We have a tendency in education to search for immediate solutions to challenges, which often end up as partial solutions anyway. At a state and federal level, we’re in an election cycle where parties are promising more structural change such as smaller classes, more teachers, better buildings etc. I understand how appealing these are to the community but they miss what sits at the heart of schooling – the teaching. As we know, smaller classes and more teachers don’t necessarily equate to better learning outcomes for all students. And that’s the myth still being perpetuated inside and outside the education system. I believe that what scares us from examining what is happening at the core are the truths that may emerge about the effectiveness of the teaching practice.
Enter John Hattie with Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers, which stressed the importance of teachers knowing their impact on learning and learners through the use of data and feedback. Depending on your bias, Hattie nails it in ACEL’s Monograph No 58 where he discusses how to scale up and value teaching expertise in schools. As Hattie says, ‘great teaching should be by design, not chance’. That, as Hattie suggests, requires us to shift our focus from how to improve teaching to what is the impact of teaching is on student learning.
Hattie identifies three key areas necessary for ‘scaling up expertise’ across the profession. The first is building up the professional culture by identifying where expertise is in the school and to create environments of trust where teachers can learn from and with each other in identifying where teaching is not effective and why. The second is student experience and ensuring that their views about their learning are being heard and that they feel safe and appropriately supported at school and challenged within the learning environment. The third is the role of data to inform strategies and accountability systems to ensure that schools are continually learning and evaluating the strategies and practices that are making a positive impact on learning.
Hattie recognises that a necessary part of implementing new models and approaches is dependent on effective leadership. Leaders who see themselves as curious learners, collaborators, curators, motivators and visionaries. As Michael Fullan writes in his latest book Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail:
Nuance leaders have a curiosity about what is possible….they don’t lead, they teach. They end up developing incredibly accountable organisations because accountability gets built into the culture (2019, p12).
The raison d’etre of leaders and teachers is to ensure the learning outcomes of each child improves year on year. They deserve nothing less. Scaling up teacher expertise is a sure way of building the capacity of the profession in a world where skills and knowledge carry the highest premium.