Hijacking the quality teaching movement

There’s a lot I agree with in Stephen Dinham’s article in the latest Professional Educator on the directions the quality teaching movement is taking in Australia.

It’s worth reading in full but in essence he argues that the quality teaching movement has had its agenda shaped (been hijacked) in these ways:

  • That the initially pleasing emphasis on quality teaching and its importance, emphasised in Australia by Hattie and others, has not led to further investment in teaching and teacher learning but instead that ‘teachers are now being see as our biggest problems when students fail to learn’.
  • This  has led to a simplistic top-down responses such as ‘sack the bottom 5% of teachers’
  • The work of John Hattie has been ‘particularly misrepresented and misused as a blunt instrument to attack teachers’
  • The work of Hattie and others on ‘direct instruction’ has been misconstrued as advocating ‘didactic, traditional, teacher-centered approaches rather than its intended meaning of teaching having clear intentions of what they are trying to achieve with every student’.
  • The role of professional standards has been twisted to be more about judging and dismissing teacher than recognising and developing them.
  • A fixation with Finland, Shanghai and South Korea represents the ‘worst form of cultural cringe’.

I pretty much agree with all of this, and the emphasis on testing and testing that supposedly drives the data collection teachers are judged by. I saw it in the USA a couple of years ago, at the ASCD Conference, where the cover story in Newsweek that week was called ‘We Must Sack Bad Teachers.’ Unfortunately we’ve, sometimes deliberately and consciously as in the NY model, begun to import much of the bad American practice that is driving a chronically under-performing system there.  Ironic, that we don’t import the practice from the systems we purport to admire (see previous posts on how Finland really works).




What can we learn from Finland?

Well, maybe one of the things that emerges from this interesting conversation with gurus John Hattie and Pasi Sahlbert, that a colleague put me on to, is that perhaps we are being overly critical and pessimistic about what were doing in Australia. Maybe because pessimism and cynicism can serve a political agenda better than acknowledgement of successes?

Sahlberg talks about teacher quality, equity, funding and a range of other issues in a really reasonable way. I respect the work that Hattie’s done, but do you sense here that he’s talking down our system, and emphasizing his own agenda rather than listening to what he’s being told? He’s being told that Finland values teachers, respects teachers and pays them well, values teacher autonomy, doesn’t over-emphasise teaching … his action plan for Australia … well, it doesn’t really reflect that.