Have you ever wondered about the consequences of constant scrutiny in the educational process? Does the prospect of stifling creativity and autonomy in our schools stir your curiosity?
Welcome to the exploration of a paradox that’s been bothering me for a while now: how monitoring visits, aimed at improving our schools, might actually be inhibiting their progress. So let’s delve into this together.
I’ve witnessed the double-edged sword of school monitoring visits. Although a relatively common practice, these visits aim to assess and enhance school operations. However, the potential downsides – both obvious and unseen – are rarely discussed or even acknowledged.
Of course, I’m not saying monitoring visits should be avoided or stopped altogether, simply that we need to ensure they are completed with the best intentions and with knowledge and information that is evidenced-based in order that they have a positive impact on school improvement.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the snapshot conundrum, where brief observations fail to capture the complex dynamics of a classroom; the tightrope walk between compliance and creativity, where the fear of scrutiny may inadvertently suppress innovation; and the behavioural biases that can distort the data collected during these visits.
I invite you to join me on this journey as we take a critical look at the system, discuss potential improvements, and strive to create an environment where education thrives.
Table of Contents
- The Snapshot Conundrum
- Behavioural Biases and Distorted Data
- The Case for a Holistic Approach
- Action Points: Your Checklist for Progress
- Further Reading
The Snapshot Conundrum
Firstly, these visits, though well-intentioned, merely provide a snapshot of the school environment. This is a serious concern because classroom dynamics are complex, nuanced and ever-changing. Teachers and students are not static entities – their interactions, successes, and challenges cannot be fully understood from a brief observation. It’s like trying to understand a movie by watching a single scene.
Another critical drawback I’ve noticed is that monitoring visits can potentially subdue teacher autonomy and creativity. Schools may unwittingly shift their focus from fostering innovative, pupil-centred teaching methods to complying with the expectations of those monitoring. This scenario has the potential to limit professional growth and development, reducing teaching to a routine enactment of ‘best practices’ rather than a vibrant, exploratory process.
Behavioural Biases and Distorted Data
During monitoring visits, it is important to acknowledge that observations can be influenced by various factors, including changes in staff and student behaviour. For instance, teachers may feel compelled to put on their best performance, and pupils may adjust their behaviour knowing they are being closely watched.
This behavioural modification, although understandable, can potentially lead to data inaccuracies, ultimately presenting a distorted picture rather than an authentic reflection of day-to-day school life. It is crucial to take these nuances into account when interpreting the findings from monitoring visits and use other methods of monitoring, such as book looks and pupil voice to ensure a triangulation of the data collected.
It’s also important for us to address the existence of unconscious bias. We may not even be aware of the biases we hold, but they can still impact the way we approach a monitoring visit and ultimately affect the observations and judgments. Without conscious effort to recognize and address these biases, through professional development and self-reflection, monitoring visits may not accurately reflect the reality of the situation. By acknowledging and examining these biases, we can work towards creating a more fair and impartial system for all parties involved.
The Case for a Holistic Approach
Don’t get me wrong, monitoring visits play a crucial role in the educational landscape. They offer valuable insights when used as part of a comprehensive and holistic approach to education. Regular evaluations, coaching, mentorship, and a nuanced understanding of the complexities of teaching and learning are all essential elements that contribute to creating a supportive and dynamic learning environment for both educators and students.
In my professional opinion, achieving lasting school improvement is more akin to a marathon than a sprint. It requires a deep and contextual understanding that goes beyond mere surface-level observations or brief assessments. It necessitates an understanding and commitment to continuous improvement and a willingness to embrace innovative and evidence-based practices.
Let us always bear in mind that our ultimate goal is to create an educational environment where learning thrives and every student has the opportunity to succeed.
To achieve this, we must utilise every tool at our disposal, whether through the implementation of robust monitoring systems or the adoption of effective teaching strategies. Together, we can work towards creating a brighter future for the next generation who have the tools necessary for their contribution as citizens in an ever changing landscape.
Action Points: Your Checklist for Progress
- Revisit the Purpose of Monitoring Visits: Keep in mind that these visits are intended to improve the functioning of the school and teaching and learning, without inhibiting creativity and growth. Reframing the purpose can help shift the focus from compliance to authentic progress.
- Acknowledge the Snapshot Conundrum: Recognise that monitoring visits offer just a brief glimpse into a complex and dynamic environment. They should not be the sole source of assessment or evaluation but part of a suite of monitoring exercises and robust evaluation of the data collected with forward actions for improvement
- Promote Creativity over Compliance: Encourage teachers to maintain their individual teaching styles and innovative methods, even during monitoring visits. Authenticity should be prioritised over conformity.
- Address Behavioural Biases: Make it clear to staff and students that artificial performances during visits distort the data and ultimately hinder the school’s progress. Encourage authentic behaviour at all times.
- Adopt a Holistic Approach: Incorporate a variety of evaluation methods such as regular evaluations, coaching, mentorship and peer feedback. This will provide a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the teaching and learning process and enable leaders to triangulate the data to ensure a more robust process.
- Focus on Long-Term Improvement: Remember that systemic change requires time and patience. Don’t rush the process for the sake of ticking off boxes. The Education Endowment Foundation’s Implementation Guidance is a great way to ensure we manage change well: ‘Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how great an educational idea or intervention is on paper; what really matters is how it manifests itself in the day-to-day work of teachers.’ Its 6 foundations for good implementation are essential reading and can be found here.
The aforementioned actions are not a one-off checklist but rather a dynamic guide. Revisit these points regularly to ensure that your school remains a vibrant and conducive environment for both teaching and learning. Let’s make education thrive, one step at a time.
We should also consider how technology can help. There’s also some great software out there, like Schoolaspect, which can help you manage these processes more effectively. Wouldn’t it be great to have more streamlined, automated processes in school? For instance a monitoring visit could look like this:
Select a form from an online template library > complete as you go on a device > photograph or record evidence as you go > automatically send outcomes to reviewee > automatically arrange follow up meeting > receive automated status alerts.
Monitoring visits would automatically be included in improvement plans and outcomes would also be triangulated in the Standards Matrix Report – a simple report helping leaders to easily identify strong and weak practices.
For those interested in delving deeper into these issues, I highly recommend reading “The Hidden Lives of Learners” by Graham Nuthall. This book offers profound insights into the complex dynamics of a classroom, shedding light on the snapshot conundrum we discussed earlier. You can find it here.
To better understand the impact of monitoring visits on teacher creativity, “Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools” by Ron Ritchhart is an excellent resource. The book also offers valuable insights on how to foster a culture of innovation and creativity in schools. You can access it here.
In terms of addressing behavioural biases, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman is a must-read. This renowned psychologist explores the two systems that drive the way we think—system one, which is fast and intuitive, and system two, which is slow and deliberate. Understanding these systems can help us address the behavioural biases that can distort the data collected during monitoring visits. The book is available here.
Finally, to explore the importance of adopting a holistic approach in education, “Holistic Education: An Analysis of Its Ideas and Nature” by Sean Steel is an excellent starting point. The book provides a comprehensive discussion on the philosophies and methodologies underpinning holistic education. To delve further into this topic, you can find the book here.
This blog was written by Emma Maltby, Partnerships Manager at Schoolaspect.
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