Learner-Focused Faculty Improvement: Mistakes from the Shop Floor

Recently, my school introduced a new approach to faculty evaluation and improvement, the learner-focused evaluation cycle.

At first glance, and rather flippantly, I thought ‘ah yes, another plan, do, review model’. I also thought that formalizing faculty improvement in such a manner may, as is often the case, result in a bureaucracy overload and enslavement to the process rather than reaping the benefits of it.

However, on reflection, I am beginning to see it’s potential, at least in discovering more about myself as a leader and hopefully, in time, with a measurable positive impact on the team I lead.

In this blog, I will briefly outline the process before reflecting on the many mistakes I have made so far.

The Student-Centered Evaluation Cycle

Firstly, let us briefly break down the components of the cycle. Much more detail can be found on the New Zealand Educational Review Office website. As you can see, learners are at the heart of the process.

Step 1:Noticing Phase

The process begins with a period of observation. What is the experience for students? What are the stakeholders ‘noticing’ about the learning experience? What is making them ‘pause’ and ‘think’? What would be worthy of further time for investigation so understanding can be developed and strengthened?

Step 2: Investigation phase

This is a deeper dive into an issue or issues arising from the noticing phase. The team will construct questions to investigate and collect evidence from pedagogy, observation, student voice, focus groups, and so on.

Step 3: Collaborative Sense-Making

Teachers and leaders make sense of the information they have collected. This also involves a reflection on the quality of the data they are working with. Is there enough data to be able to draw reliable conclusions? Is it truthful and representative? Do we need to collect more? Or a wider range?

Step 4: Taking Action

The evidence is used to prioritise and craft actions that will have a positive impact on learners and learning.

Step 5: Monitoring and Evaluating impact

What is happening as a result of the actions? Is this what was intended? Are adjustments required? Is it time to move on to other priorities?

Findings from the shop floor: noticing phase.

Without a doubt, the biggest mistake on my first attempt was to focus on my own gut instinct. This is suggested on the New Zealand Educational Review Office website. However, this did not work for me.

I framed the process around my own perception that my faculty and team could improve the first 10 minutes of lessons. The teachers I work with are superb; they are hard-working and dedicated professionals. However, we have limited space. Very few teachers have their own room and they are often moving between each lesson. It can be a challenge to be well organized so that your own transition between lessons is fair to all of the classes you teach.

Occasionally, I had ‘noticed’ students waiting outside of classrooms at the start of lessons or teachers dashing to the photocopier (nothing unusual in our frantic paced profession) and I thought that maybe this transferred into the start of the lesson. How much time was being lost? Were my team as well prepared as they could be? Did learning get off to a crisp, purposeful start? Could starter activities be improved?

I was convinced that we could improve in this area, learn from each other, and maximize every minute of our limited time. I informed the team of our focus and immediately introduced a buddy system so that everyone could discuss the first 10 minutes of their lessons through the sharing of ideas, planning of strategies and arrangement of observations.

After this brief introduction, we jumped straight into the investigation phase. We observed every teacher in the team, looked at schemes of learning and chatted to students.

And our findings from the investigation phase? Did we find that time was lost? Did we see teachers running late? With no clear plan or formal starter? Well, erm, no.

Every lesson observed over a couple of months started on time or within 1 or 2 minutes. Starter activities were planned into the lessons and well designed. On the whole, they were thoughtful, relevant and linked to the series of lessons being taught. Basically, although there were great ideas and strategies to share, there were few problems to address. Nothing that would be worthy of our precious time.

We had rushed into the investigation phase after presuming that what I had ‘noticed’ was accurate.

On further reflection, the focus of the first 10 minutes of the lesson was unambitious. Yes, a teacher may be running late and occasionally they would wish to be bet