Those Who Can’t…Teach. Time For A Performance Discussion

There Is A Saying That Those Who Can’t…Teach. 

I would never accept this statement, teaching is a craft which is developed over a number of years. Those who teach do a great public good, educating our youth and developing the future of society. Teachers’ genuinely care about the education and welfare of our young people and the outcomes they arrive at.

Parent’s Night

If you are the parent of a school-aged child, the chances are you will have attended a parents evening at your child’s school. They are interesting events in that you learn about how your child is getting on at school and in particular you learn about how they are performing. There are potentially different parental expectations about results depending on whether your child attends a state or private facility.

On my 15 year old daughter’s parents night, the first class on the agenda was English. The highly experienced teacher opened by suggesting that my daughter is quiet in class, noting that this could pose problems given that she would receive an assessed presentation in four weeks, accounting for one-third of her qualification grade. Following my brief period of listening her teacher turned to me and suggested that I was ‘quiet’ too…having not had the opportunity to speak yet. Quite the opposite, I’m not quiet at all and I do enjoy a good conversation.

The Wrong Assessment

Yes, we didn’t get off to the best start as the highly experienced teacher came to the wrong conclusion regarding my ability to speak.

Led To The Wrong Teaching

Thereafter I had fewer answers and more questions to present. I asked the teacher whether or not he had demonstrated presentation skills for the young people in the class. The answer that I received was a surprising no. Okay, so why not? Well the explanation referred to the fact that his class had been doing presentations since early in primary (elementary) school and that ‘was’ the answer.  Strangely enough, these presentations are also graded with a grade one, two or three (corresponding to grades A,B, or C). I thought I would add in a question asking whether the young people knew what a grade 1, 2, or 3 looked and sounded like. There was no answer for my question, other than the teacher’s statement that pupil’s in his class had not seen demonstrations of what these graded performances would look like, nor would they.

And The Wrong Learning

I must admit that I was struck by his comments and shocked by the lack of preparation that my daughter had received, the assessment is still pending. Aside from demonstration showing what the various presentations would look and sound like by grade, it was absolutely clear that the young people in class had not rehearsed their presentations, received feedback, nor had the opportunity to improve. Yet, those young people will be graded on their presentations according to the examinations board regulations by their teacher.

But How Was This Highly Experienced Teacher Supposed to Know Better?

Things may have changed over the years in teaching, there has certainly been a shift away from a ‘filling the empty vessel’ approach to one that favours engagement and interactive learning. However, you may be surprised to know that several teacher training programmes do ‘not’ focus on how children and young people learn. Instead the focus is often on approaches to teaching content and learning the content itself. But if teaching is not about learning, then what is it about, there are no qualification outcomes in having been exposed to a curriculum.

Time For A Discussion About Learning

Needless to say, once I also received a similar response on model examples for written work I then became concerned, even though the feedback on my daughter’s previous trial-run essays had been moderately helpful. Presenting curricular units to a classroom full of young people is not my idea of best practice when it comes to teaching and learning, which you may have gathered.

So What Is Learning And What Has Teaching Got To Do With It?

Learning can be a fairly complex process for those who are not well-versed. In the situation above, I would not expect young people to be assessed on the basis of something they had not learned. More importantly, something they did not have the opportunity to practice and improve upon. This could be achieved simply.

If young people are going to be assessed on the content of their talk and their presentation skills, teach them how to do it, don’t just talk about the fact that they are going to do it. Do not accept that they either will or will not do well based on who they are or how you have appraised their ability. If the presentation is assessed according to a criteria, share it. Let the young people see talks at grades a/b/c clearly demonstrating the differences in the performance. Make sure you give pupils’ the opportunity to create talks and present them to the class, provide feedback on the talk, give them a grade according to the criteria. If there are problems during the presentation, hit the pause button, intervene, show the pupil how to alter what they are doing. Once the first run of presentations are complete, ask the pupils’ to do it again, this time building on the ‘feedback’ received. If an individual is not managing the talk well, hit the pause button again, keep going until the pupil gets it right and improves. This ‘is’ teaching and learning.

Why The Need For Performance Discussions?

The fact that teacher’s teach, does not mean that learners’ learn. In the process of teaching and learning, it is the teacher who has responsibility for ensuring that his or her students learn. I will accept that this is not the dominant model of schooling. More often than not, those involved in elementary and high school teaching may hold the position that pupil outcomes are a result of ability, something which is relatively stable and unlikely to shift. One could agree that for many reasons, including socio-economic status and peer-group influence, pupils’ may lack the motivation to succeed at school, seeing little benefit to doing well.

Despite these shortcomings, there is much that can be done to improve pupil performance irrespective of the factors outlined in the above paragraph.

What Schools And Teacher’s Should Ask

All teacher’s at secondary (or high school) should be asking some of the following questions for each pupil in their class, according to the subject domain:

1. What does the pupil think and feel about how they are doing in this subject?

2. How are they performing in this subject?

3. Why are they performing at their current level in this subject?

4. What is the pupil getting wrong or right?

5. What can I do to improve the pupil’s performance?

6. How will I know if I have been successful?

7. How will the pupil know if we have been successful?

8. Have I taught the pupil how to perform well?

9. What do I think about my actions and the impact on learning, do I need to improve on anything?

Teaching, Learning and Performance Discussion Complete

We have learned how one can become complacent about performance through this blog post. Perhaps we are not right to assume an automatic connection between the processes of teaching and learning, the ability to study and retain information is for another discussion. But, we can see that the ability to improve performance runs across a number of industries and education is certainly not a field that should escape organizational performance improvements.

As you may imagine, this discussion also has consequences for all forms of business and performance evaluation. This comes back to some of the questions that were raised on my feedback post. Just because Jane had better transfer of a new training programme to work tasks when compared to Jill, we cannot conclude that Jane is therefore more able than Jill. If Dave consistently outperforms Duncan on the production line, we cannot therefore conclude that Duncan’s capabilities are inferior. We ‘must’ look beneath the obvious and logical conclusion to unearth the causes of difference in performance. In the simplest sense, if Jill and Duncan are only giving 70% commitment compared to Jane and Dave’s 100%, where is the easiest place to generate gain? While benchmarked performance informs us of individual results, these are not fixed and it does not explain the why.

If you are involved in business or human resources or management consulting or any area in which you assess or impact on the performance of individuals’, make sure you ask the right questions and provide the right answers. A simple cost-benefit analysis should show that there is much to be gained from asking and answering the questions above.

Those who can, teach.

About keanemrk
Business psychologist at Elite Professional Performance Ltd. We focus on improving workplace outcomes.

5 Responses to Those Who Can’t…Teach. Time For A Performance Discussion

  1. Great post. Makes a lot of sense. The lack of connection between teaching, learning, performance and assessment standards is one that I recognise from business. People, in my experience, often ask for examples of what an excellent, or average, or poor assessment standard would look like. One of the reasons why it is done poorly (in business at least) is that departments (often HR) find it difficult to quantify or provide examples. An additional reason (perhaps reluctance) is that they want some flexibility to manoeuvre, and not be pinned down to pre-set standards. In other words, it allows easier movement of quotas afterwards. Cynical perhaps, but one reason why a cloak of ‘mystique’ is sometimes pulled over the process, and resistance to water-tight standards is often observed.

    • keanemrk says:

      Do you think there is a solution Louis?

      • Wow! Big question. With my realist hat on, I would say that wherever there are systems, processes and procedures, there will always be ways that humans find to stretch the limits, work the angles, and bend the rules. So, I think it would be futile to forever be trying to ‘improve’ the system in the vain hope that one day we may perfect it. A better approach, in my opinion, would be to attempt to reach a more mature understanding of what the aims are of reviews. We should seek some way to separate the genuine performance/development/learning and growth discussions which are all about how to help people become as effective as they can be, with the rather more constrained and limited world of money/bonus/career advancement. The former is limitless, while the one rooted in money and quotas is clearly not. Not sure that is a solution as such, but it is how I would be tackling it.

      • keanemrk says:

        I agree Louis. In the sense of what it means to be authentic, a business should be genuinely rooted in benefiting the individual. It is clear that a focus on the external reward lacks authenticity. Business would appear to have held on to the knack of ‘pushing the envelope’ wherever advances are concerned, often to the detriment of employees, their most valuable asset. By focusing on performance/development/learning and growth the residual benefits are enormous. Strange though it may seem, so many businesses run around trying to identify the means by which to improve outcomes when the real and transparent answer lies within the organisation and not elsewhere. I take the extensive research evidence on extrinsic vs intrinsic rewards as my lead on the negative impact of focusing on money/bonus and career advancement.

        Interestingly, though, I think that identifying obstacles and solutions can go beyond the authentic or not dichotomy. For example, identifying blockages across the intersection of employees and management can lead to mutual benefit, a benefit that is worth time and energy investment.

        In the example of the organisation and teaching/learning practice, while the teacher may become more fulfilled by generating better pupil outcomes, the pupil will struggle to recover from practices that disadvantage them relative to their comparators.

  2. keanemrk says:

    Great comment Louis and one that I accept.

    There has been a great deal of discussion about whether or not HR should have a seat at the boardroom table. One thing that would facilitate that transition is the demonstration of business gain, in this sense the demonstration of performance gain.

    There should indeed be variance in performance, but when a process becomes ‘cloaked’ it can have connotations that manoeuvre beyond resistance. This is especially likely to be the case where performance appraisal discussions proceed in the absence of a proven foundation.

    While the process of assessment need not be rigid, the search for valid performance information would align HR more closely with people, management and organisational processes. This is something, one would hope, that should benefit all stakeholders within an organisation.

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