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.

4 thoughts on “Our biggest investment

  1. Greg, thanks for the comment. It made me reflect on a recent discussion with one of our staff members who is in his third year of teaching. We have reflective meetings each term to tap into progress, concerns and ideas. Over the years these discussions have become more trusting and personal in what we hope to achieve in our fields.One of the questions I asked last week was whether he stayed in touch with his friends from uni(ACU). He indicated he did on a regular basis and the ten or so close friends who went into teaching with him has resulted in five leaving the profession in the first few years. I expressed this was sad given the personall and professional investment that had been given to them and that they had committed. I then asked the question why did he think this had happened. His immediate response was that no one had taken time to see how they were going.No Principal or member of the Leadership Team had sat down and had a “chat” with these young members of the profession.He stated they were not looking for a formal interview but a time with the Principal or others to talk.
    It made me think of what and how we do things but more importantly our beginning teachers have specific needs related to their generation and their grasp of life.
    As leaders in schools we often talk about the needs of our students and rightly so, however ,what do we do about the needs of our staff and help them on their journey.


    1. Peter, some sobering figures and all the more reason why we need leader/teacher mentors from the outset. Mark makes the point that it also requires consistent and non-judgmental feedback and support so these teachers can become adaptive experts. Helen Timperley says principals must think of teachers as ‘their class’ – who are they, what do they need? It’s a question that needs to be asked regularly. Fullan spoke on Friday about all teachers coming to the table as equals – every idea and opinion counts. How often does this happen in staff rooms?

  2. Peter,
    Time to chat I agree is important but what is also essential I think is feedback – particularly around instruction. I note that Bill Gates in the linked video clip talked about feedback as well.

    We have been playing with a few protocols all with slightly different purposes around observing instruction. I wrote about this recently under the title inspect what you expect: http://mwalker.com.au/?p=1854


  3. Mark,
    Apologies for the delay in response. This time of year we all get caught up with staffing issues . Agree with the feedback we need to give to our staff but the issue I have is with the feed forward advice. My learnings this year with my leadership team is around this issue and developing a way forward so we can work together to ensure this happens. Ultimately, we all benefit, as students,parents and staff.

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