In order to be able to evaluate change and motivate the intrinsic desire to do things better, we need to agree in broad terms what better might look like. We need to have an agreed set of values. All schools have value statements these days. These are Island School’s
Now, these are not very revolutionary or radical. Most schools will have quite similar concepts in their statements. I have yet to find a school that does not strive for excellence, choosing instead to champion mediocrity. Nor have I found one that eschews responsibility, preferring irresponsibility. If you know of one, you may well have found a school that is genuinely revolutionary. There are plenty of good collections of statements out there. There is not so much to argue with in the IB Learner Profile. I like the Common Ground Collaborative statements as well. For a slightly more ironic take on our values. see here.
The first point about these is that they are easily agreed by all. The second point is that they bring our attention to the students, and this is absolutely central to the process. It is the students’ welfare and progress that makes teachers want to be teachers, so if anything is going to make them want to change what they do, it is going to be the students.
However, it is astonishing how many initiatives are discussed in schools and in Government Education Departments that do not mention students. Curriculum changes are discussed in terms of content, skills are referred to without reference to the people we want to acquire them. Teachers will not be engaged in any initiative that leaves out the students, but they will enthusiastically want to make changes that they can see benefit students, or better that the students themselves tell them are beneficial.
How do we know whether changes are beneficial? The problem with many of the values listed above is that there are no metrics to measure them. Standardised testing cannot measure how much we embrace responsibility. Qualities such as determination, resilience and passion are very hard to quantify. Members of staff in a school can see these benefits in what students do, how students react and what students say. The students themselves must be the measure, not the results of measuring the students. This has implications for research that is effective in schools and that impacts practice rather than policy. The research must involve the students by observing and listening to them. It is also the case that staff members are really only interested in the students at their own school. So the research into effectiveness must be local.
It also has implications for an assessment system that encourages students to bring out evidence of their success in these more intangible qualities.