Address to UWS School of Education Graduands – 26 September 2013 October 8, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Educational Leadership.
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As someone who has spent more than thirty years in education, I can honestly say this is a great time to be a teacher. And never before have we needed great teachers than we do today.
You are joining a profession that touches the lives of students each and every day, developing essential competencies and skills and nurturing values that will endure for a life time. All of this taking place in the context of a rapidly changing world.
Author Daniel Pink calls this the conceptual age but I think this is the age of the learner and learning. The advances in technology just in the last decade have been incredible. I read an article in which a teacher and blogger refers to this as living in a moment of ‘ubiquitous learning’. The context may be global but for you as teachers, the challenges and opportunities are local.
When I began my teaching career thirty years ago, the world was a very different place and so was schooling. I was handed the curriculum and with a pat on the back, I was sent into the great unknown.
We have learnt a lot about the art and science of teaching since then. We have moved from an understanding that intelligence is fixed, a one size fits all model is the norm and that some students just simply cannot learn, to an understanding that intelligence is malleable, personalised learning is the norm and a conviction that all students can learn.
None of us here needs reminding that schools and even universities today are under increasing pressure to improve. It’s not surprising living in a world that is changing and challenging us at incredible speed both locally and globally. Access to online learning is expanding at an incredible rate. This is the age of 24/7 connectivity and 24/7 learning.
You have had the benefit of attending the University of Western Sydney – a university that doesn’t treat you as a number but as a learner – a university that recognises that in order for you to be successful teachers; you need to learn to teach in the same way you expect your students to learn – a university that utilises today’s tools to support good teaching.
You leave UWS today with the knowledge AND the skills to be able to think critically, to solve problems creatively and to work collaboratively. These are the skills we want all learners to have – and our schools are faced with the very real challenge of ensuring a relevant and quality learning experience for every child no matter what their learning style or background.
You represent a new generation of teachers who will not simply deliver the curriculum but design it. You represent a new generation of teachers who see themselves as co-learners and who see learners as active participants in the learning process. It will be your imagination, professionalism and relentless commitment to improving student learning outcomes that will drive change and shape the future of Australian schools.
There will always be people with ideas about how schools should operate and what the role of teachers should be. And there will always be competing agendas, external requirements and daily distractions. I think beginning teachers need a degree just in the educational acronyms used – ACARA, AITSL, ATAR, PISA, TIMMS and NAPLAN. The list goes on.
But if you are to stay focussed in all of this, it is important that you keep returning to what is important. Thankfully we know a lot from decades of research about how people learn. It is this multi-disciplinary research that helps us to be more effective in teaching and the technological tools to support us in our work in ways not possible before.
We know from the learning sciences that teacher learning is just as important as student learning. The more we learn about learning and the more teachers learn about their students’ learning, the more influential and important teaching becomes.
Harvard Professor Richard Elmore once said “teaching isn’t rocket science; it’s actually far more complex and demanding”. He’s absolutely right. It recognises the role of teachers as team members of a learning community – engaged in the practice of reflective dialogue, collaboration and inquiry in order to continually improve the learning and teaching in schools.
I know each of you is capable of meeting the challenges of teaching in today’s world because you have had the benefit of being taught at a university that is committed to excellence and innovation. Of course, with the challenges come the great rewards. Sometimes it’s the ordinary events that will have the most extraordinary significance. I want to share with you a story about one of my former students that reminds us of what is at the very heart of our work as teachers.
A few years ago I received an email that asked whether I was the Greg Whitby who taught English at Liverpool Boys High School in the early 1970’s. The writer said that he just wanted to thank me for being such a great teacher. It was signed Ron Hawkins, Chief Consultant Virtual Storage, Hitachi Systems, Hong Kong.
Ron’s face came straight back to me and I could see him sitting in the right hand side of the classroom. I would have to say he was a challenging student. We began to correspond by email and eventually, in passing through Hong Kong, we were able to catch up together. It was a great trip down memory lane. When we were leaving he said he wanted to show me something and pulled something out of his wallet – he handed me a piece of paper – and told me it was something I had written on one of his English assignments.
I opened the paper and it was a comment I had written on an assignment on a text we were studying. On it I had written that it is easy to judge people from your own shoes but very different when you stand in another person’s. Ron told me that it was the best piece of advice that he had ever been given and that he refers to it regularly in his work. You would understand how moving that moment was for me. To know that you have had such a profound influence on someone’s life and his achieved so much because of the education he received.
There are thousands of stories like this that reveal a universal truth – teachers do make a difference. They reflect what the late author Morris West called ‘moments of grace’. I don’t mean grace in the religious sense but in the sense that you often, in teaching, get the opportunity to see the extraordinary in the very ordinary work that you do. I hope there are many moments of grace throughout your careers.
There has been debate about the role of teachers in today’s world – are they mediators of learning or sages on the stage, are you a teacher or a learner? I say you are all of these but I believe teachers in today’s world are also prophets.
The word ‘prophet’ comes from the Greek word (profetes) meaning advocate. Biblical prophets were advocates – agents of social change through their words and actions. You are advocates for a new way of learning and teaching that is relevant to today’s learner and today’s world.
When you walk into your classrooms every day, remember that what you are doing is transforming children’s lives by giving them opportunities to become better learners and better people. You are shaping the future of our nation.
I trust that each member of today’s graduating class is leaving the University of Western Sydney with fond memories and life-long friends and of course, as life-long learners.
Congratulations to each of you on the occasion of your graduation. I hope that you find yourselves in positions where you are supported by the strength, wisdom and experiences of others. I trust you will find personal meaning and significance in the work you share with your colleagues.
As the great American pedagogue John Dewey said “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” I wish you every success – stay passionate and stay learning.
Tags: education and training, educational leadership, teacher education
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from Dr Tina Lim
As we think, contemplate and discuss course redesign for 21st century teaching and learning, it is important that we look inward, look around as well as look back, even as we look ahead.
Firstly, at the very start of the journey, we should ask ourselves what our core beliefs about teaching and learning are. Crucial questions to be answered are:
- What do we value?
- What do we believe about how people learn?
- What do we need to do to improve our practice so that it more truly reflects our values and beliefs? (Atkin, 1996).
According to Atkin, our core values and beliefs will drive our practices (or at least they should). Following from the question of “what are the core values and beliefs?” comes the question of “how in principle do you respond?” and then the question of “what practice is congruent with the principle and its underlying belief?”
For example, if we say we believe that meaningful learning occurs when students are allowed to confront real problems, make choices, and find solutions, then what we ought to do is to design learning environments which allow students to engage in authentic problem-solving experiences, nothing less (even if it means doing what we haven’t done before or don’t usually do, a.k.a. going outside our comfort zone – and yes, spell that as ploughing in more time and effort in redesigning our units, and possibly also when implementing it for the first time).
Meanwhile, looking back and looking around means that we utilise research findings and/or best practices to inform our next practice. It could be derived from our own past successful experience as an educator or learner, or from what we read or learn from others’ experiences or research through attending conferences and seminars. Going through available online research findings and reports of best practices is a good way to obtain invaluable input on specific needs and interests.
Revisiting time-tested and research-informed principles of good teaching and learning would put us in good stead. One such example is the set of seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education laid out by Chickering and Gamson (1987) namely:
(1) Encourage contacts between students and faculty;
(2) Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students;
(3) Use active learning techniques;
(4) Give prompt feedback;
(5) Emphasize time on task;
(6) Communicate high expectations; and
(7) Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.
While the principles were written specifically for undergraduate education 25 years ago, it should still hold for current undergraduate education, and to a great extent, for postgraduate contexts as well.
Then, there are the five fundamental principles of instruction developed Merrill (2002), which have been shown to promote learning:
(1) Task-oriented – Centre instruction on real-world problem solving;
(2) Activation – Activate learners’ existing knowledge as a foundation for new knowledge;
(3) Demonstration – Demonstrate new knowledge to learner in the context of real-world tasks or problems;
(4) Application – Engage learners in real-world tasks/problems and give feedback on and appropriate guidance throughout the process; and
(5) Integration – Encourage students to integrate new knowledge into their life through reflection, discussion, debate and/or presentation of new knowledge.
And of course, there are many others in the literature. The main point is that as we embark on any course redesign, taking note of well-founded fundamental principles and embedding them in our next practices would surely be deemed a good step toward engaging students better.
Last but not least, even as it is now a common expectation that student teachers to do self-reflections through inquiry, it is timely that we too do the same. What is the phrase commonly used? Ah yes, “walk the talk”. This is particularly important considering that we need to be able to show our student teachers that we do what we say and say what we do. We too, need to look back on our own practices as we consider the next step forward. Exemplary teaching-learning design, delivery, and assessment which are continually improved upon would speak volumes to our future teachers about the importance of self-reflection for self-improvement.
References: Atkin, J. (1996). From values and beliefs about learning to principles and practice. Retrieved from http://www.learningtolearn.sa.edu.au/Colleagues/files/links/ValuesBeliefs.pdf Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Retrieved from https://scholar.vt.edu/access/content/user/adevans/Public/DVDPortfolio/Samples/samples/training/track_d/Introduction/Best%20Practices/Article%20-%207%20Principles%20of%20Good%20Practice%20in%20Undergrad%20Ed.pdf Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology, Research & Development, 50 (3), pp. 43-59. Retrieved from: https://www.indiana.edu/~tedfrick/aect2002/firstprinciplesbymerrill.pdf
What if…my teacher was an app??? February 26, 2012Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Educational Leadership, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: curriculum, literacy education, standards testing, technology and education
Susanne Gannon writes on the increasing trend in schools towards online learning, and argues that teachers are very important in utilisng new technologies in education; indeed that “the teacher is the key”.
Last November the Wall Street Journal reported in ‘My teacher is an app’ on an increasing trend in the United States for high schooling to be delivered entirely online. In particular states, this phenomenon has been more marked than others. The article reports that Florida requires all public school students to take at least one class online, Idaho will soon require two, while Georgia allows public school students to take entire courses on their iphones or Blackberries. Entirely online high schools are proliferating. Partly these moves are justified by the respective authorities in terms of preparing students for the cyber university, but no doubt they are also partly responses to crises in education that see some states as performing particularly poorly in standardised testing, and to ongoing issues around recruitment and retention of quality teachers for disadvantaged students. While the affordances of connected classrooms and other networking technologies have proved very useful for Australian schools with small numbers of students in particular curriculum areas, or remote and rural schools, and for teacher professional learning, we are – thus far – untouched, as far as I know, by large scale relocations of learning from the ‘real’ to the virtual. The other insidious move that is apparent in the WSJ article is the corporate control of online learning, and through a sort of sleight-of-hand – by supplying services that under-resourced schools may be unable to deliver themselves – an incursion of for-profit companies into not-for-profit public schooling markets.
What about teachers in online schools? They are designers, presumably, of the learning materials that students are accessing on their various devices. At least the corporations are employing teachers, the article tells us. Teachers are built into the modules. One student reported that he listened to ‘most of’ an online lecture that ‘his’ English teacher was presenting, explaining the concept of a protagonist, to the 126 ninth graders who were logged for that session. I am unclear about when and where the teacher will be available to check their understanding and application of the concept to texts that they might be reading (except in a pre-prepared quiz or test) for that module. I suspect that next year’s students will hear the same voice and the same lecture that they hear this year. On the audio podcast there will be no signs of aging, no changes in mood, no changes in teacher. If the teacher is seconded to higher duties, takes leave or is hit by a bus, the students won’t suffer a casual or replacement who may not know them as well as their own teacher. But this teacher is unlikely to know them anyway. To give them their due however, some of the schools do offer email or phone support to students, though delays in response of up to three days are common, or ‘the occasional video conference’. Some offer field trips and live classrooms at a school building for students who prefer that – although most learning will still be online and self-directed. No doubt the profit margins are greatly enhanced when teacher salaries are minimised in the educational delivery equation. The article notes that one school district in Idaho sees the wholesale outsourcing of education to online providers as ‘a creative solution’ to the state’s budget crisis. Other inadvertent consequences of students, and the funding that follows them, shifting out of public schools includes the slashing of LOTE curriculum and cancellation of the school play. Results from these experiments in terms of improved student results are erratic.
It is clear that ICTs are transforming education. A recent mapping exercise we completed as part of the Strategic Secondary Education Research Program (SSERP) for Greater Western Sydney, a partnership between the University of Western Sydney and two large regions of the NSW Department of Education and Communities, found that ICTs and Web 2.0 technologies play ‘a fundamental role’ in planning, delivery and access to innovative educational programs. We plan to begin supporting a cluster of schools to research their practice in this area through 2012. These technologies were taken up within constructivist, collaborative, learning centred pedagogies, enabling new relationships between teachers and students, and extending teachers’ skills and knowledges. Teachers are not replaced by technologies but rather, effective and powerful use of technologies is reliant on teachers and how they are able to make best use of the affordances of technologies to enhance learning. My UWS colleague Jane Hunter’s recent blog entry on 21st Century Learning emphasises how innovative use of technologies is reliant on ‘imitable teachers’ – highly skilled, enthusiastic, imaginative, expert at integrating technologies seamlessly and purposively into classrooms – who can open up learning in classrooms. Jane’s research demonstrates that the teacher is the key.
I began writing this blog just as the new school year was beginning around Australia, and a day after watching the Four Corners program Revolution in the classroom. Anticipating the Gonski review of school funding, the program focused on school based management and drew comparisons between the relative autonomy experienced by private and public schools. However what struck me in the footage was, firstly, the uncompromising focus each school placed on teacher effectiveness and on student learning. Secondly, it was obvious that innovative leadership had created cultures of collaboration and critical reflexive practice in each of the schools, supported by coaching, mentoring and peer support programs for teachers at all stages of their careers and enabling teachers to research and evaluate their own practice. These were also characteristics of the innovative DEC secondary schools that we mapped in 2011 in Western and South Western Sydney, where many of these innovations were enabled by National Partnership funding. Finally, the other striking feature for me of the footage from each of the schools in the Four Corners program was the relationships that were evident between teachers and students. A year 9 student says that it is the ‘teacher-student relationship’ that has made all the difference: ‘it’s about the teacher understanding the student and the way they should be taught’. A year 12 student says that teachers ‘really care’, they’ve shown ‘massive support’ and have pushed and supported students to make sure that ‘you do the best that you can’. This is not a vague sort of ‘teacher-student relationship’ – although connection, respect, interest and engagement are all necessarily part of it – but it is a purposeful relationship that includes a focus on learning about each student and understanding their learning needs. Getting the best out of every student is the goal at each of the three schools that are profiled and this is premised on knowing each student not only through carefully analysed assessment strategies, that are then used to adjust pedagogy, but also on knowing the student as a particular and complex person. The focus on performance that was evident in the Four Corners program carries with it a risk, however, that the ‘tight coupling’ of education to teaching and learning outcomes that can be measured in mandated assessment and other data driven performance measures may reposition anything else as superfluous. The final scenes at the schools cut between the teacher calculating HSC bands and rankings relative to other schools to the warmth of her hug and ‘I’m so proud of you’ for the student who has transcended his ‘well below average’ record in English. An app will never do this.
The provocation of ‘My teacher is an app…’ points to an ongoing need to maintain the emphasis on teacher quality as the crucial factor in student learning. Teacher quality is not an inherent characteristic of an individual, not a feature of personality, but an ongoing learning journey throughout a career. It is not solely an individual characteristic. Nor is it solely to do with cognitive domains. School leadership structures and an ethos of inquiry and collaboration that supports teachers to continue investigating and improving their practice alongside each other are crucial for this. Research I conducted in a sample of DEC English faculties in our region that had sustained good results in English Extension 2 indicated that strong and collaborative leadership with shared responsibility for improving student learning and teaching quality characterised these faculties. Interviews with high quality graduate English teachers in their first five years of teaching in a range of schools also suggested that the context of leadership in their school and faculty made the difference between their capacities to develop rapidly into effective and excellent teachers and to build the resilience and commitment to keep them within the profession. The most effective teachers are committed to their students as people and as learners and they are incorporating all sorts of technologies into the teaching and learning activities that they design for their students and they are opening spaces where students can surprise them with what they can do with technology. Despite the simulation of care that the voice of ‘Siri’ from an iphone might give, I don’t see any time soon when ‘My teacher is an app…’ will be any kind of solution to the complexities of contemporary education.
Susanne Gannon is an Associate Professor of Education at UWS. She is Director of Programs for Adult and Postgraduate Education and Academic Course Adviser for the Master of Education (Leadership). She loves her ipad and is a great fan of many apps including i-university, however she is increasingly annoyed by the spamming of her faculty by emails marketing poor quality apps for teacher education, and remains wary about the erratic quality of many educational apps. She is involved in a number of ICT innovations in teacher education, including the national Teaching Teachers for the Future Project and a laptop trial project at UWS. She is a member of the SSERP project team at UWS. She is also the current editor of the journal English in Australia, the next issue of which focuses on English teaching and new technologies (guest edited by Kelli McGraw and Scott Bulfin). The views expressed in this opinion piece are entirely personal and do not represent those of the School of Education at UWS.
I need some support! Mentoring in 21st century schools. November 13, 2011Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Educational Leadership, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
Tags: learning communities, teacher mentoring
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from Dr Maggie Clarke
In her first post, Maggie Clarke positions mentoring for teachers in a new light by focussing on the collaborative nature of schools and how new models and processes of mentoring need to be explored.
Can you remember your first day as a teacher? I clearly recall being told as I was given my classes, “let me know if you have any problems” and that was my support! Teaching can be an isolating profession where you are left on your own to get on with your teaching in your classroom. What many of us craved in our early teaching careers was someone who could be a “shepherding hand” who could help us in our workplace knowledge, our classroom practice and professional relationships. Emerging more recently in schools is the introduction of these ‘shepherding hands’, in the form of mentors. Mentoring is not a new concept but it has not been fully implemented in the teaching profession, unlike many other professions. If mentoring practices are evident in some schools, the models and types of mentoring have changed little over the last thirty years. In the schools of the 21st century there is a need to provide mentoring that is collegial and is based on a mutual relationship.
Raza and Mosca (2002) in their research explored ideas of changing employee-organisation relations. They posited that the ‘new age employee’ expects to be treated in a more equitable manner than previous generations. They believe that contemporary organizations need to provide opportunities for employees to have feedback on their progress and “proper tools to assist them achieve their goals” (p.2). Organisations, in an attempt to provide these opportunities, are turning to mentoring as one means of providing professional learning for their employees. Increasingly, managers in organisations are seeing mentoring as an important source of professional learning for less experienced employees. Many organisations are recognising that facilitation and support of a mentoring process is an effective strategy to build the organisation.
Over time there has been a plethora of definitions of mentoring and often these definitions have been defined in terms of the type or form of mentoring. Usually, mentoring has been defined in terms of either informal or formal mentoring. Mentoring can be recognised by the type of relationship that is evident in each mentoring process. It can be a formal or an informal relationship and within these boundaries the relationship can be reciprocal or non-reciprocal. It is the construct of the development of the relationships that is important in 21st century schools.
Formal mentoring relationships are generally designed for a predetermined length of time and are usually of short duration. Many managers implement formal mentoring programs as a strategy to induct new employees into their organisation (Douglas & McCauley, 1997). Within these programs the protégé is allocated to a mentor by the management of the organisation and usually, there is little or no involvement of staff in the selection process of matching the mentor and protégé by either party. These programs are purposefully developed, monitored and evaluated by the management in terms of expectations and goal attainment. There is an inequality of status in this relationship with communication often being one-way. The mentor directs and drives the communication down to the protégé with little opportunity for the protégé to have input or respond to the communication from the mentor. The one-way communication in formal mentoring can result in the protégé being unable to ‘connect’ with the mentor. This type of mentoring is probably one that some teachers have experienced in their own employment situations.
Informal mentoring relationships, on the other hand, are spontaneously formed through people getting to know each other in the work environment. The relationship is usually voluntary and is often based on mutual professional identity and respect. The relationship is of a more personal nature and while communication can often flow from the mentor to the protégé, it takes place in a more informal manner. This informality is derived from the fact that the management of the organisation does not initiate the relationship but rather the relationship often forms through social contexts such as meetings ‘over coffee’. The communication in this relationship is more relaxed and has little structure.
Evidence from the literature indicates that there are fewer limitations in informal mentoring than formal mentoring. The two major areas of difference between formal and informal mentoring are in the levels of career guidance and psychosocial support. Informal mentors usually provide a higher level of coaching and increase the protégé’s visibility in the organisation. They also provide counselling, social interaction, role modelling and friendship.
The co-mentoring relationship has been a development reported in the literature in the last ten years (Jipson & Paley, 2000; Mullen, 2000; Kochan & Trimble, 2000; McGuire & Reger, 2003). Terms such as “mutual mentoring” (Fritzberg & Alemayehu, 2004), ‘reciprocal mentoring” (Gabriel & Kaufield, 2007) and “synergistic mentoring” (Goodwin, 2004) are used interchangeably in the literature to describe the practice of co-mentoring. Co-mentoring recognises the contribution that each person brings to the relationship and is based on reciprocal benefit. In this relationship the status of each person is equal and the communication pathway is one of reciprocity with each person mutually benefiting from the relationship. What is important in this type of mentoring relationship is that the relationship is of mutual benefit.
As our experiences with mentoring develops and evolves in contemporary workplaces so too will the types of mentoring processes change and develop. A new model of mentoring that involves informal and co-mentoring experiences has emerged in the research. Clarke (2004) reported on a layered model of mentoring that involves three stages. These stages are:
- collegial friendship
- informal mentoring and
This model is a new conceptualisation of mentoring and portrays mentoring as a series of overlapping experiences. This layered model does not conform to any previously documented form of mentoring. It is a new way of thinking which recognises the contribution each person brings to the mentoring relationship, and is based on reciprocal benefit. The process is not contrived by the organisation but develops somewhat serendipitously between the mentor and in essence, this approach to mentoring recognises the significance of friendship, the contributions and equal status of each involved and the mutual benefit inherent in such a partnership. It emphasises that personal, professional relationships form a vital part of mentoring.
Mentoring approaches vary and can have their place in different contexts andalthough many organisations use formal mentoring programs to achieve organisational and individual goals, it is evident that more informal mentoring practices such as a layered model of mentoring can achieve extraordinary professional development and growth. Organisations should set themselves the challenge to explore new styles and forms of mentoring that are conducive to the 21st century workplace!
References: Clarke, M. (2004). Reconceptualising mentoring: Reflections by an early career researcher. Issues in Educational Research, 14(2), 121-143. Douglas, C., & McCauley, C. (1997). A survey on the use of formal developmental relationships in organisations. Issues and Observations, 17(1B 2), 6-9. Fritzberg, G.J. and Alemayehu, A. (2004). Mutual mentoring: Co-narrating an educative friendship between an education professor and an urban youth. The Urban Review, 36(4), 293-308. Gabriel, M.A. and Kaufield, K.J. (2008). Reciprocal mentorship: an effective support for online instructors. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnerships in Learning, 16(3), 311-327. Goodwin, L. (2004). A synergistic approach to Faculty mentoring. Journal of Faculty Development, 19(3),145-152. Jipson, J., and Paley, N. (2000). Because no one gets there alone: Collaboration as co-mentoring. Theory into Practice, 39(1), 36-42. Kochan, F. and Trimble, S. (2000). From mentoring to co-mentoring: Establishing collaborative relationships. Theory into Practice, 39(1), 20-28. McQuire, G., & Reger, J. (2003). Feminist co-mentoring: A model for academic professional development. NSWA Journal, Spring, 15. Mullen, C. (2000). Constructing co-mentoring partnerships: Walkways we must travel. Theory into Practice, 39(1), 4-11. Raza, A & Mosca, J. (2002). The new age employee: An exploration of changing employee-organisation relations. Public personnel Management 31(2) 187-201.
Maggie Clarke is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Her research interests are in professional learning particularly related to the practices of mentoring and reflective practice. Her research on mentoring has been acknowledged through publications in a number of published international and national journals.