Describing teaching

We come across documents that comprehensively describe jobs of various types on a daily basis, more so if we are actively looking for one. In workplace, these are called job descriptions. They are commonly found in the newspapers (classified section), online job-search sites, government and private employment centers/agencies, etc.

A good job description clearly indicates what someone holding a particular job does, how he carries out his duties, and who he is accountable to.  A thorough job description contains success criteria for the job. Often, a job description is accompanied by a job specification, i.e. description of what someone holding the job should possess in terms of knowledge, skills, abilities and other personal characteristics necessary for the job (KSAOs).

A job description is not simply written out of the blue; although this is the popular notion that most people have about it. As a matter of fact, in my administrative experience at international schools in Thailand and elsewhere, I see an unfortunate trend. School administrators in most schools do not follow the formal, professional, ethical protocol to come up with a job description for recruiting, selecting and hiring personnel. Instead, they copy job descriptions from many different sources (mainly online) and put them together for their “quick” use.

A careful examination of how job descriptions are created in a typical professional work setting would reveal the drawbacks of copying job descriptions from a variety of sources and using them for selection and hiring purposes.

Job analysis

Where do job descriptions come from? What is the origin of all the job descriptions that we currently have for almost all the jobs that exist on planet earth? People don’t give thought to this unless he/she takes a course on Human Resource Management or Personnel or Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

Job descriptions are one of the many bi-products of a highly-technical, professionally-conducted process called job analysis. In other words, job descriptions are just the eggs – the chicken that lays all these eggs is known as job analysis. As such, there is no debate about which one comes first. In this case, the chicken has to come first, always!

Job analysis is a systematic study of tasks, duties, and responsibilities of a job and the qualities needed (KSAOs) to perform it. Typically, a job analysis is conducted by a trained job analyst through naturalistic observations, on-site participation, close examination of existing data, conduct of interviews, administration of surveys, reading of job diaries, and formal exchanges with SMEs (Subject Matter Experts – i.e. supervisor, job incumbent, and job specialists).

Engaging in and relying on a thorough job analysis would yield a complete picture of a job and an accurate understanding of the kind of person required for it. Consequently, this enables employers to make better decisions about a job and who could be most suitably hired for it. Valuable effort, time and money could be saved as a result of investing in a systematic job analysis process. Ultimately, job analysis and its products, i.e. job description, job specification, job evaluation (a mechanism that helps to determine how to compensate for a job) and performance criteria (a mechanism for appraising worker success or failure), prevents wastage and potential harm.

Implication for schools

Businesses spend a lot of money and time appointing experts to carry out job analysis before publishing a job description. This is why businesses have HR departments. However, it is a different situation in schools. HR departments in schools are unheard of (at least I am not aware of any school that has a HR department). At schools, the highest operational leader is in-charge of recruitment, selection and hiring, along with all other responsibilities. While we could argue about the advantages of doing this, we cannot discount the fact that an operational school leader does not possess the expertise, time and patience to carry out a job analysis.

Hence, the easiest thing to do is to copy job descriptions from other schools. Often, school leaders feel comfortable copying job descriptions from schools operated in the west because they assume that those schools must have done what they are not able to do. While schools operated in the west have their own strengths, there is a problem in copying job descriptions from them because of a few fundamental reasons…

1.    Although the process of “educating” is the same everywhere, the philosophy of education may differ from school to school
2.    Differences in the vision and mission of the school
3.    Huge differences among students studying in one school from another – these differences are accentuated by the fact that people’s cultural experiences, language, and a variety of other socio-cultural factors make them very unique as reflected in their community identify and life-style
4.    Differences may also exist in the curriculum used and more specifically, the elements of the curricular emphasized and taught
5.    Differences in the needs and goals of the society – for example, in the west, schools are expected to nurture the sense of independence in students; however, in the east, students are taught to be obedient to authorities

A job description that is copied off from other sources does not factor in any of the above-mentioned points. However, these factors determine the direction and success of the school. Considering them allows school leaders to make the right choices in hiring teachers who has both the commitment and ability to adopt the school’s overall goals and contribute to its long-term growth.

Hence a job analysis specifically carried out in the context of the school’s philosophy, vision, mission, and its goal-orientation is more likely to lead to successful selection and hiring of teachers who would significantly help the school to progress.

Students & the BRAIN – important sources of information!

As mentioned earlier, there are several sources of information that could be identified and located in order to gather comprehensive data about a job through job analysis.

However, it must be noted that a Job analysis in an education setting is ONLY accurate and complete when a job analyst collects information on students’ viewpoints and carefully attempts to understand how the BRAIN really works and supports them in learning; e.g. interviewing a cognitive psychologist or neuroscientist. This should be done in addition to the conventional job analysis procedures, i.e. interviewing or observing teachers, collecting information from headmaster, etc.

If students are considered as important source of information for a job analysis, they could provide answers to questions such as…
1.    How much of contents could I handle and why?
1.    What ways of teaching/delivery motivates me to learn more/better?
2.    How do I like to be assessed to show mastery of knowledge / skills?
3.    When and how does learning take place most efficiently?
4.    When and why do I become disinterested in learning? (critical incident approach) – When teaching is good vs. bad?

A job analysis that does not consider the students and the mechanisms of learning (or the biology and psychology of learning) is incomplete and thus, invalid. Job descriptions that are derived from job analysis devoid of students’ involvement and inclusion of knowledge from cognitive psychology (neuroscience or the science of the BRAIN) would perpetuate traditional practices in teaching and would adversely affect learning and intended outcomes of 21st century education.