Posts tagged ‘Linda Darling-Hammond’

Schools of inquiry

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?

Beyond the black-belt

There is a saying in martial arts that when a student makes it to black-belt, the real learning begins. We should be seeing teaching through the same lens. When teachers enter the classroom for the first time, the learning begins and it must never stop.

Professional learning and feedback go hand in hand to improve teacher effectiveness.

Research shows that ongoing professional learning is critical to improving teacher effectiveness but so too is the role of teacher evaluation. Without evaluation, professional learning cannot be individualised to improve teacher practice.

Last year, the Grattan Institute published its report into teacher appraisal, Better Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: Improving Performance, which shows that a system of teacher evaluation can increase effectiveness by 20 to 30 percent. The problem in the past has been the ad hoc nature of teacher evaluation – often infrequent or failing to provide teachers with valuable feedback and/or strategies to improve student learning gains.  By integrating teacher evaluation into every aspect of teaching and learning, we create a culture of success for teachers, which leads to success for students.

Linda Darling-Hammond discusses the role of teacher evaluation in an article in the November 2012 edition of Kappan and states that systems must ensure “teacher evaluation is connected to – not isolated from – preparation and induction programs, daily professional practice, and a productive instructional context.”

Darling Hammond outlines five key features of a teacher effectiveness strategy:

  1. Common state-wide standards for teaching related to meaningful student learning and shared across the system (what should teachers know and do to be able to support the learning of every student)
  2. Performance based assessments based on these standards (linking teacher effectiveness to student learning gains)
  3. Local evaluation systems aligned to the same standards for on the job teaching based on practice and student learning (creating a continuum of competency for professional learning at every stage of teachers’ careers)
  4. Support structures to ensure trained evaluators can mentor teachers
  5. Aligned professional learning opportunities

These points illustrate the need for the teaching profession to work collaboratively to develop a common language around learning, a common understanding of what good practice looks like and a common process for measuring it.

Jason Culbertson’s article, Putting the value in teacher evaluation, also reflects on a teacher evaluation system called TAP which is currently being used in 380 schools around the US.  The TAP evaluation system includes a number of classroom observations every year by experienced evaluators. This is followed by conferencing in which the evaluator and teacher examine an observed strength, weakness and an individualised plan for improvement.

According to Culbertson, the most important result from this process is the common language developed around what effective teaching looks like. The standards provide teachers with a very clear understanding of what “performance looks like at various levels of expertise in a range of classroom practices and skills” which led to the most accomplished teachers ‘recalibrating their expectations’.

What appeals to me about the TAP method is that strategies are not only selected by ‘master teachers’ based on analysis of student data but are road-tested and refined in classrooms before teachers introduce it into their own classrooms.  In this way, teachers are not dropped into the deep end to ‘sink or swim’ but are given a solid foundation on which to trial, collaboratively reflect and if necessary, refine strategies to improve student learning.

It is easy to assume that teachers should instinctively know how to improve their practice or that they begin their career armed with all the knowledge and skills required.  But as Darling-Hammond and others point out – teachers just like students, need clear objectives, constructive feedback and opportunities to succeed.

The mind has moved

Recently I attended the third Biennial National Education Forum, convened jointly every two years by all state and territory Australian governments to track and share progress in education from around Australia against the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians – an agreement between state, territory and commonwealth Education Ministers on a shared set of goals to work towards to improve education.

A key part of the 2012 program was a Ministerial Round Table featuring Federal Minister for Education Peter Garrett and each state and territory Minister for Education. Each of the Education Ministers highlighted ways in which they have been working to achieve equity and excellence in education in their respective state such as the ‘Strong Start Bright Future’ program in the Northern Territory and the ‘Launching into Learning’ program in Tasmania for 0-4 year olds.

What struck me was the coherence and alignment of the Ministers’ understanding of how to improve students’ learning. Sadly in my experience this has not always been the case. For the last several decades, each state has pursued its own, often unique, educational policy agenda aimed at their understanding of how to improve learning. This has led to a veritable smorgasbord of approaches, often reflecting the latest fad internationally. Ultimately none of these short term fixes survive in the current policy mix – for that we should be glad.

Every child matters and every child can learn.

What has changed is that while the Ministers have locally based policy frameworks, all of them start from a common and simple premise: firstly, that every child matters and every child can learn; secondly, that the key to ensuring that every child is learning is having good teachers who continue to commit to build their own capacity; and thirdly, that we need to support those teachers in the schools by good school leaders who bring data to bear on that process.

We now have a global consensus that to improve students’ learning, we have to improve the quality of the teacher. The McKinsey and Company (2007) report states that the available evidence suggests that ‘the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is the quality of the teacher.’ Top-performing systems –as defined by the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) plus those systems which McKinsey and Co recognise as having ‘strong improvement trajectory’ – manage who enters the profession by choosing candidates from the top 5-30 per cent, as well as through a rigorous selection process. Attracting the right people is also closely linked to the status of the profession, the report said. To sustain the quality of the teaching, top performing systems deliver interventions across the system to improve learning, which occurs in the interaction between student and teacher such as ‘coaching classroom practice, developing stronger school leaders, and enabling teachers to learn from each other’.

From their quantitative and qualitative research, the McKinsey and Co (2007) report concluded the following:

‘To improve instruction, these high-performing school systems consistently do three things well:
-    They get the right people to become teachers (the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers)
-    They develop these people into effective instructors (the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction)
-    They put in place systems and targeted support to ensure that every child is able to benefit from excellent instruction (the only way for the system to reach the highest performance is to raise the standard of every student)’ (McKinsey and Co, 2007, p.13)

We need to take heed of this analysis, because we also now have a global understanding that improving teacher quality needs to happen at a national scale, not on a school by school basis. And countries are starting to do this. In Leading System Transformation (2010) Alma Harris outlines how Wales, for example, is breaking the mould and leading the way in implementing a ‘tri-level approach to the systemic reform of the education and training system in Wales’, where ‘tri-level’ means that ‘all schools must be involved in the change process and that the district or local level must act together along with the state to align itself to the reform process’ (Fullan, 2009, in Harris, 2010).

It’s an ‘all-in’ approach that’s needed. In Wales, ‘the recognition that large scale change can only occur is if all professionals work collaboratively and in partnership’ (Harris, 2010), which means that collaboration within the profession, across government and school sectors is a make-or-break ingredient. But professional learning communities alone are not the solution, Harris says. They need to be supported by leadership ‘in every school, in every local education authority and in every classroom’ (Harris, 2010). ‘The central idea here is that to achieve system wide reform will require a particular type of leadership; one that brokers, resources, supports, challenges and makes connections across the system,’ (Harris, 2010). And system level change, as Harris says, can only be achieved by ‘changing the way people connect, communicate and collaborate’.

In ‘The Flat World and Education’ (2010) Linda Darling Hammond noted that high-achieving countries realise that ‘a comprehensive framework for developing strong teaching and new resources in the system’ is the most effective way to maintain professional learning and in turn sustain strong teaching practice.

“Creating a strong profession in education is not a task that can be tackled school by school or district by district. And creating uniformly strong schools cannot be accomplished without a strong profession. Ultimately, a well-designed state and national infrastructure that ensures that schools have access to well-prepared teachers and knowledge about the best practices is absolutely essential,” (Darling Hammond, 2010 p 197).

In a very short time we’ve come to a general understanding that what is needed to improve students’ learning, is to improve the quality of the teacher. We need to think local, act national and global. We don’t need a one-size-fits-all model – we need innovative and creative ways forward.  What we need now is a coherent policy framework based on sound theory and practice and most importantly an intelligent implementation and reporting process. And this is urgent. We cannot keep delaying action. We need to start yesterday.

Collaboration by accident

The release of the Gonski panel’s report into school funding last week highlighted the need to focus our resources and energies where its most needed: quality teaching and teachers.

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting schools in remote NSW and speaking to teachers about the challenges that this kind of remoteness brings.  It was a sobering experience but one that highlighted the point panel chairman David Gonski made last week – resources alone don’t make good schools.

A distinguishing feature of any school whether in the bush or city is not the number of computers or the size of the learning space but committed and passionate teachers working to meet the needs of their learners.

We know that teachers get better at what they do when they have opportunities to collaborate together.  Our approach at a local level to building agile learning spaces has resulted in teachers working, planning and learning together in these shared spaces but what happens when teacher collaboration happens by accident?

As I’ve often said the space supports but can never substitute for effective teaching.  Teachers can still be effective in individual classrooms but collaboration provides an empowering and supportive context in which teaches can engage in the kind of teaching and teacher learning that is effective in improving student learning.

In an interview last November, Linda Darling Hammond said that when teachers have partners to help solve problems and improve practice, they become more efficacious and therefore more satisfied with your career.  That was certainly evident in Cherie and Gayle’s classroom.

Flat world: fair funding

Those of us working in education are eagerly awaiting the Government’s initial response to the Gonski review of school funding on Monday.  This will be the first major review of funding for schools since the 1970s, which is why it’s such an emotionally charged issue for education systems and unions,  and a hot potato for the Government.

From where I sit, the debate around school funding has divided rather than unified. Old battle lines between public vs private seem to have detracted from an intelligent discussion on how we can go about the business of improving student learning outcomes by ensuring quality teachers in every classroom.

Schools are as diverse as the students who attend them so we can’t talk about private or public schools as if they were homogenous entitites.  Not every school has the same resource levels or teacher quality as its neighbour and we know that some public schools are in a much better financial state than non government schools.

Any discussion about our education system should not be reduced to an ‘us vs them’ argument – its success relies on delivering value for money for tax-payers, choice for parents and fair and equitable funding for all sectors.  Diversity is the new norm and any model of funding should support this while guaranteeing equity.

In the Flat World and Education, Linda Darling-Hammond states that the ‘norm’ in developed nations is funding education systems centrally and equally with ‘additional resources’ going to schools where student needs are greater.

Darling-Hammond goes on to say that high achieving nations make equitable investments that are more focussed on key elements of the education system – quality of teacher and teaching, schools as learning organisations and curriculum and assessments that encourage ambitious learning. This is how we close the achievement gap by focussing on the things that make the greatest difference to student learning.

In considering the implications of the Gonski review, Minister Garrett said they had further work to do because “it’s an issue that lies right at the heart of our prospects as a nation”.

Imagine an education policy environment where the discussion about funding were at the periphery and the ways of building teacher and leaders capacities to improve learning and teaching were at the centre of this discussion.

At the end of the day we all share a common goal to deliver high quality education. If the world is flat, then so must be the playing field for all students.

Our biggest investment

I caught an interview on CNN with Bill Gates reflecting on what he would do to change the education system in America.  Gates said if he could change something about the system, he would ‘hire the best teachers’ and get them to learn from each other because the research on the influence of good teaching has ‘become our biggest investment’.

One of the biggest investments we can make is mentoring our beginning teachers.  It’s an investment that needs to be shared by universities and school systems alike.  It requires us to move away from ‘training teachers’ to taking them on a learning journey.

As soon as students enrol in education courses, they should be placed with teacher mentors and given every opportunity to practice the craft and to learn from experienced teachers. Malcolm Gladwell in his book the Outliers: The Story of Success found the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.  Teachers learn to do the work by doing the work.

You can’t blame the universities because it requires a complete overhaul of the model and I’m not sure whether we are all on the same page yet.  Linda Darling-Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education that in Singapore, teacher education programs were overhauled in 2001 to increase teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and skills, on top of their content preparation.  Darling-Hammond states that practicum training was expanded and located in a new ‘school partnership’ model that engaged schools more proactively in supporting trainees.

Darling-Hammond points out that all the successful teacher education programs she studied develop new teachers who can teach with assurance and skill of more experienced, thoughtful veterans. The programs that are effective do this by creating a tightly coherent set of learning experiences, grounded in a strong, research-based vision of good teaching, and represented both in coursework and clinical placements where candidates can see good teaching modelled and enacted.

The New York Times  reported on a new model of teacher education at the Relay Graduate School of Education which has no courses only 60 modules, each focused on a different teaching technique. According to the article, there is no campus, because it is old-think to believe a building makes a school. Instead, the graduate students will be mentored primarily at the schools where they teach. And there are no lectures and direct instruction does not take longer than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. After that, students discuss ideas with one another or reflect on their own.

This year, we began a partnership with the Catholic Schools Office Broken Bay diocese and Auckland University to start a mentoring program for beginning and experienced principals.  The program focuses on public coaching and feedback designed to embed and sustain their skill set. The first cohort consisted of five beginning principals and ten experienced principals who entered into an intensive professional learning program which includes participation in workshops, in school and shadow visits, practising in teams and homework.

The more mentors we have in schools, the smoother the transition for beginning teachers and the quicker they move from routine expertise to adapative expertise.

Teachers at the centre

Is student-centred learning a given when we are talking about schooling in today’s world?  Our system’s theory of action has the student at the centre but in recent times, I have begun to rethink whether the teacher should be at the centre.  Without good teachers and leaders at the centre, can you improve the learning outcomes of every student?

A few weeks back I caught a TED talk by Geoff Mulgan about a new model of school called the ‘Studio School’, which aims to reach disengaged teenagers who didn’t see any relationship between what they learnt at school and future jobs. The key features of ‘Studio Schools’ include smaller class size, curriculum centred on real life practical experiences, coaches in addition to teachers and timetables much more like a work environment in a business. The underlying principle of this model of schooling is based on the idea that a large portion of teenagers learn best by working in teams and by undertaking real-world activities. The result was that student performance improved significantly.

The Studio School is one example of the innovations taking place in education today, centred of course around the learner.  But good teaching is the other ingredient in this and I wonder whether we are over-compensating for the deficiencies of an industrial model by not focusing enough on the quality of teaching and the role of the teacher.

We have tangible examples where investment in learning at every stage of a teacher’s careers is having an impact on the quality of learning.  Linda Darling-Hammond states that in Singapore, teacher education is a serious investment throughout a career. Darling-Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education ‘to get the best teachers, students from the top one- third of each graduating high school class are recruited into a fully paid 4-year undergraduate teacher education program, and immediately put on the ministry’s payroll. When they enter teaching, they earn as much as or more than beginning engineers, accountants, lawyers and doctors who are in civil service…during the course of their preparation, there is a focus on learning to use problem-based and inquiry learning, on developing collaboration, and on addressing a range of learning styles in the classroom.’

Countries that have invested in improving teacher quality have seen the largest gains in student achievement according to a recent article by William J. Bushaw and Shane J. Lopez in the Phi Delta Kappan Journal. Their finding was based on the conclusion reached by educators who participated in the International Summit on the Teaching profession hosted by the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and data from the latest PDK/Gallop poll which surveyed over 1,000 people about their views on public education.

Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley in The Fourth Way: The Inspirational Future for Educational Change also concur that high quality learning is dependent on highly qualified teachers and teaching. Finland controls teacher quality at the point of entry. They get high-quality teachers and know how to keep them by giving teachers’ professional status, support and considerable autonomy.

The New York Times featured Relay Graduate School of Education which has no campus, no lectures and graduate students mentored primarily at the schools they teach. The president of Relay, Norman Atkins, claims that vastly improving teacher education is critical in fixing the failure of America’s public education.

We know that good teachers always put their students at the centre and good teaching is what makes the difference.  Perhaps our theory of action requires a rethink or a tweek so that this relationship is clear.  This understanding puts to rest the proposition that you don’t need teachers in an online connected world.

Schools desperately need good teachers now more than ever. Invest in teachers and you’ll see dramatic improvements in student achievement.

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