Have we over-complicated schooling so much that we can’t see the forest for the trees? In our attempt to make schooling relevant have we discounted something so fundamental to human nature?
Archive for the ‘Teaching Profession’ Category
For the past five years we have been working with our ‘learning partner’ Michael Fullan. Michael has acted as a system coach/mentor, helping us to sharpen our focus and stay the course. The benefit of having Michael as our learning partner is that he has a deep understanding of system change but is at arm’s length from the day to day work. He brings a balanced perspective that challenges and motivates. It’s a long road but we are starting to see change where it counts most.
When Michael was here with us a few weeks ago, he shared his latest work ‘Alive in the Swamp: assessing digital innovations in education’, co-written by Katelyn Donnelly on behalf of Nesta and New Schools. I think it’s one of the first times that I’ve seen technology in the context of system change and not as an acquisition.
As Michael and Katelyn write:
Up to this point, technology has not impact on schools. Billions have been invested with little thought to altering the learning system. There are also potentially destructive uses of technology on learning; we must be aware of distractions, easy entertainment and personalisation to the point of limiting our exposure to new ideas. We focus not simply on technology itself but on its use.
And so the question is how do we assess the impact technology is having on the learning and on system change? The authors have developed an Index that allows system leaders to ask relevant questions in the areas of pedagogy, technology and system change. It challenges system leaders and policy makers to focus on HOW technology is making a difference; how it is supporting ‘collaboration and effective interaction.’
This doesn’t mean that schools investment in technology has somehow been a waste. On the contrary, we need to ensure the technology works to support good teaching. What we do know is that technology as a tool in the hands of great teachers has the capacity to be transforming.
If you’re wondering why the ‘swamp’ metaphor, it’s based on the understanding that technology is part of today’s learning ecosystem today; interconnected to pedagogy and system change (with students at the centre) but the waters are still murky. The framework will hopefully help schools and systems navigate their way through the challenges.
I’ve finished reading Carol Dweck’s seminal book, Mindsets. Dweck dedicates half of Chapter 7 to exploring what makes a great teacher. It’s powerful reading because it illustrates how pervasive the messages students receive in classrooms are in reinforcing ‘fixed’ mindsets about intelligence. Dweck writes “great teachers believe in the growth of intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.”
John Hattie makes reference to Dweck in his work and expands on the notion of mindsets, which should underpin all decision making at schools. In Visible Learning for Teachers, Hattie presents eight for teachers/leaders.
Dweck admits that teachers who have fixed mindsets create ‘an atmosphere of judging’ – they decide very early on who is worth the effort and who isn’t. Growth-minded teachers enable students to reach high standards by identifying strategies and giving feedback. It is a continuous challenge-feedback-learning loop in action.
Dweck astutely captures what great teachers do – they see teaching as a way to learn about themselves, their students, the world. She concedes that fixed minded teachers see themselves as ‘finished products’ whose role is simply to impart knowledge. One is focused on learning, the other on teaching.
Hattie expands on this in Mind Frame #3. He says in relation to professional development, the focus “should be about the impact of our teaching. And while you could argue that this mind frame is a bit strong because of the emphasis I place on learning rather than on teaching – this might suggest we should have learning colleges, not teachers colleges. I want to get away from debates we have about teaching. Not because teaching isn’t important – it’s too strong to say it’s not, of course – but it’s wrong for it to be the one and only focus.”
After reading Dweck and Hattie, I am even more convinced that the industrial model of schooling (and teaching) is based on a fixed mindset. Everything is planned, packaged and pre-judged. There is no space for just in time learning and or improvised teaching. Hattie says we adopt this teacher-centred stance because of what we’ve been taught – create a lesson, plan an activity. This model unfortunately perpetuates the fixed mindset about student intelligence and learning. In theory, a contemporary student-centred model of schooling should be rooted in the growth mindset. And that requires growth-minded teachers and leaders.
Hattie admits that we don’t ask teachers to come into the profession because they are expert problem solvers or apt at improvising, we ask them to teach because they are ‘willing to adopt a traditional mode of teaching. It requires them to have a particular way of thinking about what their job is, and this perspective can actually diminish improvisation and ingenuity.”
The big question is how do we change teachers’ mindsets? How do we move from fixed to growth, from sages to activators?
What Dweck’s research shows is that it is possible to think differently and when we think differently about our students, we are in a stronger position to teach differently. To quote Hattie, “teachers’ beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement over which we can have some control.”
I had the great honour of being invited to deliver the Occasional Address last Thursday at the graduation ceremony for the University of Western Sydney School of Education.
As someone who grew up in western Sydney and now leads a system of schools here, I have seen its transformation from an outpost to a dynamic, diverse and prosperous region. As former Labor leader Mark Latham wrote recently, Sydney’s west reflects the “Australian spirit of frontierism”. Higher school retention rates and mass university access have given the sons and daughters of the region a crack at professional jobs and entrepreneurship.”
Growing populations, prosperity and the aspirations of families has resulted in growing demand for quality education in the school and higher education sectors. Our commitment to innovation and excellence is echoed by UWS and there are some exceptional examples of cross-sector partnerships such as the Nirimba educational precinct. This is a consortium of the Western Sydney Institute of TAFE, University of Western Sydney, NSW Department of Education and Communities and Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta. The campus provides diverse learning pathways for students whether academic or vocational.
It’s not only the landscape of western Sydney that has changed over the last three decades – the educational landscape has also changed.
When I was at university in the seventies, I trained as a history teacher but my first job was as an English teacher in a western Sydney high school. Being fresh out of university I was concerned that I wasn’t a trained English teacher but the English master basically told me everything I needed to teach was in the English syllabus. If I didn’t deviate from it, I’d get through the syllabus and so would my students. We accepted the idea of teaching as delivering the curriculum and the notion that knowledge was absolute. Students were marked on their ability to remember and recall facts without ever questioning the what and why.
My message to the graduates was that as someone who has spent more than three decades in education, I can honestly say this is an extraordinary time to be a teacher. And never before have we needed great teachers than we do today. We have learned a lot about teaching – we have moved from an understanding that intelligence is fixed (ie some students just can’t learn), teachers’ work is isolated and a one size model fits all to an understanding that all students can learn, reflective practice is critical and personalised learning is the norm. These aren’t as Kevin Donnelly recently argued progressive fads or edutainment but the result of contemporary theory and research. We know a lot more about how people learn from the learning sciences. We also know that the more we learn about learning and the more teachers learn about student learning, the more important and influential teaching becomes.
These graduates walk into learning spaces with the benefit of research, theory and technology; a focus on explicit and deliberate teaching; a commitment to ongoing professional learning and a recognition that as critical thinkers and curriculum designers they have a critical role in school improvement. Teachers become better critical thinkers and collaborators, when they are engaged in the practice of critical thinking, inquiry and collaboration on a daily basis. Without doubt, there have always been good teachers in classrooms but the difference in a connected world is an expectation of effective teachers in every classroom.
I asked fellow educators on Twitter last week what advice they would give beginning teachers. When you distil the wisdom of experienced teachers, you end up with four key characteristics of good teachers: being passionate about your work, being life-long learners, building quality relationships and listening to students.
It’s often debated whether today’s teachers are mediators, designers or co-constructors. The truth is teachers are all of these and more. They respond to individual learners and learning needs in ways that continue to challenge the mind, stretch imaginations and improve learning outcomes.
What I wanted to impart to the graduands is that teachers are our 21st century prophets. Just as biblical prophets were advocates or agents of social change, our teachers are transforming lives and ultimately shaping the future of nations.
As the new Federal Minister for Education Christopher Pyne settles into his portfolio, I have been thinking about what changes have been made to the educational landscape over the past six years. I don’t want to rekindle old debates because many of the Gillard-Rudd policies and initiatives have already been criticised and condemned. It may be that in time, these will be viewed as genuine attempts to improve the education system.
One of the most important commitments made over the past six years has been toward school funding particularly those with diverse needs. This signals a shift in policy thinking and a recognition that every school is diverse, learning needs are different and funding should be based on the level of need at each school.
We are told that our new Minister will be focused on practical policies but I wonder whether it’s now time for a collective voice that can inform policy development. In the past broad policy discussion has often been bogged down by sectional interests but I think we need a coherent voice for the teaching profession as a whole.
This is not to diminish the work of organisations such as the Australian College of Educators (ACE) and the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL) or representative groups such as primary and secondary principals associations, unions and parent councils but each comes to the table with their own agenda reflecting the concerns of its particular constituency. In today’s world, shouldn’t there be just one agenda – improving the learning outcomes of every student by ensuring we have effective and skilled teachers in every classroom?
I would like to think that by combining these groups into one alliance or affiliation, we could finally end old debates around public vs private, left vs right, state vs commonwealth in favour of robust discussion and ideas that work towards building a highly professional education system where teacher work is respected, teacher learning is supported and student learning is at the centre of every policy. The alliance would serve in effect as a thought leader and think tank at the service of developing coherent education policy.
Let’s hope by the time the next federal election comes around, we may have a united voice for the profession and importantly, an advocate for all students.
Fortunately we now know a lot more about how people learn from the learning sciences and while there is still more to learn and uncover, it helps us become more effective in our teaching. As a system here in Parramatta Catholic schools, the work of John Bransford and John Hattie has helped shaped our understanding of learning, teaching and most importantly, teacher learning.
The role of neuroscience in learning and teaching was the theme of this year’s ACER research conference in Melbourne. By all accounts it was outstanding particularly John Hattie’s keynote. There is no denying the significance of contemporary theory and research on the work we do. For too long we have accepted personal preference and experience instead of intellectual rigour. The science of learning needs to influence the practice of teaching.
For a psychometrician, Hattie’s work is easily digestible and after listening to a vodcast of his ACER keynote, I was inspired to re-read Chapters 7 and 9 in Visible Learning for Teachers. I felt compelled to re-calibrate my educational compass.
Hattie’s makes the compelling point that we don’t go to school to learn what we know but what we don’t know. So why then are we teaching kids 60% of the things they already know? It comes back to knowing where each student is and being able as teachers to identify where they need to be. We’re not good at this because as Hattie says we make erroneous assumptions about students and their learning.
In fact, he believes we are novices when it comes to continually monitoring learning in progress. This the power of feedback and it needs to be seen as a necessary disruption. Why? Because it forces students to slow down, to process and think. Slow thinking is stressful for students especially those who are struggling. The message we have to impart is it is OK to stop, to think and to take risks. Our schools are risk averse environments – we don’t often know when to hit the pause button and ask students to stop and think about what they are doing.
This is why Singapore’s approach to learning has merit. The goal when Singapore adopted a minimalist curriculum was as the then Minister of Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in The Flat World and Education to “give students themselves the room to exercise initiative and to shape their own learning.” The goal for Singaporean teachers is to get students to accept that it is OK working with unanswered questions. It calls for a slow thinking movement in schooling.
What Hattie found in his Visible Learning work was that we are stunningly good at predicting outcomes therefore students set low benchmarks. Our job according to Hattie is to ‘create schools that help kids exceed their own potential’. We will never imbue confidence unless we make every child believe they can do better than they are already doing. This is why feedback is so critical because it “aims to reduce the gap between where the student ‘is’ and where he or she is ‘meant to be’ – that is, between prior or current achievement and the success criteria.” (VLFT Chapter 7).
One of the most powerful statements in Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers is the notion that feedback thrives on error but
error should not be considered the privilege of lower-achieving students. All students (as all teachers) do not always succeed first time, nor do they always know what to do next. This is not a deficit, or deficit thinking, or concentrating on the negative; rather, it is the opposite in that acknowledging errors allows for opportunities. Error is the difference between what we know and can do, and what we aim to know and do – and this applies to all (struggling and talented: students and teachers). Know this error is fundamental to moving towards success. This is the purpose of feedback.
I should write this on my office window along with we go to school to learn what we don’t know. We have underestimated the power of feedback in helping every student to identify where they go next; in moving them up the ladder of learning and success. Our job as Hattie explains is to be able to give good feedback and to teach kids how to receive it and articulate back to teachers what and how they are learning. This is why instructional walks are centred on the students and not the teacher. We gauge the effectiveness of teaching through the eyes of students. Hattie’s mantra is know thy learner….know thy impact.
As we begin to consider our system focus in 2014 and beyond, I am drawn to the point Hattie makes in Chapter 9 about losing interest in discussions about teaching. He says it’s not because teaching isn’t important but it often ‘prevents important discussions about learning.”
I’m convinced that learning has to be the profession’s new narrative.
I observed something interesting recently regarding a question I tweeted. To provide some context, I read a blog post called the ‘Myth of Motivation‘. The post contained a quote by Fred Bucy, former president of Texas Instruments who made this point:
What is effective in motivating people at one point in their careers will not be effective in motivating them later. People’s values change, depending on what is happening in their personal lives as well as their success with their careers. Therefore, one of the most important things that a leader must do is to continue to study how to be effective. This takes discipline. It is much easier to assume that what worked yesterday will work today, and this is simply not true.
As an educational leader, I thought the point about discipline to stay the course was compelling. So I tweeted: ”is discipline the most important quality for becoming an effective school leader?”
I left out “self” from discipline because I was interested to see the responses.
If you asked a professional athlete, writer or business leader about discipline, it would be evident that self-discipline was what you were referring to. It’s also a word that probably has positive associations in relation to achieving goals.
And yet, when used in the context of schooling, it more often than not implies something very different. Discipline is grounded in an industrial model where the norm was to ‘control’ students and ‘manage’ staff. It probably evokes negative feelings in many of us but it again illustrates the point I was making in the last blog post on the meaning of pedagogy and education.
Michael Fullan in his book ‘Six Secrets of Change‘ reflects on the importance of capacity building over judgmentalism. It’s the paradigmatic shift from industrial to contemporary from process to people.
Fullan writes “the route to implementing change lies in building the capacity of teachers – their knowledge and their skills. The opposite – and a big mistake – is if you convey a negative, pejorative tone. A big mistake is to focus on accountability first and capacity building second.”
Richard Elmore who visited our diocese three years ago shared his long term goal.
Unfortunately the prevailing model of schooling, which views discipline pejoratively, is still the dominant model in many schools in many parts of the world. We’re still looking at education through the lens of control and management. Take for example, the first year teaching (secondary grades) course being offered by New Teacher Centre on Coursera. The blurb says “establish and maintain behavioral expectations, implement classroom procedures and routines, and use instructional time effectively.” I was shocked that the course promotes four low effect size strategies on discipline and only one high effect strategy on student learning. Is this teaching by accountability or capacity building?
As members of professional teams, we find that our most authentic achievements grow out of a common vision, shared intentions and collaborative practices. We learn with and from each other, and we expect our colleagues to support and, where appropriate, to challenge us.
Often the highest expectations we have to deal with are the ones we place on ourselves. That’s why it is so important to cultivate a reflective (self) culture where each of us takes the necessary time to stand back and re-balance our agenda so we can focus our energies on what really matters for our students, ourselves and our school communities.
It’s time we all started speaking the language of challenge and self-discipline.
A few months ago I came across an ad for IBM in the Harvard Business Review. The title was “The more we know, the more we want to change everything.” Ads don’t normally capture my attention but this one did. As I’ve written before, there are many things that schools can learn from business. We share the desire to continually improve our product (learning and teaching) and to use technology in smarter ways to understand our students (clients) in order to deliver a better experience. The ad says:
Across the world, a distinct group of leaders is emerging who possess both a wealth of data and an acuity of analytical insight that that their predecessors never had. So they feel freer to act – with a calculated boldness – to lead the big shifts that are reverberating through their organisations. They are making bold decisions and advancing them on the basis of rich evidence; they are anticipating events, not merely reacting to them; and they are toppling the conventions that stand in the way of thinking and working smarter.
The adage is knowledge is power but data is knowledge. The more we know, the more we can do and in this age of personalisation, big data is big business. I think however its impact on education is yet to be fully realised. We’ve always known that data is critical to our work but it’s been the case of what to do with it and how to use it effectively to anticipate [learning needs] rather than merely react to them.
There is obviously a buzz in education now around big data or learning analytics. The 2013 K-12 Horizon report includes learning analytics as one of its mid term trends. According to the report, “learning analytics leverages student data to build better pedagogies, target at-risk student populations, and assess whether programs designed to improve retention have been effective and should be sustained.”
This is taking personalised learning to a whole new level. As more and more schools move to online learning, this will make it so much easier for teachers to examine students’ progress in real time and to respond accordingly.
The Khan Academy is one organisation that has been developing its metrics in order to understand learners’ progress and performance. Two years ago I met Ramona Pierson who used her own extraordinary journey to develop tools for blind people, which then segued into education. Ramona is now the CEO of Pierson Labs, which is developing tools to help teachers create more personalised lesson for students that combines learning analytics and social networking platforms.
Learning analytics will not only significantly impact on students’ learning but also on teacher learning. Imagine as Ramona says mapping the learning progression of teachers against the needs of students – this means being one step ahead instead of five years behind.
As Lyn Sharratt and Michael Fullan write in Putting Faces to the Data, effective teachers combine emotion and cognition in equal measure. Teaching is a balance between art and science, data and humanity. The proliferation of learning analytics will enable every teacher to make decisions based on rich evidence not assumptions.
I’d like to think that the more teachers know about their students, the more they want to change everything. These teachers don’t see artificial divides between performance data and student well being, they see it as a symbiotic relationship that gets richer the deeper you dive. The test is how feedback is given and it’s used to improve our core business – learning and teaching.
Amid the current school funding cyclone, Naplan, international comparisons of our schools performance and students grilling the PM on national television, too often, there has been little discussion on the role of the teacher in today’s world. I believe this discourse is central to school improvement.
I only wish that we could step back and look afresh at the work good teachers need to do in a knowledge age. I hope I’m not alone in believing that we need to re-think the role of the teacher.
Socrates used the metaphor of teacher as the midwife at the birth of knowledge. Is this metaphor still relevant? If so, what happened in the industrial age when instead of overseeing the birth of knowledge, teachers became owners and transmitters of that information?
Or is this more a question of what value we place on information vs knowledge? Have we come full circle from the attainment of knowledge in ancient Greece to the transmission of information in the industrial age to the creation of knowledge in today’s world?
Can the role of a teacher remain the same but the context change? Is everything old somehow new again?
Parker Palmer claims “good teachers are able to weave a complex web of connections between themselves, their subjects, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” This quote resonates with Elmore’s instructional core and the premise that good teaching is the relationship between the teacher, the student and the content.
There are two areas that I see as critical. The first is what is the content and whose content? The real learning lies not just in remembering content but applying and creating it. The concept that students and teacher work together in this process provides a window into how we might see the work of a contemporary teacher. That students can construct their own learning is a bridge too far for some but this should be the end point.
The second is re-conceptualising the work of teaching. It’s time to retire the old descriptors of teacher as sage on the stage, guide on the side, meddler in the middle etc. These do little justice to the complexity of good teaching.
I have begun to think about re-defining teachers as entrepreneurs. In a recent Forbes article on re-defining entrepreneurship, the definition of entrepreneur is seen as the “ innate mindset of a person who sees opportunities and pursues them.” This is what the role of a teacher in today’s world – they are professionals who take calculated risks using good data and research. They understand that being professional means being accountable and responsible. They create networks to build collective knowledge and are willing to share that knowledge with beginning teachers. Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features is an inherent understanding that learning and teaching is dynamic – it requires new sets of inter-dependencies and understandings of learners and their technology.
Is this how you see the role of teachers in today’s world?
In March the NSW Government announced its blueprint for improving schooling. The action plan includes raising entry requirements for teaching courses at universities and ensuring the quality of initial teacher education is regularly assessed. This is a positive move.
Attracting the best and the brightest is something that all education systems desire. Yet attracting is one thing, retaining teachers is something else when we continue to operate as Richard Elmore says as a profession without a practice.
I believe the most important work is preparing teachers to teach in today’s world. The demands on schools are great, the work of teaching is complex and the needs of students are diverse. Add to this the ubiquitous nature of technology and the need for a rigorous teacher education model is apparent.
Some time ago on bluyonder, I raised the idea of an apprenticeship for teachers. Students would be able to connect the theory in practice by continuous exposure to models of good teaching in classrooms. Observation, inquiry, reflection, analysis and collaboration become the norm. As knowledge and skills develop, student teachers under supervision either by a teacher educator or mentor actually learn to teach.
Coincidentally the British Government is promoting ‘higher apprenticeships’ for professions such as law, accounting, engineering and possibly teacher education. British Education Secretary Michael Gove has recently said he was keen to move away from higher education providers determining how teacher education was delivered: “The best people to teach teachers are teachers.”
The best people to teach teachers are effective teachers.
Kevin Donnelly also reflects that since “former teachers colleges closed and education become the preserve of university-based faculties of education, teacher training has become overly theoretical and divorced from classroom realities.”
Linda Darling Hammond in her excellent paper asserts that schools of education must design programs that “help prospective teachers to understand deeply a wide array of things about learning, social and cultural contexts, and teaching and be able to enact these understandings in complex classrooms serving increasingly diverse students; in addition, if prospective teachers are to succeed at this task, schools of education must design programs that transform the kinds of settings in which novices learn to teach and later become teachers. This means that the enterprise of teacher education must venture out further and further from the university and engage ever more closely with schools in a mutual transformation agenda, with all of the struggle and messiness that implies.”
I can’t help but notice how many educators refer to experts who are either providing ideas or visiting schools. Why aren’t we looking to our teacher colleagues for guidance, support and ideas? Elmore says you do the work by doing the work not having experts do it for you. I wonder whether this is a symptom of below par teacher training courses? Are we training teachers they way we want students to be taught as they do at Singapore’s National Institute of Education?
The Australian Institute for Teaching School Leadership (AITSL) is about to begin assessing the quality of instruction at universities to ensure that all graduating students meet common standards. AITSL chairman Tony Mackay has flagged that new national standards for accrediting teaching courses would see a “shake-out” of programs offered by higher education institutes.
If the work of teachers is to be continually re-evaluated and shaped in response to the needs of learners and a changing world, then so must teacher training courses. It is absolutely essential that the next generation of teachers are proficient practitioners; good clinicians and diagnosticians.
We must move away from a commonly held view that anyone can teach fairly well. Teaching is highly specialised and complex work. As Darling Hammond says teacher training programs must help teachers “develop the disposition to continue to seek answers to difficult problems of teaching and learning and the skills to learn from practice (and from their colleagues) as well as to learn for practice. These expectations for teacher knowledge mean that programs need not only to provide teachers access to more knowledge, considered more deeply, but also to help teachers learn how to continually access knowledge and inquire into their work.”
In a previous blog I reflected on leadership from the inside out. This is another example where this maxim applies. We have never needed better teachers than we do now.
In moving towards a culture of wide-spread excellence, perhaps we need to stop referring to schools of education and start referring to them as schools of inquiry. Afterall, isn’t this what learning and teaching is about?