Stereotypes of Teaching – thoughts on chapter 3 of Professional Capital by Hargreaves and Fullan

This chapter attacks, with considerable vigour, many of the sacred cows of school improvement.

Books with titles like Teach like a Champion are questioned –

you don’t see handbooks such as Heal Like a Champion or Litigate Like a Champion in other professions!

The authors describe a number of failed strategies and illustrate them with several case studies which exemplify the demoralising and undermining nature of many of the approaches recently used to drive up standards.

Towards the end of a rather depressing chapter they list the four drivers of education policy which they feel are wrong: negative accountability; individualistic solutions; fascination with technology and piecemeal or fragmented solutions. Anyone with any recent experience of UK education shouldn’t have much trouble providing their own examples of all of these!

They also list 5 fallacies of misdirected educational change:
1. Excessive speed
2. Standardisation
3. Substitution of bad people with good ones
4. Over-reliance on a narrow range of performance metrics and
5. Win-lose inter-school competition.

Again, few teachers in UK schools would argue with these. On the other hand though, whilst these approaches to change may be misdirected in the sense of that they create huge pressure for teachers, haven’t they also brought about substantial improvement in the performance of UK schools over the last decade? Even allowing for the knotty problem of grade inflation? But then, perhaps Hargreaves and Fullan would argue that such an interpretation of the evolving educational landscape is overly reliant on a narrow range of performance metrics. The trouble is though, that it is this same narrow range of metrics which determines whether a given student can go on to study at a higher level or qualify for that job they want and, unequivocally, more are achieving these targets now than was previously the case, regardless of the wrong drivers and fallacious educational changes that may have contributed to this situation.

The authors now turn positive, itemising their agenda for sustainable system change in education through:
Professional capacity building
Collective responsibility, teamwork and collaboration
Moral commitment and inspiration
More rather than less professional discretion
Personally engaging curriculum and pedagogy with technology as its accelerator
Better and broader performance metrics
School-to-school assistance rather than punitive intervention from on high
Systematic policies that are coherent and cohesive.

This manifesto is what the rest of the book will be about. It is about moving the attention from leadership to collaboration because

where students are concerned, the teacher will always be more powerful than the principal, the president or the prime minister.

This is a powerful and empowering message that educational theorists and administrators would do well to remember. It is not one that often comes across very clearly in teacher training events, when actually it should surely be its starting point. If teachers, teacher trainers, administrators and politicians all based their practice on this belief there is a chance that Hargreaves and Fullan’s aspiration

to develop a profession that becomes more inspiring, tough, and challenging in itself

could be achieved, integrating

external accountability with personal and collective professional responsibility.

So, we have reached the bottom now. Our authors have explained, in detail, the failures of current systems and administrations. They have knocked down the edifices of governments’ school improvement programmes. Now they are going to tell us how it should be done. Let’s hope it is not too anti-climactic! Chapter 4 coming soon.

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