If it’s not broken, why fix it?
I recently attended a parent orientation for a primary school in Delhi. One parent asked me: ‘Why should we change our education system when our children are successful on the global stage?’ You might be thinking ‘what a good question!’ and in many ways you’d be right. Why fix something when it’s not clear it needs fixing?
Like most of my generation (including the parent I just mentioned) I grew up studying in a classroom that focused on the teacher rather than the student. We were brought up to believe that teachers had near divine status, that they were the reservoirs of knowledge and could never make mistakes. The best – and sometimes only – way to learn was to listen as closely as we could to the teacher at the front of the class.
Developments in teaching versus the reality of teaching
Teaching practices have developed enormously since I was at school but are most teachers, or indeed parents, really up to speed with these new ‘best practice’ teaching methods? Are teachers engaging with changes in classroom dynamics?
In my role as Professional Development Manager at Cambridge, my school visits give me a feel for how teachers are coping with different teaching strategies. A lot of the teachers I see, while keen to help their students learn, are more or less still teaching in the same ways I was taught – they are still teacher rather than student focused. The most pertinent example I can give is from a lesson plan from a maths teacher. The teacher listed the first objective as: ‘The students will listen to the teachers quietly and copy the work from the board’. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se, it is not aligned with contemporary pedagogical thought. There may be many reasons for this; lack of engagement with the current developments in teaching and learning, lack of time and motivation to change one’s teaching methods or a lack of investment from school leadership in the continuous professional development of teachers.
Parental involvement motivates change
As parents, how can we ensure that our children are benefiting from a modern, student-centred education? It’s understandable that some parents might think that once they have chosen a ‘good’ school for their children, they can then reasonably take a step back from showing an interest in the teaching process itself. After all, most children are performing well academically, what could possibly be wrong? In short, quite a lot. Strong academic performance is not synonymous with high levels of engagement and it is only when a child is truly engaged with what they’re studying, that deep learning can take place.
There are two simple things that parents can do to assess whether their child’s school recognises the importance of developing their teaching staff and the value of student engagement:
- Ask if teachers have regular access to high-quality professional development opportunities.
- Ask if you can observe a class once a term.
Suggestions for school leaders
If you’re a school leader and you haven’t already put the professional development of your teachers at the centre of everything you do, please reconsider. It sounds terribly obvious but it never hurts to be reminded that the more highly qualified the teaching staff, the greater the possibility that students will not only perform well academically, but will also be engaged with what they’re learning and, most importantly perhaps, be happy they’re learning it.
Cambridge Professional Development
Cambridge is committed to providing teachers with the training they need to grow and develop as professionals. We offer various professional development opportunities from Introductory Training, which helps teachers get started, to Enrichment Professional Development Workshops, which encourage teachers to transform their classroom practice. We also run online and face-to-face events so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.
Helping school leaders, parents and teachers to see the value of continuous professional development is something that’s very close to my heart. I believe that supporting teachers in their professional development leads to improved outcomes for students and at the end of the day, that’s the thing we all want, isn’t it?