Archive for the ‘Innovators’ Category

Preparing teachers for the profession

Stanford University in the US is working with Pearson to operationalise an assessment for beginning teachers as part of a national strategy to introduce a single method for assessment.

Nathan Estel, Director, Educator Relations at the Evaluation Systems group of Pearson says the work has provided a clearer picture of how universities are preparing graduates for work in schools.

Nathan says many US states are already using the Educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) as a policy lever to bring about greater cooperation and changes to teacher preparation programs.

It aims to encourage universities to think about new ways of providing ongoing professional learning and support for teachers once they enter the profession.

edTPA is designed around four key competencies:

  1. Content knowledge (computer based assessment)
  2. Differentiation in instruction (portfolio based)
  3. Teaching practice and learning environment
  4. Effective and Reflective Practitioner

A national assessment tool provides insight into future possibilities for the what and how of graduate teacher accreditation in other jurisdictions.  This illustrates how systems and organisations are working collaboratively to provide greater support for teachers especially beginning teachers.



No teacher is an island

Last week I had another opportunity to visit two Victorian primary schools that for me demonstrate good theory in practice.  Woorana Park and Silverton Primary schools have established themselves as authentic learning communities.  Over many years under good instructional leaders they have evaluated their practice, implemented rigorous feedback mechanisms, listened to student and parent voices and used the learning space and technology to support contemporary pedagogies.

As one of my readers pointed out, ‘open classrooms’ have a very low effect size according to Hattie’s meta-analysis.  This is absolutely true.  Just as no teacher is an island (see Hattie’s comments on direct instruction), there is no one pedagogy (or classroom design) that delivers everything.  As Woorana Park and Silverton Primary have demonstrated, the use of agile learning spaces is just a fraction of the whole to improve student learning outcomes. Learning spaces support good teaching practices but they never act as a substitute for them.






Rebooting innovation

walkman 79In 1979, Sony produced the first portable cassette device – the Walkman.  It was a game changer for consumers and the music industry. Sony ended up selling 200 million devices worldwide.  Long before Apple or even Google established themselves as innovators, there was Japan.

The BBC recently had an interesting article on how Japan is trying to ‘reboot innovation’.  In an effort to encourage innovation, a hub called a high-tech ‘makerspace’ has been set up in Tokyo open to anyone who wants to turn an idea into a product.

The 20th model of schooling is like the Walkman – a product of the times but it’s been superseded by mobile devices, which can do more than just play music.  Innovative is not imitation; we need to realise (like Japan) that we cannot make a better version of the current model.  We need something never seen before – the school equivalent of Japan’s high tech makerspaces?

It certainly makes Yong Zhao’s argument for an entrepreneurial model of schooling even stronger. A model that cultivates student creativity and collaboration but where the focus of learning is on the ‘product not the project’.  Perhaps this is where project based learning is headed in the future.

Until then, we should ponder the comments of a former Panasonic employee and now founder of a start-up company who said any organisation is capable of producing something innovative but it is up to management as to whether they allow the ideas to be developed.

The question for school and system leaders is whether we are champions of imitation or innovation?




The speed of things

According to Yong Zhao one of the biggest flaws of PISA is that it “directs the world’s attention to the past instead of pointing to the future.”  Yet education systems and policy makers rely on international assessments such as PISA to gauge student performance in maths, science and reading.

In World Class Learners, Zhao admits that based on data comparisons, countries performing extremely well on international tests such as China and Taiwan tend to score lower in perceived entrepreneurial capabilities.  The good news is that Australia scores relatively high when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Harvard Business Review had an interesting article last week on the fastest moving digital economies.  The authors developed an index to gauge how countries compare in terms of their readiness for the digital economy.  Looking at performance over five years (2008-2013), they assigned 50 countries into four trajectories: Stand Out, Stall Out, Break Out and Watch Out.

Australia currently sits in the ‘Stall Out’ quadrant – having achieved a high level of evolution but losing momentum and at risk of falling behind. Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Estonia, the US and New Zealand are among the countries in the Stand Out quadrant.  These are countries who continue to invest in world-class digital infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship and have governments which support and encourage growth of the digital ecosystem.

The authors’ advice for countries like ours is to invest in innovation, look globally for new markets and find ways of attracting ‘talented young immigrants’ to revive innovation quickly.

If as Zhao says schools must transform into global enterprises capable of educating globally competent entrepreneurs, then we need new measures that look forward – beyond traditional boundaries.

I wonder whether we need to be looking at schooling in the same way countries assess readiness for the digital economy?  Do we need a Digital Education Index based on key drivers?  For example, when schools deliver a curriculum (especially electives) are they aligning them with “Stand-Out” or the delivery of traditional subjects aligned with “Stall Out”?

Digital is no longer about hardware or software.  It isn’t about the number of computers or iPads in classrooms.  When we talk about digital education it encompasses the mindsets, policies, users, trends and infrastructure that support this dynamic and ever-evolving ecosystem.  An ecosystem that our learners are a part of and will inevitably shape based on their needs and ever-changing expectations.

The authors of the HBR article predict that the “next billion consumers to come online will be making their digital decisions on a mobile device – very different from the practices of the first billion.”

How will schooling be different from last year or even last week so we don’t end up in “Stall Out”?











Renew and Adapt

Our system and school leaders gathered last week to reflect on past achievements and to focus on the work ahead.  Over the next two years our system’s strategic focus will be to ‘renew and adapt’.   It is not about changing course or increasing the workload but reflecting on our practice; renewing our skills and passion; and adapting our pedagogies to improve the learning outcomes of each student.

Each year we select a professional learning text. This year’s was chosen because innovation requires teachers who are willing to continually renew and adapt their practice in ways that positively impact on students’ lives and learning.  As Lyn Sharratt says this is the essence of educational innovation.

Lyn Sharatt and Gale Harild’s book Good to Great to Innovate builds on Jim Collins’ good to great analogy by illustrating that purposeful innovation is dependent on a solid foundation of literacy and numeracy.  Schools must become good at the basics before they get great at innovation. As Andy Hargreaves writes in the book’s epilogue: “when the innovations we introduce involve children’s lives, they must be even more disciplined in their implementation.”

The “innovation” discussion is as relevant to schooling as it is to business. An article in the December issue of Harvard Business Review outlines the approach to innovation in business. The authors, Nathan Furr and Jeffrey H. Dyer state that the process of innovation requires “discipline, perseverance and dedicated, effective leadership.”

Furr and Dyer maintain go on:

Innovation is at heart a process of discovery, and so the role of the person leading it is to set other people down a path, not to short-circuit it by jumping to a conclusion at the start.

The process of innovation requires new mindsets in which we continually push boundaries and search for more meaningful and relevant ways of meeting the needs of today’s learners.

In both Good to Great to Innovate and the HBR article, the authors contend that innovation isn’t controlled by the leader.  The role of a leader is to encourage these mindsets, to encourage risk taking, to ask questions and to ensure there is equitable access to resources and partnerships.  The leader’s role is to advocate for ‘the new and different’, to listen and then test assumptions.

I think one of the biggest challenges we face is creating opportunities for innovation to grow. Companies like Google and Atlassian have succeeded at this because leaders and managers see their roles differently – as advocates and “bluyonderers”. It’s the shift from control to collaboration, from being risk-aversive to risk-taking.

There are pockets of innovation happening each day in schools and across systems but as I wrote in a recent blog post – how does it become the norm?  One suggestion is giving large groups of people uninterrupted innovation time.  Think of what happens in project based learning when students have time to sit with a problem, discuss, observe and experiment.

We need to start applying the same principles to teacher innovation. It’s about renewing and adapting.





Innovation as the norm

I made the following observation on New Year’s Day.

I think if we are going to do better we desperately need teachers to be prepared to challenge not only what they teach but how effectively they teach.

It is easy to understand this entrenched conservatism. There is a perception of mistrust about the work of teaching and government policy reinforces this view. Policies which seek to mandate what is taught and how it is taught distract the profession from professional competency and capability.

I believe the wider community see teaching as a “soft” option profession and often resist change in teacher practice as some experimentation which has to be resisted at all costs.  Why?  Because it is not what school was “like for me”.

This may be a generalisation but there are some real truths here. How do we turn this around? How do we encourage innovative practice and build community trust in the profession and amongst policy makers?

Last week I came across an article in the Washington Post from Pasi Sahlberg author of “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” Although the book was published in 2011, Sahlberg’s comments make great sense to me.

Sahlberg argues that an education reform agenda cannot be solved with short term policy quick fixes. He quotes the global fascination with Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Finland as models which will provide the “silver bullet” to improve teacher learning and teaching. What these countries take out of the Finnish and other approaches however is a narrow view.  Namely that improving schools means better teachers. Therefore we need to attract the “best of the brightest”. In doing so, Sahlberg insists that this misses the point.

He notes three particular fallacies in this understanding:

  1. We continue to assume that teachers work independently from each other but in reality teaching is a team effort in the end results are most often team efforts.
  2. The focus on improving the quality of education is the teacher ignores the research that says while there are often characteristics in improving quality, the most important is effective school leadership and it matters as much as teacher quality.
  3. You can improve schooling by getting rid of poor performing teachers and employing only great ones. This is problematic for two reasons; firstly clarity around “great teaching” and secondly, it takes 5 – 10 years of systematic practice to “effective” in any reliable way.

This leads Sahlberg to the view that “we must reconsider how we think about teaching as a profession and what is the role of the school in our society.” He offers three insights which I urge you to explore in more detail:

  1. Focus more on teacher education, less on teaching and learning in schools
  2. The toxic use of accountability is in many ways inaccurate and unfair
  3. Teachers should have more autonomy in planning their work, freedom to run their lessons the way that leads to the best results and the authority to influence the assessment of outcome of their work. Schools must be trusted in these by areas of their profession.

In citing Sahlberg’s work here I’m not trying to simplify a complex issue. However, his observation about teacher autonomy is critical to easing the conservatism I mentioned at the start. We need teachers as collaborators who share practice, try new things, are open to evaluating their effectiveness and are committed to continually improving their practice.

Just as importantly, we need school leaders who build a culture of trust, respect and participation in the life of the whole school and are learners as much as leaders. As innovation leads to improvement, share it and shout about it – that way society will come to expect educational innovation as the norm.

Where to from here?

As another year comes to a close it reminds me of the mechanical process of schooling. Our schools are placed in “mothballs” for six weeks and then the system fires up again in late January.  I wonder if the school year could be significantly different from the last?

It’s heartening to hear AITSL Chair, Professor John Hattie say recently that we are already having an incredible impact on student learning; the best is in Australia all around us.

We have never had better trained teachers, funding, buildings and access to technologies.  The majority of parents have high degrees of trust in their local school to deliver quality outcomes.  However, the challenge for the profession is  ‘where to next?’

As I’ve said throughout 2014, it’s a question that can only really be answered by those doing the work.  When I talk to beginning and experienced teachers, I see people who have great passion; who are not resistant to change (provided they have the structures and support).

Supporting and engaging our teachers more deeply in evaluating and improving their practice is the path that will lead us to the next stage.  It doesn’t happen by accident.  It’s a daily commitment to improving the learning outcomes of each child and an ongoing investment in the professional learning of every teacher. While the work isn’t always easy, the results are always worth the effort.

Since the best is here all around us, let’s share it, learn from it and answer the ‘where to next’ by raising the standards and status of the entire profession.

As always, thanks for reading and contributing to the blog – your comments shape my professional thinking.   A safe and Merry Christmas.



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