Bridging divides

Next month, Professor Stephen Dinham from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) will deliver the 2011 Ann D Clark lecture.  In 2008, I heard Steve Dinham speak at the Curriculum Corporation Conference in Melbourne and something he said struck a chord – you can have good classrooms without good leaders but you can’t have good schools without good leaders.

What we need are good teachers in every space and good leaders in every school; that’s why we are committed as a system to building teacher capability and leadership capacity.  As Dinham states this is the best means for overcoming disadvantage and opening the doors of opportunities for every young person in Australia.

You cannot ignore the evidence although there are many within the profession who continue to defend their practice on the grounds of experience, ideology or personal preference. Are we are a profession divided by ideology or united by a shared purpose?

George Packer writing in the New Yorker Magazine quotes the American sociologist Daniel Bell who makes this distinction between ideology and principle:

Ideology makes it unnecessary for people to confront individual issues on their individual merits,” the late Daniel Bell wrote. “One simply turns to the ideological vending machine, and out comes the prepared formulae.” Ideology knows the answer before the question has been asked. Principles are something different: a set of values that have to be adapted to circumstances but not compromised away.

In his article ‘Teachers Make a Difference‘, Dinham states that high quality educators use data in sophisticated ways; are critical consumers of educational research; defend the principles that underpin their practice and in the face of convincing evidence are prepared to change what they do.

I’d love to see the end of the anti-intellectualism which too often pervades the profession and excuses poor practice, so that we can focus on what the research and evidence shows makes a difference. In this way we build a robust professional practice which challenges and doesn’t excuse.

If Steve Dinham’s research can’t convince the skeptics, what will?


2 thoughts on “Bridging divides

  1. Greg, the skeptics will always see the glass “half empty”. It is a very frustrating argument to change their perception, they see it as a belief and value that they hold dearly. I believe, unfortunately, this is where they see their power base.Instead of allocating resources of time and energy to them, I prefer to acknowledge their difference but state the school has alternative view or practice and this is the direction we are headed in. Too much time I believe is spent on accomodating the minority view and not getting on with the plan or initiative. As leaders we need to listen and move forward.We have been placed in these positions to action initatives that benefit our students in their learning.
    Poor practice is evident in many professions. However it is not about making it a personal issue but rather one that encourages conversations for improvement and alternative approaches.This is where shared practice with colleagues in an agile learning space is so effective-we plan together, instruct together and reflect together on our work. Who are the winners in this approach. All of us!!!

  2. Whilst discussing with a teacher this afternoon the options and possibilities open to us as educators he made the comment that our experiences as teachers really shape our beliefs. The same can be said for those of us in leadership roles. Identifying student needs through data and anecdotal evidence and addressing those needs in creative ways, whether it be through technology, flexible spaces or collaborative planning the main thing is that we understand what students need to achieve. Some of the ‘skeptics’ may need many more experiences where they can acknowledge that student needs are being met. We are shaped by our experiences – so let’s use them to build positive, engaging and enriching learning for those we are responsible for, students and teachers.

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