Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Are We Creating Schools of Engagement or Compliance?
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Slice of Life: Are We Creating Schools of Engagement or Compliance?


“There can be no keener evaluation of a society’s soul than how it treats its children (and its teachers.)” Mandela

Andrew Hargreaves shared this quote during his session at the Literacy For All Conference last week.  We noticed he added, and its teachers, to the original quote. He followed up with a quote of his own,

What we want for our students, we should also want for our teachers- respect, engagement, trust and community.”

While we know these words were meant to inspire, we must admit they left us feeling a bit helpless. We tend to be “glass half-full” people, but there are days when we hear stories that make us feel that society is not reflecting the message in these words. In a time when high-stakes test scores are being tied to teacher evaluation it is difficult to make a case for how our society is viewing and treating our profession.

As we try to make sense of our reaction to Hargreaves’ keynote we keep coming back to the idea of engagement. In a recent article, Four (Secret) Keys to Student Engagement, the authors, Robyn Jackson and Allison Zmuda, pose a dilemma about engagement. “Real engagement is not compliance. We can’t pine for engaged learners when our policies and practices tend to focus on producing compliant learners. If we want to grow capacity in our students; unearth student talents, dreams, and aspirations; and instill perseverance through a focus on doing hard work, learning from mistakes, and revising one’s work, we need to design classroom practices around securing real engagement.” While this quote is about students it has left us thinking more about teachers.

We do not question the level of work and dedication of teachers, but we do question the level of engagement. It seems that the interpretation of some of our policies are encouraging teacher compliance rather than engagement. Jackson and Zmuda define engagement as, “Engaged learners tend to focus on the learning and share their thoughts unprompted, without consideration for those around them. Straightforward questions bore them, but questions that are personally relevant or that require teasing out ambiguity fascinate them. These learners take risks; they’re not afraid to try something new. Engaged learners can be needy. They’re often annoyed by interruptions, they question everything, and they’ll follow an idea even if it takes them outside the parameters of the assignment. Compliant they are not.”

Are our policies encouraging teacher engagement? Are we asking for feedback from teachers? Do we want to know how it is going? Once we share the research on best practice do we give teachers the space to make it personally relevant? Are teachers afraid to try something new because it may not show results on “the test?” Do we encourage teachers to take risks in our evaluation systems?

It is becoming more and more difficult to create school cultures that truly support learning from mistakes and revision of practice when all attention and energy is on showing growth. We are so busy mapping, pacing and racing that there is little time to notice, question, or consider throughout the journey. Demonstrating growth and truly growing should compliment one another, but we fear they may not in the current political climate.

Rather than searching for answers we are turning to a question. Allington’s research and the question he posed to the education profession:

“ Are we creating schools where every year every teacher becomes more expert?”

This is the question that will help us bring growth mindset and demonstrating growth together   This is the question that will help us create school cultures that are truly based on learning and engagement. Growth is not a quick fix. Teaching cannot be scripted. A number is not an evaluation of growth. Teaching and learning are far too complicated and messy to be measured by one number. Hargreaves reminded us that, “Teaching is a profession. It is not a quick fix. We are working with students’ minds.” Maybe the evaluation system needs to shift its focus. Maybe we need to stop evaluating performance – fixed mindset – and start evaluating if we are creating schools where every year every teacher has the opportunity to become more expert – growth mindset. We need to remember that assessment for learning is not evaluative but a critical component of the process of learning. If we truly want to create cultures of engagement and learning we need to shift how we are using assessment – for teacher and student learning, not of teacher and student learning.

  • Sue Umpleby
    Posted at 13:05h, 11 November Reply

    Wow! So true. Teachers, like kids, need space to grow. It’s messy… isn’t it? When I’m the most passionate and learning the most, what is happening in me could never be evaluated with a rubric.

  • Dana Murphy
    Posted at 14:25h, 11 November Reply

    I love that quote by Jackson and Zmuda. “Compliant they’re not.” I just love it. Your post is making me think about what I expect out of teachers during my own study groups and PD sessions. I say I want them to be engaged, but do I plan my sessions for compliance instead?

    Ellin Keene is presenting a session at NCTE about compliance, but I think it might be Saturday morning, when our session is. I’m sorry to miss it – it’s a fascinating subject.

  • Tara
    Posted at 23:35h, 11 November Reply

    This is just a timely post – so much to consider here that lies at the center of our profession. Thank you!

  • arjeha
    Posted at 23:40h, 11 November Reply

    It is so true that we are focused scores and doing well on tests that I sometimes feel we have forgotten that so many things were learned due to failure and not success. Failure can and does lead to learning if it is approached as a learning experience.

  • Jennifer Sniadecki
    Posted at 01:05h, 12 November Reply

    It’s funny; we just had this conversation TODAY in our team meeting! Thank you for the post, and for the thoughtful questions we are all asking in our minds.

  • Melanie Meehan (@MelanieMeehan1)
    Posted at 01:30h, 12 November Reply

    What a powerful last line! Wow. I have been spending so much time thinking about student engagement and your post is a powerful reminder to also spend time on teacher engagement. Thank you. I’m saving this one.

  • Stacey
    Posted at 01:51h, 13 November Reply

    This post is rich with quotes and your insight. Thank you for bringing us into the fold around this topic, which is so important!


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