Enhancing student achievement by de-privatising practice and de-privatising classrooms

Why De-Privatisation?

To literally eliminate the walls around classrooms and allow teachers to learn with and through each other without the fear of feeling judged, criticised, evaluated or threatened is the most powerful mechanism we have at our disposal to influence teaching practice and to enhance student achievement. Throwing Professional Development at teachers comes a very distant second. When teachers no longer concern themselves with colleagues observing them teach, when they no longer feel a need to ask for feedback on how well they did, and when they trust their colleagues to not talk behind their backs about what they saw, you have a teacher rich learning environment in which to ignite teacher performance. Many leaders have tried to de-privatise practice over entire careers but have failed. We can achieve this in a single day. Working with small groups of teachers we re-wire the way they think and shift their basic assumptions and mental models so that each teacher in your school no longer concerns themselves with the fear of being observed or caught out by others paying random visits. By eliminating the walls around classrooms you will discover the most powerful way of impacting on teaching practice and enhancing and enriching the achievement of your students through your teachers.  

Shifting Teachers’ thinking – not motivating them to change is the answer

What a teacher thinks about their practice rather than how they feel about it, is what’s important in catalysing significant & rapid change in the way a teacher goes about their work. Motivating teachers to change doesn’t work. Only they can motivate themselves to learn. Allowing them to shift their own thinking on what they’re doing is the first step towards motivating a teacher to embrace new teaching practices and new beliefs systems around what they are doing in their classroom.

Using teachers to influence other teacher’s thinking about their teaching is an incredibly powerful way of igniting teacher development irrespective of stage of career. By de-privatising classrooms and making it safe for teachers to observe other teachers teach here’s what teachers have had to say about how it has impacted on their thinking:

  • “It makes me reflect on my own practice and makes me think of potential changes in my teaching. I am so pleased that I got introduced to this so early in my teaching career.”
  • “I have become more accepting and relaxed around people visiting me teaching – accepting that others are there to improve their practice and not mine was a real challenge at first but now it’s just accepted and it’s such a relief.”
  • “My focus has completely changed from focusing on what students are doing to what they’re learning.”


Shifting the emphasis from Professional Development to Professional Learning

From a teacher’s perspective Professional Development is generally imposed and then delivered intermittently by an expert usually from outside the school. Professional Development can be provided despite the culture of your school and for many teachers becomes compliance. Development is ‘informational’ in nature and designed to fix perceived problems.

Professional Learning in contrast is organic – it occurs all the time through rich, robust everyday informal professional conversations. Learning occurring in this way is transformational. Teachers can only experience incredibly rich, deeply profound learning opportunities in this way through classroom de-privatisation. In only this way can teachers become truly informed about their own teaching practice in deep and personally relevant ways.  Professional learning of this type directly and very quickly impacts on student achievement because it directly impacts on each teacher’s thinking.

Most schools and centres have become or are becoming Professional Development Communities, not Professional Learning Communities, because classroom de-privatisation is such a difficult challenge to overcome. If you’re interested in creating an adult rich learning environment – one in which your teachers will thrive and excel then de-privatising your school, classroom by classroom, will be a significant objective.

What are Teachers saying about the benefits of a De-Privatised School’?

“I’ve been teaching 14 years. At every school I’ve ever taught at we’ve had at least one or two PD initiatives on the go each year.  However I’ve developed and grown my teaching practice and made more changes over the last year through this process than I’ve ever done through any other initiative. My development as a teacher has been accelerated over the last year, more so than in any other year because of the way the thinking embedded within this initiative has allowed our leaders to engage me and my colleagues as learners. I’m learning, I’m being challenged in my practice and it’s me who’s doing it to me. My learning has more depth than it’s ever had before. I can’t think of a more powerful way of learning as a teacher about how to be a better teacher, that’s better than this approach – and it’s not just me who feels this way. I now understand the difference between Professional Development and Professional Learning and its Professional Learning, not PD that gets me excited. Its professional learning which is making a difference to me and my students and it’s really exciting. Although there may have been some scepticism from some at the start we are all totally committed now that we can see the changes in our practice, the way our professional relationships are developing robustness and how our students are benefitting directly. I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my teaching career.”

Team Leader from a North Shore School, Auckland

“After spending a day with Tony in 2008 we were totally sold on the concept of 4 Minute Walkthroughs as a process to build teacher capacity and create a powerful learning community. Everything presented to us during the day just seemed to make perfect sense.

Initially we ensured that our Senior Management and Team Leaders worked together with Tony to gain a shared understanding of the knowledge, skills and theory behind the development of an effective learning community through implementation of the Walkthrough process. We were then able to introduce the concept to our staff.

Having implemented the process school wide for the last six months we have already seen a shift in teacher attitudes towards being observed. Learning conversations relating to effective practice have also improved during this time and are now taking place outside of team meetings. Allowing staff to observe others in the act of teaching and giving them a structure to facilitate reflective conversations has already enhanced our learning community. Teachers reflect on their own practice and have analytical, critical and even challenging talk with their peers, enabling them to make positive changes to enhance their teaching practice and their impact on student achievement.

Developing reflective practices has encouraged and supported the critical analysis of student data. This is used as a catalyst during team meetings to enhance challenging conversations. Effective data analysis, combined with challenging learning conversations based on Walkthroughs has laid the foundation for a robust community of learners. There is now an expectation that challenging learning conversations, with their foundation in data, is the norm.

As a leadership team the work we have done with the Walkthrough process has enabled us to develop a shared philosophy and a clear understanding of the androgogy involved in facilitating the process has enhanced this. Working with Tony has empowered school leaders to successfully facilitate the Walkthrough process with their teams. Furthermore the de-privatisation of practice has enabled all teachers and leaders to participate openly in a safe and trusting environment where reflection is expected and challenge is accepted.”

Written by the Leadership Team at Belmont Intermediate School, Takapuna, Auckland


If you would like more information on this programme we can send you an information package by clicking the link: t.burkin@interlead.co.nz