Posts tagged ‘Michael Fullan’

Alive in the Swamp

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 Canoes_on_water_in_swamp_areachallenges 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.


Educating parents

A few months back, I received an email from Jack, an ed tech company director who had finished reading Educating Gen Wifi.  He felt compelled to write a post on his blog about the book and sent me a link to it.

Jack confessed that it wasn’t until he was half way through the book that he realised it wasn’t about technology per se but about making schooling relevant in today’s world. Admittedly, the book’s cover and graphic may have contributed to his initial assessment but Jack’s comments were interesting because the premise of writing this was to open up discussion around the nature of schooling in today’s world.  Technology has certainly forced us to think about schooling differently but it is the question of ‘why’ that I want readers particularly parents to reflect on.

Parents have a valuable role to play in the learning process but I think they have been under-utilised or overlooked. We talk about school as a community of learners but do we view parents as learners and importantly, do they understand the language of learning?

John Hattie in Visible Learning states that ‘parents should be educated in the language of schooling, so that he home and school can share in the expectations, and the child does not have to live in two worlds.”  (p70)

Hedley Beare wrote in 2001, that “part of the school’s formal task is to provide systematic ‘teaching’ of parents so that they know how to ensure that learning-in-family, incidental learnings at home and out of school, and parent nurturing are in harmony with and reinforce the student’s formal learning programme.” (Creating the Future School p190).

When we educate parents, we move them from learner to learning partner. Silverton Primary School in Victoria is a good example of how parents have become partners in their learning journey.  In wanting to create a 21st century learning experience, the leadership team recognised the vital role that parents could and should play.  They encouraged parents to observe and discuss what happens in the learning spaces.  The school sent research literature home so that strategies were not seen as experimental but grounded in good theory and research. Parent and student voice has become a common feature of their newsletters.

Silverton is just one example – there are other examples in the book but ideally this should be happening in all schools.  How do we work together to build a language of learning that extends across home and school?  How do we utilise technology beyond communicating with parents to changing how we collaborate with them?

According to Michael Fullan the research is clear.  “Nothing motivates a child more than when learning is valued by schools and families/community working together in partnership.  These forms of involvement do not happen by accident or even by invitation.  They happen by explicit strategic intervention.

Understanding discipline

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.

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 9.32.49 AM

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.

Big data buzz

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.

symbol1The 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.

Teaching the educators

Jal Mehta, assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote recently that we “have an almost endless list of things that we would like the next generation of schools to do: teach critical thinking, foster collaboration, incorporate technology, become more student-centered and engaging. The more skilled our teachers, the greater our chances of achieving these goals.” Building teacher capacity is both a school and system responsibility.

The role of the teaching educator in our system is similar to what Michael Fullan refers to as coaches.  They are experts in literacy and numeracy who work with the lead teacher to plan, model, observe, reflect and challenge with the intent of improving the learning outcomes of all students.

In the early days the arrival of a TE in schools was often met with resistance and in some cases, their expertise was under utilised.  Over the past few years we have worked tirelessly to articulate and communicate the what, why and how of the TE in schools.  Their role is not to obstruct schools but to build instructional capacity.  The focus shifts from building individual capacity to community capacity.  Once we build community capacity, our schools will be able to link into an ever bigger system of inquiry, learning and knowledge.

We now understand that the most powerful way of building capacity is in situ, in context around the real problems and challenges that arise on a daily basis.  Previous models of withdrawing teachers from their context and transmitting information did little to improve their practice and only served to further frustrate them.  The best approach is to learn the work by doing the work and having someone that you can share and reflect with.  I think teachers respond well to the immediacy and collegiality of this approach.

In 2011, Michael Fullan and Jim Knight wrote an article titled Coaches as System Leaders.  They state that if “teachers are the most significant factor in student success, and principals are second, then coaches are third.  All three, working in coordinated teams, will be required to bring about deep change.”

Some may call it the power of three – we refer to it as the instructional triad (TE, principal and lead teacher) or the teacher-learning triad (teacher, lead teacher and TE).

Our TEs are an important part of our system strategy to improve the learning outcomes of all students and ensure a professionally rewarding working life for teachers.  The how and why of their work represents a shift in education from “I know to we learn” and success for some learners/schools to success for all learners/schools.

Learning leaders

As I’ve mentioned previously, our focus as a system this year is on good teaching and good teacher practice.  We know what the research tells us about good teachers and student learning outcomes.  This of course is based on a very important assumption – the quality of leadership. Michael Fullan calls the principal the “nerve centre of school improvement” and while they may not have a direct impact on student learning outcomes, what they do is critical to large scale and lasting improvement.

Schools without quality leadership are like orchestras without conductors.  Sure teachers can teach but an effective leader knows the research, develops the knowledge and collaborates with others to bring it all together.  Clive Gillinson writing in the Guardian in 2009 reflects on the role of the conductor:

Any player who has worked with great conductors knows that what they bring to their performances is the difference between competence and inspiration. It diminishes and completely misunderstands great music-making not to think there is any difference between the two.

Sometimes when we talk about effective teachers, we assume that we already have effective leadership at the helm.  This is not always the case.  Fullan in his paper Quality Leadership, Quality Learning states that reviews of research literature on school improvement highlights the “key role of the principal, for better or worse, i.e there are no examples of school-wide success without school leadership; all examples of school failure include weak or ineffective leadership.”

How do principals account for a lack of school wide success?  How do we deal with this as a system?  Past attempts to improve leadership have been ad hoc or too focused on individual attributes.

Over the weekend I began reading Leading with Inquiry and Action by Matthew Militello, Sharon Rallis and Ellen Goldring.  The foreward was written by Richard Elmore.  I have always respected Elmore’s grounded approach – a good mix of common sense and encouragement.  In reflecting on the American education system, he says this:

Every generation of American educational leaders, from the end of the 19th century onward, promises that it will be the generation to transform the practice of leadership into the practice of instructional improvement, and so far, every succeeding generation has failed at that fundamental task.  The leadership of instructional practice has been consistently and systematically displaced, generation after generation, by the bureaucratic demands of “running” schools and the by the “real-world” demands of school bureaucracy.

This summation could equally apply to education systems in other parts of the world.  Why?  Elmore says the answer lies in the observation that “education is a profession without a practice” or more accurately, “an occupation aspiring to be a profession that has not yet discovered its practice”.

He goes on:

We do not, as a field, define a set of practices that everyone who enters the sector has to master as a condition of being able to practice, nor do we insist that people who practice in the field continue to learn their practice at ever-increasing levels of competence and expertise over time.

I agree with Elmore’s observations.   Systems have failed because there has been little investment in school leadership.  We have focused our resources and efforts on the periphery without seeking to change the culture and structure of schools.  We haven’t insisted or enabled leaders continue to learn their practice.  Building system leadership capacity leads to greater accountability.

In addressing the core issue of leading schooling too often we start from the outside and work in. Right on the edge, we usually find things like judging school leaders using blunt instruments like student performance, data and rankings. Further in you find things like “taking things off” leaders to allow them to do their job. This may free up time but it does little to address the inherent problem. Such approaches only serve to demean the complexity of the leadership challenge.

A more constructive approach is to start from the inside out. This means a sharp focus on the core requirements for leading a contemporary school. The research and data show us that the key responsibility of leading has to be around the work of teachers, how they teach, how we know they are effective and how we can continue to build their capacity. If the leader doesn’t know how to do this then they have to be taught how. It requires leaders to be effective practitioners with a deep understanding of learners and pedagogy.

Last year our system focus was learning by inquiry.  Inquiry is critical to how we understand our learners and their contexts in what and how we teach.  Yet there is little point in learning by inquiry if we don’t apply it.  Leaders need to be inquiry minded AND action oriented. This is how we become a profession with a practice.

It’s a matter of trust

When Billy Joel wrote the lyrics to It’s a Matter of Trust, he probably wasn’t thinking about the Finnish education system.  Yet the more I read the literature on high performing systems, I am convinced that trust is at the core of the cultural change needed to reshape schooling.  It’s not new nor is it rocket science.

Michael Fullan says that you build trust through behaviour.  John Hattie tells us that the ability for teachers to develop trust within the classroom is key to making students feel OK about making mistakes and asking questions.  In Visible Learning, the highest “effect sizes within teacher student relationship came from empathy, warmth and encouragement of higher order thinking.”  A report on a teacher education model for the 21st century by Singapore’s National Institute of Education emphasises the need for teachers to create cultures of care and trust.

As noble a calling as teaching is, the profession has been tarnished by a lack of trust, suspicion of teachers’ work and a top down approach to school improvement.  Richard Elmore wrote in 2007 that a “non-professional teaching force is a compliant and easily managed workforce.”  This view of teaching according to Elmore grew out of the late 19th and 20th century.

What differentiates high performing systems from others is trust.  Trust permeates from the highest to the lowest levels: governments trust schools to deliver quality education, parents trust teachers to meet the learning needs of their children and teachers trust students to set and achieve their own learning goals.

I know Finland is the system du jour and some may be tiring of hearing about the Finnish way but I read a superb reflection in February’s Phi Delta Kappan magazine by its editor in chief, Joan Richardson.  When I re-read the passages I highlighted in the article I am still astounded by the culture of trust that has been built not in one school but in every single school.  How is this done?  By driving responsibility down to the classroom and school level.  This is similar to the principle of subsidiarity and it’s a term we don’t often hear in discussions about school improvement or teacher quality.  Teachers have control over what they teach and how they teach and how they assess students.

The rationale behind Finland’s competitive teacher education program is quite simple: there are no mentoring or teacher evaluation programs and that’s the way they want it. Teachers are trusted to do their best not in their first year of teaching but throughout their careers.  This is a quote from an education official from the Finnish National Board of Education:

We trust our teachers. They will find the best solutions, or they will create their own.  They are doing very well without inspections and testing. If students are not happy, they go home and tell their mothers, and the mothers call the principal. That’s a fine inspection system.”

It exemplifies the level of trust between schools and parents and reinforces the critical role parents play in education.  It is not just the responsibility of teachers or parents or governments – it is a collective responsibility in which the accountability lies with the professionals – teachers and leaders.  Imagine knowing that if you sent your child to any school in Finland they would receive the same level of care and personalised learning regardless of academic ability, learning style or background.

For me, the gold standard is the fact that teachers are free to work from home when they are not teaching.  As Richardson observes, the working conditions of Finnish teachers are closely associated with being professionals instead of the highly regulated working environment of American teachers.  Can you imagine this happening in our schools!

Where does trust begin? With our students; believing that each one is capable of learning and will become life-long learners.  It is on this belief that teaching begins.

If we are to build the same culture of trust then we need to face the facts and look at the evidence.  This is a call to be courageous; to recognise that what was once off limits or sacred is now open to critical reflection and change. All this represents the fact that interdependence has to be the new norm. Isolation and mistrust are death to innovation and change.

To paraphrase an old song, “trust changes everything…..”

Enterprise schooling: towards interdependence

One thing that seems to annoy educators is the intrusion of “business” terminology into the work of schooling.  When terms like key performance indicators and data driven are introduced, we fear that business is going to take over the work of schooling, which has its own unique language and narrative.

For too long we’ve seen the “business of schooling” as unique to each school or system; a stand- alone process. We have operated as some sort of small cottage industry and worked to provide schooling within its own context. As we know, this isn’t sustainable in a world that has become connected and flatter.

Michael Fullan and myself on his recent visit to meet with our school and system leaders.

If we’re going to find ways to continuously improve schools, we have to move from a cottage understanding of schooling to an enterprise understanding of schooling. Michael Fullan has been working with us recently and made this point when he talked about the need for interdependence not independence.

I’ve been thinking about this point in relation to the history and growth of technologies in our schools. One of the reasons we’ve been able to link schools together and take advantage of the world wide web is that we understand the need for standards. These standards reflect a universal agreement on what it takes to run the system and run it efficiently.

Standards in technology can also be applied to the business of schooling.  As I’ve said before, we need an agreed set of standards around the fundamentals of learning and teaching to ensure all schools move forward.  I call this enterprise schooling– the move from isolation to connectedness, from local to global, from pockets to widespread engagement, from some schools to all schools sharing success.

Michael refers to it as common sense approach and shared five points or standards when it comes to widespread improvement of learning and teaching.

  1. Literacy and numeracy is the bread and butter of primary schools
  2. Capacity building must be continuous
  3. There has to be a consistency of practice in how literacy and numeracy is taught
  4. Momentum builds when we learn from each other (within schools and increasingly across schools and clusters)
  5. Leadership teams must be obsessed with ‘making it happen’

While these points may be simple enough, the execution isn’t always. ‘Making it happen’ is complex work – it relies on school leaders building a cohesive group and teachers being ‘irresistibly engaged’.  Engagement happens when there is ‘buy in’ – when every member of the team accepts the standards and takes responsibility for improving the learning and teaching.

According to Michael, we tend to do a lot of work on collaboration and teamwork but without traction – without results.  Teamwork comes with an obligation to continuously drill down to get better learning to engage students, which engages teachers at the same time.

In thinking about schooling as ‘enterprise’, we should think about school implementation plans as mini ‘declarations of interdependence’. Written by the people and for the people and when successful, the work is shared among the people.

Good practice is good theory

Too often, educators fall into the theory-practice trap. How many times have you heard a teacher say, ‘All that theory’s fine, but it doesn’t work in my classroom,’ or the theoretician say, ‘It’s a shame teachers don’t use the theory to inform their work.’ So it was refreshing to meet with a school leader who understands that good teaching involves both sides of the coin – you can’t have good practice without good theory.

Greg Whitby with Michael Fullan, Lyn Sharratt and James Bond

Michael Fullan, Lyn Sharratt, James Bond with myself.

Yesterday we met with Michael Fullan and Lyn Sharratt from the University of Toronto and James Bond, who is the principal of Park Manor Public School. The work James and his staff are doing to improve the learning outcomes of students is one of the case studies profiled in Fullan and Sharratt’s new book, Putting faces on the data.

I have written about this in an earlier post, but it was great to meet with James and discuss his approach in detail.

James has an interesting background. He originally trained as a teacher but when he couldn’t find a position, spent several years working in industry where he gained an insight into cultural change, particularly the application of both good theory and practical strategies to deliver sustained change.

What was really fascinating in listening to James describe his school’s approach, was the space he created to do the work – the staff learning centre – where, regardless of what teaching area they work in, teachers come together to share the data, analyse it and collaborate.

James didn’t start this work by leading a discussion on educational theory, rather he focused at the very centre of the teaching process, asking his teachers how they could improve their students’ learning.

He clearly values his staff and knew they had the answers. It was his role as the leader to help them find the answers by ‘putting faces on the data’; starting with the practice and ensuring it reflects good theory is what good leaders need to know how to do.

So what does the data look like?

There is a data panel for every student which is personalised and displayed on the data wall according to their levels of achievement in such a way that staff can see and take collective responsibility for each and every child (see below).

A personalised data panel for each student.

The data wall records:

  1. Student achievement at varying intervals
  2. Hypotheses for student performance
  3. Suggestions for change in teacher practice
  4. Verification process for effectiveness of change

Michael Fullan describes this as a powerful ‘pull and nudge’ model.

We can’t ignore the evidence of James’ student achievement data. For us it is a great example of how theory and practice come together to the direct benefit of each student at Park Manor Public School. It is also evident that his theory-practice model is changing the whole culture of the school.

Of course this approach is deeply rooted in good theory. Interestingly though, James never once referred to it.

Extending mathematical understanding

Why is it that so many students struggle with mathematics?  It’s one of the questions I’ve been pondering after reading the work of  MIT mathematician, Dr Seymour Papert.  For me, Papert is becoming a modern John Dewey and his assessment of why children struggle is persuasive:

I think part of the trouble with learning mathematics at school is that it’s not like mathematics in the real world. In the real world, there are engineers, who use mathematics to make bridges or make machines. There are scientists, who use mathematics to make theories, to make explanations of how atoms work, and how the universe started. There are bankers, who use mathematics to make money — or so they hope.

But children, what can they make with mathematics? Not much. They sit in class and they write numbers on pieces of paper. That’s not making anything very exciting. So we’ve tried to find ways that children can use mathematics to make something — something interesting, so that the children’s relationship to mathematics is more like the engineer’s, or the scientist’s, or the banker’s, or all the important people who use mathematics constructively to construct something.

We know that providing students with a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy sets them up for life-long learning.  We also know that the gap between the performance of Australian students and their East Asia counterparts is widening and has been for the past twelve years.  According to the report released by the Grattan Institute, Australian students are on average two years behind Shanghai students in maths and at least one year behind students from Singapore and South Korea.  As a system, we can learn from other systems such as Ontario Canada, which has made significant investment in improving literacy and numeracy.  As Michael Fullan continues to remind us whenever he visits, they have focused relentlessly on literacy and numeracy and it has become the work of school principals, lead teachers, teachers and even parents.

I invited Tim Hardy, Team Leader in System Learning to share the context of our K-12 numeracy strategy.  My thanks to Tim for his guest post below.

In 2008, COAG released its National Numeracy Review Report (NNRR), and for many, the issues highlighted are not surprising.

“While the overall levels of numeracy / mathematics achievement in Australia are quite good by international standards, there is an unacceptable proportion of Australian students (particularly but certainly not only amongst Indigenous students) who are not achieving acceptable standards of proficiency. Many students also lack confidence in the subject, do not see personal relevance in it and are unlikely to continue its study voluntarily.” (National Numeracy Review Report 2008 xii)

With the moral imperative well established, ‘Numeracy Now’, an initiative of our system, came about as a strategic response to the fifteen recommendations from the NNRR to ‘improve numeracy outcomes for all’. The recommendations specifically reflect the issues that were identified from the available research and include directions for teaching standards, school expectations and system organisation.

An example of these recommendations include: the development of pedagogical content knowledge of teachers; that mathematics be taught in context and ‘beyond the mathematics classroom’; the use of diagnostic tools such as interviews for mathematical assessment; systemic assessment programs to provide a research base to inform pedagogy; that an emphasis be on developing conceptual understandings rather than routine procedural tasks; specialist teachers regularly working shoulder to shoulder with classroom teachers; needs of cultural and minority groupings be identified and understood; and the building of leadership capability

An initial priority of our strategy was the development of instructional leadership capability within our schools. In collaboration with our academic partner, Dr Ann Gervasoni from the Australian Catholic University, over one hundred leaders including primary and secondary principals, lead teachers and system leaders have completed the Leading Mathematics Learning and Teaching program. The focus of the learning includes: the Mathematical Assessment Interview; identification of the most vulnerable learners; creating productive learning environments; developing pedagogical content knowledge of teachers; researched based teaching strategies; tracking and monitoring of student progress and implementation planning.

While the NNRR specifically recommends that the focus needs to be on the early years of schooling, our strategy has included secondary schools, initiating an authentic K-12 structure. The collaboration between primary and secondary teachers, specialists, lead teachers and principals has been profound, creating a shared understanding about quality teaching and learning with a collective responsibility for all learners.

In conjunction with the leadership program, the Extending Mathematical Understanding (EMU) – Specialist Teacher Intervention program, facilitated by Dr Ann Gervasoni, trains nominated teachers from each school to teach a daily intervention program for the most mathematically vulnerable Year 1 and Year 7 students.  The aim of this program is to equip teachers with the knowledge and skills to provide accelerated intervention that promotes students learning and a  positive and confident disposition. To further build on our system capability, we have a teaching educator currently training to become an accredited professional learning leader in order to facilitate the accredited EMU intervention program. The ‘behind-the-screen’ facility to observe teachers facilitating an EMU group, is a feature of the program.

Schools showing parents how to support children with maths at home.

The most important outcomes of the initiative are:  all Year one students assessed with ongoing tracking and monitoring; the most vulnerable students are identified in Year 1; a decline in vulnerable students in the second and third year of the project and that leaders are equipped to lead implementation plans based on credible data. An encouraging observation by our academic partner Ann Gervasoni is that of teachers applying their new knowledge into innovative practice to include the effective use of digital technologies e.g. teachers using iPads with a clear mathematical purpose, students using digital manipulatives to develop conceptual understanding, recording their thinking, with the ability to share beyond the classroom.

Parents of participating schools have expressed appreciation for the opportunity to learn about what is happening at school and importantly how best to support their children at home when it comes to mathematics.

Tim’s summary of our strategy reflects a fundamental principle from which we work – moving from an ‘I think’ mentality of teaching to ‘We learn’.  This approach uses the best research and data as a base line.  We focus on what works, why it works for each student and how we can continually extend teachers, students and even parents in their mathematical understanding.


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