Posts tagged ‘Michael Fullan’

Can we raise teaching standards by imposing standards?  

In response to the above question, the answer from most politicians is yes.  In NSW for example, the politics of standards has led to the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) being renamed and given greater powers. The newly announced NSW Education Standards Authority will be charged with ‘lifting’ school compliance and teacher quality in an effort to improve students’ results. NSW Education Minister Piccoli stated that the [new] authority ‘ought to make teachers nervous around teaching standards’.

Any potential for this new entity to enact change is immediately called in to question by its very name. A ‘Standards Authority’ sounds very much like a 19th century, carrot and stick approach to school improvement. As John Hattie points out, we love talking about standards and results (usually associated with PISA and TIMMS rankings) but not about building the collaborative expertise of teachers or student performance.

Michael Fullan suggests the all too common focus on standards is a focus on the wrong drivers and it rarely leads to whole of system success. In his 2011 paper (using Australia’s reform efforts as an example),  Michael Fullan points out that accountability depends on standards and punishment. And these have been the core drivers for educational ‘improvement’ despite growing evidence that educational transformation is driven from within.

Like Hattie, Fullan strongly believes capacity building needs to be championed over accountability and standards. When teachers are strongly motivated and are continually improving their knowledge skills, student outcomes continue to improve. And the fastest route to de-motivating teachers is to undermine their professional confidence and capabilities by effectively suggesting they are on notice. The big brother approach to improving schooling only ever leads to short-term gains. A collaborative and internally driven approach to transforming schooling will help to ensure long-term success.

According to Hattie what works best is ‘recognising, valuing and enhancing the teachers and school leaders with high levels of expertise.’ But he goes on to say we risk this if ‘the politics of distraction command the limelight.’

The most effective teachers and systems aren’t the ones motivated by carrots, they are the ones motivated by continuously improving their own learning, their students’ learning and the profession as a whole.

 

 

 

Good practice shapes theory

Michael Fullan has said that good practice often shapes theory not the converse.  A theoretical understanding is necessary but theories don’t always translate into effective classroom practice. Theories don’t provide teachers with the ‘how to’ and although most teachers recognise the need to continually reflect on their practice in order to improve, there is an assumption that they know what needs to be changed.  Too many teachers don’t know what they don’t know; this was highlighted recently in Revolution School on ABC TV.

Not all teachers are created equal and this is partly because not all teacher education programs are equal. One of the criticisms especially in the US and UK is that there is a heavy focus on theory and not enough of practice. We would have a cadre of academics preparing beginning teachers for classrooms who have not been in classrooms for years if not decades.  As John Hattie aptly points out, none of our institutions have ever had to prove their impact. Ironic considering that these institutions send teachers into classrooms where they are now expected to continually evaluate their impact as teachers.

We are moving now from seeing teachers as practitioners to seeing teachers as clinicians. This is not to suggest that the relationship between teacher and student is clinical. Rather, the relationship between a teacher and their practice needs to be.  According to Hattie, clinical teaching is the ability of every teacher to “diagnose, intervene and evaluate.” It is similar to how world-class athletes improve technique and performance and why Shanghai teachers are assigned mentors throughout their teaching careers.

The simplistic assumption that a “teacher is a teacher….” with the same skill sets and capabilities flies in the face of reality. Even suggesting this will raise the ire of many and be viewed as trendy teacher bashing. The end result must be ensuring each child in each school has the best teacher.  We need to build the capacity of all teachers by focusing more on skills than theory. Expertise has to be learned through practice.

teacher collaboration

Collaborative competition

We live in societies where the culture of competition exists everywhere and it is no more evident than in education. Schooling has become big business and learning is competitive.  At an international level, we rank education systems and encourage them to ‘beat the best’.  At a local level, there is a growing demand for coaching and tutoring clinics.

Competition is not a 21st century skill.  Collaboration is.  So how long do we allow ourselves and others to define schooling as a ‘race to the top’; as a means of separating winners from losers; where measurable achievement is the most valid measure of a student’s work and their worth?

Black and Wiliam reflected that the practice of assessment had as its primary purpose competition rather than personal improvement.  This was highlighted recently by former federal Labor leader Mark Latham when he called the decision to replace exams with tasks at selective high school, Hurlstone Agricultural as ‘crazy and a soft-approach’.  This view still dominates public opinion and it plays a significant part in undermining confidence in teachers.  It also diminishes the value of collaboration in the process of learning.

The competitive nature of schooling only ever guarantees success for some not success for all.  Successful change today has to as Michael Fullan says come about through ‘collaborative competition’.  Notice that collaboration comes before competition.

Michael describes this as the ‘moral version’ of the Olympics where doing your best isn’t about surpassing others but spurring others to do their best. When teachers learn, students learn and when school communities learn, systems learn and so on.  It is the flywheel in motion.

Samsung has captured the spirit of collaborative competition with their latest ad campaign – We are greater than I. 

 

 

The autonomy argument

It is well documented that the success of Finland’s education system has been in part due to the autonomy granted to schools. The decision to trust teachers and the communities to make their own policy decisions has lead to increases in student achievement not to mention a rewarding working life for teachers.

Autonomy needs to be understood as a dynamic interplay between internal and external accountability.  Schools set the expectations, measure the impact and make the necessary changes while systems support/resource school communities as part of collective improvement cycle.

‘Autonomy’ in terms of a policy directive at least in Australia stirs up debate at either end of the spectrum.  Can and should governments let go of education all together?  The Reform of the Federation discussion paper on school education is an opportunity for some intelligent debate over where the responsibility for improving student learning must lie.

In the paper by Fullan et al on Professional Capital as Accountabilitythe authors state that the main feature of successful schools was their ability to develop internal accountability by building capacity within the school through collaboration and critical reflection.  This was more important than ‘beefing up external accountability’.

The shift towards greater autonomy at school level is built on a ‘new accountability framework’ (Fullan et al) which relies on five elements: vision and focus, collective capacity and responsibility, leadership development, growth-oriented assessment and system coherence.

Systems improve when schools improve so the focus of systems is to cultivate improvement across all schools. Autonomy isn’t a free for all when it comes to learning.  Autonomy is linked to accountability and achievement.  The more accountability teachers accept for student learning and achievement,  the greater the commitment to building collaborative cultures of continuous improvement.

As Fullan et al suggest external accountability works in tandem with internal accountability therefore ‘policy makers will need to make a major shift from superficial structural solutions to investing in and leveraging internal accountability.’

John Hattie in a recent publication “What works best in Education: the politics of collaborative expertise,”  is even more precise when he says that we need to focus on the variability of teachers within schools not only between schools. This fine grained approach speaks powerfully for the need of each teacher to be responsible for their professional capability not the school, system or government.

The day to day work of improving learning is the accountability of schools.  The day to day work of ensuring all schools are improving is the accountability of systems.  The work of governments is to trust the profession by investing in building ‘the professional capital of all teachers and leaders’.

 

 

It doesn’t make sense

The prophetic Steve Jobs said: It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

What happens when we replace ‘smart people’ with ‘teachers’ is the recognition that we are still hiring teachers and largely telling them what to do.  Unfortunately, this is the reality of the current industrial landscape – one that has prevailed since the early 20th century.  As Richard Elmore said, maintaining a low-skill teaching profession was a way of paying teachers less and maintaining compliance.  The thing about compliance is that it kills creativity.

Over the decades, employers and unions have vigorously defended this structure even down to how many hours teachers should spend face to face. Building a highly professional workforce is as Jobs said hiring teachers to tell us how they work best.  It is about giving teachers permission to create the most optimal learning environments and opportunities for their students.  As Ken Robinson reflects in his latest book Creative Schools, it is based on the fundamental belief: ‘the value of the individual, the right to self-determination.’

We have spent much of the last century working on the assumption that external accountability will drive internal accountability.  It’s the cart pulling the horse, which has not only been counter-productive to school improvement but detrimental to improving student learning.

Giving teachers greater flexibisurprisedgirllity by allowing them to use their professional judgment day in and day out, is the first step to building a highly competent workforce.  Michael Fullan et al has shown that individual responsibility for one’s own learning and that of every student in the school leads to a shared internal accountability.  This sense of collective responsibility for improving student learning drives the work and feeds into a bigger loop of external accountability. This way, the horse pulls the cart.

If the best way to improve learning outcomes is to raise student motivation, expectations and engagement, then doesn’t it make sense to take the same approach when it comes to teachers’ work?

 

The radical centre

On Monday night I had the pleasure of hearing Noel Pearson deliver the annual Bishop Manning lecture.  Pearson is founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.  In discussing the complexities and challenges facing indigenous communities, Pearson explained that he saw himself as a radical centralist – someone committed to left wing objectives through right wing policies.

As Pearson explained, the free market approach assumes that everyone is educated and can therefore make an informed choice.  The paradox is that if you have no education, the market isn’t free.  The problem with the left wing approach is that you get caught in a cycle of more programs, more money, more administration.  One side wants to keep handing out fish, the other the rods.  Pearson’s view is use both to achieve an effective and equitable outcome.

At the centre of schooling is the child but for decades we’ve focussed on either the fish or the fishing rod.  It resonates with Michael Fullan’s theme that educational change will only ever come from the middle. The top (government) cannot be relied on because governments and policies frequently change.  On the other hand, when you give the bottom (schools) too much autonomy, you cannot build systemness.

The middle provides coherence so both school and system grow in tandem.  No-one is left behind.  I believe the teaching profession needs a coalition of central radicals to keep us focussed on the middle.

And that’s what Noel Pearson is attempting to do – build systemness so that no-one is left behind.

 

 

 

 

 

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.