) Improvement

What if our primary demand of teachers was that they improve the school, not improve themselves?

Our obsession with teacher-effectiveness means that the responsibility for school improvement is often placed on the shoulders of teachers. Only this morning, a high profile head teacher has illustrated this point by proclaiming that a condition of working in his school is that teachers undertake to continuously improve their practice. This is followed by a claim that there is an infrastructure of support to make this happen, which is good to know. However, are there dangers of setting up our schools to promote relentless self-improvement?

We must be careful not to send the message that all will be better, if only teachers were more skilled at doing their jobs. There are so many factors outside of the teacher’s control which mitigate their impact. No matter how skilled they are, the key to their ‘effectiveness’ may lie beyond their control; in the quality of the curriculum they are asked to teach, in the behavioural norms of the school, or in the expertise of their colleagues and leaders.

What if we asked teachers to focus more on the school than themselves? Instead of self-betterment being our condition of employment, what about betterment of the curriculum, of the school’s ethos, or collegiality? I would like my teachers to place the collective over individual endeavour. If every teacher helps run a club, go on a school trip, contributes to developing policy, supports a colleague having difficulty, shares resources, recommends a great blog, seeks out and shares new ideas, and turns up to social events, everyone benefits.

The best teachers work in the best schools, not the other way round. Our collective mission should be to make the school a great place to study and work. We will be personally more effective if this is achieved. The key is to focus on the greater good, not our individual impact.


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