Friday 1 June 2012

Abandoning the deficit model of teacher development

I'm going to have to blog. I can't avoid it anymore now that I've advocated it with iteachfreely and seen how damn good he is at it. And yet a school leadership blog doesn't feel as sumptuous as one on learning.

Nonetheless let me start. At the very least I can promise a wonderfully extended metaphor!!!

At Canons High School we created the Outstanding Pedagogy Partnership (twittername @canonsopp) nearly two years ago. It's aim was to simply allow good and outstanding teachers (in their own minds - nobody excluded) to have time and space to share ideas. The idea was organic in nature and the intention was to respond to our teachers' needs rather than to follow the National Strategies model of top-down training, audit and action-planning. We'd had enough of that 'SLT knows best' or even 'DFE knows best' attitude to pedagogic development. It hadn't worked and we felt it was posited on the notion of a deficit model of practice, when I've always rather believed that any group of teachers thinking about teaching and learning is far more likely to produce an abundance of developmental ideas.

To use a horticultural analogy (and I am no gardener, so forgive my ignorance if the analogy doesn't hold up) the National Strategies (or deficit) model of CPD encouraged schools and teachers to look around and see the gaps in the flowerbeds: the place where nothing was growing, nothing blooming. The solution was to fill the gap immediately; to go out and buy a potted plant ready-grown and off-the-shelf gapfiller pedagogic strategy; to plant it in every gap, regardless of the preparedness of the soil, regardless of the appropriateness of the location within the garden and regardless of the capacity of the gardener to continue the nurturing process.

And the net result? The gradual withering away of these plants through lack of care for them, lack of true understanding of their needs or the need to plant something new in a newly identified gap in the garden (have I stretched the metaphor far enough yet?). The sometimes excellent elements of the National Strategies never took root in many schools because they became about compliance and because those that created them believed that ex-teacher consultants would be able to 'deliver' system change if enough money were thrown at them.

Now that the money has run dry it's fairly obvious that the deliverables were delivered but many of them remained on the doormat unopened (am I safe to switch metaphors now I've started a new paragraph). APP anyone???

And so now, when money is tightening and school autonomy has become the zeitgeist, is precisely the time to abandon the deficit model of teacher and school development. Now is the time to look away from the gaps in the flowerbed and instead focus on the hardy perennials that have bloomed year on year in spite of the National Strategies, and to focus on the new shoots that have yet to flower but that the keen gardener can see are potentially strong and potentially beautiful. Now is the time to take cuttings from these hardy perennials and grow them into new plants. Now is the time to hothouse the new shoots to help them grow strong and sure. That is what Canons OPP is about.

This surplus model is a lot less instant than its deficit equivalent. It is also a lot less certain; some cuttings and shoots will take root whilst others may not. But it is sustainable and sustaining, it is built upon a positive appraisal of our schools and it is an approach that befits our expertise and professionalism as teachers and school leaders (is there any difference?) far more than the quick-fixes we have become a bit too dependent on in recent years.

So here's to the surplus of good teaching in our schools. Let's nurture it as the best way of creating the conditions whereby one day everything in our gardens will be rosy.

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