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Principles, Not Performance!

For a number of years now a common call to those in education has been for us to share good practice, and to do more of it. We all need to stop reinventing the wheel and working in isolation on the same things. We need to share more. I have a problem with this. I don't think sharing good practice works. It is one of those ideas that sounds as though it's a no-brainer. Of course we should share good practice! No-one would suggest we share, bad or even satisfactory, practice. It would seem to make sense that when we identify good, or excellent practice, that we should encourage the sharing of this amongst our staff or schools. I suppose the theory goes that by observing and sharing good practice, that such practice can be disseminated and copied by those it is been shared with. To be honest, I have seen this work. The only trouble is, that it only works to a limited extent, and is rarely sustainable.

What such an approach to school and individual development results in is a shallow depth in the practice of those copying or mimicking the practice they have seen. It is fairly easy to observe a good lesson, with a good structure, suitable pace,  exciting learning activities and identifiable outcomes for learners, then repeat this in another classroom or setting. The same can be said with good leadership and management practices. People can observe and then copy. My concern is that by adopting such an approach it is very unlikely that you will obtain the same results as the observed teacher or leader. Also, by promoting such activities you  devalue teaching and leadership as a profession. Do we really see ourselves as technicians who  merely replicate easily learned behaviours , or are we professionals who base our practice on professional study, deep understanding of teaching and learning, and on research and evidence that we have engaged with and synthesised as we constantly seek improvement in what we do to help all our learners? I know where I want to see us.

If practitioners are copying or mimicking observed behaviours in others, they are missing key understandings that make the observed practice good, or excellent. These behaviours will come as an output following understanding, reflection, experience and really knowing where learners and schools are in their learning and development. They will be the result of previous practices and experiences, and be part of a connected and deeply understood process. Copying what you see cannot give you that level of understanding, and without that it is unlikely to shape your own practice and understanding in any deep or sustainable way.

So my appeal is to share principles rather than practice. The principles that underpin practice should be generic and transferable to different settings, where the practice may not. If you are observing good teaching practice you need to deeply understand those principles that have encouraged and allowed such practice to flourish. These might include:

  • Understanding teaching and learning deeply
  • Professional reading,dialogue and collaboration
  • Using baseline assessment to know learners and inform planning
  • Embedding formative assessment strategies into practice to support learning
  • Having high and shared expectations and creating conditions for learning
  • Selecting resources and activities to deliver learning outcomes
  • How we know if the desired learning has taken place
  • Next steps
I feel that it is only by knowing and understanding how principles such as these underpin and inform practice, that others can really learn and develop their own practice in a way which is deep and transferable. I firmly believe that it is only when we have deep understanding and engagement will our learning and development be truly transformed and changed in a positive way.

It's principles that are key to helping others, not performance.

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