Teaching 21C, and no teachers in sight


Is it okay to attend an all day conference called Teaching 21C: the big issues facing the profession today and not, in the whole day, hear from a practising teacher?

I understand that you don’t come to a conference to hear only from teachers . You can get that around the photocopier or at the water cooler and there has been the growth of more hand-on options like TeachMeets where practitioners can share practice, not to mention the networks you can develop in platforms like Twitter. You go to hear from experts, and learn.

But I did feel, at the end of a long day that felt at times a brow-beating (if not belittling) of the teachers who constituted most of the audience, that it wouldn’t have been hard to include some teachers who might be able to contribute to the discussion, if only to respond to some of the provocations.

Don’t get me wrong; there were some good moments, particularly the session on evidence-based practice that seemed firmly grounded in, and linked to, how real schools work. Suzie Riddell (SVA) took us through a toolkit for schools called Evidence of Learning, which seeks to help schools make good choices about what kinds of change you might choose to implement in terms of $$ costs, evidence for a positive effect on learning, including links to more reading and the scale of that effect; a bit like Hattie’s work put to good use.


Earlier, Jan Owen took us through the FYA report on ‘The New Work Order’, emphasising the forces of automation, globalisation and flexibility that are disrupting work opportunities, especially for young people. You can download the whole report HERE (PDF)

But they were the highlights.

It wasn’t great to hear Teach for Australia rep. Melodie Potts Rosevear telling us how she was looking forward to the present generation of teachers to retire. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t a fan of Teach for Australia before and I’ve blogged about that HERE and HERE; I just don’t think parachuting fast-tracked graduates into teaching and leadership, no matter how smart, does anything more than diminish the profession. Lawyers for Australia? I’d like to see that.)

Geoff Masters (ACER) was one of the keynotes and one of the most disappointing. He showed a series of un-labelled slides, designed to highlight falling standards in Australian learning outcomes (PISA, naturally). In some of the slides (shown below) high results were good, others when they were bad. It was hard to follow; they had no titles, there were no scales.

Masters talked about ‘Five Challenges’ facing Australian education: declining standards, growing disparities between schools, students falling year level expectations, students starting school at risk of being locked into long-term low achievement and (irony alert) teaching is becoming less attractive as a career option for able school leavers. Masters didn’t take questions.

And not a teacher got to speak.

It was all summed up in final plenary panel of grey-haired white men, a dynamic that even they felt a little embarrassed by.

Last days


That time of year thou mayst in me behold …

Hard to believe it is that time of year as my senior class is coming up to their final few lessons, the last week of timetabled classes before the ‘swot-vac’ and (varying) degrees of intensive study.

Every year I try to improve what I do as a teacher with these students, each year I probably get more critical of myself about what I should have done, said, intervened or fed back at stages during the year, and what difference that might or might not have made.

I’m not doing a post-mortem yet. I’ve put in place a series of consultation times, some intensive sessions on key texts, some lunchtime ‘lit talks’ combined with the other class and some online revision sessions using Adobe Connect. There’s plenty of learning yet, but when you do complete that last timetabled class, which happens this week, no matter how much revision you’ve got organised, you do feel a door closes. You work hard as a teacher to establish a positive learning culture, to work with the personalties of the students to get something bigger and more powerful than themselves. And then, it’s done. Happens every year, about this time.

Photo: Blossom, by Warrick

Building professional capital

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I spent the day yesterday at a three school combined professional learning day at Lauriston, facilitated by Andy Hargreaves, renowned educator from Boston College. He was an engaging speaker and began with a story about soccer and the lessons that were learned from some key examples. It was the springboard for the key messages for leaders for the day:

  • That you have to care about it (passion, vision, commitment)
  • That you have to get the best people
  • That you have to get them to work together
  • That you have to check on them a bit, but not too often.

He argued that education is at the crossroads and that business and investment views assume that teaching is technically simple, can be mastered readily, should be driven by hard performance data, is about enthusiasm, effort and results and is replaceable by online instruction. He was critical of massive testing, ‘Teach for Australia’ models of teacher training and development, and reliance on online instruction as a low cost replacement for face to face teaching.

Interestingly, he was a bit critical of the Hattie research as looking at out of date data, and simplifying complex research into bite-sized summaries. He saw the danger of Hattie as creating bite-sized learning action responses that were generic and undifferentiated.

Professional capital, on the other hand, assumes that good teaching is technically sophisticated, requires high levels of education and long training, is perfected through continuous improvement, is a collective endeavour which maximises, mediates and moderates online instruction.

Hargreaves talked about three kinds of capital: human capital, social capital and decisional capital. (PC = f (HC,SC,DC)) all combining to create professional capital.

Human capital includes qualifications, knowledge, preparation, skills, emotional intelligence. Human capital solutions entail recruiting from the top tiers, select for moral commitment and EQ, taking pay off the table and creating an attractive working and collegial environment.

He talked about ‘teaching like a pro’: continuously improving, planning and working together and being part of the wider teacher profession.

He also talked about the relationship between pedagogy and technology and showed a ‘disconnect’ video which we all jumped at. He then showed a Singapore school using twitter as feedback, using Second Life simulations, MSN messenger,multiple devices and mobile phones etc. Hargreaves said that two things had changed his attitude to technology in the last two years (he was a sceptic): going to Singapore and seeing good teaching using technology, and then doing a special education (essential for some, good learning for all) project in Ontario, which used assistive and adaptive technologies.

Hargreaves emphasised decisional capital (how do you develop judgement?) includes judgement, case experience, practice, challenge and stretching and reflection. He talked too about capability and commitment in relationship to career stages, looking at axis of capability and commitment across career stages, and also in term of teaching and working with different generations (which I’m much more sceptical about)

He talked a lot about teachers in their later career paths (are they renewed or renewable?). Later career paths include the renewed, the disenchanted, the quiet ones and the resisters. He argued that the disenchanted can ‘get the magic back’ if you get to know them in their classrooms (where they are often working at a very high level) and share their practice, convince them that their students will benefit, convince them that it wont go away, and that you wont go away as a leader pushing for change. Change needs five years+ for change to be embedded. He also argued that the ‘resisters’ were really relatively few in number, and that leaders need to be careful about ‘misdiagnosis’. The ‘golden’ time for teachers, Hargreaves argued, is mid-career, about 10 000 hours (necessary for mastery), about 5-8 years out, where capability is high and commitment is high.It is also the most neglected teaching area, he argued, like the middle child in the family.

He argued that social capital was where you could make the most impact. Social capital involves things like trust, collaboration, collective responsibility, mutual assistance, professional networks and ‘push, pull and nudge’.

It was a really engaging day; focused, interesting, challenging. His last exercise on ‘pushing’ change where he gave us an example of peer led change pushing and asked us whether we liked it or hated it, divided the room right down the middle. He pushed for ‘pull’ factors over ‘push ‘ factors, though saw room for both.’Pull whenever you can; push when you must, nudge all the time’. Do we believe that teachers will change by themselves? Or have the right not to change at all? Is how I saw it in the end. My answers were ‘maybe’ and ‘no’.  And maybe isn’t good enough for our students?


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Reading on the screen

Just about every English teacher I know is passionate about books and reading. Loves it. Is good at it.
They (we) love books. The smell, the feel, the texture, the excitement of a new book. And, if I had $1 for every one I’d heard say something like “I couldn’t possibly read a book on the screen”, then I could buy an ipad.
So, it was funny the other day teaching Jane Austen to my Lit class and talking about some important passages that were revealing about Austen’s views and values to look up and see one of the girls looking at her computer, not the dog-eared Penguin Classic everyone else had open.
When I asked her why she wasn’t looking at the passage we were discussing,she said she was, but that she preferred to read it on the screen, where she could annotate it direct and make notes on the discussion somewhere else than in the margin. It wasn’t so much as an ‘aha’ moment, as a ‘oh yeah’ moment. I did give them the text version of Emma from Project Gutenberg and had encouraged them to use it to find quotes or to pull apart key passages. But, I hadn’t thought that some students actually PREFER to read this way. That it’s not all about the book for everyone any more (if it ever was)
And I find myself reading more and more on the screen now. Not just online newspapers and the reports from the Giro cycling race in Italy. But substantive articles, even books. I read The Call of the Wild for the first time ever on the plane going to the USA, on my ipod application called Classics, which had 24 other classics I could have chosen. Or, from another app called Classics2Go which has 60 classics from Wuthering Heights to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Or, I could have opened up Grimm’s fairy tales or the Shakespeare app I paid a couple of dollars for which contains ALL of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. A lot more choice than I could fit in my take-on luggage.
So, if my reading behaviour is changing, little wonder that our students are going to have less qualms and want more opportunities to be doing their reading in a new format. The stories remain the same.
Below and above: screen shots from my ipod-touch and the apps I’ve talked about above.

Cross-posted at English Teaching it IT (with more screenshots)