Valuing Meddlers in Re-View and Pre-View

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Introduction

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to engage in four conversations about performance re-view:

The first was with colleagues at the University of Canberra on to how to share a commitment to pedagogy in a performance appraisal system when there is an insistence on meeting key performance metrics that does not value pedagogy.

The second was a chance meeting in Tilley’s Cafe near the Lyneham Hockey Centre in Canberra. I met a coach who had been involved in performance analysis for two decades and who was now embedding that practice in his coaching. He was loving his coaching responsibilities but after twenty years of coaching he was realising how little he knows about coaching and keen to explore the essence of coaching.

A third connected me with a friend at a university in the United Kingdom who is developing a growing interest in the meta aspects of learning in work based environments.

My fourth conversation was with another friend in the UK who had just had his season’s re-view with his manager at a Premier League football club.

All four conversations left me thinking about what we cannot measure but might value as we re-view performance and feed forward (pre-view) to subsequent re-views. They took me back to the importance of a meddler engagement with learning. They led me to a discussion of interthinking too.

Erica

Erica McWilliam’s (2009) paper starts:

Pedagogy matters. In whatever historical time, what actually happens in the classroom can make or break the disposition to learn that is so fundamental to a young person’s future social, economic and civic participation.

She introduced me to her wonderful idea of a teacher in search of epistemological agility becoming and being to a meddler-in-the-middle.

Teachers as meddlers:

are mutually involved with students in assembling and/or dis-assembling knowledge and cultural products. Meddling is a re-positioning of teacher and student as co-directors and co-editors of their social world. As a learning partnership, meddling has powerful implications for what “content” is considered worthy of engagement, how the value of the learning product is to be assessed, and who the rightful assessor is to be.

Meddlers (among other attributes):

  • Have clear intentions about what they do, and they are energetically up and doing it.
  • They provide support and direction through structure-rich activity in which they themselves are highly involved.
  • Demonstrate the technical expertise of an experienced and capable teacher-as-leader, and puts into practice strategies that require both themselves and their students to stay in the zone of “sense-making and joint problem-solving”.

Meddling teachers “are not easily seduced into praising, but when they give it – and they look constantly for opportunities to do so authentically – its effect lasts”.

I wondered how we start to engage with this longer-term impact of pedagogy when performance re-views are often framed over a much shorter term. I wondered too if when we submitted our review documentation we were able to insert “Meddler” under role and responsibilities.

All of which encouraged me to consider language and interthinking … and how we might talk about being a meddler who constantly surveys the pedagogical landscape “for ways and means of bringing pleasure and rigour together” to engage learners.

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Interthinking

In the midst of my four conversations, I happened upon a paper by Simon Knight and Karen Littleton (2015).

Simon and Karen explore the ways in which educational dialogue can share positive learning outcomes … and use language as a tool for thinking together.

I take it from their argument that performance re-views and pre-views can use shared common knowledge to open up interhinking opportunities, particularly about dynamically evolving practice that is transforming the ways things are done.

This openness to practice requires leaders in the re-view and pre-view process to become followers and contemplate their own ongoing learning as listeners rather than tellers.

Interthinking invites us to:

  • Contemplate re-view as a formative, evolving activity rather than as a summative, finite event to satisfy bureaucratic arrangements.
  • Consider that key performance indicators can be guides rather than rigid behavioural expectations.
  • Re-view can enable us to “engage in a rich history of ideas, and use ‘co-constructed representations’ to engage in the ‘co-construction’ of representations” (Simon Knight and Karen Littleton, 2015:7).

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The art of meddling

I am a feed forward, pre-view rather than a feed back, re-view person. I have written this post in praise of meddling and to contribute to a conversation about the art of meddling. I would like to be part of a discussion about what can be.

I do believe that if we are to support the flourishing of those who are re-viewed as part of an institutional evaluation cycle then we must consider how we evaluate pedagogical practice as an art with all the subjective energy that comes to conversations about aesthetics.

This will require leaders to be followers and listeners. Re-view would cease to be a chronological rite-of-passage moment and embrace the possibility of continuous engagement in practice.

I am told that this model of re-view is not practical or feasible. If we had the opportunity to interthink this, I would like to explore how such a system that engaged with the narrative and practice of performance might be self-fuelling. That is, the self-esteem generated by continuous sharing and interest in personal well-being would lead to empowerment and dynamic practice that was contestable in the most animated, joyful way instead of the dread prompted by an annual, brief, trial-by-ordeal.

I would recast Joi Ito’s sentiment about education and learning for a pre-view conversation.

Education Performance review is what the system does to you. Learning is what you do to yourself.

Photo Credits

Gloucestershire Stone Wall (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)