Posts tagged ‘Instructional Core’

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.

What I know

I consider myself an informed system leader who understands the complex issues of providing relevant schooling in today’s world for all students.  Over the past few years I have used this blog as a way of expressing my views about learning and teaching and some ideas around a way forward.

A few days ago an idea popped into my head uninvited, which has really intrigued me. I was thinking of my next blog post when I thought “why do I think the way I do about schooling and when did I learn the things I know about 21st century schooling?”  I naturally assumed that I had always known these things but I realised that wasn’t the case.  Everything I know is being updated, challenged, enriched and stretched on a daily basis.  Your expertise changes every day as the connections strengthen.

On Friday evening, I saw the most remarkable and uplifting performance at the Seymour Centre in Sydney by over 30 young secondary students from our Captivate program.

It was an improvised dance performance work-shopped over three years in partnership with the talented Shaun Parker and his team of collaborators who brought to life the very best of what we can expect from young people when they are taught well.

How often are we brought back to earth by such experiences!  We can easily assume that we know everything there is about schooling and just when we think we do, our teachers and students challenge our thinking (again).

The performance on Friday night was Richard Elmore’s instructional core in action – the relationship between student and teacher in the presence of content. It was a powerful learning experience for the student, teacher and the audience. As Elmore says ‘if you can’t see it in the core, it’s not there.’  It’s what I saw and what I know.

America: the education nation

The USA may be the home of the brave and the land of the free but its education system seems to be at crisis point.  Last week,  Rockefeller Centre was turned into a ‘Learning Plaza’ to draw attention to the challenges facing American (if not) all schools. 

‘Education Nation’ is a community response (parents, teachers, students, corporations) to growing concern that America’s schools are in decline and in need of dramatic change.  It’s certainly getting enough media attention (NBC happens to be a major sponsor) but will it be sustainable?

Even in NY where chancellor Joel Klein introduced his school reform agenda three years ago, criticism is deep and broad.

It appears that many people are not looking to governments to solve the problem – they’re caught up in the ‘naming and shaming’ improvement strategy.  As Michael Fullan says ‘the drive to make progress in our schools can’t be a fad – accountability relies on incentives more than on punishment.’

This isn’t surprising when you see the Tea Party agenda but what surprises me is the lack of discussion about the nature of learning and teaching and how to support teacher learning. The focus of the debate, if you can call it that, is always on those things that are extrinsic to the instructional core and therefore ‘fads’.

If anything, summits like ‘Education Nation’ provide valuable opportunities and outlets for broad discussion on the future of schooling. The danger is that emergent policies/solutions tend to be rooted in what has been, not on what schools can become to nurture America’s most valuable natural resource – its youth.

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.

Seven Principles

P1010074_edited-1On a glass panel in my office I have written the seven principles of the instructional core from Elmore et al’s Instructional Rounds in Education. I have done this to keep right at the forefront of my thinking on a daily basis, what I believe to be the best articulation of a foundation for 21st century pedagogy.

The seven are: (the italics are mine )

  1. increases in student learning occur only as a consequence of improvements in the level of content, teachers’ knowledge and skill and student engagement
  2. if you change any single element of the instructional core, you have to change the other two
  3. if you can’t see it in the core, it’s not there
  4. task predicts performance
  5. the real accountability system is in the tasks students are asked to
  6. we learn to do the work by doing the work, not telling other people to do the work, not by having done the work at some time in the past, and not by hiring experts who can act as proxies for our knowledge about how to do the work
  7. description before analysis, analysis before prediction, prediction before evaluation

Novelty aside, the principles have become a talking point for curious colleagues and visitors. It’s interesting to listen to the conversation outside my door as teachers and non-teachers discuss which of the seven resonate. This is an important point because we need time to discuss and reflect on the importance of these principles.

Quite clearly they place the work of the teacher squarely in the centre of improving learning for all kids. They also make the point that the tasks teachers set for students is more important than the process of assessment.

These principles challenge some long held beliefs that the student is usually at fault if no improvement takes place and that by nature of their training and in-service course attendance, teachers are always equipped to provide outstanding learning experiences for all students.

The best surgeons are the ones who are in theatre everyday dealing with new and complex challenges as they occur and discussing them with the team. Tiger Woods knows all the theory of the perfect golf swing, but after every tournament he goes straight back out the next day to practice. The work of golfing is golfing. In the same way the work of teaching has to be more teaching.

Numbers 3 and 6 are the two that hit the mark for me and are the ones I’m talking to educators about. Which ones resonate with you?