Archive for the ‘Leading Learning’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The facts about educational fads

I don’t believe quality instruction ever left the classroom. Successful teachers have always had a thorough understanding of how students learn and have adopted and adapted pedagogies informed by research, reflection and inquiry.

The essential principles of effective learning provide us with the foundations of appropriate pedagogies but they must be creatively applied in ways which maximise opportunities and respond to demands of today’s world.

However, if you read Kevin Donnelly’s latest opinion piece, traditional teaching is somehow making a comeback. Donnelly claims that the ‘tide has finally turned’ against educational fads such as open classrooms and discovery learning.

Donnelly doesn’t define traditional teaching so I’m assuming he is referring to the type of didactic teaching associated with a traditional model of schooling.

According to John Hattie, direct instruction (which isn’t traditional) is reflected in the way teachers work together ‘to plan and critique a series of lessons, sharing understanding of progression, articulating intentions and success criteria, and attending to the impact of student and teacher learning.’ (Visible Learning for Teachers)

While it’s true that the learning space is never a substitute for quality instruction, agile spaces provide opportunities for teachers to engage in the kind of planning and teacher learning that is most effective in improving student learning.  Many teachers I have spoken to have said the new spaces support collaboration and therefore the process of direct instruction.

Donnelly however cites results from a survey of noise levels in open classrooms in which 50-70% of children said they couldn’t hear their teacher very well.  What Donnelly failed to include in his piece, was that the survey was conducted in four schools only.

When you don’t understand the world in which today’s learners live, it is easy to disparage contemporary approaches to schooling.  In fact, most contemporary approaches are still largely influenced by traditional structures, curricula and mindsets.  We don’t have enough examples yet of great contemporary practice to point to – not because it doesn’t work but it doesn’t yet exist.

These so called educational fads are not designed to replace quality instruction – they are designed to support it.  Agile learning spaces support a range of learning activities. And isn’t discovery at the heart of learning anyway?

Replicating an industrial model of schooling has only led to the gap between schooling and learning growing wider in an online world.  We can’t hark back to the past if we want to change the future. We are challenged to think differently by virtue of the fact we live in age that now values critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.

The OECD recognises the importance of these skills not only for the success of economies but also for individuals participating in a knowledge age. It’s worth noting that PISA will test creativity from 2017.

We have always known that the most effective teaching is evidence-based.  It’s a pity Kevin Donnelly’s arguments still seem to be largely ideologically driven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tip of the iceberg

If you ask the general population about their perception of teaching, I am sure the response would be 9-3pm working day, lots of holidays. Teaching is a profession that is still defined by its (industrial) conditions.

The scope of teachers work remains categorised by a school week, a school term or a school year. The roots of the industrial model of schooling extend well into the 21st century. How many people including teachers themselves believe this is the totality of teachers’ work? Think about how we define teachers work today: number of students in a class, number of hours they can expect to be face-to-face, hours on playground duty etc. School days are divided into periods separated by a bell and controlled by timetables. School years are divided into four terms punctuated by breaks.

This has inevitably influenced how teachers’ work is perceived and even defined by the profession itself. However we know the work of teachers is complex and deeper than is recognised.

Christopher Bantick wrote recently that teaching has ‘become a milch cow for commentators and critics who have either never spent time in a school or whose experience of schools is outdated and ossified. Everyone has a view, but few have actual present classroom experience.” Bantick argues for increasing ATAR scores for teacher training arguing that you “can’t make a teacher out of someone who is not academically excellent.”

Teaching must attract the best of the best. In Finland for example, teaching attracts higher results than medicine or engineering. For me the issue is not simply one of academic rigour, it’s also a question of fit for purpose. You can’t become a great teacher unless you have a passion to teach. Teaching is highly relational and as Educational Leadership Professor Richard Elmore states if you can’t see the relationship between teacher, student in the presence of content in a classroom (instructional core), then it isn’t there.

Two of my colleagues from Parramatta Marist High recently returned from Finland where they participated in the Global Education Community conference. Kurt and Gavin identified three key lessons from their Finnish Education experience:

  1. There is a huge investment in developing high quality teachers. Bantick is right in that you need to start from a high base but teachers are like raw diamonds, the finer the crafting the better outcome. High quality teachers need continual polishing and re-polishing.
  2. Decision making and assessment is locally driven. This acknowledges the professionalism of teachers to make critical judgments on the ‘length, breadth and depth of the curriculum’ to meet the changing needs of students.
  3. Teacher autonomy leads to greater trust. It is a given that teachers know how to teach, know what is required and are able to focus their efforts and attention on improving student learning. Nothing more and nothing less.

IcebergI asked them to reflect on what it means locally. In their view, teacher professionalism in Australia needs to meet “the needs of the 21st century especially in terms of graduates coming from university.” Teaching needs to be seen as a profession not a job so that teachers themselves are responsible for making the best decisions for learning and teaching.

As Finland has demonstrated, minimum academic standards for teaching are just the tip of the iceberg. Only when we invert the iceberg will we begin to see not only the depth and breadth of teachers’ work in today’s world but it’s direct impact and influence on student learning.

Crowding the curriculum

Some interesting articles in the weekend papers calling for the teaching of martial arts and alcohol education in schools to address the issues of bullying and binge-drinking.

It seems that whenever there is a need to change behaviours or address attitudes we look to the curriculum.  Is this the role of a curriculum?  Is it the responsibility of schools?

If the role of schools is to promote the growth of students and their learning – to teach students them how to be critical thinkers and responsible citizens, then shouldn’t this naturally lead to a change in behaviours?

I think the calls to introduce things like for example, alcohol education, while important social issues, only muddy the waters.  As John Hattie has said debate seems to be fixated on the test-outcome-based questions rather than an intelligent debate about what is worth ‘preserving in our society, and what is worth knowing in order to live the desired ‘good life’.

In an era of information and curriculum overload, it is important for the profession to discern which knowledge is significant and timely.  Just-in-time learning (learning that is relevant to students’ lives) must be given priority over the just-in-case learning which can so easily crowd the learning.

As Michael Fullan says we must be relentless focussed on the things that actually make a difference.  This means continually reminding ourselves of what’s really important in the work of the school.  Martial arts and alcohol education may be helpful but is it essential?

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli made an excellent point in relation to alcohol education, which is parents also have an important role in educating their children.  Pauline Lysaght, Associate Director Early Start at the University of Wollongong believes that while teachers are influential in reinforcing behaviours within the school context, the responsibility for establishing a knowledge base and encouraging behaviours rests with parents.

When there are vigorous calls to continually pare down the curriculum (similar to Singapore’s approach), why do we waste valuable time proposing ways of over-loading it?

 

Above all, try something

There is a wonderful quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt in David Price’s new book ‘Open’. Speaking at a commencement address in 1932, Roosevelt said: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation.  It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.  But above all, try something.”

David Price was in Australia last week talking about his new book and the changing world of work, life and learning.  We live in a world that is increasingly transparent and open: open source, open learning, open communities. Price makes the point that we cannot control or contain knowledge so it is no longer powerful. What has become powerful are the social connections arising from the co-creation of knowledge locally and globally.

This is not explicitly about technology but how it is enabling new ways of thinking, working and learning. The focus is very much on people and how we are using the tools to connect and reshape communities in a more collaborative way.

‘Open’ fleshes out this new landscape by providing a lens from the outside in rather than the inside out as so often happens.  The book presents a sharp synthesis of what is happening in today’s world and importantly, how the education sector can learn from those who are successfully weaving the threads of social, open and informal learning into classrooms such as High Tech High in California and School of Communication Arts 2.0 in the UK.  These diverse examples illustrate how being open to new ideas, tools and importantly new ways of learning and teaching are changing the nature of schooling.

Price makes the point that ‘because education has such a deep-seated resistance to change, that what to them (e.g principals of  and ) seems logical appears radical to others.”  Price goes on to say that governments don’t do radical and so the responsibility to be different and “innovative needs to come from schools themselves, and unless innovative new approaches become more disruptive, the reality is that they will fall further behind the pace of change of ‘open’.”

We are living in uncertain times but to echo Roosevelt – schooling today demands bold, persistent experimentation so that schooling becomes truly open, relevant and meaningful well into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better learners, better citizens

Schooling will be out of business if we don’t ‘revamp’ schools.  This was Michael Fullan’s reply to my question last week of whether he thought there was a growing gap between schooling and learning.  Interestingly, Fullan doesn’t believe we need to start from scratch.  Rather, he suggests looking at ways of extending the boundaries of schooling; making them more permeable in today’s world. Technology can be a great tool to help bridge this gap.

While Fullan admits that while technology is a ‘pull’ factor for students and one of the game changers for schooling, the vast majority of digital use in schools is superficial.  What is needed is an engaging pedagogy to pull students in and equip them with 21st century skills.  This contemporary framework is built on the 6Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, citizenship and character. As Fullan says better learners, lead to better global citizens and the better the learning for students, the more focused the work of teachers.  Schooling becomes an open-ended and collaborative experience for students as well as teachers.

The next wave in education will be combining digital and student agency to deliver improved learning outcomes.  Gaining greater understanding of student learning by assessing how students like to learn, whether they feel they belong to their school community and what are their expectations. The good news is these factors are not fixed – they are able to be leveraged because student engagement and learning success is inextricably linked.

How students participate in their learning, experience it and succeed is the next chapter for many education systems. Powerful mobile connected devices will not do anything to improve student learning on their own. Schools need to design realistic learning experiences which engage and stretch students and use the devices as enablers. This involves both the teacher and the student in a complex process of learning together. This moves our understanding of learning and teaching today from a mechanistic and didactic process to an organic and transformational one.  Of course, passionate and proficient teachers working together in this way show us what teaching needs to be in a knowledge age.

 

From compliance to creativity

Earlier this week, together with our schools leaders, I spent time in a workshop led by Michael Fullan. The focus of his work was on improving student learning outcomes for all students and this involves a commitment to continuous improvement.  Fullan states that improvement and innovation is not an either/or proposition.  Schools need to be on the road to improvement while constantly anticipating the ‘where to next’.  This is what Fullan defines as innovation.

How do schools become centres of innovation and excellence in the 21st century?  I invited one of our teaching educators, Dr Miranda Jefferson to reflect on this question in a guest blog.   

It takes courage to play a whole rugby league grand final with a broken cheekbone. But it takes more courage to transform schools into centres of innovation. It takes courage because it is an act that disrupts the well-established comfort zone into which much of education has nestled.

The comfort zone in education is neatly contained by compliance, standards and Naplan tests and it has unwittingly influenced teachers to think ‘within the square’. In Teacher Professional Learning in an Age of Compliance (2009) Groundwater-Smith and Mockler argue that the rise of the audit culture in education has given equal rise to a fear of risk, uncertainty and complexity to develop authentic and progressive schooling. Compliance is in tension with the capacity to be creative and innovative in our schools.

Education must foster creativity and critical thinking in order to to meet the demands of increasing globalized markets and competitiveness, the rapid pace of change through technologies, automation and connectivity and the shift to a knowledge based economy generated by creativity and innovation.

At a psychological level, creativity is essential to human development and forms a lifelong zone of proximal development contributing to the sustained development of a creative personality (Moran and John-Steiner on L.S. Vygotsky, 2003). In other words, for learning to be truly transformational, development depends on creativity and creativity depends on development.

Is education at the school, systemic and policy level really focused on creativity and innovation? Is the learning deep and transformational? If schools were centres of innovation they would be constantly transforming, critiquing and generating new ideas through collaboration with others and communicating those ideas for maximum impact. They would be acting on and creating research based on a body of evidence rather than responding to a body of opinion.

Parker J. Palmer wrote about the inner landscape of a teacher in The Courage to Teach (1998), and said, “We teach who we are”. As I work as a teaching educator in schools, I am struck by the amount of courage it takes for systemic and school leaders and teachers to take risks and re-imagine the creative possibilities of schooling.

The irony is that learning, like creativity, is to go from the ‘known to the unknown’. Yet education seems fixed by compliance to the ‘known’. Protecting comfort zones and vested interests and meeting compliance by ‘being seen to be good’ rather than ‘doing good’ is in the long run a very unsafe place to be. By not moving to the unknown there is no progress.

If schools are centres of learning, creativity and innovation there has to be courageous school leaders and empowered teachers promoting and nurturing the Four C’s – Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration – in their own work lives and work places. If we are what we teach, then future generations depend on educators who generate and communicate ideas that defy the crowd, work in creative collaborative teams in and across schools, and challenge and critique each other to think and act locally and globally.

Innovation in education can be achieved through active involvement in research. It takes vision, respect, relationships, mentoring and pedagogies that challenge, take risks and go into the unknown to make new and deeper connections. Schools as centres of learning and creativity have to be dynamic and shifting at their very core.

If schools teach for learning, creativity and innovation, they will more than meet compliance. They will exceed it. If you choose to think outside the square, you’ll know what’s in the square, who made it and why it is the way it is.

Innovation in schools is a decision. It is a courageous decision to reach beyond the status quo and come up with something new, that when combined with research and relational wisdom, will better serve our young peoples’ social and economic futures.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,565 other followers