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The ETF Podcast: Teacher dialogue and professionalism, with Paul Tully and Tony Davis

In the latest episode from the ETF podcast, Paul Tully, Head of Professionalism at the ETF, is joined by training expert, Tony Davis to discuss the role of teacher dialogue in creating a culture of empowerment and sense of solidarity, so often connected with the experience of professionalism in the FE sector.

Read the full transcript below

PT: Hello, and welcome to the education and training foundation’s podcast on professionalism. My name is Paul Tully, Professionalism Manager at the ETF, a new role, whose focus is to discuss research and promote professionalism across the FE and Skills sector, engaging with colleagues and celebrating their great work.

In today’s podcast will look at the role of teacher dialogue in creating a culture of empowerment and sense of solidarity so often connected with the experience of professionalism in the FE sector. In my own research, a sense of belonging with colleagues and the opportunity to exchange views and collectively work through problems in a safe, reflective environment, was resoundingly linked to a strong professional culture. To further help me explore the subject of teacher dialogue today, I am delighted to be joined by renowned training expert, Tony Davis. Tony, welcome to the podcast.

TD: Thanks very much for having me, Paul. It’s a real pleasure to be here.

PT: Tony has worked in the FE and Skills sector for 35 years as a teacher, manager OFSTED inspector and for the last decade as the Director of the Centre for Creative Quality Improvement. He was the lead author of the policy consortium study of the Sector Policy Environment in 2018, which identified 23 core issues that the sector needed to address if it was to become a self-improving system. And if you haven’t read this report, it really is a fascinating interrogation of quality and policy issues the sector has been grappling with over the last few years, and can be found on the policy consortium’s website, www dot policy, consortium.co.uk.

A connecting thread of Tony’s work is the emphasis he places on measuring the impact of teaching and learning, and his belief that this is often best done when groups of teachers come together to discuss and reflect on their practice. Well, it’s certainly good to have you, and as a starter Tony, I’m going to kick off with something easy. Can you tell us something about your career in FE and Skills and what you’re doing at the moment?

TD: Actually, the way I started my career, as in minute one, day one, has got quite a lot of bearing on what my career became and today’s conversation. I did a degree in creative arts and I was a saxophonist and I went into industry for a little while. I wanted to keep my saxophone playing, going, so I went along to my local college where I knew there was a great teacher to see if he could take me on as a, as a student, it was full, and so that was the end of that.

But about a month later, he phoned me up and said, “Tony, can you come and cover my classes for a few weeks while I do this tour for Yamaha? “And I said, “No, I’m really not interested in teaching Richard, but thanks very much for asking”. He said: “No, come on. If you could just come and watch me for a couple of days and see what you think.” I thought, well, there’s no harm in that, so I went into the college and spent two days shadowing him as he taught his big band classes, composition, improvisation, all of those sorts of classes, which I was fascinated by as well. What really shook me was that despite the fact that I’d gone to study at a music college for my own A Levels, and then a Creative Arts degree, I’d never been taught how he was teaching. And it’s sort of blew my mind really. And that’s minute, one day one, in my introduction to teaching was through observing others and just soaking up somebody else’s approach to teaching. And the fascination and enthusiasm I had for it after those two days has never really left me and it’s probably guided a lot of what I’ve done, which is how can we create that buzz and excitement of the experience, rather than just trying to teach facts in the syllabus, which is the way had pretty much been taught. So yeah, I got into teaching through observing. And then as you mentioned in the intro, I was a teacher and then a manager and I was the head of music, when Richard finally moved on to other pastures and then I became the Head of Faculty, which wasn’t that great, really, because it meant I stopped teaching, and that’s really where my passion was. From the Head of Faculty job, I then went and joined the Adult Learning Inspectorate, when it started back in 2001, mainly because I’d always taught 15 years in one college and I wanted to see what other colleges did, so I was fascinated to get under the skin of how other music departments ran and how are the colleges in general ran. So it was a thrill to be a lead inspector for quite a few years until I joined the Good Practice Team in the ALI in about 2006 – that was called the Excalibur team – I don’t know if you remember the Excalibur team? Every team had to have ‘ALI’ in the middle. If I used to run the choir as well in the ALI, and that was called halitosis, because that’s got ALI in the middle as well!

But the good practice team was amazing because we got to write hundreds of case studies about people who were doing really good stuff, and that really became the next bug really. We merged with OFSTED and I set up the OFSTED film unit and we started to film some of this good practice. But then suddenly we got a new chief inspector who I remember in one corridor, pointed a finger at me and saying, Tony, we don’t want any lead inspectors, making films, despite the fact that at that point the Scottish inspectorate had around 200 filmed case studies on their website, but it wasn’t to be. So that’s when I left to set up the Centre for Creative and Quality Improvement, really to get under the skin of good practice in a different way and make the films I wanted to make and write the case studies that I wanted to make as well.

We’ve got a series of questions, Tony, that hopefully we’ll delve into that enormous experience that you’ve just shared with us. And just to say that this is the second podcast in this series – it follows an article that I wrote back in June 2021 for the ETF’s inTuition journal when I suggested that there were three big ideas for implementing a professional culture in FE institutions: teacher research projects, which we looked at in the previous podcast with Joanne Miles; teaching circles, which I defined as problem solving groups that encouraged teacher dialogue; and 360 degree appraisals.

Now our focus today is on teacher dialogue – how it can be supported and how it can lead to the development of high impact teaching practices. So, here’s the first question for your Tony, so we have a sense of what we are talking about, what do you believe professionalism means and why do you think it is important to FE practitioners?

TD: As a musician, when people wanted to be a professional musician, you have to make the right choices and go and do a professional job. And I don’t see education being any different – for teachers, professionalism is about making the right pedagogy choices to produce the difference that you want. And for managers, it’s about making the right choices to set up a culture, in which teachers can make the right choices. Too often, what happens is managers want to make the choices for staff and tell them how to teach. And then staff have to try and work out what it is they’re supposed to be doing and do, it’s almost like an audit of, of a particular lesson that somebody else has said is going to be particularly effective, but it really doesn’t work like that. Professionalism for me is creating and making the right choices and I’d actually go further. So some of my research particularly this year as focused on the pedagogy choices needed to create the right emotional learning experience in the learner, because if we don’t get the emotional journey right of our learners, then content isn’t going to have a chance, because if you’ve got a learner who’s full of self doubt or nervous, or feels like they’re going to hit cognitive overload too quickly and so suddenly goes into shutdown. Then really, we’re not going to be able to get into the sort of self-actualisation stuff. We’re not going to get content to work its magic and get them into flow. But if we can create that sense of craving and curiosity and discovery and give them a sense of preparedness, such that they embrace the journey ahead, then we’ve really got that wonderful spiral upwards.

So this is about the emotional learning journey. And so as teachers, the art of teaching, the professionalism of teaching is to make just the right pedagogy choices to produce that in all of our learners, even though we’re obviously a lot of the time dealing with mixed economy groups. I don’t mean mixed economy in terms of ability, by the way, I’ve, since in the last few months I’ve changed the word ability. Do you know what I mean by the three broad ability groups – you’ve got your high flyers, your middle ground, and those who are less able. If you change the word ‘able’ to ‘experience’, it just changes the flavour of what we as teachers have to try and do.

So instead of more able and less able, we’ve got more experience and less experienced. So our pedagogy choices to overcome the challenges of a less experienced learners. Actually, that’s different to just thinking of the myths, being less able, when you say less able, you’re putting a cap on your expectations of them, and you probably expect less from them than you do the more able, but if you say less experienced, then actually our pedagogy choices open up to including, well, let’s give them more experience in such a way that they can find themselves, they can reach that wonderful state and actually may turn out to be high flyers in this new environment that we’ve created for them. So, professionalism is creating that environment and above that, allowing staff to create that environment that’s just right for that particular group of learners.

PT: I think that use of the word experience and not ability was one that characterised my approach actually to the PGCE. Certainly, when one was considering developing learning outcomes that were for different kinds of students, that experience was a much easier way to write outcomes where people could achieve. And it does take me on to an interesting link between professionalism and emotion, which I think is a much under-researched area. But I want to look at perhaps what might be described as the ‘technocratics’ of professionalism in teaching. Professionalism is always spoken of in terms of learning about and developing good practice. That term ‘good practice’ seems to have dominated discussions of professional development and observation feedback over the years. So, is it important for professionals to have a concept of good practice?

TD: Yes, is the obvious answers, particularly as I was manager of the ALI and then Ofsted’s Good Practice Database, but we have to be very, very careful how we use this. If I flick back to my previous answer about managers saying, this is good practice now do as you’re told and do it, that isn’t going to work. That’s not a formula that creates wholehearted buy-in by the teachers that they’re investing heavily in practising and developing that pedagogy skills. Good practice can only be viewed as good practice by the evaluation of the difference it makes. And so we’ve got to be very careful and very clear about the limitations of good practice. And when we were in the Good Practice Team in the Inspectorate, we never said, this is what you should do. We would only ever say this was found to be particularly effective in this setting. What could you learn from it in your setting? And, and I think the most important answer to that question will be that, as I said before, good practice can only be judged to good by evaluating the difference it makes. It’s no good just having a list of pedagogy practice strategies we are doing and saying, that’s good teaching. Instead, we should have a list of positive impacts that we’re trying to create and say, that will be the result of good teaching. And so, for me, good practice is fantastic, of course, that’s my nature of my business is sharing good practice, but it’s the way in which we do it that is really fundamental. You can do it terribly, or you can do it brilliantly, in my view. Don’t tell people what to do. Just get people to agree you what they’re trying to create, the difference they’re trying to make, and then good practice can be the sweet shop of different techniques that we can choose in order to be able to produce that difference.

PT: It’s interesting that you’ve had conversations in OFSTED about the contextual nature of practice. So I’m going to throw this at you Tony, when we use the term ‘outstanding practice’, everybody’s on a quest for outstanding practice. It does give the sense there’s a one golden ticket worth of tools and techniques out there that we all must master. So, what is outstanding practice? Does it exist?

PT: It’s really funny that should ask that question because I’m just re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig. I’ve read it before and it’s a fantastic read because it’s all about quality and teaching and learning – it’s not about motorbikes and Zen at all really. I’m just at the chapter, I remember it from last time, where he is arguing, you cannot define quality yet, we know what quality is. We instinctively know what quality is, but you can’t define it. But I have to beg to differ because you can. And again, what we’re defining here is difference. And for me, there’s two beautiful words that all of my work revolve around. And it’s two words that if I were to synthesise the whole of pedagogy, the whole of our art form down to these two words, and that is ‘stuff’ and ‘difference’ – the stuff we do and the difference it makes. And actually, if you just get rid of stuff for a moment and just say, well, what is the ideal difference we want to make to our learners?

And I have a very strong visual anchor for this, which is the walk across the carpet. So, you’ve got to imagine, let’s say an hour lesson for instance, or any length of lesson. The learner comes into your room at one side of the carpet. They have to have walked the carpet and leave the carpet as different people. And what that difference is, is the quality of the experience that they’ve had with you. Now, you can do any stuff you like to create that quality about difference. This is why, as I said before, we should make sure we’re not being very prescriptive with the pedagogy that staff have to make, just let them make the choices to produce the difference that we want to make. And actually, when, when I’m often working on the quality standard project, which is really what I’m setting out here, is we sit in big teams and say, okay, let’s set out what the ideal differences that we want to make to learners.

And we can do that at the end of the lesson, or we can do it, let’s say at the end of the extended induction period, week six, week eight of a programme. How do we want learners to be different by week six of the programme? In other words, what do we want their attitude to be? What do we want the expert learning skills to be? Do you know what I mean? The research skills and critical reflection skills, the ability to work collaboratively in groups, etc. And if you strip out all of the stuff and just write about difference, you get this wonderful unashamedly idealistic image of what difference made is.

But of course, we’re right back to your first question here really, where we’re defining difference made has been what’s outstanding. Not the stuff needed to do it, because you can do somebody else’s teaching technique and if it doesn’t produce the difference for you, then it wasn’t outstanding. It’s only by looking at the quality standard approach, the difference you want to make, that we can really fully understand ‘outstanding’. I’m now going to say it’s amazingly easy, but it’s amazingly engaging to get a group of staff together and say, so what’s outstanding difference for you? And we can write these differences at different points in the learner’s journey. For instance, imagine the night before the learner comes for their first day in the provider, whether that’s a college or workplace learning, wherever it is. Where do you want that attitude and skills to be the day before they arrive? And that’s the quality standard for the recruitment period. And actually, as soon as you set out the attitude and maybe the social integration already before they’ve actually set foot across your threshold, as soon as you set all that down and then say, so is our recruitment period actually producing this impact, then you can’t understand what quality in terms of recruitment is.

PT: Okay, that brings us neatly to the topic of observation, Tony, which you’ve started to touch on already in your previous answers. Now, ever since I worked in management at the start of the 2000s, I have participated in and occasionally designed systems of observation, which have been used to capture and promote good practice. I mean, those days we mostly use graded observations based on the OFSTED grading scale. Later, researchers such as Professor Matt O’Leary argued that graded systems have had little impact on raising professional standards. These schemes have been criticised for promoting teaching that is contrived, risk averse and lacking imagination. At the same time work by Ursula Edgington in the last decade suggested the graded observation schemes have been positively harmful to teacher esteem and wellbeing. Discussing the impact of low grades on teachers in 2013, she wrote that motivation and commitment to teaching can dramatically change as a result of a negative observation experience, which could potentially result in the loss for the students of experienced qualified and conscientious staff. This is a dehumanising experience and is unhealthy for organisations as a whole.

In 2015, Geoff Petty produced a blog for the ETF entitled ‘Graded observations are dead in the water’ in which he cites research from Professor Robert Co who concluded that observers could distinguish an above average lesson from a below average one in only 60 per cent of occasions. So, Tony given all of that, how would you evaluate the success of traditional observation schemes as a vehicle for developing and sharing good practice?

TD: Well, let me ask you a quick question back. Do driving tests produce outstanding drivers?

PT: In my view, I think driving tests ensure a basic level of competence so that the person doesn’t crash into the nearest tree or pedestrian.

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TD: I think that’s about as much as we can hope for in the old adversarial graded type observation system. The problem with it is, and I’ve looked at this from many different perspectives, is if you… I often have asked managers in a college, how many staff/what percentage of staff, are in most need of the support from a quality improvement system. And often the answer will come back between 10 and 20 per cent. And that’s the same percentage that will go into denial when the transactional analysis kicks in and the observer goes up into parent mode and starts to feedback on the teacher, knocking them down into child mode. And they’ll go into denial about the findings and the buses were late, the roads were all up, that’s why the lesson didn’t start on time, or whatever excuse there might be for it not quite working as planned. So, whenever we go into preach mode, into feedback mode, we’re going to risk sending the member of staff down at the other side. So we have to stay adult/adult in these observation systems. And so when you take it to its logical conclusion, if you want your observation system to work on all staff, then there has to be no differential between those who do very well in the observation and those who come out needing some support. I’ll often ask providers, whether they grade or not and many will go “No, no, we don’t grade. We use colours”. Okay – well colours are just the same as grading! In fact, we can really take that down to, does something happen to this group of staff down here, the ones who haven’t fared well… does something happen to them that doesn’t happen to them? And if, if that’s the case, then it’s a graded system.

And the problem is that the decision in the observation system is not whether it’s a been graded our own graded, it’s do I want to set a system that’s about accountability or learning? It’s not graded or ungraded is accountability or learning. Take the grades off, but leave grading in these other synonym type structures and you’ve still got accountability. So in other words, after an observation, everybody needs to do something. There’s no differential, everybody needs to do something next. And so it throws up a very provocative question, which is, well, what is it? And actually, one of the keys into that, is what do you call your system? and if it’s called the observation system or the walkthroughs or the droppings or, or anything to do with the process of observing, then we’re back to stuff in difference. You’re just talking about a system that’s about stuff. So, what happens if we take the stuff word out of observation and just leave the ‘what we want’. We want people to go forward from that experience positively. We want them to invest wholeheartedly in researching how to improve the impact of pedagogy on learning. So, anything to do with accountability is going to stop that. Whereas if it’s all about learning, that actually takes them forward, and of course then takes the whole organisation forward. So, for me, the driving test approach is just anathema. Why do it? Well, it’s because OFSTED does it, the ALI did it.

PT: It’s a big driver isn’t it… it’s fulfilling OFSTED’s expectations?

TD: But the irony is by aping OFTED’s approach, it doesn’t produce the impact they want. I mean, I often say, and again, it’s a very provocative line: OFSTED has no vested interest in the outcome of the inspection. All they want is an accurate report, and that’s all we’ve ever wanted is an accurate report, because if it is poor provision, we need to be able to say in such a way that it helps the organisation move forward. But internally we have got a vested interest, we do want it to be positive. We have to do everything we can to create the emotional journey of the staff, such that they can create the wonderful transformational experiences for our learners. So just aping the OFSTED system is ridiculous, frankly. Let’s call the observation system what it really is – it is an improvement approach. It’s a system that improved the impact of teaching assessment and learning. So let’s find language around that. And certainly, my system researchers are key to that.

PT: That moves us beautifully onto the next question. One of the issues about traditional observation schemes is that they didn’t encourage teachers to open up about their practice and share these experiences. These, of course might’ve happened behind closed doors, but grades were often something people were not willing to talk about, especially if they reflected badly on the tincture. So, missing from these schemes was the importance of professional dialogue. Not in the sense of being told what to improve by a powerful observer, but in exploring practice, as a curious, motivated, or inquiry-led professional.

So Tony, you’ve developed something called the Red System. This is, I believe a whole college improvement system. So what is the red system? How does it work and what role does teacher dialogue play in it?

TD: Red stands for research into education and developments. The ethos is that every single member of staff, every single teacher becomes a researcher into how to improve the impact of teaching assessment on learning. And so the way we do that really takes us back to that opening answer I gave about when I got into teaching, I was watching a great teacher at work and I’d never experienced anything like what he was doing. And that’s what I love about red, because at the corner of red is something called the creative learning team day. It’s a deliberately exhausting day because when you’re exhausted together with, with, in this case four other people, you have a shared experience that becomes unforgettable. So eight o’clock in the morning, we start by preparing for the day and there’s two really important questions we ask, which unlock the potential of the day.

The first is what you’re most worried about. And the second is when it’s your turn to be observed, because everybody will be observing everybody else teaching, It’s a really fantastic day – the second question is when you are being observed, what would you like us to focus? So the first question, what are you most worried about, tends to be everyone says feeding back on my peers and we go, well, that’s okay. There’s no feedback in the red system. And that can be quite a provocative shock. Well, how am I going to improve if there’s no feedback? And yet we know of feedback-based system does that with the transaction analysis and it puts people into denial. So there’s no feedback. It has to stay adult. So that’s an easy one. Although I say easy, I’ll come on and contradict myself in a second.

And the second question, well, the member of staff has given us permission to look at the soft underbelly of their work. You know, what are you most worried about when you’re being observed? What would you like us to focus on? Of course, there’s no feedback, but they might say, well, I’m not sure about my use of questioning or, or whether I can make learners curious and keep them engaged. And that’s really them opening themselves up to evaluate their own work we’re just a foil for that process. And so actually at the end of the observation, but the first hour, let’s say where teacher number one has been observed, they then sit in a darkened room and do a quick evaluation. What did I do? What difference did it make? What did I do? What difference did it make? And while they’re doing that, I’m working with the other three, or the creative learning team leader is working with the other three teachers doing the same, you know, what was done, what difference was made, what was done, what difference was made?

And then I tried all sorts of opening questions when the teacher then comes back to join our group because you know that car crash question when an observer sets up for the feedback session when they all say. How do you think it went? Which means the teacher will just focus on what they did and that can be a car crash if what they did didn’t produce the impact that they needed. So often a good question is, how were your learners different as a result of that lesson?

PT: This is the dialogue element, isn’t it Tony?

TD: That’s right. And, and here’s the killer question that I ask and command to others to ask, I’m curious to know what you’ve put on your form. And honestly, that just takes them through a chronological blow by blow, I did this, this is the difference it made, I did this. This is the difference it made. And there’s a particular form that because we used to do this, but here’s the thing. At the end of it they’ve got to find a couple of negative missing or unintended impacts that they want to work on. The other three have got to choose a steal from the lesson that they’ve just observed. It’s not stealing practice, it’s stealing a positive impact that they would want in their lesson. For instance, if the teacher opened up with a great curiosity strategy and all of the leaners lent forward and were on the edge of their seat, then that’s what the other teachers might want to steal. Now, how about teacher did it in hair and beauty might be completely different to motor vehicle, but it’s that feeling of making someone curious at the opening that they’re stealing. So, at the end of the day, when we’re looking at the steals and the areas for improvement, actually, it’s not about the pedagogy at that point. It’s about articulating difference made in a number of different ways and the research element, hence RED, is okay, how am I going to do that? And so it means everybody is moving their own work forward. Now we can support that in all sorts of different ways, but it’s them making the decision about what they’re going to work on and then they design a research lesson in about three or four weeks time, and then have a go, try these out.

PT: Very similar to Geoff Petty’s stolen ideas knowledge and very much giving ownership back to the individual practitioner, something which is very exhilarating for a practitioner, having the freedom to explore, discuss their practice with fellow colleagues in that safe environment as we were talking about before.

But does it have impact? If I’m a senior manager and I’m considering implementing this as a strategy, does it have impact? Am I changing behaviours? Am I changing the outcomes for students?

TD: Well, people in my position can get very frustrated by the impact question, because I’m now a consultant, I do training and do observation work and what have you, but I often go in and then I’m out again and I don’t get to see the impact. So there was one particular case study that I wanted to try and invest in heavily, and this was with East Coast College. Now, many people have tried to use different parts of the RED system, but East Coast College started off with a wholesale embedding of RED at the start of the academic year in 2018. Now the important thing about this is unfortunately they’d been in grade three or four for 21 years straight. Can you imagine what that must’ve felt like to be in an organisation where OFSETD has continually come along and said no, you’re still not good enough work harder?

So that was quite a brave decision by the principal to take a completely different approach. So we set off the whole process and there’s something we have to do – there’s a quality standard we have to get in order to be able to set the RED process off. But about Christmas time, people were going through research lessons and it was throwing up some of the key themes that people wanted support with assessment, learning, outcome, writing, these sorts of things. I was kindly asked back in to do some training and I remember one of the mornings of these training sessions, you know, when everybody’s arriving the coffee’s on and I just couldn’t control myself. I had to ask, ­­how’s your creative learning team going? Most people were talking about how it was a very positive experience, then instead of having one person telling me I was crap, I had four people telling me I was crap! So clearly we haven’t gotten there with a culture of no feedback, so that was really important. But actually one of the things we have to own up, is if you’re an experienced observer, getting out of the feedback approach is really hard. But also, if you’re a teacher with little experience of observing, the easiest thing to say is what you think you would have done.

Of course, the skill is to be able to contain that enthusiasm and just ask the right question or present a scenario. So, I said to the college, why don’t I film the whole creative learning day and a whole suite of conversations around red, and then you can play that film back to all of the other staff so we can make sure everybody is doing in the same way. And this is of course on the run-up to their re-inspection, so nine months in June, I went back and made this lovely film about the college. Hearing what people were saying and watching the process just showed that actually – I think it was the Head of Equality said this great line, that when they had a monitoring visit, he was listening to how teachers would speak to inspectors, and he said their vocabulary and changed. They were reading through this form that we’ve got for observing. They were telling the inspectors, well, this is what I do. And this is the difference it makes. And that was the difference that RED had made to that college and to its inspection. And it got an inspect, its full inspection a few months later, and it got its first Grade 2, so we were over the moon about that. But imagine that we’re changing the vocabulary from doing stuff to difference made. Well, that’s a learning outcome, right in right there. It’s self-assessment right there. it’s the whole process of research into pedagogy right there. It’s not just stuff. It’s the difference it makes.

PT: Well, that brings us to our final question, Tony. And I’m going to get you to wrap up many of the very complex ideas that you were talking about. So, thinking about the RED system, which is your system, how would you summarise the link between teacher dialogue, which occurs as an, a major part in your system and professionalism? What’s the link there?

TD: The link is that teachers are learning how to make the right decisions about what to do next by exploring the work of other staff and exploring what’s available, the sort of sweet shop of pedagogy strategies that are available to them to design a research lesson. But one of the exciting things about the RED process is something I colloquially term the ‘slapped head’ moment, because when they’re trying to work out negative missing or unintended impact in their own work they want to overcome, actually, they might’ve seen something in the way other teachers have worked during that day, where they go, ah, do you know what, I do that as well? And they might choose that as the theme that they want to go forward on where they’re going to make the right decisions about the pedagogy choices in order to be able to overcome that particular impact.

So, it’s all about choices, but you know, there’s one thing that’s required for the RED system to work. And it’s, it’s a fundamental – without this sentence, the RED system stands a good chance of not working. In fact, any learning-based system may not work unless you’ve got this sentence, and it’s the ‘link to capability’, because we’re talking about professionalism, and within professionalism, I think we’ve got to add the word ‘trust’ in there somewhere, but here’s the link to capability because if a member of staff feels that they’re going to be on the slippery slope to being sacked then they’re being observed, then they’re not going to be risk-takers. They’re not going to take the chances we need to move their pedagogy forward. And so, here’s my link to capability. Every teacher should wholeheartedly embrace the evaluation of the impact of their work on learners. If they’re unwilling or unable to engage in that evaluative conversation, and that’s the link to capable. In other words, it is absolutely fine if a research lesson bombs, of course it is. And whenever we’re trying a new teaching strategy, does it always work first time? Of course, it doesn’t, you know, it’ll take two or three times before you start to master the process. So, if our observation system can’t cope with that and puts people on a slippery slope, if it doesn’t go as planned, then people aren’t going to go off and go in a new direction, take those risks, that research demands. And so, it’s absolutely essential that the link is simply they refuse to evaluate or don’t have the skills to, and of course, if they don’t have the skills to evaluate them, we can sort that with, with training.

So, it’s an attitude thing, really, if you’re into moving forward everything’s going to be wonderful and everything will be wonderful because you’ll be taking risks. You’ll be learning, you’ll be moving it forward. And you know what? I was doing a quick evaluation, a next step of, of RED just a few weeks ago with East Coast College. Again, that just relaunching it for the year. And one of the exciting things that they said about the process was learners love to see the fact that teachers are researching in how to do pedagogy better. And I wasn’t ready for that. That was a, that was a left-field comment. But the idea that everybody is in this together, everybody is researching makes it a really wonderful and engaging process.

PT: That’s a fantastic set of insights there Tony, very, very rich conversation about the details of the RED system has enormous impact where it’s been applied. But unfortunately, that brings us to an end to this podcast. So may I extend a warm thank you to Tony Davis for sharing his insights on the links between professional dialogue and professionalism and how this can be achieved by making different choices around professional development and the use of observation.

Now, if we are seeking to strengthen our professional communities, we’ve heard today how the RED system is one way of achieving this. If you’d like further information on this topic, please contact me, [email protected], or alternatively Tony can be contacted at [email protected] In the meantime, thank you for listening.

TD: Thanks every so much for the opportunity to talk about some of the things I’m passionate about, thanks very much Paul, hope to see you again.

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