Lessons: New standards documents urge teachers to encourage children to become critical thinkers. *iStock photo
Lessons: New standards documents urge teachers to encourage children to become critical thinkers. *iStock photo
A “bold” new set of standards for teachers has been introduced in a bid to take Bermuda’s classrooms from “chalk and talk” to the 21st century.

“Sack bad teachers” has become a popular mantra of education reformers worldwide — with the quality of classroom instruction under the microscope.

In Bermuda, the hard-hitting Hopkins Report highlighted improving the quality of teachers and principals as essential to turning round struggling schools.

But Wendy McDonell, commissioner of education, said improving standards does not just mean replacing underperforming staff.

She said the new guidelines would help foster an environment where teachers were constantly updating their skills and had access to a wide support network to help them stay on top of their game.

Decisions

She added: “Accountability has two prongs. It involves pressure and support. One of the preconceptions is that when we account for teachers’ performance the necessary response is dismissal.

“We have to build capacity as well before we make those kinds of decisions.”

Ms McDonell said the new documents — Bermuda Standards for Accomplished Teaching 2010 and Bermuda Standards for Highly Effective Principal Leadership 2010 — provided “benchmarks” for teachers and principals.

Dr. Lou Matthews, who produced the documents in collaboration with teachers, principals and other educators, said they also offered a framework to help fuel recruitment, training and other staffing decisions.

He said the documents represented a “clarion call” to teachers and principals to be at the forefront of a “paradigm shift” in the profession and were a key part of the department’s blueprint for education reform. He added: “The basic message coming out of Hopkins was that we have to improve teaching and learning and leadership.

“These standards paint a beautiful vision of what could be all across this island — and what is in some cases.

“If we are going to overcome the negative talk about education we have to put forward a beautiful message and let these ideas take root.”

The standards for teachers focus on five key areas — ethics, professional knowledge of content and curriculum, professional planning and instruction, cultural relevance and professional qualities.

For principals, a separate set of guidelines focuses on ethical leadership, teaching and learning, “change leadership” and operations, organizational culture and community, curriculum and data and partnerships with the community.

Dr. Matthews said the standards sought to establish an agreed set of principles that defined a great teacher and great principal in modern Bermuda.

Laurel Burns, literacy coordinator at Purvis Primary School and part of the working group that helped produce the documents, said creating an environment where teachers could continually update their methods is critical.

She added: “Would you want to go to a doctor if the last time he picked up a medical book was when he graduated university?

“He has to have the drive and desire to stay up-to-date. We have to do the same as teachers.”

Ms Burns said this is already happening at many schools, including Purvis, where her role is to provide professional development and in-class coaching for her fellow teachers.

She completed a training course in the U.S.-based Literacy Collaborative — a pioneering new approach which is beginning to be adopted in Bermuda — and has been tasked with helping her colleagues implement it.

 She said: “We’re not just talking about using a white board instead of a blackboard — it is moving from chalk and talk to more robust exchanges between students and teachers.”

The method promotes a “read, write and think” approach, encouraging children to be critical, independent thinkers.

Ms Burns said: “There is so much information out there we have to teach children how to be creative and critical users of that information. We need them to be problem solvers.”

Dr. Matthews added that the demands of the global economy were changing rapidly, meaning old-fashioned prescriptive teaching methods may not apply now.

He said: “We’re trying to create a country that will be competitive in 2050 — the jobs they’re going to do may not even exist right now.”

Tamicia Darell, deputy principal at East End Primary School and also part of the working group, said the emphasis had to be on changing classroom culture.

“We have often focused on external things but this is about equipping teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to effect change within the classroom — not just the paint on the walls.”

The Standards for Highly Effective Principal Leadership 2010 paints a portrait of school principals that value integrity; are keenly focused on fostering high quality instruction in every classroom, every day, at every level; use data and curriculum in ways that creatively and critically drive student success; build capacity for sustained change within the school community, while promoting cultural pride and wellness; and build strong external relationships and networks. 

The Standards for Accomplished Teaching represents a view of the Bermuda classroom where teachers create powerful learning environments where learners engage curriculum creatively and critically; where trust, confidence and mutual respect are fostered; where teachers advocate for the highest quality learning for all students, at all times; where Bermudian cultural heritage is celebrated and used to build global understanding, and where teachers use proven instructional strategies to maximize student achievement and growth; and where teachers continually seek opportunities to grow professionally.