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How can schools dignify their teachers' professionalism?

Teachers can enjoy moments of great reward that make the calling to their vocation worthwhile, and they can endure periods of dull routine.

Along with many others in the workplace, a typical teacher’s life is unpredictably demanding, full of interesting challenges. But, it can also contain repetitive activities that could only be described in terms of brainless drudgery. The university degree, the extensive initial training and continuous professional development all serve to ensure teachers have the skills to deal with teaching our children - a task that requires all their professional judgement and expertise.

In a recent survey 45% of teachers report that they are spending too much time on double entering assessment data, 53% on excessive marking¹.

If this activity is required because we have a new use for this data that could help us make better learners of our students, then someone had better let our teachers know. At the moment, their view is that it is hindering them not helping.

Has marking been proven to be the most effective use of teachers’ time in helping students?

For some reason, teachers don’t seem to think so, assuming instead that it’s because managers need to be able to demonstrate consistency across the school when OFSTED comes a-knocking.

Perhaps the real reason teachers are spending so much time administering the results of their work is because the school system trusts them and their professional judgement so little that it needs to be able to monitor and check with increasing regularity. The burden of measuring all this activity has now become a significant hindrance in itself.

It might be assumed that this is exactly the sort of problem where technology can really help. As much as that should be true, the success of initiatives is checkered at best. Although the right technology can help, the wrong technology is unfortunately often part of the problem.

Many solutions look to focus on providing the ultimate reporting dashboard. Senior managers are promised the ability to dice and slice information to their heart’s content, with the purpose of being able to see exactly how progress is being made by everyone in the school. Senior managers are impressed as such a solution offers to make it easy for them demonstrate the fruit of their labours.

There is a problem with this approach. The all important question should be where will the data that this solution relies on come from?

Google has loads of great data, not just about what can be found on the web, but also about who is looking for what and when. It gets this user data by offering something in return - in this case, a search box that will help each user find anything they like on the web. The school manager’s dashboard offers them great insight but the data itself has to come from the teachers. For the teacher, there is no benefit, just the demand for more double entry of data - yet another place to enter grades.

However, there is an approach that is proven to work: Offer teachers and students something first, such as streamlining or saving the time it takes to carry out everyday interactions. And, why not have a system that focusses on helping students stay organised and hand in work in the way they want to complete it, or that makes setting and assessing work easier for teachers?

Going further, if the technology helps teachers save time by making it easy for them to find the information they need and work the way they want, then there should be no problem introducing such a tool to a school. Teachers should be able to show off their work and the work of their students, and when this is the case the manager’s dashboard will have the data it needs, so it in turn can show off the great work being done in the school.

IT is revolutionising the workplace and it is about time that it did the same in education. Tools like Firefly help schools dignify their teacher’s professionalism by serving their interests first and facilitating them to do what they love to do - help their students learn. Schools overall benefit from getting the most out of what their teachers have spent their working life being trained to do, and not losing all that expertise to mere data entry.

¹ Department for Education - Workload Challenge: Analysis of teacher consultation responses (Feb, 2015)

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