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  1. Education Systems – ACEL Forum

    11 May 2017 by shartley

    How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality

    a forum hosted by ACEL

    at NSW Parliament House

     

    The Hon. Rob Stokes MP (current NSW Minister for Education)

    Member for Murray Adrian Piccoli (former NSW Minister for Education)

    Ann McIntyre (ACEL NSW President)

    Aasha Murthy (ACEL CEO)

     
    ACEL
    is the Australian Council for Educational Leaders

    ‘Parliament House c.1829’
    Flickr, Government Macquarie account
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/sydneyhistory/6634269541

    This was an evening about handing over the baton, one education minister to the next. Both were humble and gracious. Both presented as remarkably intelligent, demonstrating much depth in their knowledge of education and education systems.

    The forum commenced with the President of ACEL NSW, Ann McIntyre, introducing the context of the forum title. The topic stemmed from a study led by Linda Darling-Hammond, conducted over three years in several education systems/jurisdictions in Canada, China, Finland, Norway, USA and Australia. The subsequent book, Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality Around the World, thus provided the forum its title. There is also a version that focuses on the Australian part of the study, Empowered Educators in Australia: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality. Both books were co-authored by Ann. Somehow, Ann managed to summarise the findings of the study quite neatly (provided here as a mixture of verbatim and paraphrasing).


    The key to education improvement is:

    1. Teacher quality
    2. supported by policies and practices established within the system
    3. with a balanced assessment system
    4. and a progressive needs based funding model

     To enable this to occur the research showed school systems need:

    1. Good recruitment procedures
    2. Teacher preparation/training for deep knowledge and pedagogy
    3. Timely and quality professional experience and mentoring
    4. Continuous professional learning
    5. Opportunities for professional feedback, focused on growth/improvement
    6. A career and leadership development program

     To achieve all this, schools need resources and opportunities for collaboration.

     Key features of NSW and all the other jurisdictions studied in this research project were:

    1. High social regard for teaching (disputable in NSW)
    2. Selectivity into the profession
    3. Deep financial support for preparation of teachers and professional learning throughout career
    4. High integrity in professional standards
    5. Preparation and induction grounded in very well defined curriculum content and how it is taught
    6. Teaching that is research informed
    7. A collaborative profession, not operating in isolation
    8. Professional learning across a continuum
    9. Well-developed leadership that captured and foster the highly skilled teachers
    10. Systems focused on equity and excellence, as seen in the Melbourne Declaration 

    All this doesn’t happen randomly. It must be through systematic, coordinated reform and innovation. It is important to invest in teaching so that it transforms not just some but all students.


    Ann then handed over to the former and current NSW ministers of education. Rob Stokes spoke first, prefacing his talk with a lawyer-esq disclosure that what he was about to say were his thoughts about education, not yet fully formed.  He then proceeded to provide an intellectual, although brief, consideration of his philosophy of education. He supports an Athenian model over Spartan model, as in developing the whole person rather than educating for the mere purpose of producing people who can contribute to the state. He believes education should be inclusive and be about preparing learners rather than the didactic delivery of information. He concluded by saying he does not have a reductive view of education but an expansive view so, for example, he is not about merely developing ideas to put into existing classroom situations.

    Adrian Piccoli spoke briefly, I suspect to keep the emphasis on Rob Stokes as the current minister. In summary, he said the role of the minister is to facilitate education by providing the right environment, dollars and people to make it function. The minister also needs to be constantly aware that education reform could drift and thus be at risk, although what this risk entailed was not made clear.

    Ann then facilitated a Q&A session. Both Rob and Adrian were obviously comfortable in each other’s company, sharing the stage with ease. They were respectful of each other and the audience. The questions posed were pertinent but they were very considered in their responses, even as to who would be most appropriate to answer first.

    The themes that emerged from this discussion were:

    • Children are at the heart of education.
    • Valuing teachers
    • Systems vs People

     

    Children are at the heart of education. Rob and Adrian are very proud of NSW having needs based funding and even though they can see flaws with the amount of funding dollars out of the Federal Budget this week, they are pleased with the needs based model on which it is based. Relieved, even, that it is now a bipartisan policy. I suspect Adrian Piccoli has had many fights within the coalition about that. On the other hand, there was some regret expressed about the amount of financial contribution to education coming from the federal government.

    Valuing teachers more was another recurring point. Rob made the astute observation that at the local level, those actually involved in schools, particularly parents, mainly have great respect for teachers. That said, Adrian suggested parents don’t know enough about what happens in school and that they need to know more about the importance of growth instead of raw scores. He also pointed out that there is a cultural perception hard to remedy, represented partly by the attitude towards teachers having so many holidays, and that someone with a 99 ATAR wastes their intellect on becoming a teacher. He believes this has stemmed from complacency rising from consistent economic success and that accessing university education has become easier. He offered that the best way to help teachers is to buy them more time to think and to collaborate. Easy to say now he’s no longer making such decisions. But he’s right.

    Systems vs People is how I would summarise the rest of the discussion. There is a constant struggle in education of quality teaching being hampered by requirements of the system, where the system includes standards, curriculum/syllabi, testing regime (eg NAPLAN and HSC), policies and funding. It limits the freedom of principals to focus on learning over administration and operations, it makes it difficult to be equitable for students with disabilities and in low socioeconomic areas, and testing crowds out more genuine learning.

    Generally the discussion was philosophical. Rob returned to the Greek idea and said the purpose of education was to prepare children to make a living and make a life but the social aspect of this being almost impossible to measure. He drew parallels to his previous role as Minister of Planning that a development proposal can measure economic impact but much more difficult to assess social impact, in quantifiable terms. The relational aspect of education is what makes it particularly hard to measure. Adrian suggested that teaching is an art form, not a science. For instance, if you teach two kids exactly the same way, you will still achieve two very different outcomes.

    Rob and Adrian were political in their responses when it came to the amount of testing in our schools. Adrian cited the removal of the School Certificate and better understanding of NAPLAN data reducing the misuse of it as success under his watch. He supported the Year 9 NAPLAN becoming a compulsory hurdle for the HSC due to the importance of numeracy and literacy. Rob added that it was important for students to take school seriously earlier and not wait for Year 11 to step-up their efforts. A member of the audience pointed out that NAPLAN is so separate from the day-to-day syllabi that it is perceived as an extra burden, on both students and teachers. I don’t think many politicians and other people outside schools see the level of stress a testing regime places on students. It also places more value on mark obtainment through memorising over learning and thinking skills in a more general sense.

    Throughout the discussion I was very impressed with the deeply considered responses Adrian and Rob provided. However, Rob as the current minister and seasoned politician already has his three word slogan for education: equity and excellence. Equity, in that every child matters, and excellence by teachers being exemplars. It told me that he will be putting increasing pressure on teachers. Yes, there are some teachers who ride through with minimal effort but I believe the majority are working extremely hard for their students to achieve and thrive as living human beings.

    A tweet from a principal recently stated that senior leadership (but really applies for schools as a whole) is about “keeping young people alive, challenging [their] lifestyle choices and navigating conflicting stories, setting them up for life beyond school but mostly keeping them alive”. She added, “The heart of school is about caring for our young people and bringing out the best in them”. This is what people outside schools need to understand. The system should change to allow more time for teachers to meet the needs of their students and for society to understand what schools are really about, and it isn’t merely an ATAR. Society, the system and schools need to stop treating the HSC and the ATAR as the one and only goal of education. This includes NESA (NSW Education Standards Authority) continually promoting a “Stronger HSC” ad nauseam. It is a marketing slogan, not a description of what education should be about. We need politicians and government representative bodies to be more vocal about the worth of teachers, schools and education in general, and reduce the rhetoric that overly stresses the importance of the HSC. If Rob Stokes truly believes the philosophy of education he presented at this forum, he needs to speak it proudly and loudly, without caveats.


  2. Mind the Gap: Research and Schools

    1 November 2016 by shartley

    217048717_08e3e922f1_m

    Image by Mikel Ortega at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikelo/217048717

    Last week I attended the AIS Education Research Symposium.  When I worked at Oakhill College I was part of the team that created and implemented REAL (Relevant Engaging, Active Learning) and then we researched its impact.  Unfortunately I left Oakhill before the end of the two year research project but thankfully I remained involved to an extent.  We designed REAL to create a paradigm shift in the teaching and learning environment at the school through a transparent curriculum in a detailed but clear (student-friendly) format, structured for students to know each lesson or week:

    • What is to be learned
    • How it is to be learned, and
    • The evidence of successful learning

    The research project examined the impact of REAL on student outcomes but effectively discovered the effect it had on teachers too.  The research revealed REAL as a significantly successful program, although teachers found it hard to adapt their practices, and I’m proud to have been associated with it.

    But this post is about the symposium.  The main participants at the symposium are from schools that have received a funding opportunity from AIS and are at the start, middle or end of a two year research project.  It is also for any other teachers who are keen to make stronger links between research and teaching practice.  And the first keynote speaker, Dr Stacey Waters, was exactly on this topic.

    It is extremely hard to make a cultural shift in any institution, let alone a school which has so many entrenched perceptions of what it should be like.  Nearly everyone in the world experiences school and our experiences are reinforced by pop culture’s representation of it, this image being a teacher up the front instructing students sitting in rows, resisting the learning process (except when they have a superstar teacher like Michelle Pfeiffer or Robin Williams).

    This is not the one best way to learn.  Academic research has indicated this repeatedly, yet many schools resist changing (much like their students resist learning).  I think part of it is the conflicting voices dominating the discourse of how schools should operate. As mentioned before, there is the entertainment industry image but there is also the political viewpoint that schools must do better, meaning better at publicly published score achievement (PISA, NAPLAN, HSC).  In education conference circles there are a few (mainly men) who have a certain popularity, often stringing out their one concept stories for decades (I’m thinking the hole-in-the-wall story and the idea that schools kill creativity).

    The academic voice is often lost in all this.  There are some who are picked up by politicians and/or the media. For example, John Hattie and his Visible Learning ideal is lauded by politicians and the media.  However, even the John Hatties often remain ignored in the day-to-day classroom, for a number of reasons.

    Personally I think it stems from a dominating need of isolated teachers in their classrooms to have control and order.  Control and order is easier if learning is considered to be the mere accumulation of knowledge.  It casts a dark shadow on education.  Teaching is better if it is collaborative, learning is better if it is collaborative, but it is much harder to maintain control and order in a collaborative environment when there isn’t a desire to learn in the first place, by teachers or students.  It is harder to know what individual students are doing in a collaborative environment and if it is known that they are not participating in the learning process, it is hard to know what to do about them.  There are plenty of theories, methods and systems that can be put in place but really, it all comes to dealing with individual motivations and desires to learn.  And to be honest, the better learning environments take more time and energy to plan and monitor.  I love an active collaborative learning environment in my classrooms but boy, it’s hard work a lot of the time.  

    Prof Ruth Deakin Crick shared this quote as part of her presentation about the use of technology to change school culture from exam-driven teaching to a learning culture with dynamic pedagogy and engagement (image, however, was clipped from elsewhere):

    screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-6-05-25-pm

    Teachers are so busy and comfortable with what they know well and what they’ve been rewarded for in the past, they don’t want to become even busier and take risks that result in lost control and disapproval.

    So now we can see why some resistance to change exists, let’s return to the academic voice and other reasons why it is difficult to implement research findings into school practice.

    To be able to research in a detailed, scientifically credible manner, academics focus on narrow areas to reduce multiple confounding factors in their study. They generally want to discover a cause and effect, and the size of that effect, but to be specific and certain they can only concentrate on one cause and one effect at a time, whereas education is much much more complicated than that.  It is like reducing economic modelling to two products in the market.  It illustrates a concept but an economy with just two products is not real life.  This is why Hattie’s study is so appealing, it throws hundreds of studies into the mix and calculates which causes have the most effect.  However, one point worth noting, is how long this all takes.  A research project can take years, and then months to write and publish in an academic journal, and then even longer to garner the attention of those who it really affects, people in schools.  I’m not sure of the age of the studies Hattie includes in his meta-analysis.  Due to the narrow focus and time-lags the question was raised at the conference as to whether the academic rigour should be sacrificed, to an extent, to allow more pertinent and practical studies be undertaken in a more timely manner.  I don’t know the answer.

    The publish or perish pressure on academics is a significant factor too.  The money associated with grants often comes with a proviso of what must be researched. Dr Stacey Waters also referred to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) system which awards points according to the category of grants.  To be published, it helps if the research is something new and different, rather than going deeper into something that has already been examined.  The dream situation for an academic though, is selling books.  And books sell if they have something novel and easy to implement.  We all know how hard change management is, but just how many books advocate just ‘x’ number of steps (eg Kotter’s 8 steps) like it is a simple linear process?  It’s not.

    Even if academics find something that is commonly considered important to implement in schools, the process is slow and usually ineffectual. Researchers are already balancing teaching and research and then they need to market their findings so that schools will take their ideas on board, when so many ideas are already present.  Dr Stacey Waters says that publishing and even training people is not enough. One of her presentation slides said:


    Implementation is most successful when…

    • Practitioners receive training and coaching
    • The organisation provides the necessary infrastructure for training and coaching and regularly evaluates
    • The community is fully involved in the selection and evaluation of programs

    (Fixsen, Naoom, Blasé, Friedman & Wallace, 2005)


    She argued that schools should build relationships with universities and establish a research culture by providing easy access to academic journals and having a forum to discuss what these journals have to say.

    Before Oakhill obtained the research funding opportunity from AIS, we asked some universities to help us perform academic research.  We discovered that not only did they want to be paid consultation fees, that some even wanted to virtually take over the whole process.  We backed away quickly and were relieved and grateful to receive the AIS funding opportunity.  As part of the inaugural recipients of research funding there was only minimal guidance but still, some important structural requirements, including an academic advisor.  However, we ended up only spending 50% of the budgeted amount we allocated for the advisor. He was extremely helpful for implementing research that produced quantifiable data and how that data could be used, but partly due to how late we were and partly due to the lack of need, we didn’t use as much of his services for the writing part as we thought we would.

    So here we were at a conference that was bringing together academics and teachers, albeit those already interested in research. As Terrie Jones tweeted, “Teacher practitioner researchers in partnership with academics bridging the research practice divide? This room. #AISRandD16”.  One of the sessions I enjoyed the most was about Case Study as a form of research.  From what little I have been involved in research at a tertiary level, I have found case study methods frowned upon because it is not appropriate to extrapolate something that works in one circumstance as being applicable to a wider range of circumstances.  Dr Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn argued that yes, three case studies are better than one, but much can be learned from them and proceeded to demonstrate how powerful they could be but also recognising their limitations.  I tweeted that I’d love to work on a case study with Dr Kimberley and she responded with a “Let’s talk” which I will probably take her up on some time next year (see screen grab below).  However, I’m not looking to do research like this until at least 2018.  I started a Master of Research (MRES) at Macquarie University this year but stopped just a few weeks in due to lack of time. I’m currently not working full-time so I can help my son through his HSC (he has autism and anxiety issues).  I considered studying also during this year ‘off’ but I need to make him the priority, not my own work. After that I’ll be open to all sorts of projects!

    screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-6-30-03-pm

    The people at this conference are the core people of their organisations interested in learning and continuous improvement.  What we actually need to learn as researchers within schools, is how to gather-in colleagues to a learning mindset and join with us.

    When we first attempted researching the REAL project ourselves, we applied to present at academic conferences in Seville, Spain, and New York, USA, and were approved for both based on our ‘abstracts’.  This was before the AIS research funding program even existed and we were without any support from universities.  We then had to write papers for these conferences, the New York paper being subject to a peer review.  It failed one reviewer but the other advised us to change the format significantly, which we did, and it was then published <http://shanihartley.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.264/prod.58>*.  We also had to review other papers which was a great learning experience for us.  At these conferences there was much said about education at all levels but over 90% of the presenters were from universities.  Universities seem to take a more hit-and-run approach instead of working in tandem with the schools they research.  It would be nice to see or even experience more collaboration between schools and universities in the research process at academic conferences.  Perhaps we were better off without a university’s own agenda. We were unusual in being school teachers conducting and presenting our own research.  There should be more of it.  

     

    * Despite numerous emails to the publishers, the bios of the authors were not corrected.
    This post is also found at http://squibsandsagas.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/mind-gap-research-and-schools.html

  3. If only Education was like West Wing: what I learned by studying Advanced Pedagogy at uni (M.Ed)

    19 October 2013 by shartley

    I love the television show West Wing.  The fictional government was ethically sound and tried to unite the country by attending the needs of the marginalised, the poor and the society as a whole.  If only we had a government like that.

    Education has become inextricably linked to economic ideals and this has a large impact on curriculum and pedagogy.  One area where this is evident is in the “choice, competition and performance” promoted by politicians (Buchanan 2011, p.68) and I’m guilty of shopping for schools for my own son currently, as one of the financially advantaged who can do so.  Another example of economic prominence in education is how students are continually viewed as a labour resource with a desire for individual success rather than as participants in a community.  As Wyn (2009) claims, “Education must accommodate individual and social goals” (p.43).

    I am an advocate for the type of pedagogical change Kalantzis and Cope (2012) promote for schools with their concept of “learning design” that examines “the big questions” (p.84) in an environment of “energetic intellectual inquiry and practical solution development” (p.86).  Thooman et al (2011) found it is important to connect to students and create positive collaborative experiences, “education should provide students with opportunities to work on realistic and situated activities” (p.356) which supports my motto of ‘keeping it real’.  National curriculum and its General Capabilities (ACARA 2011) provide a strong prospect to shift teaching from an industrial learning model to a student-centred thinking model which is the position we’re taking at my school.  Next year as national curriculum is introduced, I am helping teachers to implement our REAL (Relevant, Engaging, Active Learning) Program to Year 7, a student-centred concept, as part of my role on the Innovative Learning Team.

    There is an extraordinary amount of political rhetoric surrounding ICT in schools as revealed by Jordan (2011), some of which I readily accept as universal truths, such as how ICT drives change, but the main point where I am in agreement with Jordan is her criticism of students as being described as “digitally savvy” (p.245).  The nature and implications of ICT in education are changing rapidly and nobody is able to keep abreast of it all.  Further pressure on teachers come in the form of charismatic speakers on the education circuit such as Sir Ken Robinson and Sugata Mitra criticising the current methods of teaching and promoting their own pedagogical agenda.

    This rhetoric and economic overdrive affects teachers immensely.  I thus have an ongoing concern about how a pedagogical paradigm shift is integrated into schools.  Too often structural change is forced onto teachers instead of in consultation and students are neglected altogether (McGregor 2011, p.15), making them both feel powerless.  O’Sullivan (2007) demonstrated how teachers are tied to their role emotionally, more than to their professional pride in intelligence and ability (p.9).  Thoonan et al (2011) acknowledged the role teacher self-efficacy had in motivating students. An analysis of teaching standards by Connell (2009) revealed the absence of recognition of the sheer energy required to teach, “Energy, movement, expression and fatigue all matter” (p.220).  Teachers need to be supported and be involved in the change process for it to be successful.

    Education needs to be like West Wing where idealism is implemented for the individuals who constitute the education community and the good of society as a whole.

    Reference List

    ACARA (2011). General capabilities. Retrieved from http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum/general_capabilities.html

    Buchanan, R. (2011). Paradox, Promise and Public Pedagogy: Implications of the Federal Government’s Digital Education Revolution. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 36(2), 67-77. DOI: 10.14221/ajte2011v36n2.6

    Connell, R (2009) ‘Good teachers on dangerous ground: towards a new view of teacher quality and professionalism’, Critical Studies in Education, 50.3, 213-229.

    Jordan, K. (2011). Framing ICT, teachers and learners in Australian school education ICT policy. Australian Educational Researcher, 38(4), 417-431.

    Kalantzis, M and Cope, B (2012) ‘New learning: A charter for change in education’, Critical Studies in Education, 53:1, 83-94.

    McGregor, G. (2011). Engaging Gen Y in schooling: the need for an egalitarian ethos of education. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 19(1), 1-20.

    O’Sullivan, K (2007) ‘Unmasking the Professional Identities of English Teachers’, International Journal of Educational Practice and Theory, 29(1), 6–5.

    Thoonen, E, Sleegers, P, Peetsma, T and Oort, F. (2011). Can Teachers Motivate Students to Learn? Educational Studies, 37(3), 345-360

    Wyn, J. (2009). Touching the Future: Building Skills for Life and Work. Australian Education Review, 55, Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne.

     


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