A revolution in every classroom

The ABC’s Four Corners program last night ‘A Revolution in the Classroom’, was a genuine attempt to re-focus public attention away from the old public vs private school debate and on to the core challenges of schooling.  I don’t believe quality learning and teaching in public, private or independent schools is a revolution but rather a necessary requirement in today’s world.  While the program focussed on the results of Year 12 students at three diverse schools: Toronto High, Knox Grammar and Hume Central Secondary College, I believe we need to move beyond this industrial mindset that intelligence and good learning is defined by HSC or Naplan results.

While the program offered great insight and certainly opened up discussion, what didn’t come across to the viewer was the critical role of the principal as an instructional leader nor is there a formulaic solution to improving the quality of schooling in schools. We know from the learning sciences that core is understanding learners in their contexts – what they bring, what they know and what they need to know using and analysing student data.   The more we learn about learning and the more teachers learn about their students’ learning, the more important and influential teaching becomes.

This is why the current debate on K-12 funding shouldn’t be focussed on the haves/have nots or public vs private but on how we make continuous investment in the development of teachers at every stage of their career.  If we do this then every school benefits because every school has a team of successful teachers.  Last week Field Rickard, dean of education at Melbourne University wrote in the Australian:

If more effective teacher education programs (and professional development courses) are to be rolled out across the country, serious funding is required. Simply allocating more resources to education may be necessary but not sufficient for changing educational outcomes. A serious reconsideration of funding priorities is certainly called for.

As Rickard indicates we know with a degree of certainty that simply increasing school funding does not work as a school improvement strategy. There is no one system of schooling that can claim it has the mortgage to deliver quality outcomes for students.  In a democracy such as ours, parents have a right to choice and students have a right to quality teachers.

In my address to our system leaders in January, I reiterated that as educators we know that effective teacher learning leads to changes in practice that positively influence student learning outcomes and we know from Viviane Robinson’s research that the involvement of the leader is critical.  We know from our work with Helen Timperley that we do this by continuous inquiry so that we are all continually learning.  The inquiry process enables us to strengthen the bridge between knowing and doing; between standardisation and personalisation and between novice and expert.

Over the next two years, our strategic focus will be on ‘Learning by Inquiring’ – ensuring that teacher professional learning leads to changes in teacher practice and that changed practice leads to improved student learning outcomes for every child in every school.

6 thoughts on “A revolution in every classroom

  1. Greg has made some very insightful observations. A further point would be that quality education does not start at year 7. Indeed a look inside most primary schools would see quality teachers focusing on improving their practice

  2. It is true that quality teaching should start taking place at primary school itself because it is very sad to notice that some of the students come to high school without any basic knowledge about education. They lack most of the language macro skills and the high school teachers are to struggle with these students with the dilemma of either to focus on addressing these students’ issues or to carry out the program to cater the needs of the majority of the students in the classroom.
    It is high time that the real learning should take place in the primary schools so as to follow up these students to take them to the pinnacle of the education.

  3. I know primary schools who focus upon teacher quality, cycles of improvement and investing in their teaching practice. As school leaders it is a challenge for us to support those in our profession to be the ‘professional’, to read widely, engage in professional conversations and watch each other teach – a critical friend and team approach is the most effective PD I have found, exponentially better than sending people out for a day. As someone who has worked across secondary and now primary schools, I understand that the primary teacher takes on a significantly greater pastoral role for their students, whereas many high schools have a separate welfare arm that students are referred to. My commitment is to allow teachers to be involved in the lives of their students, but take away those things that divert attention from great teaching. Every decision needs a question asked of it, “Will this improve learning?” If not…
    My fear that it is easy to blame ‘where they came from’. Primary teachers can blame parents…but it’s not a helpful approach. Toronto HS showed we need to take responsibility for who is in front of us and what we will do for them now to turn learning around.
    Student issues and needs should always be catered for above content and depending on where you teach, this can sometimes be easier said than done!
    So happy that the private vs. public debate was addressed – choice is choice – we can’t change that. What we can do is make sure that we have both systems strong and well resourced – and as we saw, the best resource a school can have are great teachers, not necessarily $$.

  4. I have to say, I have just watched the Four Corners programme and commend them on their focus upon teacher quality. It is often all too easy to put the focus on structures, class numbers and funding. Four Corners clearly demonstrates that the greatest difference to students is the expertise and quality of the teacher, and I think that graduate teacher training has such a large part to play here.

    I agree Greg, that the role of the principal was not a major talking point, but I think we can work out the two principals we would rather work with/for. Knowing your students and having a good relationship with them is such an important part in their overall success, and ultimately the school’s long term success. The direction and focus for the three leaders to ensue the changes they needed were spot on. I can only imagine the smaller battles each of them must have gone through on a daily basis to start getting the results they desired. For me, principals must be exceptional teachers and learners, be pedagogically sound and base their goals on data. They need to be inspirational in bringing their community in line with their image, and most importantly, they need to be people who have remarkable interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. After all, the business of teaching and learning is ultimately a service, a human service, and we are a part o that human service organisation. Just like the students, the teachers need good relationships with those around them to succeed.

    In saying all of this, it really isn’t until you remove yourself as a professional out of Australia, that you realise how ahead we are in terms of teaching and learning and teacher training. Please, in no way am I saying ‘be complacent’. I think there are large strides to make in Australian education, particularly with the feedback ‘we’ as professionals need in enabling us to hone our craft into something better, even unimaginable….

  5. Greg,
    Thanks for the post as I managed to watch the rerun of the program on 4 Cnrs late at night. I think the most positive thing was the show helped get the ‘main game’ into the public arena. I flicked through the newspapers over the following days but didn’t see any follow up stories – shame.

    Public, private, primary and secondary I would argue are all along the same continium when it comes to supporting teachers as inquirers willing to ‘play’ with their practice (based on some reasearch I would hope), open to having instruction observed and discussed in non judgemental ways and assessing the impact of the work through student learning.

    It would be good to get a follow up program on instructional leadership I agree. I feel an email coing on.


  6. Good lot of comments getting to heart of matter. All I want to say is that arbitrary divides like primary/secondary are not helpful for improving quality teaching, structure does nothing to help. people do. That is why every child in every space must have a good teacher!

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