Posts tagged ‘Richard Elmore’

Learning and leading

There’s been discussion recently regarding the increasing demands placed on school leaders and teachers. We live in a world that demands greater accountability, transparency, productivity and performance. Education is not immune.

We also have the research outlining qualities of high achieving/effective schools and the ‘high expectations’ on student and teacher performance. Parents expect their children will achieve quality educational outcomes.  Governments and the community expect teachers and schools to consistently deliver those outcomes.

High but realistic expectations are an essential part of the educational narrative in today’s world.  As part of a professional learning community, we find that our achievements, including how we deal with the highs and lows of our work, grow out of shared respect and collaborative practices. We expect our colleagues to support, and where appropriate, to challenge us.

This is why it’s critical to cultivate a culture where we take the necessary time to stand back, to re-balance our professional agendas and eliminate unhelpful accretions so we can focus on what really matters for our students, ourselves and our communities.

Externally driven narratives or codes on how we manage ourselves or our school communities de-skills those responsible for the work. Principals and teachers are best placed to decide on what is best for themselves and their learners.

The role of governments, professional bodies and even systems is to support the work of schools not mandate it. We will never learn how to deal with the complexities of schooling in today’s world unless we take the lead.

As Richard Elmore says, we learn the work by doing the work.









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.

Beyond curriculum

I have lost count of the number of curriculum reviews I have lived through as an educator and I’m yet to be convinced that past or even current curriculum reviews actually address the real issue of how teachers’ work.  It is one thing to strip back a curriculum to allow teachers greater flexibility and freedom to go deeper into the learning but there needs to be focus on how we develop teachers’ capabilities to teach a contemporary curriculum.

My concern with the latest curriculum review is that it distracts attention from the critical issue of how teachers’ work and how we make decisions about the quality of that work to improve student learning.   I agree that we must focus on literacy and numeracy as the foundation to good learning but it is contingent on teachers who not only know how to teach the basics but also continue to builstudent teacherd on and deepen student knowledge through challenging tasks and activities.

One of the main problems with a prescribed curriculum is it focuses on delivering content. While content is important, what matters is how students understand it, construct it and apply it.  Effective learning relies on effective teaching and in Singapore for example, there is heavy investment throughout teachers’ careers on developing their pedagogical and content knowledge.

Now we’ve had the government’s review of the what (curriculum), I believe we need a teacher led symposium on the ‘how’. How do we engage all teachers in the type of inquiry and critical reflection that we expect students to engage in to become independent learners and critical thinkers?

Curriculum will always be subject to heated debate and ideological divides so the opportunity for real change lies in exploring new ways of working, new modes of teacher practice that reflects the changing nature of the world, the tools and today’s learners.  As my colleague, Br Pat Howlett, Principal of Parramatta Marist High says how can you teach in a traditional way and expect students to think critically and work collaboratively.

As Richard Elmore et al Instructional Rounds in Education notes:

….if your improvement strategy begins with a curriculum solution … then you have to invest in the new knowledge and skill required of teachers to teach that curriculum if you expect it to contribute to new student learning. A failure to address teachers’ knowledge and skill as part of a curriculum-based improvement strategy typically produces low-level teaching of high-level content.   There are only three ways to improve student learning at scale. The first is to increase the level of knowledge and skill that the teacher brings to the instructional process. The second is to increase the level and complexity of the content that students are asked to learn. And the third is to change the role of the student in the instructional process. That’s it. If you are not doing one of these three things, you are not improving instruction and learning.













Enterprising schools

Harvard Professor, Richard Elmore once asked ‘is it possible that schools can continue to operate in the 19th century while the rest of society moves into the 21st century?’ The simple answer is no – although the adversarial position historically adopted by unions suggests otherwise.

NSW and ACT Catholic employers are currently in the process of discussions with staff and the union on a new enterprise agreement that we believe reflects the need to create contemporary working conditions relevant to a twenty first century model of schooling.  This conversation is not limited to teaching profession, it is happening in most professional organisations around the world.  Federal education minister Christopher Pyne recently said that education is one of the last bastions in the working world where length of service is still rewarded.  Length of service in any profession does not guarantee that you are the best you can be.  It simply means you lasted the distance.

We want all teachers no matter what stage of their career to develop high level skills and knowledge in their work.  I know the majority of teachers want greater control of their working lives.  As John Hattie states ‘schools need to collaborate to build a team working together to solve the dilemmas in learning, to collectively share and critique the nature and quality of evidence that shows our impact on student learning, and to cooperate in planning etc.’

This calls for a new professional maturity that provides teachers with greater autonomy but acknowledges the need for all teachers to adopt a rigorous and intellectual approach to improving teacher practice. In 2018, Australia will have a new national teachers standard administered by AITSL.  This is one of the foundations of the new Catholic schools enterprise agreement. The standards are imminent and non-negotiable.

What is negotiable under a new enterprise agreement is how each local school community structures and shapes learning and teaching.  For more than a century the working lives of teachers have been controlled by bells, timetables and externally imposed agenda. Do we continue to defend an industrial model of schooling in the face of the irrefutable and overwhelming impact of a knowledge age or do we embrace the opportunities for teachers to chart new waters?

Enterprise is defined in the dictionary as a ‘readiness to embark on adventures with boldness and energy.’  Educational expert Yong Zhao believes the time has come for schools to be enterprising, for students to be entrepreneurial and for teachers to be bold in re-shaping the educational agenda.  This is what the new enterprise agreement is about.  It challenges teachers to think about new ways of working together to improve the quality of learning and teaching in schools.

We don’t just want teachers to last the distance, we want them to shape their profession and to continually raise the bar of excellence for themselves, the school communities and most of all, the students they teach.

If twenty first century schools are enterprising schools, then we need a contemporary enterprise agreement which reflects a 21st century teaching profession.












The proposal for an enterprise agreement stems from a recognition that a new century requires new ways of working in schools.  It aims to increase collaboration at a local level by supporting leaders but most of all, it aims to bring alignment in the standards





Enterprising schools need enterprise agreements.  It’s time for educators to be bold and to lead the way with imagination and initiative on how we want to work.



Understanding discipline

I observed something interesting recently regarding a question I tweeted.  To provide some context, I read a blog post called the ‘Myth of Motivation‘.  The post contained a quote by Fred Bucy, former president of Texas Instruments who made this point:

What is effective in motivating people at one point in their careers will not be effective in motivating them later.  People’s values change, depending on what is happening in their personal lives as well as their success with their careers.  Therefore, one of the most important things that a leader must do is to continue to study how to be effective.  This takes discipline.  It is much easier to assume that what worked yesterday will work today, and this is simply not true.

As an educational leader, I thought the point about discipline to stay the course was compelling.  So I tweeted:  “is discipline the most important quality for becoming an effective school leader?”

I left out “self” from discipline because I was interested to see the responses.

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If you asked a professional athlete, writer or business leader about discipline, it would be evident that self-discipline was what you were referring to.  It’s also a word that probably has positive associations in relation to achieving goals.

And yet, when used in the context of schooling, it more often than not implies something very different.  Discipline is grounded in an industrial model where the norm was to ‘control’ students and ‘manage’ staff.  It probably evokes negative feelings in many of us but it again illustrates the point I was making in the last blog post on the meaning of pedagogy and education.

Michael Fullan in his book ‘Six Secrets of Change‘ reflects on the importance of capacity building over judgmentalism.  It’s the paradigmatic shift from industrial to contemporary from process to people.

Fullan writes “the route to implementing change lies in building the capacity of teachers – their knowledge and their skills.  The opposite – and a big mistake – is if you convey a negative, pejorative tone.  A big mistake is to focus on accountability first and capacity building second.”

Richard Elmore who visited our diocese three years ago shared his long term goal.

Unfortunately the prevailing model of schooling, which views discipline pejoratively, is still the dominant model in many schools in many parts of the world.  We’re still looking at education through the lens of control and management.  Take for example, the first year teaching (secondary grades) course being offered by New Teacher Centre on Coursera.  The blurb says “establish and maintain behavioral expectations, implement classroom procedures and routines, and use instructional time effectively.”  I was shocked that the course promotes four low effect size strategies on discipline and only one high effect strategy on student learning.  Is this teaching by accountability or capacity building?

As members of professional teams, we find that our most authentic achievements grow out of a common vision, shared intentions and collaborative practices. We learn with and from each other, and we expect our colleagues to support and, where appropriate, to challenge us.

Often the highest expectations we have to deal with are the ones we place on ourselves.  That’s why it is so important to cultivate a reflective (self) culture where each of us takes the necessary time to stand back and re-balance our agenda so we can focus our energies on what really matters for our students, ourselves and our school communities.

It’s time we all started speaking the language of challenge and self-discipline.

Learning leaders

As I’ve mentioned previously, our focus as a system this year is on good teaching and good teacher practice.  We know what the research tells us about good teachers and student learning outcomes.  This of course is based on a very important assumption – the quality of leadership. Michael Fullan calls the principal the “nerve centre of school improvement” and while they may not have a direct impact on student learning outcomes, what they do is critical to large scale and lasting improvement.

Schools without quality leadership are like orchestras without conductors.  Sure teachers can teach but an effective leader knows the research, develops the knowledge and collaborates with others to bring it all together.  Clive Gillinson writing in the Guardian in 2009 reflects on the role of the conductor:

Any player who has worked with great conductors knows that what they bring to their performances is the difference between competence and inspiration. It diminishes and completely misunderstands great music-making not to think there is any difference between the two.

Sometimes when we talk about effective teachers, we assume that we already have effective leadership at the helm.  This is not always the case.  Fullan in his paper Quality Leadership, Quality Learning states that reviews of research literature on school improvement highlights the “key role of the principal, for better or worse, i.e there are no examples of school-wide success without school leadership; all examples of school failure include weak or ineffective leadership.”

How do principals account for a lack of school wide success?  How do we deal with this as a system?  Past attempts to improve leadership have been ad hoc or too focused on individual attributes.

Over the weekend I began reading Leading with Inquiry and Action by Matthew Militello, Sharon Rallis and Ellen Goldring.  The foreward was written by Richard Elmore.  I have always respected Elmore’s grounded approach – a good mix of common sense and encouragement.  In reflecting on the American education system, he says this:

Every generation of American educational leaders, from the end of the 19th century onward, promises that it will be the generation to transform the practice of leadership into the practice of instructional improvement, and so far, every succeeding generation has failed at that fundamental task.  The leadership of instructional practice has been consistently and systematically displaced, generation after generation, by the bureaucratic demands of “running” schools and the by the “real-world” demands of school bureaucracy.

This summation could equally apply to education systems in other parts of the world.  Why?  Elmore says the answer lies in the observation that “education is a profession without a practice” or more accurately, “an occupation aspiring to be a profession that has not yet discovered its practice”.

He goes on:

We do not, as a field, define a set of practices that everyone who enters the sector has to master as a condition of being able to practice, nor do we insist that people who practice in the field continue to learn their practice at ever-increasing levels of competence and expertise over time.

I agree with Elmore’s observations.   Systems have failed because there has been little investment in school leadership.  We have focused our resources and efforts on the periphery without seeking to change the culture and structure of schools.  We haven’t insisted or enabled leaders continue to learn their practice.  Building system leadership capacity leads to greater accountability.

In addressing the core issue of leading schooling too often we start from the outside and work in. Right on the edge, we usually find things like judging school leaders using blunt instruments like student performance, data and rankings. Further in you find things like “taking things off” leaders to allow them to do their job. This may free up time but it does little to address the inherent problem. Such approaches only serve to demean the complexity of the leadership challenge.

A more constructive approach is to start from the inside out. This means a sharp focus on the core requirements for leading a contemporary school. The research and data show us that the key responsibility of leading has to be around the work of teachers, how they teach, how we know they are effective and how we can continue to build their capacity. If the leader doesn’t know how to do this then they have to be taught how. It requires leaders to be effective practitioners with a deep understanding of learners and pedagogy.

Last year our system focus was learning by inquiry.  Inquiry is critical to how we understand our learners and their contexts in what and how we teach.  Yet there is little point in learning by inquiry if we don’t apply it.  Leaders need to be inquiry minded AND action oriented. This is how we become a profession with a practice.

Knowledge work

danpinkSeveral years ago I attended a conference where Daniel Pink was one of the keynote speakers.  I had never heard Pink speak before but I remember being impressed by his ideas and thinking.  Not long after that I read ‘A Whole New Mind‘ and to this day it remains one of the books in my professional canon.

It’s hard to believe Pink wrote A Whole New Mind in 2005.  So much in the world has changed in that seemingly short period of time and yet many organisations including schools still seem to operate within an industrial paradigm.  According to Pink (p50):

We’ve progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers.  And now we’re progressing yet again – to a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers.

I’ve been reflecting lately on this notion of a knowledge age – are we a knowledge society? Have we really embraced new ways of thinking and working smarter?  If you read job ads for example, it doesn’t look like any significant shifts have been made in the way we recruit, hire and train people.  Using social media to advertise roles that are 20th century in their design is as futile as using iPads to teach a 20th century curriculum.  How many organisations in Australia are redesigning knowledge work but more importantly how many school systems are?  How long before we actually fulfill Pink’s prediction of a conceptual age?

One of the biggest problems as outlined in the article “Redesigning Knowledge Work” is there aren’t enough knowledge workers across the private, public and social sectors.  According to the authors, this is only going to get worse based on research by the McKinsey Global Institute which suggests that by 2020, “the worldwide shortage of highly skilled, college-educated workers could reach 38 million to 40 million.”

The article cites a number of organisations redefining the jobs of experts, transferring lower-skilled work to other people within the organisation.  Reading this article prompted me to think about schools in a knowledge age.  If principals are our most skilled, then what work could they transfer or outsource to enable more time to develop the talent of teachers? Do we see this as the most important task for principals?

Richard Elmore says, a knowledge based economy requires a knowledge based teaching profession.  The way to get there is to invest heavily in the knowledge and skill of all teachers.  And yet in the past, it has been the norm for lower-skilled people (ie teachers aides) to work with students who need the greatest intervention.  We know now that we need our most skilled teachers working with those students to ensure improved learning outcomes.

Historically, we have often begun with the staff and adopted the strategy rather than looking at what critical skills our strategy requires and identifying the best talent to deliver it within classrooms, schools and across systems.  Why can’t schools look beyond their communities for the most skilled teachers?  Shouldn’t we be deploying the best people to get the best results whether it is around a learning strategy or capacity building?

While most education systems want teachers to become knowledge workers, it is much harder to change industrial processes and cultures.  The authors suggest three points that would underpin new ways of working:

1. Excel at attracting, motivating and retaining specialists
2. Develop mechanisms for cultivating specialists who have the potential to take on leadership roles
3. Capture the knowledge so that others can benefit from it

In some ways, our system is working towards these but change doesn’t happen overnight.  The question many educators and systems need to ask is whether we want teachers to have a working knowledge or do we want teachers to be knowledge workers?  If the answer to the latter is yes, then what are we doing about it? Are we that afraid of the possible answers and the need to redefine what it is to be a teacher in today’s world