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The TED series of talks and their website is a great repository of short insights which millions of us think is of value.  So what could be a carry across to the world of teaching from this?

Bill Gates recently spoke at a TED event in Edinburgh with the title “Teachers Need Real Feedback“.  Whilst the work that he is doing through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in this area is US focused, the video is worth an small investment of 10 minutes to watch.

Whilst as Bill highlights, teacher feedback systems around the world vary, 11 out of the top 15 performers in terms of proficiency in reading have such a system.  The US is one of the few that currently doesn’t.

In the UK, at a national level there are various approaches in place or rolling out, however, these are often seen or portrayed as systems to measure and monitor teaching rather than as feedback and development tools.

Where there is potentially learning from the “Measures of Effective Teaching” approach sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in their approach.  What they are trying to create is a learning environment for teachers where they are given the skills and tools to self assess, provide feedback to colleagues, and share best practice across the wider teaching profession in order to help all teachers move towards the best of their peers.

He highlights the cost in US terms of putting the infrastructure in place as US$5bn, but interestingly this equates to <2% of the cost of teaching salaries.  Whilst this level of investment would likely require government sponsorship, there is much that can be done to work from the bottom up to help create local learning cultures.

For example, in the case of the Province of Shanghai, which consistently performs well, their system includes:

  • ensuring that less experienced teachers are given time to observe ‘master teachers’
  • weekly study groups where teachers discuss best practice
  • each teacher being required to observe colleagues and then giving feedback

From the Measures of Effective Teaching programme Bill Gates showed the example of a teacher videoing their lesson and then using it to enhance personal reflection, and potentially then share best practice.

Whilst I’m sure that we could all say that we do some of the above or equivalents, how many of us feel that we invest the right amount of time in developing ourselves, or that it is systematically required as a part of the policies and practices which we are often responsible for or have influence over?

Whilst the easy option is to say that the environment isn’t right and that we don’t have the right tools or policies in place, there are things that we perhaps need to consider closer to home in terms of our individual and team mindsets and skillsets.  As much as we may think that we take on board feedback perhaps we need to become more comfortable with both giving and receiving feedback either from someone else or as self reflection and actively look to solicit it.  Only by addressing this will we ever be able to leverage an investment in infrastructure and create something as powerful as TED in terms of sharing insights, inspiration, and best practice.

After all as Bill Gates says “we all need a coach”.

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