Making time for great teaching

The latest Grattan Institute Report, Making Time for Great Teaching, by Dr Ben Jensen is a must read for educators. In an age of teacher over-load and increasing external accountabilities, Jensen presents the case for removing the distractors so that teachers can spend more time on the things that really matter.  He argues that if schools reduce the number of staff meetings, school assemblies, extra-curricular activities etc then critical time can be devoted to proven school improvement practices. Jensen and his colleagues worked with six schools across the country to enable more time for intensive mentoring, observation of practice, collaboration and school-based research.

Schools must make difficult but crucial trade-offs in how teachers and school leaders spend their time. We must be explicit that every time we ask teachers to perform extra activities we are decreasing the quality of teaching and learning in schools.

Last week at the National Catholic Education Commission annual meeting in Canberra, my colleagues and I met with a number of Members of Parliament. It was an opportunity to further impress the need for politicians to focus on what is really important in the work of schools.  Many priorities and procedures are often assumed to be mandatory when they are mere accretions. Jensen makes the point that

Government regulations restrict schools. Enterprise bargaining agreements restrict changes to work schedules, and duty of care requirements restrain schools that want to free their teachers from child minding to focus on improving teaching.

Ultimately, the responsibility for making time for great teaching lies with individual school communities but the Grattan report shows what is achievable when we focus on what matters most.

4 thoughts on “Making time for great teaching

  1. Greg, great article and report from Gatton. I recently offered advice to a school I was temping at that they would be better off hiring an office temp to do most of the back office work (marking against a marking sheet, entering data into school systems, creating handouts and other materials, etc). These activities took valuable time away from real teaching. Also, the fact that first year out teachers were given the same responsibility as a teacher with 5 or so year experience is unbelievable. In any other industry, graduate trainees are put through a management training program and provided with a mentor to work with them on all aspects of their role. They get to see what their job is all about without having the full responsibility for delivery. Why doesn’t this happen in teaching – because the work practices and structures are historical and do not change easily. Gatton is highlighting what most other industries already know – get people doing their core job better and look for ways to remove other non-core tasks to people with lesser or more appropriate skills.

  2. In a “nugget” the path set in 2014 Leadership seems to capture much of the Gatton report.
    A huge dent in inequality and an enrichment of the lives of students who need it most is being planned for by committing to continual changes to behaviour and practices. This may well mean supporting professionals in a manner which raises our mindfulness, that is in this case to be increasingly aware that the focus for the school is learning, there are simple communications required to attain simplicity and inclusiveness for all of our staff, parents/guardians and students, e.g. a blunt challenge: we know better, so do better.
    Five steps to rigorously follow towards flourishing:
    1. Leadership clearly raising the expectations about the ‘right stuff’, (e.g. the kernels from Weddell: Forming Intentional Discipleship and Hattie),
    2. Effective teaching with teachers learning in a culture working ongoingly towards the collaborative goals of a professional learning community,
    3. Development and measurement of student learning,
    4. A positive culture, and
    5. Engagement of parents and the local community.
    Yes support the school to make behavioural and cultural change, but do more than simply focus on the above five steps for a turnaround. The continual search is to find a way to commit to lasting change by developing the skills for change in accord with the five steps, and embed them appropriately, i.e. without overwhelming teachers with administrational work yet have:
    a. Comprehensive evaluation and
    b. Accountability mechanisms.
    Ensuring such mechanisms do focus on achieving change in the five steps, not just on getting higher test scores. I think these will rise as teachers and students flourish.

    Adapted from

  3. Thought provoking as usual Greg,

    Yes there are brave actions needed for us as leaders to recapture or create more quality learning time but increasing external accountabilities, such as the current National Reform agendas, will place more pressure, effort and stress on our teachers that we can’t ignore them.

    Removing distractors is a great idea yet in reality what can we give away or ignore? What would be considered the things that really matter? Ideally I’d like to think that everything we do matters. In Catholic schools we work to evangelise create and build a community. Much of this happens in the context of our normal days and weeks. Feast days, liturgies, Catholic Schools Week, assemblies, observances and civics build a deeper community of hearts AS WELL as learners! We educate and nurture the whole child AND the community.

    The role of the class teacher is ever expanding beyond delivering best teaching practice. Our teachers are also parenting advisors, counsellors, psychologists, IT technicians, researchers, investigators, judges, coaches and administrators because that’s what it takes to be a good teacher. To do this well it takes time. Much of this time happens incidentally – as needed. Our in-school meeting times deliver professional learning and planning and teachers meet for many hours to supplement and action their learning.

    So what do we let go? Our teachers and principals are asked to provide far more today than we did 30 years ago but the length of the day is the same. Each teacher’s working time grows in excess of their scheduled school hours. So what do we let go and at what cost on our children and our communities?

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