Giving teacher’s a voice without overloading them – how do leaders do this?

Teachers want to and should be heard – how do leaders do this without overloading teachers with priorities to address? On Thursday morning three people on the Report Committee facilitated a report review session. Reporting is a hot topic that generates many opinions and stress for many teachers and leaders. Reports take a lot of time to write for not so much reward some feel. No format is perfect, parents don’t always appreciate the truth, capturing the essence of a learner in writing is not easy are other observations.At our school we have wanted to improve reporting for a long time and have heard great ideas. But it turns out that our options are limited. At our school, we have got much better at collaborating – so why didn’t we collaborate sooner with teachers? Due to the following, we decided not to hold discussions with all staff to gather input in an organised way (we did get input from a few):

  • The technical system we use to generate reports limits the changes we can make;
  • Our aim is to not make the report writing process even more complicated and time consuming for teachers than it already is;
  • We had already put into practice shifting the focus from work to learning and the learner;
  • Everything we say/write about a student has to be evidence based not opinion;
  • The requirements to use a 5 point A to E scale and include comparative reports are not negotiable.

Furthermore, Term 1 was 8 weeks long and priorities and PD left insufficient time for collaborating about reports. Creating the time and space to give teachers a voice becomes a choice between collaboration and preserving sanity.
With all of the above valid points in mind, we realised as a leadership group, there was not much wriggle room for change and the kinds of changes teachers and leaders were desiring (evidenced from informal discussions with some teachers who feel strongly about reporting), would not be possible to make or would not be practical to implement.

Questions I have been pondering:

  • As a leader, does one try one’s best to avoid pushing teachers over the tipping point by looking out for teachers’ workload and well being or do you consult on everything to ensure everyone has a voice?
  • Realising only minor changes can be made to reports, should leaders do the best job they can under the circumstances without whole school collaboration?
  • Does one consult with a few or all when the timing doesn’t allow further consultation without risking burn out by holding another before school meeting to give teachers a voice, only to tell them their suggestions can’t be taken into consideration?
  • Even with attempting to consciously limit priorities, teachers and leaders feel pressured as there is never enough time to do these justice, so do you add to the priorities so that all stakeholders can have a say?

I remember clearly the feeling of frustration at not being consulted on decisions that directly impacted me as a classroom teacher. I also remember at times realizing afterwards that being included although it would have felt fair, was not going to change the outcome in those instances.

Sometimes it’s not feasible to give everyone a voice. Knowing when to and knowing how to, makes all the difference to the outcome.

Additional questions i have been pondering on include: With our reports it turns out that a total of three changes were made to the report format. Only one of these is a completely new addition. Did this make it worth it to hold a discussion with all staff in Term 1? We thought not. Did we do the right thing in not formally including enough teacher voices in our discussion earlier on? Probably not. Should we have added this to the agenda for year level teams to discuss in their meetings when they already had enough to discuss and decide upon? Definitely but when? Is it too late for teachers to have a voice? No.

Following our report review session with teachers, the three facilitators of the Report Review session met and debriefed. We analysed concerns teachers raised and figured out what our next steps could be.

A summary of all the points teachers made was sent to Learning Team Leaders to review and add to in preparation for their weekly meeting with the Director of Teaching and Learning. At the meeting potential issues were debated, team leaders were given a voice and next steps were decided. They felt they should have been consulted sooner. Certain aspects of the report will be taken back to their team. They will then be the voice for their team at the next LTL meeting and be a part of the decision to include or exclude the proposed new addition.

The second biggest issue to come out of the review session was teachers feel that the changes (introduced three years ago but implemented across the school at the end of last year) makes some comments feel generic and that their writers voice has been lost. We have heard you and as a moderator/ editor I make a commitment to you to do my best to preserve your writers’ voice should I suggest any changes to your comments.

One solution we have tried to ensure teachers voices are heard is to collaborate with Learning Team Leaders on what our priorities should be for the term and year ahead. Somehow reports were left off the list of priorities.
We robbed teachers of their voices – this brings me back to my original question: how else could one ensure teachers have a voice when there are already enough priorities on the agenda and PD schedule?

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Managing the tipping point (part 2) without losing sight of what’s important…

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It gives me great pleasure to support our curriculum leaders and teachers to achieve our goal of “Using data to inform teaching and enhance learning”. Our latest PD looked at ways to gather data using the “now literacies” of twitter, back channeling and blogs, to name a few. Our curriculum leaders are big ideas people and know other big ideas people so our PD was of exceptional quality. Thanks, @whatedsaid and @langwitches. Each teacher will have got something out of the sessions- depending on their entry point. And based on their responses over the week, I feel they will be able to take the next steps through the sharing and collaboration process that has started to happen from this PD. But more so if leaders in our school manage the tipping point by looking out for and recognising the signs. Even better would be to avoid going over the tipping point altogether by giving the time needed.

I feel that teachers now need time to process and practice what they have learned in this recent PD where for some a big shift in their thinking has started. In our various leadership roles we now need to give teachers the time, space and support to do so without tipping the scales to the point where they feel overwhelmed and stressed and stretched too thin. Sam Sherrat (and others) have stressed the practise of giving time to the things we value. We have got much better at this at our school, but sometimes we can get so enthusiastically caught up in what’s happening that we lose sight of the what else is happening for our teachers. The last two weeks of term are going to be super busy with annual school events in addition to the regular meaningful stuff that needs to get done.

Looking ahead what does our time budget need to allow for?:
*Next term there are Parent Teacher Conference nights at the start of term.
*We are also introducing a new report format to all and this needs some facilitation.
*And we are in the final step of shifting to creating digital portfolios for and of student learning, which for some teachers means big changes.
*Every unit in maths and units of inquiry is new to our new teachers and our inquiry pedagogy is brand new to some.
*Each year level team has at least one new staff member and so are still adjusting to the new dynamics that come with that.
*In addition, teachers are supporting the social and emotional well-being of their students and needing to communicate with parents and do the usual daily essentials.
*In their efforts to lead balanced lives we encourage our teachers to look after their own well-being and our Learning Team Leaders to also look out for their teams’ well-being.

This week I felt it was timely to remind our leaders that if we create the time for ongoing discussions and sharing, more people will be more inclined to take action and embed great practise as a result.

How can we create time to maintain the momentum started in our PD?
*Maybe LTLs can set aside 10 minutes regularly for reading and maybe leaving a comment on our shared teachers “Pictures of Practice” blog or http://www.langwitches.org/blog or whatedsaid.wordpress.com or any other blog teachers have found relevant and engaging.
*I could set aside times in a morning briefing for teachers to briefly share the next step in their journey or a blogpost they have read which has influenced their practice.
*The “now literacies” and the skills needed for embedding them in our teaching and learning practise could be revisited in future PD sessions.
*I welcome more suggestions.

Our teachers want to be the best they can be but we need to set them up for success. By the end of last week some felt close to their tipping point. Excited but also pressured. Tension is good but too much and it can become counter productive.

What ways do you have for managing the tipping point and creating time for your teachers?

Why do some teachers feel leaders have favourites?

It’s not just students who feel teachers have favourites – teachers can feel this too.

Rightly or wrongly, this is what some teachers conclude. I have been wondering why and think it could be because of:

* lack of transparency in decision making,
* teachers not being included in big picture thinking,
* lack of timely communication and education about new initiatives,
* lack of consultation between leaders and teachers,
* stronger connections between leaders and some teachers,
* a perception that leaders approve more of teaching styles / thinking that mirror their own,
* time is unfairly allocated for face to face discussions due to logistics and existing structures,
* some teachers feel “corporate memory” predetermines their chances of being seen in a new light,
* different needs and personalities of teachers make some seek leaders’ attention more than others,
* a lack of understanding amongst leaders of what is really happening in teams,
* a lack of understanding amongst teachers of what leaders really understand,
* leadership styles versus teacher needs,
* time poor leaders can mean hasty decision making,
* previous experience with a leader or leaders,
* assumptions about how one will be perceived,
* personal issues,
* perceived differences in expectations for different people.

As leaders we can spend more time with some teachers than others – this is partly due to the structures set up to facilitate communication between different levels.
As humans we tend to spend more time with people we have things in common with professionally- like a shared passion for encouraging student ownership of their learning- and personally.

Whose responsibility is it to fix this perception of favouritism?

The responsibility for addressing this perception of favouritism lies with both leaders and teachers, but more so with leaders as we are the ones who can be seen to be doing more about it.

What can I do?
* Build relationships with everyone – this is an important step in building a culture where people feel they are being treated equally.
* Push aside any preconceived ideas I may have – people experience changes in circumstances, shifts in their thinking and do change as a result.
* Listen to understand- everyone needs to feel they have a voice and it is being heard.
* Create a safe and welcoming environment to open the lines of communication in all directions.
* Create opportunities for differences of opinion to be aired and clarified.
* Invest the time to get to know every teacher and leader – at our school, we believe every teacher should make every effort to know their learners. Likewise, leaders should make every effort to KNOW their teachers – interests, aspirations, passions, dreams, goals, challenges, etc.
* I can aim for informed and considered decision making and this means including all stake holders.
* Ensure all teachers feel valued.
* Role model fairness.
* Reflect daily on how I treated all who came my way.

What do other leaders do?