Education Nation | Day Two Session Two | Murat Dizdar and Professor Ken Wiltshire

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

If you have missed the previous articles in the Education Nation series, you can find them here.

Lila Mularczyk’s presentation closed out session one of day two at Education Nation and took us into the morning break. I made the decision, still feeling like I had conference brain, that I would sit out during Murat Dizdar’s (@dizdarm) presentation about the national education reform program which commenced session two. I spoke to Murat briefly who gave me permission to record it so that I could listen to it later on. When I sat down yesterday to transfer the photos I had taken from my phone and tablet to my computer, I saw an image of some carpet and, thinking it was an accidental photo of the floor, hit delete. My brain processed, about two seconds later, that it had also had the film strip icon. So I, unfortunately, have nothing to show for Murat’s presentation, for which I can only apologise.

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Following Murat’s presentation was Professor Ken Wiltshire speaking about the future of curriculum in Australia.I have only a few written from Professor Wiltshire’s presentation, however, there was an active Twitter conversation throughout his session, which I was involved with and have captured via a storify, which you can find here. Some of the key points that I have noted down that Professor Wiltshire sees learning as having four dimensions:

He commented that few of the recommendations from the review of the national curriculum had been adopted and brought up a number of reforms that he felt should occur, including but not limited to an enforcement of compulsory schooling and the enactment of the National Curriculum as well as a national forum on the purposes of education, values and foundations which should underpin education.

Further, he proposes that we need a national body, that is apolitical to be tasked with writing, reviewing, developing and overseeing education curriculum and assessment, labelling ACARA as a “…horse-trading and political body, not an education body…”

Professor Wiltshire made an interesting comment regarding initial teacher education (ITE), which you can see at the top of the below photo:

I invite you to read through the storify of Professor Wiltshire’s presentation which you can find here and invite anyone who has written about either Professor Wiltshire’s or Murat Dizdar’s presentations (or any other presentation from Education Nation, for that matter) to send me the link to include in this article.

Education Nation | Day Two Session One | Minister Simon Birmingham

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

When I read that Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham (@birmo@birmo) would be speaking at Education Nation, I was intrigued as to firstly, whether he would actually attend given that there is an ongoing election campaign at the moment, and secondly, what he would actually say. When he arrived, you would not know that he was five weeks into an election campaign, and looked fresh and energetic. Minister Birmingham spoke for approximately twenty minutes and then took questions from the floor for about ten minutes before leaving. Overall, I think he did well to avoid any overt political campaign rhetoric, other than one small comment, which was not in itself particularly inflammatory or accusing of the Opposition, before moving on. He also made some very sensible and thought-provoking comments. I have included here the full recording of his address, with the only editing being the introduction from myself, and a slight adjusting of the audio levels to make them more consistent throughout.

Minister Birmingham began by relating a personal anecdote involving his daughter, Matilda, showing the persistence and enthusiasm of five-year-olds, before relating that he was glad to hear of the discussions that were taking place within Education Nation. He added that as a father, he was confident that he could provide the best for his daughter, but that as the Federal Minister for Education and Training, that his focus to be on ensuring the best for all students across the country.

He then said something which I get the impression was rather unexpected, and which I found quite heartening.

“We have a good [education] system and a lot to be proud of. We need to celebrate our successes more than we do.  In general, we are above OECD averages [on a range of measures] and our system is underpinned by a good basic foundation.”

This was a refreshing message to hear, and to be realistic, it should not have been entirely unexpected; he is in the midst of an election campaign and speaking to a room full of educators, it was unlikely he would give a negative message about education. The measures that he indicated we are above the OECD averages included education funding, literacy, and numeracy results, however, he did acknowledge that there is always room for improvement

Minister Birmingham spoke about the long tail that we have and the falling results of students at the top end of the academic scale and that the challenges of education are largely well-known and understood, which does not make resolving them any easier. Our PISA results, Minister Birmingham commented, have dropped, in both real and relative terms and while they are not the be all, they are an important indicator that does need to be monitored.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/jjubjyw on 11 June 2016. Slide Thirty-five.

 

We were then reminded that ten years ago, the iPhone and Netflix did not exist and that Facebook was in its infancy at one year old. We do not know, he continued, what the world will look like in ten years and what the world will look like for our students in the future when they graduate, however, we do know that they will require a richness in varied skills and learning, which sounds rather similar to the now famous Alvin Toffler quote shown below.

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Minister Birmingham said he welcomes the discussions taking place at Education Nation and that his commitment is to make sure that Australia is driven by evidence that is credible and reliable and that appropriately reflects what can best improve student learning outcomes. This, he continued, will be supported by two key goals. The first will be to continue delivering the basics on which all learning now and in the future is based upon, though he didn’t elucidate further as to what, exactly, that meant. The second is to prepare students for the dynamic world they will be entering into as young adults.Minister Birmingham added an additional thought to this. Typically, he told us, the two goals are considered in terms of either/or, however, they should be considered as complimentary goals.

It was here that we heard a modicum of election rhetoric, Minister Birmingham reminded the audience how much funding the Turnbull Government would commit to education, however, and I have respect for this, he also noted that while there were differences between the funding both parties had committed to, under either party, there would be an ongoing increase to education funding. Irrespective of your political stance, it would have been easy for him to make negative comments about the other side, yet he actually paid them a modicum of respect. A politically astute and rather sensible choice.

He continued past this, commenting that funding would continue to be distributed on a needs basis and that they would be working to address the challenges that education faces, specifically reading, writing and science, working to set minimum standards of achievement. This confused me a little, as I thought we already had minimum standards, as laid out as part of NAPLAN, if nowhere else. He spoke about the need to identify clear targets and address reading levels at a young age, to identify and learning difficulties in our children earlier in life.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/h7nolqd p.85 on 11 June 2016

There will be fourteen measures put in place to lift STEM rates, including additional training and support for teachers, early years support, and the lifting of ambition for graduating students to encourage more to enter into STEM-based Undergraduate programs, though there was no mention of specific steps to ensure these occur.

His next point, the need to address and fix NAPLAN and the way it is implemented in order to foster richer data that is more quickly and easily accessible to teachers in order to make it useful and usable, was one which I believe surprised a few. NAPLAN, from what I have heard this election campaign, has had little attention in this vein, so it will be interesting to find out more about what that looks like if the Turnbull government are re-elected.

We need to ensure, Minister Birmingham told the audience, that students receive one year of learning for one year of teaching and one way that this will be attained will be an improvement in the quality of initial teacher education (ITE). This is an area that does need to be addressed, as there are significant skills that teachers need that were not included in my own ITE, which I have written about in the past.and which I suspect are not an isolated issue.

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Minister Simon Birmingham speaking to the Rethinking Reform Delegates at Education Nation. 8 June 2016

Debates surround educational policy are typically painted as binary arguments; we hear about public versus private education, or about STEM and coding versus traditional subjects, or about direct instruction versus experiential-based pedagogical practices. Minister Birmingham said that these all sit in a grey zone and that we should, in fact, be looking to give autonomy to our teachers, our schools, and our students to make contextualised and evidence-based decisions for the benefit of our students’ learning outcomes. Which of course brought to the fore the point that not all evidence is equal and that we need to be aware of the prejudices inherent in research, whether from the researcher or the commissioner of the research.

Minister Birmingham closed with an idea that I suspect gained him respect throughout the room. He spoke about what he would do, what issue he would resolve; if he could wave a magic wand and fix any single issue or challenge that faces education. It would not, he said, be within schools that he would look. It would, in fact, be in the home of students, to improve the home lives of students where improvement is needed. Minister Birmingham said that whilst teachers provide the greatest influence on a student’s learning outcomes within a school, outside of the school, it is the home life which provides the biggest influence.

The session was opened up at this point to questions from the floor, which I will not cover in this article but will leave for you to listen to in the audio above.

I thought Minister Birmingham’s comments regarding a desire to address and improve the home life of students interesting. I have heard colleagues from both government and non-government, and from early childhood, primary and secondary, all make remarks about students whose home lives negatively impact their learning outcomes.

Thank you, as always, for reading this far, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts on Minister Birmingham’s address.

Some musings about NAPLAN

Last week, students across Australia in Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine were required to sit the annual NAPLAN testing. NAPLAN is ostensibly inflicted upon students to assess their growth over the eighteen months since their previous NAPLAN (or to serve as a benchmark if it is the student’s first NAPLAN). This testing process has a significant number of flaws and causes stress, anxiety and frustration, amongst students and parents, but also amongst some teachers. This year was my first involvement with NAPLAN, as while I am teaching a combined Year Five and Six class this year, last year I was employed in an RFF capacity and had only been in that role for a few weeks when NAPLAN arrived, and thus felt only a minimal impact as a result.

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An example of a note sent home by a teacher to reduce stress in students. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/j6u8uoe on 16 May 2016

 

I remember sitting the Basic Skills Test in Year Five sometime in the early 1990s (though I have no recollection of sitting it in Year Three), and my recollections of it was that it was a low-key test, where my parents received a booklet which talked about grade-level expectations, and indicated where my results across the various tests sat in relation to my peers at my school, and then either across the state or across the country, I cannot recall which. My teacher, Mr. Davies, who is one of the reasons I entered the teaching profession simply told us that we had to sit this test to assess our progress and to just give it our best effort. Mr. Davies was a fantastic teacher, and as far as we knew, the test had little importance beyond what it told him about our results. We sat the test, I rushed through it as I always did (and still do) with multiple choice tests, and then went outside and read a book while I waited for my classmates to finish. Mum and Dad received the results sometime later, we chatted about them, Mum asked if I rushed through the test (cue the head hang, “Yes Mum, sorry, I just wanted to read my book”) and life moved on.

I do not doubt that there was more to it than that, however, from my perspective at that time, as a ten-year-old boy, was that it was just something we had to do, but not something that was particularly important. Things have changed, however, and not for the good. My students seemed to do ok. I had two or three students who were a little anxious, but otherwise, they did not seem overly concerned. There were, however, students across the Central Coast, from conversations with other teachers, who could not cope and actually made themselves sick, including one student in Year Three. Additionally, there were students who would ordinarily write a high-quality narrative, with excellent character development, a complex plot twist, and a clever resolution, who simply froze because of how little time they were given.

I do not know what approach other teachers took in the lead up to NAPLAN, whether much preparation was in class, or set at home; nor do I know how much preparation my students’ put in outside of school, of their own volition (or at the behest of their parents). Personally, I sat down on Monday afternoon to talk to them about it for the first time (I had studiously avoided mentioning NAPLAN) at any point prior to that), and the reaction was immediate. Some students I could tell were worried about it, some were ambivalent, and some were annoyed that they had to complete them due to the time they took out of class. My Year Six students were ecstatic, as they would be spending the time undertaking Peer Support Training with another teacher and myself.

I talked to them about NAPLAN for a little while, telling them about my own experience with the Basic Skills Test, and then made it very clear that as far as I was not worried about their NAPLAN results, as long as they put in their best effort. I reminded them of the formative testing in literacy and numeracy that we had completed at the beginning of the year, and that we would be completing those assessments at the end of this term and again at the end of Term Four, and that I was focused on the growth they showed across the three iterations of those tests. I reminded them that NAPLAN did not know or care whether they had slept well the previous night, or had eaten breakfast or not, or are more athletically inclined, or anything else, other than the results that they put on their paper and submitted for NAPLAN.

We talked about the way they get feedback on their learning outputs in class, through the marking systems we use, or through one to one conversation during class time and that I do not get to see what they write and so cannot give them feedback, or know how they went, other than the number which is given for each test result. I could see some of the tension leaving some of my students, and my Year Six students were helpful as well, talking about their experiences and that it was not as hard or as stressful as they thought it would be.

I have a great group of students.

Whether or not we like NAPLAN, it is here, and it is here to stay, though I do not doubt it will evolve over time into something else (such as the move to digital completion which has been discussed for some time). There is a body of research about the impact that it has across the education sector and in the current education environment, where we continually here about the fourth-grade slump and the drop in results across PISA and TIMMS, short-sighted politicians are looking for a quick fix that will get them votes at the next election. There is talk about planning for the future, but I sincerely doubt that it actually means anything, given the way that politicians lie in order to get the support they need.

Students across the country have teachers who know and understand that NAPLAN is relatively meaningless, a single snapshot in time which takes twelve weeks to develop, and where the original negative (student submissions) are not available for checking. NAPLAN is a broken and flawed tool which causes stress and anxiety in students and teachers and from anecdotal reports, some parents far above what it provides in return. I await the result of this year’s NAPLAN test for my students, which will mean little as the text-type for the writing test was a different text-type to what they were required to write when they were in Year Three, making the data comparison invalid from every point of view I can think of.

What was your experience with NAPLAN this year? How did you, your students and your students’ parents cope? Do you prepare your students with pre-testing or give them a speech similar to what I gave to my students? Is your school one in which NAPLAN is a highly important test, or is it largely disregarded? I would appreciate hearing about  your experiences with NAPLAN and the strategies you employ in your context to survive the infliction of NAPLAN each year. As always, thank you for reading.

Education Nation | An Interview with Professor Masters

“There are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.”
– Professor Geoff Masters. E-Mail correspondence, 2016

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

All interpretations of Professor Masters’ views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Professor Masters has been included for the sake of transparency.

After I had accepted the invitation to attend Education Nation in order to write a series of review articles about the event, I asked if it would be possible to conduct a series of pre-conference interviews via e-mail with some of the speakers. I was privileged to have been granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters AO, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) as well as head of ACER’s Centre for Assessment Reform and Innovation.

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Professor Geoff Masters. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/h2czpd6 on 6th March 2016

In developing the questions for Professor Masters, I felt that it would be remiss of me to not take advantage of the opportunity to ask his opinions about statements by Professor John Hattie in April 2015, where Professor Hattie indicated that he felt classroom teachers should leave education researcher to trained researchers. I recall there being quite the uproar on social media as a result of Professor Hattie’s remarks, with a great number of educators commenting that there is no reason they cannot engage with research.

Professor Masters’ view is that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.

The title of the article in which Profess Hattie’s statement was published was certainly clickbait and as with most instances of clickbait, upon reading further, the statements were not as provocative as at first glance. Indeed, Professor Masters’ response to this question implies that Hattie’s sentiment that teachers should leave the research to the researchers is reasonable. Indeed, when you read further in the article, where Professor Hattie is reported as also having said “I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that,” I find it difficult to disagree.

I cannot speak to the level of training that other classroom teachers have received in research. Personally, having only received an introduction to educational research through the Honours program I completed as part of my initial teacher education (ITE) (delivered by Dr. Nicole Mockler), I do not feel that I would be able to put together a large-scale strong and rigorous research project on my own, whilst also managing the day-to-day requirements of teaching and evaluating the effectiveness of my practices. That said, I do feel that I have had enough training through the Honours program to enable me to read and utilise the outcomes of research to inform my reflections, or to work with a researcher to conduct more formal research.

Professor Masters further noted that high levels of training and proficiency are required for certain types of research, which dovetails neatly with Professor Hattie’s comment that “[r]esearching is a particular skill. Some of us took years to gain that skill.” I do not have years to invest in mastering the skills to become proficient with rigorous, high-quality formalised research. I would prefer, at this point in my career, to invest that time in developing my pedagogical practice. In that frame of reference, leave the research to the researcher is not, in my opinion, as provocative a sentiment as it first sounds.

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Professor Hattie. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z4e2ryr on 6th March 2016

During the last four years in various staffrooms and study sessions with my colleague pre-service teachers, I have encountered a variety of opinions regarding the relationship and relevance that research has to classroom teachers. Whilst there are pockets of teachers who see the value in the relationship, by and large, educational research appears to be seen as irrelevant. Professor Masters stated that too often pedagogical practice is shaped by beliefs about what should work in the classroom and beliefs shaped by fads and fashions of the day (Greg Ashman has written about various fads and fashions in education including here, here, here and here). Additionally, I have heard the “it worked when I was in school/first started teaching/we did it this way in the 70s and 80s”  refrain regularly, with its unstated implication that it will still work.

To improve the quality of classroom teaching, and by extension, the learning outcomes for students, Professor Masters asserts that evidence-based pedagogical practices should be implemented; that is, those pedagogies which have been demonstrated through research and experience to be effective in improving students’ learning outcomes and engagement. The relationship between educational research and classroom teaching is one of sharing, with Professor Masters commenting that “[p]rofessions are defined largely by a shared knowledge base. Educational research is playing an essential role in building that knowledge base.”

It is interesting to note that there is a growing community of educators on various forms of social media sharing with their practices, both the successes and the failures, with each other, and it will be interesting to see what role the online Professional Learning Networks play in contributing to educational research in the future, both as a source of information and participants, and as a vehicle for dissemination.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/j8vcs2p on 6th May 2016

I asked Professor Masters what his thoughts were on what stood in the way of Australian education and the heights of PISA and TIMMS testing results that seem to be the benchmark by which educational success is judged. I did so with reference to the ITE programs in Finland and the well-publicised reign of Finland at the top of the table in regards to PISA and TIMMS. Professor Masters’ response was relatively simple. High-performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore have raised the status of teachers.

Professor Masters noted that there are a number of high-performing countries who draw their teachers from the upper echelons of secondary education, typically starting with the top thirty percent and some drawing only from the top ten percent, making teaching in those countries, a highly respected and sought after career. This is not the case in Australia, where the required Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is quite low, as highlighted in this article from May 2015 which indicates that almost a third of all pre-service teachers achieved an ATAR of less than sixty. That demonstrates the low respect held for teaching compared with some of the ATARs listed in this article from January 2014, indicating that a to enter a Bachelor of Health Science/Master of Physiotherapy degree at the University of Western Sydney required an ATAR of 99.95, or the combined law degrees at the University of Sydney and the University of NSW, both with minimum ATARs of 99.70.

The school of thought that simply increasing the minimum required ATAR to enter an ITE program will improve the quality of teachers is not necessarily true. This article from October 2015 indicates that only a small percentage of pre-service teachers enter their ITE immediately upon completion of their secondary education. However, I do not believe that Professor Masters is advocating such a simplistic solution. His comment that “…teaching is a highly respected and sought after career and these countries have succeeded in making teaching attractive to their brightest and best schools leavers…” (emphasis mine) indicates to me that it should be merely one component of the admission process.

Professor Masters observed that in teaching in Australia is trending in the other direction to high-performing countries, becoming less attractive, an opinion I agree with. Personally, I am finding that time I would spend planning and preparing for a lesson is being taken up by mandatory training modules which provide no actual training, or on paperwork which is needed for the sake of bureaucracy. I, like many other teachers around the world, am struggling to balance work and family and am left feeling guilty for not spending time with my family. Perversely, I also find myself feeling guilty for not spending the time I want on marking and writing feedback, or on planning and resourcing a lesson, (often with things from my own home or which we have purchased with our own money).

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One of many memes which can be found on the internet with a similar sentiment. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hgmax9j on 6th May 2016

The debate about how to improve the attractiveness of teaching as a profession is an old and ongoing one, and I look forward to hearing it discussed during Education Nation. When asked for his view on how the issue could be resolved, Professor Masters pointed out that it would require a series of deliberate policy decisions on a range of issues including teacher salaries, resourcing, and autonomy; as well as the number of admissions into ITE programs. Professor Masters noted that the countries which appear at the top of the international testing results, including Finland, limit the number of pre-service teachers each year. This article indicates that only one in ten applicants is successful in gaining entry into a Finnish ITE program.

There are also come clear benefits to restricting the number of entrants to ITE programs. You are also restricting the number of graduates, thereby helping to prevent what has happened here in Australia, where there is a glut of teachers who are unable to gain permanent employment due to the high number of graduates each year. Professor Masters’ final point was that an important factor in the perception of teaching is the academic rigour of the ITE program itself. I have written previously about my own ITE (part one can be found here), and I do believe that ITE programs, in general, can be improved, and look forward to hearing about that topic at Education Nation.

NAPLAN, which commences next Tuesday for Year Three, Five, Seven and Nine students Australia-wide, is an incredibly high-stakes testing process which has the potential to cause great anxiety and consternation amongst students, parents, teachers and policy-makers, and which invariably receives a great deal of attention in the media. When asked about why he thought NAPLAN moved from being a low-stakes test to what it is now, Professor Masters wrote that it is part of a deliberate strategy to improve performances through incentives.

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These incentives appear to use the carrot and stick method, with some financial rewards for school improvement or, alternatively, the threat of intervention and sanction for poor performance, and yet, the international experience has demonstrated that school behaviour is changed when the stakes attached to tests are increased. This is shown by the annual breaches that occur during the administering NAPLAN tests, including cheating and inappropriate assistance by some teachers, and the way in which many schools prepare their students for NAPLAN, as indicated in this article. Further to this, the public release of NAPLAN allows parents to compare schools and can result in some schools losing students as parents opt to send their child to seemingly ‘better’ schools.

Professor Masters commented that high-quality tests are an important component of education, providing diagnostic data around topics or concepts that require attention, monitoring improvement over time and evaluating the effectiveness and impact of programs and interventions. The widely used Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) is an example of the kind of test that can be an invaluable part of a teacher’s toolkit.

I do agree with Professor Masters about the value of testing. At the beginning of this year, Stage Three students in my school all completed a series of diagnostic tests across reading, spelling, and mathematics. That data was invaluable in identifying those students who need additional assistance in particular areas, and plays a role in developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for some students, and also for discussions with parents about the student’s results and progress throughout the year. It will also play an important role in quantifying students’ growth across the year when those tests are re-administered at various points throughout the year.

My final question to Professor Masters was his advice to new teachers as they enter their classrooms pressured to ensure that their students to achieve high NAPLAN results. He responded that “[t]here are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.” Professor Masters’ belief that the goal should be to improve our students’ literacy and numeracy levels, and that if we do raise the NAPLAN results, it should be as a result of improved literacy and numeracy levels. The problem, he pointed out, is that NAPLAN scores can be increased in ways that do not lead to better literacy and numeracy levels.

I am grateful to Professor Masters for his time and willingness to engage in the interview process. I very much look forward to hearing him speak at Education Nation, where he is speaking to the title Addressing the five key challenges in school education that matter to you on day one. Professor Masters will also be joining Dennis Yarrington, Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire and Lila Mularczyk for a panel discussion about Student Testing on day two. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation, I would encourage you to do so by clicking here.

As always, my thanks for reading, particularly given the length of this article. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, questions or feedback via the comments section below or on Twitter.

Reflections on Teacher Life and Resilience

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio

What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?

I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.

This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z44hnvk 22nd February 2016

 

In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away.Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.

Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though  things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.

At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being  granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.

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How I feel this term. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hlsjwn9 22nd February 2016

I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.

As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis.  I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?

There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?

I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.

On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.

I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.

dimensions-of-resilience
Retrieved from tinyurl.com/guodvkf 22nd February 2016

 

Today did actually well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.

I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.

That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year.

As always, thank you for reading.  I do have photo of my new classroom to update the header of this blog, I just have not had time to upload it yet.

Teacher Job Shortages

“It is essential for students that all teachers — casual, temporary or full time — meet the Proficient Teacher standards within a reasonable period…[e]ven casual teachers should have a supervisor to support them…this is a reasonable expectation of schools and school systems.” the [Department of Education] spokesman said.
– Alison Branley, The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13th February 2016

I entered university to undertake my initial teaching education at the start of 2010, and I have distinct memories of hearing, for at least the ten years leading up to that point, that there were significant teacher shortages, which, coupled with the apparent looming retirement of thousands of teachers nationally, was leading to a crisis in education. This narrative has continued every since, and I recall when I was in my third year of my ITE that there was an uproar after this article was published by The Sydney Morning Herald.

I was not overly concerned at the time, confident that I would be able to find casual work, as I had also heard that there was a shortage of casual teachers on the Central Coast. There was also an element of that’s-a-problem-for-future-me in my putting off worrying about it. I am conscious of the fact that I was very fortunate that I had no problems gaining regular casual employment almost straight after finishing my ITE and that I was was then offered a contract for four days a week from Term Two last and then for this year as well.

teaching-1
Retrieved from erinclarke.wordpress.com/2008/08/25/the-creaded-first-day-of-casual-teaching/ on 13 February 2016

I attribute this to a few reasons.Firstly, I had an excellent relationship with my supervising teacher, the staff, and students whilst on my first practicum, to the point where I was offered a place on the Year Six Canberra excursion which occurred during my final week there; an invaluable opportunity from which I learned a lot about being on an overnight excursion. After I completed my practicum, my supervising teacher invited to come back in whenever I wanted and help out, an invitation I took him up on, going in to help out when my university timetable allowed.I continued to visit and help out throughout the remainder of my studies, keeping my face known and building rapport with the staff and students, and continuing to learn about myself as a teacher. I was told in no uncertain terms to be sure to let them know when I received my approval to teach so that they could add me to the list of casual teachers. I built that relationship, worked to develop and maintain it and reaped the benefits when I graduated.

The second reason was that in week two of 2015, having allowed schools a week to settle back in, I printed out and hand delivered a copy of my resume and the relevant paperwork to twenty schools, meeting the person who managed the casual teacher list where I was able to, and finding out the name of that person, if unable to do so. I hear a lot of anecdotal stories about people complaining they are unable to gain casual employment, and many of them, from what I hear, have not gone out and done the rounds of their local schools, beyond a small selection of up to four or five. I delivered resumes to twenty and heard back from only four schools, one of whom was the school at which I completed my first practicum and another from whom I did not have a call until around August after I was already engaged on a temporary contract.

I may have ended up working casually at only three schools, however, that was three callbacks from twenty resumes.

Recently, there has been another round of articles talking about this issue, both from a job shortage point of view as well as from the point of view of the tertiary sector’s responsibility to the education industry as the provider’s of ITE programs, as well ongoing discussions about this topic within the education community on Twitter.

“I’m really angry especially with universities because the universities are the ones pushing the line ‘come and do a teaching degree and you’ll get a job’. They must know that’s false.”
– Steve Elliot, ABC News 13 February 2016

The ABC News article, written by Alison Branley, indicates that up to forty percent of graduates are unable to find work within four months of graduating, which can make it difficult to fulfill the requirement to work one hundred and eighty days within a five-year period, which is the time limit to complete the movement from Provisionally to Proficiently accredited.

As someone who is on a temporary contract, I have access to Professional Development opportunities through the school and support to piece together my portfolio of evidence for my own accreditation. As a casual teacher, however, that support is not as readily available to you, as schools’ funding is for professional development is limited, and does not often allow the provision of professional development to casual teachers, without those teachers bearing the cost of the course. Alison cites (uncredited) some interesting statistics, which, if taken at face-value, are frightening:

  • Teacher’s who do not gain sufficient employment become ineligible to teach without restarting a new degree.
  • Since 2010, NSW has lost almost 3,000 teachers from its books

For those who undertake a three-year ITE program (my own was a four-year program), this has a significant cost to the taxpayer, which is essentially wasted money.

  • Student contribution HECS-HELP loan (40%): $18,768
  • Commonwealth contribution (60%): $28,152
  • Total cost of degree: $46,920
  • Multiplied by 2,897 grads (NSW): $135,927,240

Workforce management within education, particularly the training of new teachers is an undoubtedly complex and difficult task. Anna Patty wrote an article for The Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 indicating that the just under seven thousand teacher graduates in 2013 were fighting for a mere two thousand two hundred jobs, of which only a thousand were advertised. There were, I believe, around one hundred and thirty (ish) who graduated in my cohort. I am only aware of around six or seven who received permanent positions under the NSW Department of Education’s Targeted Recruitment Program, with the remainder fighting for casual work and temporary contracts, with a small number having gone overseas or put teaching on hold to raise a family.

image
Retrieved from pbs.twimg.com/profil_images_2612521888/image.jpg on 13 February 2016

The situation is confusing as we are being given seemingly contradictory information, that there is both a teacher glut and a teacher shortage, and this comes back to the treatment of ITE programs as cash-cows, so dubbed by Stephen Dinham in January 2013. In contrast to Finland, where entry into an ITE program requires a Masters degree, as a starting point, a brief search of the UAC Education courses today (13 February 2016) showed that the majority of cut-offs for ITE programs is only sixty.

“We need other measures of suitability to teaching to augment ATAR scores.”
Stephen Dinham, The Conversation. Retrieved 13 February 2016

I agree with Stephen’s call for other measures of suitability, but what they are, how they are judged and how you can tell if someone at nineteen years of age will be a suitable teacher when they graduate at around twenty-three, is open to debate. I have heard calls for an interview process similar to what I understand is required for entry into Medicine undergraduate programs, but I know that if I had gone into one of those interviews in Year Twelve, I would have been deemed unsuitable, as I would likely have been very unsure of whether it was what I wanted to do, and I know of many teachers my age, who did enter university to become teachers straight out of high school, and completed the degree very casually, just looking a Pass mark.

Whilst I am not old enough to know much about the Teachers College indentured employment system which many of my senior colleagues went through, whereby they were guaranteed a permanent posting straight out of university, perhaps a similar program for those willing to be posted to rural and remote locations, or to take postings in areas other than where they had originally considered is an idea worth investigating.

Alternatively, one of my Professors during my ITE who was trained and began his teaching career in the UK told us of how a similar issue was managed over there. Apparently, and I would love to hear from someone who can provide more concrete details of how it worked out, the offered voluntary retirement packages to a large percentage of teachers who were close to retirement age, which freed up a large number of positions higher up the ladder, which allowed those wanted to do so to move further up the chain, freeing up a large number of permanent teaching positions on the bottom rung. There are some obvious potential pitfalls to this concept, not least the loss of corporate knowledge, however, it is an interesting concept.

This is a complex topic, and I welcome any constructive discussion around the issue.

Some meanderings on education

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
– Attributed to 
John Dewey

I have sat down to write this particular article on a number of occasions and for various reasons, have ended up not doing so, however, I am determined to write it today and thus am staying back at school, with no, or rather no domestic, distractions. Whilst I checked out of social media, from an educating point of view, for the duration of the Christmas holidays, I was still perusing the various tweets and reading linked articles when they struck my fancy, e-mailing many of them to myself for later use.

I have written previously about Initial Teacher Education (here, here, here, here and here) and there have been some articles that have made for interesting reading around the topic of initial teacher education, as well as teaching in general, that I believe are worth discussing.

Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman) is someone whose style of writing I tend to enjoy reading, and his article The bad ideas that hold teachers back was no different. This particular article discussed, very briefly, the pedagogical practice of differentiation, citing it as seeming “…truthy enough…” but that ultimately, it does not have a solid bank of evidence supporting it. To demonstrate this, Greg included the below graphic:

pisa-vs-talis-graph2
Retrieved gregashman.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/pisa-vs-talis-graph2.png on 9th February 2016

It is an impressive looking graph, however, I am not conversant enough in statistical analysis to understand whether what is being represented is actually statistically significant. I understand enough to understand that I am looking at a graph that would appear to demonstrate that the greater the percentage of lower secondary (which I take to mean Years Seven to Nine) teachers who profess to differentiate by providing alternate work either frequently or in almost all lessons correlated to a lower PISA mathematics mean score in the 2012 iteration. Greg provided a link to a pdf file from the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented which he summed up as finding that “…the teachers weren’t doing it right. So it is either something that works if you have particularly talented teachers who can implement it – although this has not been demonstrated – or it is an idea that doesn’t work at all…”

I have mixed feelings regarding the concept of differentiation. I agree that in theory it does sound “…truthy enough…” but that in practice it often seems to result in learning opportunities of a far lower standard than the student needs (or, perhaps, is entitled to) or at the other end of the scale, fails to provide a sufficiently high challenge. I must note that at this point in my career, that I have not had a great range of exposure to how specific teachers differentiate specific skills, concepts or pieces of knowledge, and so I am drawing from a limited well, that being my own experience, which in this area feels like wandering in the dark, to a degree.

The next article I noted was also by Greg, and was titled A guide for new teachers. It contained a number of ideas and thoughts that I feel would be beneficial for new teachers to be aware of, and I think which the pre-service teacher I wrote about last year would have appreciated reading had I come across the article then.

The final article was regarding teacher qualifications, job shortages, and accreditation issues, which I believe I will leave for another time, as those issues are complex enough, and have the potential for a lengthy article in their own right. I am also conscious of the fact that it is now just after five pm and that I still have a number of other things I need to do before I go home.