Posts tagged ‘Andy Hargreaves’

The task of teaching

The task of teaching is multi-faceted, complex and never neatly contained.  It continues long after the bells ring and the lessons finish. Most teachers work long into the night marking assessments, providing feedback and planning lessons. However, as we shift towards more evidence-based approaches, the goal is to become more effective to ensure we deliver value because working harder may not be working smarter.

The task of teaching cannot be reduced to simply producing effective and engaging lessons; it requires teachers to evaluate the impact of those lessons on each learner. To be able to use ask questions and use feedback wisely to move all learners forward wherever they are on the learning continuum.  If not, then how else do we track student or teacher progress?  We cannot take learning on face value.

It is astounding that many continue to view the use of feedback and data as a burden for teachers or worse, as an unnecessary task of teaching. The use of feedback, questioning and data is not a diversion from the work of teaching – it is integral to it. Second, there will always be those who are afraid of change and this strengthens the argument that we need to continually invest in the capacity and learning of teachers.  The goal is to ensure all teachers are able to evaluate where students are, give constructive feedback and provide the necessary support and structures to improve learning outcomes.

There are and will always be a minority of voices that are anti-intellectual as observed recently in a journal decrying the use of data.  All other professions seize the idea of obtaining data and feedback as critical to improving the work they do so why is it that some wish to see teaching locked into industrial thinking and processes?

Andy Hargreaves in his book Teaching in the Knowledge Society commented that ‘teaching is not a place for shrinking violets, for the overly sensitive….it’s a place for grown-ups, requiring grown up norms of how to work together.’

Grown up norms of how we work together as professionals includes grown up discussions of how we improve and extend the practice of teaching in today’s world.


A global village

I’ve just returned from the UK where I had been invited to participate in the CSCLeaders conference.  CSC is an annual global conference that brings together about 100 leaders from across the Commonwealth.  The conference is run in partnership between Common Purpose and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conference which began in 1956.

Aside from being a great privilege to participate, the conference was very much PBL for leaders. Here were 100 culturally diverse leaders from all sectors including government, military, police, education, banking and finance, not for profits, religious groups, activists and the arts coming together to tackle a global challenge. This year, the challenge set for participants was how do you get disparate communities spread across the world to become bridge makers in the global networks of the future?

The conference spanned eight days and was structured in three parts.  The first three days we had input from prominent speakers on the political, social, economic, cultural and environmental challenges of the 21st century.  This was followed by discussion within our groups.  The next three days included site visits to one of five cities in the UK which contextualised the challenge by giving us an opportunity to see how local communities were tackling the challenge of becoming ‘bridge-makers’.  Groups were able to then meet with local community, educational, business and faith leaders.  I was fortunate to have spent my study tour in the London borough of Tower Hamlets because Hargreaves and Shirley include it in their book The Fourth Way as a turned-around district for its schools.

Tower Hamlets is one of the most culturally diverse boroughs of London and a stone’s throw away from the financial and media district of Canary Wharf.  There is a huge population of Bangladeshi migrants – the largest community in the UK.  It also has the highest rate of child poverty in London but as Hargreaves and Shirley state the schools in TH were able to dramatically turn around in a decade from one of the worst performing to performing above the national average.  The reason for this dramatic turnaround was the community coming together to create and build new capacity.

According to Hargreaves and Shirley, the schools improved because services were integrated, school leaders were visionary; they were able to attract high performing teachers who stayed and positive partnerships have been developed between schools, business, community and religious organisations. The Tower Hamlets schools became responsible for each other by setting their own ambitious targets for students.  One of the directors quoted in the Fourth Way said “poverty is not an excuse for poor outcomes.”

I spoke to the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman and the head teacher at Swanlea School, Brenda Landers. Swanlea has 1000 students enrolled and was judged by OFSTED to be ‘outstanding in all areas’.  Brenda attributes the school’s success to a sharp focus on the data and an investment in building the capacity of teachers.

The final three days were spent in Oxford where groups shared their reflections of the study tours.  We synthesized ideas and data then tried to identify innovative practices that the Commonwealth nations might adopt to build leadership capacity at local and global level.  We also reflected on how we could collectively try and tackle some of these 21st century challenges.

A major element of the conference was networking opportunities which included lunch and dinner engagements with HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH Princess Royal and business leaders.  These networks aside from creating the opportunity to bring more people into an ever expanding network of critical thinkers, problem-solvers and exceptional leaders will hopefully sustain the work in years to come.  The next part of the conference takes us to Mumbai or Johannesburg in June where we get to explore the challenge in the context of a vastly different city.

In reflecting on this experience, two important things struck me that were neither obvious or explicitly stated.  The first is that CSCLeaders brings together culturally diverse people who share a common purpose of leading  organisations into the 21st century.  Despite the diversity, there are common threads uniting us all. These threads include a passion for the work we do, a drive to seek new ways and solutions to challenges and the recognition that in this century you cannot do this alone, interdependence demands collaboration at every level.

The second is that depending on which nation of the Commonwealth you were born in, your perception of the world is vastly different.  Members from developing nations are looking for the recognition that they have something valuable to contribute. They do not seek “a leg up” but want to be active citizens in building better societies.

The above made me think about how we go about the work we are doing with our school communities here in Parramatta and raised so many questions for me. Have we have tapped into the rich diversity of our school communities and started from where they are rather then where they should be?  Are we stifling innovation or failing to nurture it? What are the new models we need to explore to build leaders capacities and so on.

This conference taught me many things but key was the value of multiple data sets and the evidence it draws as well as the critical need to interrogate the data from several different points of view. Listening to other leaders and hearing what the data and evidence says to them was a real eye-opener and often altered my own understanding.

For me the most important message I can share is that no matter your experience or expertise base, there is always something to learn.  Living in a global village demands that I need to be a life-long learner as well.

NAPLAN: friend, foe or on the fence?

Late last year, the University of Western Sydney’s Whitlam Institute commissioned  a national survey of over 8,000 educators on the impact of the annual National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).

There were very few surprises in the results which found that many teachers believed NAPLAN had negatively affected their practice and narrowed the curriculum:

  • More than 70 per cent of respondents agreed that NAPLAN means they ‘teach more to the test’ and spend more class time on areas they knew would be tested
  • Just over two thirds believed the focus on NAPLAN had led to timetable reduction for other subjects outside of literacy and numeracy in their schools
  • 64 per cent agreed that there had been a reduction of ‘face to face’ time with students
  • 55 per cent thought NAPLAN had narrowed their range of teaching strategies.
While these aren't officially endorsed publications of the NAPLAN program, and produced independently of Australian governments, they prove that these are high-stakes tests.

Parents can buy off-the-shelf practice tests. Is this sending the right message?

We should be shocked and dismayed to learn that over half of our primary schools are preparing their students with weekly practice tests five months in advance of NAPLAN. It’s not the test that counts but the teaching that is critical here and good teachers know this.

The most depressing thing for me about the survey was the fact that less than 50 per cent of teachers spent any time looking through the data at their school to drive improvement.

It defies logic that we have introduced a national assessment measure designed to diagnose students on basic skills to drive improvement, when over half of our schools aren’t actually using the data.

The obvious question is why are we spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on preparing kids for NAPLAN when many of our teachers and schools don’t actually use the data to inform their practice?

At our 2012 Ann D Clark lecture, Professor Andy Hargreaves warned educators to ‘beware the tool’:

‘Beware when you bring in a tool, even if you think you are using the tool optimistically, because, at some point in the future, people will take the tool and use it for a completely different purpose that you never imagined it would be used for.’

This is true of NAPLAN. We have to put the tool (the data) in its rightful place. We have stigmatised NAPLAN and turned it into something it is not. NAPLAN is given far too much emphasis on judging school performance rather than on helping to inform the bigger, richer picture of how our students are tracking. And, most importantly, how we are helping them to improve.

I want to make this point which seems to get lost in the discussion of declining performance, withholding some students from sitting the tests to boost school scores, and so on: These tests, particularly in our NSW experience are to test basic skills. They are located within the curriculum and are designed to determine what a student should be able to achieve in literacy and numeracy at a particular age level. We are not asking kids to sit an astrophysics test for MIT here. This is to check to see if they have attained the skills they should have attained through the teaching of the curriculum. Again, it’s not the test – it’s the teaching that’s important here.

The general agreement by State and Federal Education Ministers last year to move NAPLAN testing online in 2016 will hopefully improve the usefulness of the data to inform learning and teaching. ‘Just-in-time’ data can provide teachers and leaders with the means to better diagnose students’ learning needs and areas for improvement so they can be more responsive in the areas of literacy and numeracy.

But we are beginning from a narrow starting point. We need to find new tools to assess our students across a broader range of areas including the development of key 21st century skillsets like critical thinking and collaboration skills. I will be very interested to hear what new ACARA head Rob Randall presents this month around this very idea.

The point I want to make here is that regardless of how good the data is, if we aren’t using it it’s no good.

Data, in and of itself, like technology or any other tool in a teacher’s kit won’t make the difference – it’s neutral. If we want to get serious about school improvement, we need to actually use the data to inform our work and change our practice.

Hopefully, UWS’s survey will help influence the necessary changes so our schools can use NAPLAN data to this effect.

Building Professional Capital

Recently, YouTube in partnership with the Khan Academy put the call out for educational content creators to train and mentor a growing online learning audience. In many parts of America, mandated participation in online courses as part of students’ K-12 schooling is on the rise. Massive online open courses (MOOCs) are emerging in the higher education sector, challenging traditional approaches to tertiary education, which is evidenced by declining enrolments in some tertiary courses. Senator Stephen Conroy last week challenged Australian universities to rethink their business models to incorporate MOOCs or risk becoming irrelevant. This raises alarm bells for me about the quality of instruction and students’ engagement in learning.

If we agree that teachers make the biggest difference to student learning outcomes, we need to ensure online learning models are not harnessed in such a way as to reduce education to a self-serve product.

While the proliferation of online educational content certainly provides an opportunity to influence the delivery and engagement of contemporary learning and teaching, we cannot lose sight of the important role that teachers play in engaging students in deep learning. We know the relationship between the teacher and the student in the presence of content (Elmore, 2009) – the instructional core – is paramount to the learning and teaching process. If technology supplants teachers and students become learners in isolation, this is not only detrimental to the development of critical thinking skills, but also for their capacity for deeper learning and understanding.

Andy Hargreaves and myself at the 2012 ADC lecture.

The focus for education, then, needs to be in building teachers’ capabilities: individually and collectively. We were privileged to have Andy Hargreaves deliver Catholic Education’s annual Ann D Clark lecture recently to over 300 educators. He warned of the increasing prevalence of the ‘business capital’ approach to education i.e. short-term investment (e.g. online delivery models) for quick return, saying the education sector had become a lucrative market for investors.

‘When we begin to move the whole profession of education to serve the short-term interests of business capital, it comes at an immense price and carries dangerous assumptions about the nature of the teacher and whether or not this is even a profession,’ (Hargreaves, 2012)

In their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) identify three components of ‘professional capital’ – human, social and decisional – which he says, when developed in concert, will build the teaching profession.

  • ‘Human capital’ refers to highly qualified teachers having the content knowledge and an understanding of child psychology, individual pre-service training and preparation, emotional intelligence and capability in relationships
  • ‘Social capital’ refers to trust, collaboration, collective responsibility, peer pressure and support, mutual assistance and networks
  • ‘Decisional capital’ (a term coined by Fullan and Hargreaves) refers to the teacher’s judgement, in case experience and lots of practice, in a teacher’s ability to reflect alone and together on their practice and to adjust their practice to improve students’ learning accordingly.

Building professional capital needs to take place throughout a teacher’s career in various ways at various stages because Hargreaves suggests it takes around eight years or 10,000 hours to develop expertise in the profession of teaching through practice and concerted effort.

Hargreaves says quality teachers need to:

  • understand that teaching is technically difficult
  • know cognitive science
  • understand a range of special education abilities
  • know about differentiated instruction
  • be able to assess in a sophisticated, diagnostic way
  • have massive emotional intelligence
  • have high levels of education and long periods of rigorous training
  • be able to use judgement, wisdom and discernment to know what’s in the spreadsheet of data to connect it to the students and to the knowledge they’re trying to acquire.

Teaching is not an individual task, but is something that is done collectively with other people as a community that takes time, investment, conditions and support. These human capabilities and the collaborative aspect of teaching (social capital) cannot be substituted with an online learning system alone.

I was pleased to read Khan Academy founder, Salman Khan, tackle the concern that the Khan Academy was a way to replace teachers:

‘Human teachers will become far more valuable in the future because [the classroom] will be a more interactive place and they are going to be doing the things computers cannot do, which is form bonds, motivate, mentor, diagnose,’ (Salman Khan, 2012).

I couldn’t agree more. There is, and always will be, a role for teachers.

Teachers at the centre

Is student-centred learning a given when we are talking about schooling in today’s world?  Our system’s theory of action has the student at the centre but in recent times, I have begun to rethink whether the teacher should be at the centre.  Without good teachers and leaders at the centre, can you improve the learning outcomes of every student?

A few weeks back I caught a TED talk by Geoff Mulgan about a new model of school called the ‘Studio School’, which aims to reach disengaged teenagers who didn’t see any relationship between what they learnt at school and future jobs. The key features of ‘Studio Schools’ include smaller class size, curriculum centred on real life practical experiences, coaches in addition to teachers and timetables much more like a work environment in a business. The underlying principle of this model of schooling is based on the idea that a large portion of teenagers learn best by working in teams and by undertaking real-world activities. The result was that student performance improved significantly.

The Studio School is one example of the innovations taking place in education today, centred of course around the learner.  But good teaching is the other ingredient in this and I wonder whether we are over-compensating for the deficiencies of an industrial model by not focusing enough on the quality of teaching and the role of the teacher.

We have tangible examples where investment in learning at every stage of a teacher’s careers is having an impact on the quality of learning.  Linda Darling-Hammond states that in Singapore, teacher education is a serious investment throughout a career. Darling-Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education ‘to get the best teachers, students from the top one- third of each graduating high school class are recruited into a fully paid 4-year undergraduate teacher education program, and immediately put on the ministry’s payroll. When they enter teaching, they earn as much as or more than beginning engineers, accountants, lawyers and doctors who are in civil service…during the course of their preparation, there is a focus on learning to use problem-based and inquiry learning, on developing collaboration, and on addressing a range of learning styles in the classroom.’

Countries that have invested in improving teacher quality have seen the largest gains in student achievement according to a recent article by William J. Bushaw and Shane J. Lopez in the Phi Delta Kappan Journal. Their finding was based on the conclusion reached by educators who participated in the International Summit on the Teaching profession hosted by the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and data from the latest PDK/Gallop poll which surveyed over 1,000 people about their views on public education.

Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley in The Fourth Way: The Inspirational Future for Educational Change also concur that high quality learning is dependent on highly qualified teachers and teaching. Finland controls teacher quality at the point of entry. They get high-quality teachers and know how to keep them by giving teachers’ professional status, support and considerable autonomy.

The New York Times featured Relay Graduate School of Education which has no campus, no lectures and graduate students mentored primarily at the schools they teach. The president of Relay, Norman Atkins, claims that vastly improving teacher education is critical in fixing the failure of America’s public education.

We know that good teachers always put their students at the centre and good teaching is what makes the difference.  Perhaps our theory of action requires a rethink or a tweek so that this relationship is clear.  This understanding puts to rest the proposition that you don’t need teachers in an online connected world.

Schools desperately need good teachers now more than ever. Invest in teachers and you’ll see dramatic improvements in student achievement.

The vocation of living

There have been some wonderful highlights for me from the recent World Youth Day in Madrid.  Many of the themes extend beyond religious and cultural divides. I thought the address by Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson last week to 3000 young Australians contained some powerful messages for educators.

The Archbishop spoke eloquently about the symbolism of icons and their historical significance over many centuries. He told the gathering that just as icons were a work in progress, so are we.

If each of us are indeed works in progress, then our learning must be life-long.

Dewey in his Pedagogic Creed argues that learning is a process that happens unconsciously almost at birth and continually shapes the individual’s powers, forming his habits, training his ideas and arousing feelings and emotions.

Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley write in The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change that lifelong learning is not merely learning beyond school, throughout life, but also learning about life and for life.

This notion of lifelong learning has been further cemented by scientific discovery of the adaptability of our brain and how that enables us to continue learning well into old age called ‘neuroplasticity’. We have an amazing capacity to learn and re-learn whenever we allow ourselves to engage in new experiences – the saying ‘use or lose it’ has never been truer.

The opportunities to learn and relearn have never been more pronounced than in today’s world.  Our ability to access information on a range of devices means will live according to Will Richardson ‘at a moment of ubiquitous learning.’

He says kids and adults of all ages, can learn ‘what we want, when we want to, if we have the desire and connection.  More and more of us are finding both.’   A perfect example is Stanford University which had over 58,000 people sign up for an online Artificial Intelligence course.

John Dewey  gives new meaning to the expression vocational education when he says “the dominant vocation of all human beings at all times is living – intellectual and moral growth…..the discovery of capacity and aptitude will be a constant process as long as growth continues.”

As educators, we must recognise that we too are learners on the continuum; students of the vocation of living.

Succession management

Dr Dean Fink was in Sydney last week as part of the Leading Educators Around the Planet (LEAP) program.  Fink co-authored ‘Sustainable Leadership‘ with Andy Hargreaves in 2005 and last year published ‘The Succession Challenge’.

Leadership succession is a challenge faced by schools as well as business.  Fink believes succession planning is too short-term. Rather, he talks about succession management, which is committed to developing teachers over a long period.  For Fink, successful succession management involves strategies such as :

  1. Building strong communities of professional practice
  2. Establishing leadership development schools
  3. Supporting and sponsoring aspiring leaders
  4. Moderating and monitoring leadership succession frequency

There are a number of issues we need to address in moving from planning to management.  The first is how we develop aspiring leaders and the other is dealing with underperforming leaders.  Without good leaders leading, you cannot deepen the pool of competent teachers.

In the film Waiting for Superman,  the approach to dealing with under performing leaders is referred to as the Dance of the Lemons.  The consequences of poor leadership on students and school communities cannot be under-played or over-stated.

I believe part of the problem is redefining the role of a school leader.  What message is being conveyed if more time is spent on running schools rather than leading schools?  Perhaps all schools need to employ business managers to run schools and allow leaders to focus on building teacher capabilities and thus, deepening the pool of aspiring leaders. 

We know good teaching makes a difference to student learning and good leadership make a difference to teacher learning. Fink believes we need to look at how we rethink notions of leadership in the 21st century to prepare and sustain newer generations of teachers to assume ‘the mantle of educational leadership’.

A good look at Doug Reeves work on leading learning adds greatly to our thinking and understanding.