Schools of inquiry

In March the NSW Government announced its blueprint for improving schooling.  The action plan includes raising entry requirements for teaching courses at universities and ensuring the quality of initial teacher education is regularly assessed.  This is a positive move.

Attracting the best and the brightest is something that all education systems desire. Yet attracting is one thing, retaining teachers is something else when we continue to operate as Richard Elmore says as a profession without a practice.

I believe the most important work is preparing teachers to teach in today’s world.  The demands on schools are great, the work of teaching is complex and the needs of students are diverse.  Add to this the ubiquitous nature of technology and the need for a rigorous teacher education model is apparent.

Some time ago on bluyonder, I raised the idea of an apprenticeship for teachers.  Students would be able to connect the theory in practice by continuous exposure to models of good teaching in classrooms. Observation, inquiry, reflection, analysis and collaboration become the norm.  As knowledge and skills develop, student teachers under supervision either by a teacher educator or mentor actually learn to teach.

Coincidentally the British Government is promoting ‘higher apprenticeships’ for professions such as law, accounting, engineering and possibly teacher education. British Education Secretary Michael Gove has recently said he was keen to move away from higher education providers determining how teacher education was delivered:   “The best people to teach teachers are teachers.”

The best people to teach teachers are effective teachers.

Kevin Donnelly also reflects that since “former teachers colleges closed and education become the preserve of university-based faculties of education, teacher training has become overly theoretical and divorced from classroom realities.”

Linda Darling Hammond in her excellent paper asserts that schools of education must design programs that “help prospective teachers to understand deeply a wide array of things about learning, social and cultural contexts, and teaching and be able to enact these understandings in complex classrooms serving increasingly diverse students; in addition, if prospective teachers are to succeed at this task, schools of education must design programs that transform the kinds of settings in which novices learn to teach and later become teachers. This means that the enterprise of teacher education must venture out further and further from the university and engage ever more closely with schools in a mutual transformation agenda, with all of the struggle and messiness that implies.”

I can’t help but notice how many educators refer to experts who are either providing ideas or visiting schools. Why aren’t we looking to our teacher colleagues for guidance, support and ideas?  Elmore says you do the work by doing the work not having experts do it for you.  I wonder whether this is a symptom of below par teacher training courses? Are we training teachers they way we want students to be taught as they do at Singapore’s National Institute of Education?

The Australian Institute for Teaching School Leadership (AITSL) is about to begin assessing the quality of instruction at universities to ensure that all graduating students meet common standards. AITSL chairman Tony Mackay has flagged that new national standards for accrediting teaching courses would see a “shake-out” of programs offered by higher education institutes.

If the work of teachers is to be continually re-evaluated and shaped in response to the needs of learners and a changing world, then so must teacher training courses.  It is absolutely essential that the next generation of teachers are proficient practitioners; good clinicians and diagnosticians.

We must move away from a commonly held view that anyone can teach fairly well.  Teaching is highly specialised and complex work. As Darling Hammond says teacher training programs must help teachers “develop the disposition to continue to seek answers to difficult problems of teaching and learning and the skills to learn from practice (and from their colleagues) as well as to learn for practice. These expectations for teacher knowledge mean that programs need not only to provide teachers access to more knowledge, considered more deeply, but also to help teachers learn how to continually access knowledge and inquire into their work.”

In a previous blog I reflected on leadership from the inside out.  This is another example where this maxim applies. We have never needed better teachers than we do now.

In moving towards a culture of wide-spread excellence, perhaps we need to stop referring to schools of education and start referring to them as schools of inquiry.  Afterall, isn’t this what learning and teaching is about?


8 thoughts on “Schools of inquiry

  1. Thank you for this piece. It is such ‘common sense’ in the sea of politicised drivel that poses as educational debate at present. After thirty years as an educator/teacher, and as a father of six girls and two boys, I despair at the star of our education system and for the unfortunate children subjected to years of torment in an ineffective, unsavory and inane educational structure that proselytizes conformity, compliance and competition. Bluyonder is a rare breath of fresh air.

  2. For Australian work about reforming the preparation of teachers and ‘teaching’, see:

    Rethinking Teacher Education
    By Richard Smith, David Lynch
    Primrose Hall Publishing
    “From the people who turned teacher education on its ear in Australia in 2001 comes a text about preparing the next generation of teachers…”

    Transitioning Teacher for National and International Change. Smith Lynch & Knight Pearson
    “Education systems are increasingly under pressure as a result of social change. These pressures arise from the challenges presented by our movement to a knowledge-based society and globalisation. This text argues that pre-service education is one area of education uniquely positioned …”

    The Rise of the Learning Manager: Changing Teacher Education
    Richard Smith and David Lynch
    Primrose Hall Publishing

    “…about the creation of a different kind of teacher rather than a ‘better’ teacher. It details the rise of the Learning Manager: the teacher construct for a knowledge and creativity-based economy”.

  3. Hi Greg and thanks for this post. On the one hand I agree that we have everything we need to improve our schools within our schools and we should be looking to our teacher colleagues for support and ideas. This requires facilitation and leadership.

    On the other hand, looking inwards can lead to insularity and shared ignorance. I spent yesterday with a visiting expert, Mark Church (Making Thinking Visible). He worked with a number of small groups in our school, but the most valuable for me was when he observed me teach and provided one on one coaching. His expertise is not something otherwise available in my school.

  4. Reblogged this on Cat's eyes and commented:
    A very interesting commentary on teacher education from Greg Whitby. It seems to be consistent with much of what is recommended by Teaching Scotland’s Future in terms of ITE, and it will be interesting to track the parallel developments across the hemispheres. The idea of a “mutual transformation agenda” should be at the centre of the new partnership arrangements between Scottish local authorities and teacher education institutions, but the carving up or sharing of responsibilities for this seem to be as yet unclear. There’s no doubt about the increasing availability of outside “experts” ready to dispense their wisdom, and with greater autonomy at school level enables school leaders to tap into this resource, but Greg’s point about collegiate working is a good one and it raises a further question of why would teachers consider themselves the best people to educate future teachers if they themselves are often rendered dependent on outside expertise for their own professional development?
    Schools of inquiry as the basis for TSF partnership agreements? It sounds like it’s worth a try.

  5. I have just completed my first year of teaching having graduated from the NZ Graduate School of Education (NZGSE) in Christchurch, New Zealand. They way ‘teacher interns’ (as we were called during our training) are trained is vastly different from any of the University programmes available in this country, and is almost like an apprenticeship. It involves roughly 2/3rds practical teaching practice with individual observation and feedback roughly twice a week from tutors. At the end of each term interns reflect on their most recent teaching practice and state how they have met the requirements of the course. I can honestly say that this preparation gave me much confidence going into my first teaching job in April last year. I am glad this discussion is happening – good luck.

    1. NZ has good reputation for ed research and training. Good luck with your teaching career – feel free to share your reflections on aspects of teaching. It’s always good to hear from practitioners.

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