Teachers need autonomy

Teachers need autonomy

  • Blog By
    Dr. Shivkumar Chinnusamy
    Managing Director
    The Indian Public School
    August 7, 2020 | In Blog

Child development’ and ‘child centric’ are terms that are commonly used in the world of education. ‘Child development’ in a broad context is perceived as the physical and emotional development of the child at different stages of their growth. ‘Child centric,’ in a broad context is perceived as identifying the interests of the child, designing learning engagements around them and nurturing them.

In this process of focusing on ‘child development,’ we fail to see our teachers who act as the catalyst in the development of the child. Why not the entire buzz be around ‘teacher development’ and ‘teacher centric’ in schools? Unless we focus on nourishing them, ‘child development’ and ‘child centric’ will only remain as attractive jargons in the dictionary of education.

As schools and school leaders, we have to provide opportunities for their professional development, nourish their social and emotional health. There is a perception that ‘teacher development’ is all about standardizing teaching practices, placing teachers against certain parameters and rigorously inspecting them. Inspection that sets a really high level of expectations on them, mostly grading them and placing them on a scale of comparison with others and at the same time expecting them to happily collaborate with others at work, without any egos.

teachers and standardization in teaching

This kind of approach to ‘teacher development’ will overwhelm them. They will get lost in the pace of things. Pace to demonstrate results, to demonstrate constant improvement, to do more with less, to be an extraordinary teacher. This overwhelming nature of the job sometimes makes people quit their existing job or in certain cases, people move out of the teaching profession. There is already a serious shortage of teachers and we cannot afford to lose more.

Teachers need to feel safe and welcome. The mental and spiritual health of a teacher is directly related to the mental and spiritual health of children. We cannot expect our students to be independent, creative and autonomous without providing that autonomy to our teachers. We have to rethink the way we handle our teachers, who are the catalyst of change. Mental stress in any form should not have any place at school both for teachers and children. The school should be an environment where failures are not penalized; instead, supported to overcome them, be it for the teachers or students. We believe each child is different and should be individually supported and nourished. Similarly, we need to understand that the same applies to teachers as well.

effective teachers

How do we balance teachers’ happiness with demands of quality education?

We have to understand that creativity, collaboration and passion increase with a certain degree of autonomy. Yes, as school leaders we expect certain standards from our teachers in terms of subject expertise, pedagogy and attitude. Expecting certain standards and standardizing the teaching-learning process are two totally different things. Standardizing the teaching process will kill creativity of the teacher and make them lose interest and fun in teaching.

When it comes to setting expectations, leaders have to clearly communicate the expectations to their team and also guide them with strategies, which they had used to strengthen their leadership. Similarly, the expectations should be laid down by collaborating with them and leaders have to make them buy those expectations, so that they take onus of it.

The expectations, processes or the format that we set should be understood, cherished and valued by them. There are scenarios when the expectations or formats are rolled out, but the understanding and expectations from the leaders are different to that of a teacher. Leaders should have processes to monitor work and progress, be it for teachers or students.

It has to be something which they can use as a guide or compass to track their work or progress and improve on it, instead of something that overwhelms them and sets a tone of inspection or penalization. This is possible when you involve them in the entire process; provide them with autonomy to offer their suggestions. Even if the processes or expectations are designed by the school leaders, it should be communicated in a way that they buy your idea rather than being forced on them. This needs skill that every leader should invariably possess.

Once that happens, instead of people walking away from you overwhelmed, they will walk towards you happily and compassionately to share your responsibilities. There might always be those exceptions that misuse the autonomy and those can be handled on a case-to-case basis. Believe me, it is going to be just a handful. Ultimately, you will be witnessing a more compassionate, creative and productive work culture.

 

Also read HAPPINESS AT WORK