Posts tagged ‘Collaboration’

What makes a good teacher?

Recently, Australian Catholic University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Greg Craven, spoke at the National Press Club on the issue of teacher quality, arguing that the ATAR (tertiary admission rank) is a deficient indicator for selection of candidates into teacher training degrees.

His comments were made in response to the NSW Department of Education’s Great Teaching, Inspired Learning public discussion paper which cited that in NSW in 2012, ‘more than 20% of entrants to undergraduate initial teacher education courses had ATAR scores below 60 and education was the least popular course for students with ATAR scores of 90 or above’.  Prof Craven made the point that the ATAR lacked the sophistication to measure the ‘human qualities’ required for teaching.

A good teacher is a contributor.

Everybody’s got an opinion of good teachers. In most of the current literature, there are descriptions of the qualities and characteristics that make a good teacher.

When I think about what makes a good teacher, the following comes to mind.

A good teacher is:

Curious – they want to know more about their craft and know more about the students they work with. They are open to new ideas, new ways of thinking and they take responsibility for their own personal and professional growth and development.

A contributor – they give of themselves and their expertise and, in most cases, without any thought of what they receive in return.

By nature collaborative – they don’t work in isolation and are open to feedback from students and colleagues. They know that by sharing data, practice and experiences with others they will build their own capacity and the capacity of their colleagues.

Daring – they are willing to do things differently, to step outside their comfort zone. They are willing to ask the big questions without knowing the answers. They’re not afraid to fail because they know that’s often when learning occurs.

An expert – they understand that you’re not at the top of your game until you’ve got years and years of good theory and practice under your belt. Throughout their career, they hone their craft because they want to get better. In turn, they become the coaches and mentors for the next generation of teacher to build their profession.

These are a few of my thoughts; I’d be interested to hear some of yours. Let’s see if we can build up a more comprehensive picture of what makes a good teacher.

The exchange of ideas

I had the privilege of opening the Building Learning Communities conference (#BLC12) in Boston last week with Alan November from November Learning – an international leader in education technology. BLC started with a group of 20 friends and has grown into an international exchange of ideas with over 90 workshops presented throughout the three days. Despite its enormous growth, BLC aims to maintain its early roots by bringing together thought leaders and educators to share ideas and create partnerships to help expand the boundaries of learning and teaching.

There was a great energy in the room on our first day with over 1,000 educators and teachers gathered from 20 countries. The opening session was designed to change the game plan and rethink our first engagement with students. Alan launched November Learning’s 1st5Days project, with the aim of creating a global, online professional learning community focused on changing students’ experience in the first five days of school. Using the power of crowdsourcing, Alan hopes to start an international conversation about how teachers and leaders can transform the start of each school year for learners, to focus and engage students in learning from the very first moments.

As I commented in the opening sessions, often the first five days of school, even the start of each school term, can be taken up with organisation, administration and management instead of learning. I shared the example of a New Zealand colleague who used local fire fighters to inspire his students on the first day of school. One of our own principals, Attila Lendvai from St Canice’s Primary in Katoomba, does a similar thing by creating a ‘wow’ moment for students and staff to engage them in a new learning focus from the first day of each term.

I think the first five days project will provide a great source of inspiration for teachers and leaders and has the potential to really challenge and transform the way we traditionally approach the start of the year; certainly an exchange of ideas worth participating in via Twitter #1st5Days or to register visit

My Catholic Education colleagues, Anna Dickinson, Gary Brown and Paul Meldrum and I led two workshops at BLC2012 on the theme, Learning by Inquiring, which focused on three key elements for schooling: Imagination, Creativity and Innovation.

It seems obvious for learning to always start with a process of inquiry. Too often perhaps, this is not the case and our traditional approach to learning and teacher learning has been focused more on recitation of facts or information gathering rather than inquiry.

Fortunately, as educators we know a whole lot more today about how people learn. Through the work of Bransford et al we now understand that powerful learning requires knowledge of the learner’s context; building connections between concepts; and the opportunity to engage in metacognition or reflecting on what and how we learn. This process enables deep learning and allows the learner to apply what they have learned to a range of contexts – essential in today’s world.

What does this have to do with imagination, creativity and innovation?

Learning theory - imagination creativity and innovationIf we consider the learning theory in the context of making schooling more relevant and effective for today’s learners we can identify a process for our own work as teachers and leaders – ‘the HOW’ – through the lens of Imagination, Creativity and Innovation.


Imagination – is about looking at the current model of schooling; identifying what is relevant and what is no longer relevant to today’s learner/world; and imagining new approaches = RELEVANCE

Creativity – is about exploration and discovery; playing in the sandpit; the testing and trialing of different approaches using a range of tools = ENGAGEMENT

Innovation – is about monitoring and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t; sharing innovative practice; allowing innovation to take hold and taking it to scale = APPLICATION

This can’t be achieved in an adhoc way. We need a clear intent, a well defined theory of action based on sound educational research and practice, and a framework for building capacity within schools supported by leadership. In our own diocese, this has been an iterative process for our schools based on their individual needs and within their local contexts.

‘The HOW’ is about creating the space to consider new possibilities, to tinker with those possibilities and to learn from what fails and to measure and share what works. The beauty of today’s tools means sharing innovation isn’t limited to just across the classroom or the staffroom, but across the globe.

Through collaboration and the exchange of ideas with other teachers and school communities we are able to benefit from the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and share our own wisdom to benefit our students’ learning. The old adage says ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ In the 21st Century it takes a global, connected, learning community.

In the closing session with Alan November, I presented the proposition to educators for the need to ‘start yesterday’. In responding to the challenges of schooling in today’s world there is a need for urgency. It’s not simply a question of tweaking what we already have but looking at new models and new approaches. The only way to achieve this is through a process of learning by inquiring i.e. imagination, creativity, innovation. It is key for sustained change, engagement and improvement in learning and teaching.

Collaboration by accident

The release of the Gonski panel’s report into school funding last week highlighted the need to focus our resources and energies where its most needed: quality teaching and teachers.

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting schools in remote NSW and speaking to teachers about the challenges that this kind of remoteness brings.  It was a sobering experience but one that highlighted the point panel chairman David Gonski made last week – resources alone don’t make good schools.

A distinguishing feature of any school whether in the bush or city is not the number of computers or the size of the learning space but committed and passionate teachers working to meet the needs of their learners.

We know that teachers get better at what they do when they have opportunities to collaborate together.  Our approach at a local level to building agile learning spaces has resulted in teachers working, planning and learning together in these shared spaces but what happens when teacher collaboration happens by accident?

As I’ve often said the space supports but can never substitute for effective teaching.  Teachers can still be effective in individual classrooms but collaboration provides an empowering and supportive context in which teaches can engage in the kind of teaching and teacher learning that is effective in improving student learning.

In an interview last November, Linda Darling Hammond said that when teachers have partners to help solve problems and improve practice, they become more efficacious and therefore more satisfied with your career.  That was certainly evident in Cherie and Gayle’s classroom.

Cisco Education Leaders Forum

I had a wonderful experience this morning at 3am with around five thousand educators from across the globe during Cisco’s Virtual Forum for Education Leaders.  (To watch speaker sessions, you’ll need to register.  Videos will be available for six months).

It is amazing how quickly technology is developing to allow ‘just in time’ collaboration and communication.  As one of the contributers to the session on how we can improve education together, I was streamed live to the audience who could not only see me, but a panel of speakers as well as the slides that accompanied my presentation.

While all this was taking place, partcipants could also engage in a discussion with presenters via the virtual chat room.  I was able to participate in a global conversation on 21st century learning and teaching with presenters in India, Africa, UK and the US.

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco began by saying that education and the internet are the two great equalisers for bridging the gap.  He predicts that over the next decade, we won’t know what is technology and what is the education process.   Central to making schooling relevant will be collaboration and technology.

As I wrote in my previous post, these sorts of technologies are challenging us to re-think how we work.  I believe that teachers can address the challenges of making schooling relevant by building communities of expertise. Out of this collaboration (whether local or global) will come new definitions, understandings and transformations.

Just a teacher

Another school year has ended with some great results in the Higher School Certificate.  Well done to the teachers who have laid the foundations on which our departing Year 12 students will build upon next year.

Behind every successful student is a great teacher supported by a collaborative team of other professionals and instructional leaders.  This is is a simple formula that is difficult to implement, not because it is intellectually complex, theoretically unproven or sound educational practice.

It is difficult to implement because it is a challenge to the prevailing culture of schooling where the schooling process is focused on the transference of knowledge by a single teacher to a defined group of students in defined classes at specific times of the day.

We know the good theory and practice, we are not strong on changing culture!

Abby’s Flying Fairy School

Has anyone watched Sesame Street lately? It’s been a while since I’ve watched it despite being one of the longest running and probably most loved children’s TV programs in the world.  The success of Sesame Street is in its ability to make learning fun for young children.

Recently, I tuned into a segment at the end of Sesame Street called Abby’s Flying Fairy School.  The School is a wonderful example of 21st century learning and teaching in action: collaboration, diversity, project-based learning, teacher as facilitator, peer mentoring, self-directed learning etc.

Abby’s students are an eclectic bunch but it offers rich learning for its young viewers and for educators.  In the episode I saw, one of the students turned himself into a wooden puppet.  Rather than solving the problem, the teacher, Mrs Sparklenose encourages the students to find their own creative solutions.

Mrs Sparklenose is an example of the teacher as facilitator – providing direction and encouragement to assist students to develop their skills, build knowledge and seek the answers.

In most episodes, students are active in their learning, working together to find solutions to non-trivial problems.  To apply Richard Elmore’s sixth principle of the instructional core – they ‘do the work by doing the work’ not by getting an expert like the fairy godmother to help Cinderella to the ball but by finding out how to do it themselves.

The ‘Cinderella Challenge’ represents project-based learning – it attempts to build the knowledge and skills the fairies will need in their daily lives.  The Challenge also encourages peer mentoring as Abby, the self-confident fairy offers shy Gonnigan encourage and support to over come his nerves and participate fully in the group activity.  Each member of the group benefits from the contribution of ideas and experiences.

And of course, technology is integrated into the learning with the fairy’s own search engine called ‘Spot’.  Spot fetches clues to the students’ queries but like Google you don’t always get an exact answer.  What the students get are the clues to be able to process information using logic and reasoning.

We can all learn something about 21st century schooling from Abby’s Flying Fairy School – must-watch TV for educators.

Teacher shortage

Interesting study reported in the Daily Telegraph from  the University of Western Sydney and University of Technology, Sydney on a looming shortage of teachers.

We’ve known for a long time that our baby boomer teachers will retire in the next decade and this is one of the big challenge for all education systems.

The report warns that Australia will need migrant teachers to fill vacancies in specialist areas like maths, science and technology as young teachers head overseas to the UK and Asia because of higher pay and lower tax rates.

The solution should not hinge on teacher salary.  Teaching has its own intrinsic rewards and our brightest young teachers and those considering a career change will be attracted to a profession that is well paid but more importantly, one that is esteemed.

Teachers want to be acknowledged for their work – recognised as  professionals.  This is strengthened when they are challenged, when distractions are minimised and there are ongoing opportunities to collaborate and learn.

Short term fixes won’t work even if we attract more skilled migrants to our schools.  The pressing reality is around how we reconceptualise the work of teachers in today’s world.

It is all about building teache rcapacity – we will still have to do this no matter where we get the warm bodies from! Let’s hope we don’t miss the boat on this one.