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?