Deputy Director Mark Schulz says professional development is key to ZIS's teaching excellence.
The concept of ‘growth mindset’ among our students is a major focus for us here at ZIS. The idea originated from Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, and runs something like this: if you have a growth mindset, then you’re willing to take risks to improve, to be persistent, to leave your comfort zone and see failure as part of the learning process. If you have a fixed mindset, then you won’t take those risks and you fear failure. You feel you’re as good as you’re ever going to be.
It’s easy to see how this way of thinking around a growth mindset can benefit students, but it can bring huge benefits to teaching, too. The research is completely consistent: the factor that has the greatest impact on a student’s learning potential is their teacher.
So, while we get the best possible teachers in front of our children, we then give them everything we can to help them get stronger. Like all quality employers, we see the further development of our faculty and staff as vital, and we’ve made that the foundation of our professional growth-planning model. We define teaching under four quadrants: instructor, faculty colleague, community member and professional. So we are not just looking for teachers who are great practitioners in their own classroom, we are also looking for those other aspects to be demonstrated. Our teachers set goals across these quadrants.
At the start of the year, our principals, assistant principals and education directors – who all work with groups of about 18 teachers – sit down with those teachers to discuss and identify goals. They will set an individual goal around teaching practice and then one of the other three quadrants. Teachers are given the autonomy to identify what they want to work on themselves. Quite often, groups of teachers will collaboratively come up with a team goal.
Goal-setting is supplemented by a check-in in the middle of the year, where all teachers ask students for anonymous feedback around their learning experience. That leads to the mid-point meeting discussion about survey feedback, student progress based on assessment data, the teachers’ reflection on that, what changes they intend to make based on the feedback from the students, and what progress they have made against their two goals. Towards the end of the year, there’s a final conversation regarding progress throughout the year.
We also have a system of classroom walkthroughs where our team of leaders make unannounced classroom visits. Or teachers will ask them to come to look at a particular aspect of the practice, or look at something they are trying differently, to get specific feedback on the effectiveness of this.
Recruitment of teachers is a really important part of what we do. ZIS has an excellent international reputation and we attract many very high-quality applicants. We make it clear, however, that no matter how good they are, we still want them to become a better teacher or a better leader – whether that’s individual practice, how they work and share with others, or how they lead within the school.
And that culture of excellence, of striving, of risk-taking, has in itself become one of our strengths. It’s something that high-quality people will seek out and embrace, meaning that it benefits teachers and students alike.