What really matters

The Australian school year has barely begun and already attention has been diverted into debates over the national curriculum and teaching degrees.  What is interesting is that these both seem to be debates over general vs specific.

Should a national curriculum be teaching specific knowledge and should teaching degrees be generalist? Certainly the ability to communicate clearly, express ideas imaginatively and problem solve are critical skills in today’s world but that’s like saying that a surgeon only requires these skills to operate.  We know that isn’t true.

I don’t believe the issues raised by Minister Pyne and Vice Chancellor Spence are the issues that we should be debating.  Whether it’s the curriculum or a teaching degree, it has to be a both/and proposition. Education is after all, the interplay between theory and practice, reflection and action, specific and general, academic and vocational.

I believe teachers need to be generalists and specialists just as they need to have both deep pedagogical knowledge and deep content knowledge.  Learning is the ability to bring the parts together to form a coherent whole.

For me this year the real action should be around two key areas. Firstly what is a relevant curriculum for today’s learners?  The very word curriculum conjures up images of content and mastery. Perhaps we need to think more about learning frameworks which sees content as an addition to the learning process, an aid rather than an end point.

Secondly, what is the role of a teacher in today’s world? I spent sometime with teachers in one of our primary schools on their first “official” day back. It was interesting to note that they had been back at work for some time. We discussed many things but dwelt a little on the role of the teacher.

We talked about the need to let go of this model of teachers as transmitters of knowledge who have their work day and professional working life highly regimented. Can we give over more control of teachers’ professional lives to teachers. They organise their time not by bells but by collaboration so the responsibilty for learning shifts from the teacher to the student and so on.  Will this happen?  It will only when the shortsighted interventions and futile debates cease.  The task of reshaping education is the responsibility we share.

This year, our system leaders are using John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers as their professional reading.  Hattie writes: “Expert teachers and experienced teachers do not differ in the amount of knowledge that they have about curriculum matters or knowledge about teaching strategies – but expert teachers do differ in how they organise and use this content knowledge.”  

As Hattie says, what really matters is that teachers know their impact on student learning.

8 thoughts on “What really matters

  1. Greg again your clarity and succinct thinking are correct. The debate for mine is still a reflection of those whose understanding or misunderstanding is of an education practice that evolved from the so called factory model.Hattie and Fullan have for a very long time attempted to have Politicians and Governments grasp an understanding that learning in the 21st century has evolved as quickly and robustly as successful corporations revolutionise and under take cataclysmic change to there organisational structure,and workplace. Our school systems have changed as quickly, but this time from the Primary up. The curriculum whist important from the view of sequence and content structure is but a scaffold for students.Todays students are Global collaborators, Problem solvers of their World. The expert teachers, are as Stephen Heppell states those who clear away the barriers so that their students can fully learn and accept that they have the power, the process and tools to lead the world to a vastly different place than their predecessors. In fact ,in time they may very well hold both politicians and the structure of government accountable for any short term failings in their ability to learn from narrow minded debates.

    1. John, I think what is clear is that everyone is still not on the same page when it comes to a relevant model of schooling. The best we can do is to create a critical mass that will eventually silence the fruitless debates and enable a sharper focus on the things that matter to students and make a difference to their learning.

  2. Greg
    Totally agree with your sentiments. I believe it is summed up exceedingly well by Hattie’s last statement which refers to our impact on students. Teaching is a relational experience between the teacher, the student and our colleagues through collaboration in seeking learning for all.

  3. Hi Greg,
    Just wondering if the debates we’ve begun the year actually consider what’s truly best for student achievement? Interestingly, aspects such as national curriculum and teaching degrees do not feature in Hattie’s Influences and Effect Sizes Related to Student Achievement. However items such as teacher clarity, feedback, teacher-student relationships and teaching strategies do. Why don’t these agendas get raised in the debates? Not that we should ignore the national curriculum or the nature of teaching degrees, but it smacks more of political grandstanding and point-scoring rather than the real issue of the child in my classroom. Looking forward to another great year!

    1. Attila, thanks for the comments. I have always argued that the profession needs to be more vocal in these matters. The profession deserves greater autonomy and certainly greater opportunity to contribute to policy decisions. I hope you have a professionally rewarding year. Keep learning and sharing.

  4. Educational influence is in the professional learning relationship. Through trust learners gain insight and skills as well as their sense of purpose. What amazing influence an expert has in a community of collaborators.

  5. Greg, it is powerful teachers who can make lots of things happen. They can be learners themselves. They need to be empowered to do this. Cheers

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