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Creating cultures of continual improvement

Ken Wallace

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Ken Wallace CEO Educator Impact

Teacher effectiveness is one of the top determinants of positive student outcomes. But not all schools have the resources to devote to the continual development of their teachers through targeted personal development. So how can schools with limited resources create a culture of continual improvement among their staff and reap the promised rewards for their students?

To address this challenge, schools across Australia and New Zealand have begun to adopt a whole-of-school approach to staff development. Hundreds of schools are now deploying a collaborative system of 360-degree feedback and goal setting and tracking that is grounded in theories of behaviour change. The methodology and system - developed by Australian education company Educator Impact (EI) - is designed to help create a culture of continual improvement among leaders, teachers and support staff in a time- and cost-effective way.

EI recently released a 5-year case study documenting the professional development journey undertaken by the staff at St. Philip’s Christian College in Cessnock (SPCC), in partnership with EI. The case study provides in-depth insight to the impact that a feedback-based professional development system has had on the school. The key findings were that:

  • Improving teacher effectiveness is the key to improving student outcomes
  • A whole of school approach creates a culture of continual improvement and helps leaders leverage the strengths of their teachers

Culture can be most simply understood as “what we do around here.” Ken Wallace, CEO of Educator Impact, says that SPCC illustrates the powerful impact on culture when everyone in the school is part of the process. “All SPCC staff actively participate in the feedback process each year, making a significant contribution to the school’s culture and improving student outcomes along the way. Indeed since embarking on their journey, SPCC has recorded improvements in students’ perceptions of their teachers’ effectiveness in key areas (such as calibrating difficulty and classroom management) of as much as 13%.”

Principal Darren Cox likes to say that by utilising feedback as the basis of professional development, “the school is going on a treasure hunt, not a witch hunt”. It’s a mindset that is imperative for any leader who wants to create a collaborative and supportive school culture. At SPCC, growth has been rapid under Darren’s watch. After just 13 years, the small country school is now one of the most sought-after in the region.

The positive results achieved by SPCC should not surprise, in light of findings of recent research. Experts at the Grattan Institute believe that schools perform better when groups of teachers or whole schools identify and implement great practices in a consistent fashion. When an entire school is involved there is a shared commitment to improvement. And when schools utilise a common professional development framework, the collective efficacy is reinforced through a shared experience. Put simply, ongoing development becomes part of the school’s culture.

And as SPCC can attest, a collective approach benefits the students too.  SPCC’s 900 students range in age from infants through to Year 12. All students have the opportunity to provide their teachers with constructive feedback on a routine basis. As Deputy Principal, Marty Telfer explained in a recent interview, this approach is important because it gives students a voice, “it was saying to the kids when you fill the survey out, we actually do something with this so take it seriously. And by and large we have found the students have been responsible with that. I think if you treat them like grown ups and with respect, they actually respond in the same way.”

Download the free webinar, case study and audio of SPCC’s journey here

To find out how Educator Impact can help your school email

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