Choosing the wrong drivers

Michael Fullan will be returning to Australia later this year and as always, it will be refreshing and stimulating to hear him talk to our leaders about improving schooling.

Michael has recently written a paper, commissioned and published by the Centre for Strategic Education (CSE).   CSE has kindly given permission for me to include a precis of Fullan’s paper titled “Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform.”

In particular, the paper makes reference to the US and Australia’s recent reform initiatives and why these measures are ineffective in changing the ‘day to day culture of school systems.’

He makes three critical and inter-related points for me in the paper. One is that ‘no nation has got better by focusing on individual teachers as the driver. Better performing countries are successful because they develop the entire teaching profession.’

This understanding has underpinned the work we have been doing and our theory of action, which has at its core, building teacher capacity, collaboratively and using evidence of student achievement to inform practice.

The second is that, ‘successful system have come to trust and respect teachers.’
Trust first and then build competencies instead of building competencies and hoping to gain the respect of teachers.  It’s about putting people before process. This is the one governments and systems often get so wrong.  In their short-sighted haste to “lift standards”, they ignore the people who will be doing the work – teachers.

Teachers need to know they are valued and are capable of improving their practice and lifting student achievement if they are supported with sensible, long-term strategies that engage them directly in the process of improvement.

The third point brings into sharp focus for me the issue of where technology and its increasing use in schooling fits.  To quote Michael: “Ever since the laptop emerged almost 40 years ago technology has been wining the race over pedagogy: technology gets better, while instruction doesn’t.”  He goes on to say that “no country has become good for using technology at the front.”

There is no mention in our theory of action of technology and this is deliberate. Technology, like the pencil and paper, are tools for good teachers in improving student learning.  These tools need to be used within the context of a sound pedagogical framework and good practice.

As Michael observes “without pedagogy in the lead technology may be driving us to distraction, with the child’s digital world detached from the school world…….technology will be a dramatic accelerator if we can put instruction and skill, motivated teachers and students in the lead.”

The focus of improving schools and systems must as Michael says be on student-learning and teacher-learning.   It must be done in a culture of trust and it must foster the motivation and build on the capabilities of all teachers and students. There are no short-cuts or magic bullets.

In addition, it is the responsibility of every member of the learning community to support, encourage and provide opportunities for continual improvement.




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