Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Improving Practice....One Department at a Time

In BC for the past decade or so schools have been required to come up with a yearly "performance plan".  Though the intention behind this is laudable, (i.e. to get educators to be more reflective upon, and responsive to, the ever changing needs of our student population) a more effective way to achieve this is through departmental performance plans.  When developed at a school level, the goals within a performance plan become extremely general and often vague.  The risk of course is that these goals end up being nothing more than platitudes to which the staff pay scant attention.  For example, at our school the performance plan goals are to increase social responsibility and to improve reading ability.  Nobody would argue that these are worthy goals, but to the teacher of the senior math class or a P.E. class, do they really help to guide practice?

In my experience the most effective goals are those shared at a smaller level, where more commonalities exist class to class and teacher to teacher.  As I've blogged about before, we are having success this year in rethinking how we are delivering and assessing ESL.  One of the goals that we've set is to have greater engagement from the students through more informative assessment practices and different approaches to the material.  Our English department has had success with similar "retooling" in recent years.    Overarching "school goals" may serve as guides, not unlike mission statements or statements of values.  But each department at our school, as I suspect the case to be at most schools, has its own goals, strengths, challenges and personalities.  To enact meaningful change we need to work with each of these groups, listen to their concerns and tailor new ideas and new ways of doing things to the circumstances at hand.