Education Nation | Post Event Musings

“I want to be the best version of myself for anyone who is going to someday walk into my life and need someone to love them beyond reason.”
Jennifer Elisabeth, Born Ready: Unleash Your Inner Dream Girl

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

I first heard of Education Nation sometime back in late February or perhaps early March when it received a mention during a Twitter chat. I had a look at the website and although it looked interesting, my professional development days and my (self-funded) budget had both been allocated for the year. Fast forward to FutureSchools (review articles here) and I received a response to a photo I put up on Twitter.

I thought, at first, that it was a cheeky plug for the Education Nation conference, but decided to send through an e-mail to follow it up. Imagine my shock when I was told that, yes it was  a genuine offer to attend and review the event. I am very glad that I did accept the offer. Learnings from the conference aside (and there were many), the opportunity to meet people face-to-face that I had been speaking to and knew from Twitter conversations for the first time was an exciting opportunity. Overall, however, the Education Nation was, in my view, a success.


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The Venue
I do not think I can have a general wrap up from Education Nation without including the location. It was stunning. Day two provided better weather and a slightly warmer temperature than day one did. It 1made it very easy to go outside and enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air, to debrief from the sessions and recharge ready for the next one. The venue itself was interesting. The rooms utilised for the Rethinking Reform and Digital Dimensions streams were generally excellent. They had a good view without being distracting, the rooms had reasonable acoustics and the audio levels were set well to make the speaker easy to hear. The afternoon sessions were a little frustrating as the sun would digital-dimensionsreflect off the water through the windows at the back of the room, flooding it with light, which made taking photos during presentations difficult due to over-exposure. The hinges on the door into Digital Dimensions also sounded like the Tin Man anytime someone entered or left, which was rather frustrating mid-session.

the-leader-2The Leader, The Educator, and The Learner all had their own challenges. The Leader was in a terrible room if I am being honest. In comparison to the other locations, it was a dungeon. The run of windows in the room were situated at head-height, if you were standing up, but were at the level of the footpath outside, meaning all that could be seen was active wear in various guises running past, which meant it was a more distracting room than the others. The light levels were also horrible for taking photographs, and the room had odd lighting, making it feel dim. The physical structure of the room also created a very closed-in feeling.

3The Learner was in an echo chamber, or so it sounded. Additionally, the room seemingly had no climate control as I had heard people complaining about the temperature over the course of the event. The Educator was the last session of the conference and so the sun was quite low when during that session and so was in the delegates’ eyes, depending on where they were sitting, during that session. The view, however, was fantastic.

The signage could have been better. Each room did have a sign out the front indicating which one it was, however there needed to be a directional side immediately outside of the main rooms pointing to each of the other rooms, especially given that they were at opposite ends of the venue.

CaptureI did feel bad for the vendors, to a degree. The Playground was an awkward layout, with the mezzanine level taking up a fair chunk the floorspace, the main floor not being overly large, and with such a beautiful view on the deck outside. I had heard discussion from various quarters about the seemingly low attendee numbers, however, if there had been many more people in attendance, The Playground and food areas would have been very cramped and difficult to move around, and we would have seen more issues. I will not write further on The Playground here, as I have already written an article on it specifically.

The Speakers
For me, the speakers were generally very good. There were, of course, some whose sessions I enjoyed more than others, and there were a few speakers whose sessions I felt did not hit the mark, but on the whole. If you have read the previous articles reviewing those sessions I was able to attend. The feedback I had from the other streams was generally positive. The exception, however, was The Leader stream. From what I have heard, from multiple sources, other than two or three sessions the speakers in that stream generally missed the mark, were not speaking on the topic the abstract indicated they would be speaking on, were not engaging or delivered a lecture rather than a workshop.

One delegate in that stream that I was speaking with told me how that stream had been selected specifically as the one to attend as it fit right in with this delegates Professional Development Plan and the delegate had hoped to learn more about the mechanics of leading a school. The comment that I was given was that this delegate felt that overall it was a waste of time and the two professional development days he was allotted for the year were now spent and for no benefit. I encouraged this delegate to seek out one of the event organisers to give some specific feedback, more so than would be able to be provided on the feedback forms.

Other than that, however, I heard generally positive feedback on the speakers. Particularly enjoyed and seen as beneficial from what I heard were Brett Salakas, Corinne Campbell, Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson, The Hewes Family, and Leanne Steed and Elizabeth Amvrazis.

There is some expectation that the last session at a conference is typically poorly attended. I personally do not understand this. If you are investing significant money in an event, then you should be staying until the end to get maximum benefit from it. I know far too many people who have left conferences early to make a flight or train home. It is akin to leaving a concert before the house lights have come back on, or a movie before the end of the credits. That said, it was embarrassing to hear that no-one stayed for the final session of The Educator stream. I cannot imagine how Elizabeth Amvrazis and Leeanne Steed must have felt. I know how I would have felt

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The Great Debate and other Themes
The Great Debate was one of the drawcard events, I feel, for Education Nation. Looking back, however, I do not feel that it achieved much. Noone’s mind was going to be changed on the issue. Many would have taken Dr. Zyngier’s side, irrespective of what he said, just to be opposed to Dr. Donnelly, it was and will always remain a divisive issue and as many people commented on twitter, and as both Dr Donnelly and Dr. Zyngier commented during the event, we need to move past this.

There were some interesting themes that came through over the course of Education Nation. If you have read any of the review articles, then you might have noticed some as well. The most significant theme, in my opinion, was the call for a genuine national conversation about the purpose and goals of education in Australia. It came through in most of the sessions I attended and in most of the conversations that I had outside the sessions. It was pointed out to me on Twitter that we have had a national conversation, which is where The Melbourne Declaration comes from. I disagree that it was a national conversation, however. It was a meeting of Education Ministers to develop a document that says some pretty things which sound nice. A national conversation, however? No.

I do not know how we would go about starting something like a national conversation that would have any sort of actual relevance and use, other than setting up a Change.org petition, however, which does not seem appropriate, or a Royal Commission of Inquiry,which seems like a vast overkill. I would very much like to hear feedback from my reads as to firstly, whether or they agree with the need for a national conversation about education, and secondly, what platform could or should be taken to get it started and get it, the need for it, and the results, taken seriously and listened to.

There were some other themes that came through, I thought. More needs to be done to work with the families and students in our low socioeconomic areas, we need to be more positive about teaching and recognise the successes we have more often, initial teacher education needs to be improved and strengthened to better prepare beginning teachers for their new career and to stem the personnel drain that occurs within the first five years of a teacher’s career and finally, we need to share more with each other about practices which are and are not working.

Would I attend Education Nation again? Yes. Is there room for improvement and streamlining? Of course.

If you have made it this far and have read all of the previous articles in the Education Nation series, well done and thank you for staying the journey. Now, I am off to finish writing my reports.

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Education Nation | Day Two Session Four | The Hewes Family

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

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Afternoon tea at Education Nation

As anyone who has been to education conferences in the past knows, by the time you reach the last session, there is serious mental fatigue setting in. I was struggling a little, though a slice of excellent chocolate brownie and a hot chocolate whilst sitting on the deck at Luna Park chatting with Corinne Campbell, who had her Teacher’s Education Review (@TERPodcast) hat on, made for a nice mental change of direction. Corinne interviewed me in my role as a blogger for Education Nation, and to be honest, I do not remember very clearly what the questions were or what I said in response and I just hope that I did not sound too waffly or pompous!

 

The last session of Education Nation was one that I had chosen specifically because the topic it was covering was one that I was not completely sold on, having never seen it run particularly well. It meant, or I felt it meant, that I would go in skeptical (always healthy) and would either have my feelings confirmed or changed. I would not be able to come out of the session still sitting on the fence about it. The Hewes Family (@biancaH80 and @waginski) were speaking about Project Based Learning (PBL), a pedagogical practice which has become increasingly popular and mainstream over the last few years.

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I arrived slightly late, and to the Hewes’ boys speaking about their experiences as students with PBL, acknowledging that there are many different models of PBL, but that at its core, it is more than a project. It is often touted as a project go make this or show this and teachers are then hands-off. Lee jumped in at this point and said that if you are not having students hitting the top tiers of Bloom’s taxonomy during a PBL unit, then you are not utilising PBL properly. Bianca and Lee laid out some key ideas to keep in mind when considering using PBL as part of your practice.

The first key thing to be aware of, Lee told the audience, was that the PBL unit needs to be thoroughly planned out and that in the early days of learning about  PBL that a good PBL unit will often require as much time to plan properly as it does to actually implement it. As you and your students become more confident and competent with the process and skills required, that time is reduced, but there is a significant investment in time up front. The key to planning any good PBL unit is to keep in mind three key factors; students should be discovering, creating and sharing throughout the unit, though Lee added that a variety of verbs can replace those three.

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Photo from The Hewes’ Family presentation at Education Nation. 8 June 2016.

 

The driving question should be student-friendly, which was elaborated as meaning that students can confidently repeat it correctly and can understand what the question is asking and explain it to others in their own words. This also implies that there should be some sort of problem to be solved which is significant to the students. This does not necessarily mean that they are solving a local problem. The significance can be wider than just the immediate area and assessment, but it should be significant, in some way, to the students. There should also be a continual cycle of assessment for the duration of the PBL unit, assessment of learning, for learning and as learning, and this includes not only the internal assessment by the teacher but an opportunity for external assessment through online sharing of learning.

Quality resources should be planned for and utilised. This includes any kind of resources, whether it be digital, soft-copy, physical resource or a personnel resource; the use of a subject matter expert (SME) as part of the PBL unit. There is more than the textbook available, especially in the age where many questions are easily Google-able or answerable with a small amount of research.

The resources for planning, refining and assessing a PBL unit on the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) (@BIEpbl) were available and very easy to use, particularly as a starting point, and include rubrics to help assess the final learning output. Bianca and Lee stressed that we need to teach students how to read and use the rubric as a signpost throughout the unit so that they understand what will be assessed and how and can use that to track their process and that the rubrics are guided by research from Geoff Petty (@GeoffreyPetty). Part of helping students utilise them is to make them engaging, and this is where the ongoing assessment of, for and as learning comes into play.

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Photo from Thew Hewes’ Family presentation at Education Nation. 8 June 2016.

We were also advised to teach students how and why to use a project calendar; as part of teaching accountability, planning and forward thinking, all skills needed in everyday life, but particularly useful for managing time and resources in any sort of project. The students should be encouraged to plan out their project and fill in the due dates for milestones of their project by backward mapping the overall process after a discussion about realistic timeframes and then roles and responsibilities within the group should be negotiated. I get the impression that this would be an investment in time, up front, but that would long term, see strong dividends. Students would, with the right instruction in how to use them, be able to apply the concept across the rest of their learning and stay on top of any other assessment tasks, particularly in a secondary setting where there might be multiple tasks in play at any one time.

Part of the process of planning high-quality resources, which I mentioned above, also included booking conference time with the teacher. Lee spoke about how he encourages students to consider particular skills or concepts they will need to learn and to book in lessons with him, cooperatively with other groups, to ensure they get the instruction they need. This gives students some agency over their learning but lets them know that there are instructional sessions that they will need to complete in order to learn skills or concepts needed for the end product.

Additionally, you need to prepare students for PBL by developing specific skills such as teamwork, collaboration, presenting, conducting research and knowing how to be independent and a team player, as well as when to be both of those. Lee advocated using starbursting as a tool to help students understand the skills needed for PBL and also to help them develop teamwork criteria.

 

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Image retrieved from tinyurl.com/zgwyfmd on 13 June 2016.

Bianca next spoke about the importance of remaining organised before and during a PBL unit. Using Project Packets which contains unit outlines, rubrics, lists of resources and where or how to access them etc are a great way of helping students stay organised (see here for examples of what else might be in a project packet), and that these can be digital, hard copy or both. Using a project wall can also be a useful way to keep PBL units organised, as can some form of online resource management or LMS for communication and sharing of resources.

Next, we heard about the [not so] secret structure for successful PBL units.

  1. A solid hook lesson with some embedded formative assessment.
  2. Project outlines, a KWL chart for some more formative assessment and to allow students to make their learning visible and a loose outline of their project calendars.
  3. Form project teams (teacher-selected), discuss and sign contracts, teamwork rubrics.
  4. Engage in the discovery cycle which will utilise some explicit instruction, as well as teacher and student-led activities and SME visits or contact via an alternative form.
  5. Move to the create cycle, which is where groups plan, prototype and test their learning output and engage in a thirty-second class share (though the thirty-second share can occur at any point in the PBL unit and should occur on multiple occasions), a gallery walk and engagement with goals, medals and missions.
  6. The share cycle which requires rehearsal and preparation by the students prior to their sharing (in whatever form that takes). It was stressed, at this point, that teachers need to not micromanage this phase of the PBL unit. Students are accountable for what they have learned and the unit will only be successful on subsequent occasions with the same cohort if they know they are held accountable and that you will not swoop in at the last moment to do the work for them.
  7. The evaluation phase, where students and teacher engage with an honest and frank self-assessment and reflection period about the unit, the effort put in, the outcomes and the products, the rubrics used, what worked well and what could be improved next time.

Bianca has written about the various aspects of structuring a PBL unit on her own blog. One article  found, which seems to speak to some of the specifics I have covered above can be found here.

 

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The criteria for awesome according to the Hewes’ children. Photo taken of a slide during their Education Nation presentation on 8 June 2016.

The session was closed out with a task for the audience. In our table groups, we had to develop a brief PBL unit overview that we could take back to our context and with further planning using the tools and strategies shared with us, put into practice. We were given some examples of PBL Unit outlines created by Bianca and Lee that they provided to students as part of their own PBL teaching, one of which I have included below.

 

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A PBL Unit outline for a Year Four class.

I can certainly see the benefits of PBL now, and I feel that with some time and preparation I could develop and run a good PBL unit in my class. It is the time, as always, that is the issue and, at this point in time, I still wish to pursue flipped learning and strengthen my skills in that area. I can certainly see myself returning to PBL in the future, however, and they have given me confidence that it can be done and done very well whilst till hitting the various outcomes that we are required to hit.

This is the last of the session review articles, and at this point, the first iteration of Education Nation was done and dusted, at least from the delegates’ perspectives. I do plan to write one further article as an overall wrap-up and review to address some general feedback that I have received about various aspects of the event, and to tie in some of the themes that I saw across the conference.

 

 

 

 

Education Nation | Day Two Session Three | Corinne Campbell

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

As Leanne and Elizabeth were wrapping up their session, I saw a tweet that Corinne Campbell (@corisel) was beginning her session. This was unexpected, as it was about fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time for her session. I quickly collected my belongings and head upstairs, missing only a few minutes of her session. Corinne was speaking about the empowering or disempowering of the teaching profession as a result of the focus on evidence-based practice.

When I entered, Corinne was discussing that research by John Hattie (@john_hattie and @visiblelearning) shows that all interventions have an impact, however, it is the size of the impact that varies. Corinne also brought up the Teaching and Learning Toolkit by AITSL, which includes a page that outlines a series of pedagogical practices and, relative to each other, their implementation of cost, time for them to produce their overall effect as well as the overall effect size. I have included a screenshot below of what this looks like. The filters (not in the image) allow you to refine the search based on a range of parameters and the list can also be sorted high to low across all four columns. It is another tool on the AITSL website that I have never seen before and reinforces, for me, the feeling that the AITSL website is a vastly underused and under-respected toolbox; I cannot recall the last time I heard any reference, positive or negative, to it in any discussions with other teachers.

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Screen capture of the Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/j5v5p2c on 13 June 2016

 

Corinne then spoke about unintended consequences of the focus on evidence-based pedagogical practices, beginning with a burgeoning standardisation of practice without consideration for specific contexts. An example of this is the apparently mandated use of direction instruction in remote Aboriginal schools which has been in the media recently. I say apparently as I have not read the articles surrounding the issue and cannot comment either way on it.

The above tweet was the theme for the next portion of Corinne’s presentation. The focus on evidence-based practices is leaving many experienced teachers second-guessing themselves and their teaching strategies despite having many years of experience in the classroom. This has come from, Corinne elaborated, the use of microdata within schools which is causing many teachers to doubt their own practices if they are not achieving growth in their students learning outcomes. It occurred to me at the time that teachers without confidence in themselves and their pedagogy will teach by the book and not take risks pedagogically or instill passion in their students.

Corinne then introduced the thinking of Gert Biesta (@gbiesta).

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Corinne Campbell discussing the thinking of Gert Biesta in the Rethinking Reform stream at Education Nation on 8 June 2016.

 

The last sentence of the quote is, I feel, the important piece here. It relates to a theme that had arisen in earlier sessions at Education Nation; that what works in one context will not necessarily work in another. Corinne then showed us a graphic, which I, unfortunately, did not get a photo of, but which shows three ways of thinking about pedagogical practices and their impact on a student; qualification, socialisation, and subjectification, which, the way that Corinne spoke about it, was a method of thinking that encouraged questioning the purpose of education. My notes on this section are rather lacking, which is disappointing as it struck me as being an important point. I even went to the trouble of (badly) drawing the graphic in my notebook. Rather than include that messy diagram, I have included below a form of the graphic I retrieved from another site which outlines, I feel, the message that Corinne was aiming to impart to the audience.

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Slide Two from a slide deck by Dr. Karin Murris. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/jodhwo2 on 13 June 2016

 

Corinne elaborated on this as her closing point. If we put in place a program which aims at improving a student’s acquisition of knowledge in a particular learning area, without paying any attention to the contextual use of that knowledge (socialisation) or the impact that knowledge may have on the student’s self-efficacy or self-perception (subjectification), then while the qualification may improve we will ultimately see a negative impact. We need to be making contextualised and informed professional judgements about pedagogical practices that will have an overall positive impact in our classroom. That was my understanding of what Corinne was saying, at any rate.

I would have liked to have heard all of Corinne’s presentation, and for her to have had more time to elaborate on some of her ideas. I have a gut feeling, a sense of something itching away at the edge of my consciousness, that there was something in Corinne’s presentation, that I was missing; an idea or concept that would have….I do not actually know. There is a sense that I am missing something important from Corinne’s presentation, however.

Thank you for reading, as always. If you have kept up with the articles I have written as a result of Education Nation, then well done, as they have been rather lengthy articles. I can only hope that my readers have found them useful, particularly for those sessions they were not able to attend themselves. If you have missed any of the articles, you can find the consolidated list by clicking here. Take heart, however, there are only two more articles to go!

Education Nation | Day Two Session Three | Olivia O’Neill

It’s only when  every student has a laptop, the power begins.”
– 
Seymour Papert, quoted by Olivia O’Neill at Education Nation. 8 June 2016

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

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Olivia O’Neill presenting in the Digital Dimensions stream at Education Nation. 8 June 2016

Following the lunch break for day two of Education Nation, I settled in to hear Olivia O’Neill, Principal of Brighton Secondary School, speaking about Engaging Gen Y Teachers. This was a session I was looking forward to, as I knew a reasonable amount of about the reforms that had occurred at Brighton Secondary School through my interactions with Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLecornu), through both FlipConAus in 2015 and FlipLearnCon in 2016, however, I had about it from Jeremy, whose perspective is that of a teacher. This would be an opportunity to hear about the same journey from the perspective of the Principal.

 

Olivia explicitly said that it had been a slow and deliberate process over an eight-year period that was strongly influenced by Seymour Papert and engaged parents and students through a series of forums.The school chose iPads for pragmatism and after demonstrating they were in a position to make appropriate use the technology, earned a grant under the Digital Education Revolution, and soon discovered that though they had sufficient wireless coverage, their wireless capacity needed substantial work (see here for a rough explanation of the difference between coverage and capacity), with up to one thousand devices online at any one point in time.

We heard that the school was using a combination of Citrix Xen, Verso and Showbie to support their learning management systems and that they have, across the staff, won a number of awards for the innovative approaches being tried, which has been guided, partially by the SAMR model, but largely by the TPCK model. Olivia also spoke about the use of challenge-based learning as an important component of the pedagogical approach in the school. It is not, Olivia made clear, the be all and end all, but it does play a significant role.

Olivia then spoke, in passing, about the use of flipped learning as having played a significant role in the reforms at their school. If you are not familiar with flipped learning, you will find this article useful as a starting point to understand flipped learning. Formative assessment is now conducted using Kahoot and Socrative, with overall assessment philosophy guided by Dylan Williams’ research on assessment.  A number of teachers also record their feedback on students learning output to provide more detailed and contextual feedback to students, which has seen positive reactions from students and parents. Whilst the challenges that can occur in a room with technology do  still occur, the focus is on the pedagogy and the why of its use.

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Photo from Olivia O’Neill’s presentation at Education Nation. 8 June 2016

 

The school also focuses on character education and providing a large variety of opportunities for students to share their learning in non-traditional ways, which has the flow-on of creating a situation where the students are active participants in their learning, producing as much as they consume, and this is driven by a questioning of the purpose of education (again, this seems to be a pattern!) and why the model of information dumping is still followed when there are so many other options.

There was some interesting information in Olivia’s presentation, and I can only assume that others in the audience gleaned a lot from it. I did enjoy hearing about a story I knew from an alternate perspective, however, I feel like Olivia went for breadth, rather than depth. I would have liked to hear more about the challenges faced in the early days of implementing the reforms; how were parents brought on board? Students? How did the senior teachers react and cope with the changes? How did she gain staff buy-in Olivia mentioned that technology pitfalls still occur, but made no mention of any strategies used to circumvent these in a technology-heavy school. I had hoped to hear more about the challenges faced from the perspective of a Principal, as opposed to what I have heard from the perspective of a teacher (Jeremy LeCornu).

I am looking forward to attending FlipConAus16, which Olivia and Brighton Secondary School are hosting, and learning more about the journey taken whilst I am there. I would like to hear feedback and thoughts on Olivia’s presentation from others who were in the session and did not already know about the changes that have occurred in Brighton Secondary School.

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 | Lila Mularczyk

“To sell our children short today is to sell Australia short tomorrow.”
– Gough Whitlam, 1972, cited by Stephen Elder, 27 October 2014

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

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

I have to confess to something. By the time Lila arrived, despite her energy and passion, I was struggling to stay focused and engaged. I had conference-brain and I missed much of what Lila said. This was exacerbated  by Lila speaking with so much energy and passion; and speed. It was difficult to keep up and my brain simply said no.So if it seems as if Lila’s presentation is a bit jumpy and the ideas only tenuously linked, that says more about my note taking and ability to focus during her session than it does about Lila’s content.

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Lila opened by remarking that if the education sectors do not work together then the students are the ones who suffer, and it is the students who matter most. Furthermore, of the countries in the OECD whose lead we historically follow socially, culturally and in regards to educational policy, namely the United States and the United Kingdom, their results on PISA testing is going backwards as well, which begs the question of whether we should be following their lead.

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Photos of slides from early in Lila’s session.

Lila spoke about how targeted funding, that is, funding that is targeted to specific needs and/or programs makes a significant difference within education and that for those students in low socioeconomic areas, where eighty percent of students’ families cannot afford to for the student to attend university, university offers are meaningless. She continued ( think) by  saying that we need to be looking to credible, interrogated, and reliable educational research when we make decisions about educational policies and pedagogical practices and she included John Hattie’s research in this.

She continued by making reference to work by Ravitch (see photo above) and Pasi Sahlberg‘s (@pasi_sahlberg) unfortunately, though I suspect deliberately acronymised movement, Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which has been gaining traction here in Australia, but which was largely informed by myth.

.It was at this point that I must have completely zoned out (though my ears must have perked up automatically when publishers and big business was mentioned as I took the above photo, however, as I tuned back in, an unknown amount of time later, I heard Lila say to the audience that “…it is not money itself that is the answer, but how we use the money ,” a sentiment that sounds very logical and sensible and which I do not think too many people would disagree with. It has echoes of some aspects of The Great Debate and some of what was said there, as well as what I have heard other speakers from Education Nation were intimating in their own presentations.

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A photo captured at some point during Lila’s presentation.

Lila then remarked that many of the educational practices and ideas that are translated from overseas educational systems are informed by myths, referring back to the opening discussion about the Australian tendency to follow the United Kingdom and the United states when it comes to social and cultural developments and that this holds largely true for educational policy. Thankfully, we have not yet completely gone the way of the corporate curriculum being peddled in both those countries, and about which I have heard nothing but negative feedback, scorn, and derision from educators being forced to work in those contexts. It does, unfortunately, feel like we are beginning to move in that direction. I can only hope we manage to avoid the waves being seen in the United States as a result of Pearson’s engagement with education (see here or here for example), where, in many educational jurisdictions they provide the tests, create and deliver the professional development opportunities, write and provide the textbooks and effectively populate the curriculum.

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A comment about tenure was made, with Lila remarking that she could not imagine not having permanency of employment and the uncertainty that that must bring with it.

Lila closed (as far as my notes indicate) by commenting that there is no research which credibly demonstrates a correlation between the decentralisation of educational policy and curriculum with improved academic outcomes for students.

I can only apologise to both Lila and my readers for not having a complete set of notes for this session. I underestimated how intense Education Nation would be cognitively, and it was a late night at the end of day one of Education Nation as I attended the #AussieEd Live event at Kirribilli Club (which was a fantastic night) and had then returned to my hotel to write an article. If anyone has written an article as a result of Lila’s session, or any others, please let me know, as I would be happy to include a link to any articles written from Education Nation by other delegates.

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.

Education Nation | The Great Debate

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

In the build up to Education Nation (#EduNationAu), The Great Debate, a showdown about public versus private education, was billed as one of the headline acts for the event, featuring two speakers who typically take opposing views. Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) was arguing for the side of public education against Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia) who was, of course, arguing for the side of private education.

As promised on Twitter, I have recorded and included here the full audio of the debate. The only editing done to it was to bring the audio levels roughly into alignment as some sections, particularly during the questions from the floor, were rather quiet in the recording.

The Great Debate was structured as follows:

  • Opening remarks from Dr. Zyngier followed by Dr. Donnelly.
  • Five minutes of rebuttal from Dr. Zyngier followed by Dr. Donnelly.
  • Question and Answer which were asked in a turn-about fashion to Dr. Zyngier and Dr. Donnelly:
    • Two questions submitted prior to the event
    • Questions from the floor.

TheGreatDebate

Dr. Zyngier opened by talking about the negativity towards public schooling being a product which began with the Fraser Government in the 1960s, who introduced public funding for private schools, creating a sense of entitlement and privilege for the few and is an anti-democratic notion. Public funding of private education has continued since then and has resulted in a constant expansion of the private education sector.

Dr. Zyngier then invoked Joe Hockey, currently the Australian Ambassador the United States, who, as Treasurer in 2014, was quoted in the media as saying…everyone in Australia must do the heavy lifting. The age of entitlement is over, the age of personal responsibility has begun…” but, in fact, the public funding private education is about to outstrip public funding of public education vis-a-vis the funding per student amount.

david-zyngier_education-nation-2016-sydney-400hThis constant growth in public funding of private education has, Dr. Zyngier argued, resulted in a growing perception of private schools as being better and played a role in the residualisation of public schools. There is now a growing disparity between funding and this should be seen and felt as a national shame as there are significant consequences for our children. There is a widening disparity in resourcing for students at different ends of the socioeconomic status (SES) scale.

The priority for the Government should be full public funding for public education to help ameliorate the lottery of birth which resulted in parents having a choice, however, the choice was only available if parents could afford the choice. Stephen Dinham (OAM) was then quoted as having said that “It is hard not to conclude that what we are seeing is a deliberate strategy to dismantle public education, partly for ideological and partly for financial reasons.” Rresidualisation feeds further residualisation, was the message I was hearing at this point.

Dr. Zyngier at this point changed tack, asking the audience who had flown on a long-haul flight overseas, and who had travelled by economy class, business class or first class. There were fewer hands up for the higher classes of course, and Dr. Zyngier made the analogy that as those who choose to fly in business or first class do not expect those in economy class to subsidise their flight, why should those who choose to send their children to a private school expect the rest of us to subsidise that choice. I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a business and education is an investment in the future.

jamie-dorrington_education-nation-2016-sydney-400h-400x300I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a profit-based business and education is, or should be seen as, an investment in the future. It also seems a stretch to me to argue this point, particularly given that, as Jamie Dorrington, the Rethinking Reform MC remarked, that the airlines would likely argue that the upper-class prices, in fact, subsidise the economy class prices.

Dr. Zyngier argued that this is in fact what does happen in Australia, with public funding of private schools acting as a subsidy for the lifestyle choice of the parents and that we have the highest level of privatisation of education in the OECD. Dr. Zyngier continued by pointing out that countries in the OECD such as the United Kingdom and the United States, though they have privatised education institutions, and perhaps some of the most well-known educational institutions in the world, do not give any public funds to those private education institutes whatsoever.

In closing, Dr. Zyngier made two points; firstly, he noted that Australia has been reported by the OECD as having very high student achievement results as well as significantly different learning achievements between the students at either end of the SES scale, which should be concerning to us all.Secondly, and his final point, we need to come to an agreement about what it means to have a public education system, which, to me, sounds like a national conversation about the purpose and goals of education. Maybe I am just hearing what I want to hear, though.

kevin-donnelly_education-nation-2016-sydney-400h-400x300At this point, Dr. Donnelly took the podium to make his arguments and opened by listing off the adjectives typically used to describe, including misogynistic, homophobic, and extremist and proceeded to share some of his background with the audience, revealing that he grew up in Broadmeadows, Melbourne, as a child with a father who was a member of the Communist Party, whilst he and his brother were members of the Eureka Youth Movement, which he indicated was the Youth Communist Party, and that he had “…a good Catholic mother” which resulted in, as I can only imagine, some interesting discussions at home. He then commented that he did not want to be antagonistic or vitriolic today, which, I daresay, caused some disappointment amongst the audience

Dr. Donnelly then spoke about how Australia has a tripartite education system and that this arrangement has had consensus from the major parties for some years now, and he quoted then Minister for Education Julia Gillard as saying that “…I am committed to parents’ rights to choose the school that is best for their child.”

Dr. Donnelly, remarkably, called Gonski funding a myth and said that needs-based funding had been around a number of years, which generated a number of raised eyebrows in the room. He went on to comment that the ten-year period from 1998 saw a significantly large increase in enrolments in the private education system, and that those enrollments were predominantly in the low-fee paying schools, and that while this voting with their feet movement had slowed down since 2008, the Catholic and Independent education systems received little overall funding in the 2012/2013 budget from the Government.Additionally, argued Dr. Donnelly, high-profile schools such as Kings and Melbourne Grammar are, in fact, outliers in regards to the education fees and resourcing. and that the Australian Education Union

The Australian Education Union should be arguing, commented Dr. Donnelly, not necessarily against the stances of the parties regarding the Gonski funding model, but against those states who did not ever sign off on it. He continued by noting that Julia Gillard, then Minister for Education, signed off on twenty-seven different agreements with various state education bodies, which means that there are at least twenty-seven different funding models in place.

Dr. Donnelly then broached the argument from critics of private education that private schools only get the good kids, or those with high academic ability, and discussed research that demonstrates that the SES status of a student’s family only contributes approximately fifteen to eighteen percent of the academic variance and that the Government has spent billions of additional dollars on education without seeing the expected growth in learning outcomes. He also argues that the public selective schools, selective for academic or sporting or any other reason, are a contributor to the residualisation of public schooling, but that they do not get mentioned, with private education being an easy target

A paper by the OECD which Professor Geoff Masters (@GMasterACER), CEO of ACER (@ACEReduAu), quoted in a recent paper which indicates that Australia is second only to Denmark in regards to intergenerational mobility and that another OECD report from 2008 ranked Australia as one of the most socially mobile countries.

Dr. Donnelly closed out his opening arguments by calling for a move away from the acrimonious debate and to look at high-performing schooling systems and ask what works there that might work for us in Australia, with a move towards a decentralised education structure with increased school autonomy and choice to create the flexibility and diversity in our schools to encourage schools to be innovative.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/zkpya7z on 11 June 2016.

 

At this point, Jamie Dorrington asked Dr. Zyngier for his rebuttal comments, however, I will leave the rebuttal from both Dr. Zyngier and Dr. Donnelly, as well as the questions from the floor, for you to listen to, as I would like to explore what we have already heard in a bit more depth.

From conversations with a few people in the room after The Great Debate, there was a feeling that no-one was actually going to change their mind based on any arguments presented today, and that there were going to be a large number of Donnelly-haters and people in the room who would support Dr. Zyngier purely based on what Dr. Donnelly has previously written and said in the media, and who would not actually be interested in hearing what he was saying. I have also heard that someone was told by their Principal they would not be given permission to attend Education Nation purely because Dr. Donnelly would be speaking.

Irrespective of what you think of Dr. Donnelly, this sort of closed-mindedness is not healthy for education debate in Australia. That sort of thinking creates an echo-chamber, where you hear only what you want to hear which creates a stagnant environment and does our students a disservice. Dr. Donnelly (and Dr. Zyngier, for that matter) made some very sensible comments today.

  • We need to move this divisive debate.
  • There are greater areas of importance to learning outcomes that we can address far more productively.
  • Parents have a right to choose the school for their child based on any range of reasons.
  • Public selective schools play a role in residualisation

I do not advocate, let me make it clear, for all of Dr. Donnelly’s views. Personally, I am still working out what my own views are on a range of topics related to education, and trying to work out who I am as an educator and where I fit in the scheme of things. This means that whilst I have made my mind up about some areas, I am open to hearing ideas from all quarters. I engaged in the Twitter conversation that was going on during The Great Debate (you can actually my laptop keys at one point in the audio!) and the reactions I was seeing were a range of adjectives between positive and negative, but I saw some that attacked the man and not the argument which is shameful and contributes nothing.

Dr. Zyngier, as I mentioned, also made some great points in his argument.

  • We need to reach an agreement as a nation about what it means to have a public education system, which sounds, to my ears, like he was on the same page as Dr. Donnelly.
  • Residualisation feeds residualisation
  • The focus of Government education funding should be public education.

Both men threw out numbers, statistics and made references to research with no citations provided. Neither man changed anyone’s mind. The debate, though interesting, and generating a lot of interest, contributed nothing to the overall debate about education in this country. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr Donnelly when he said that “we need to move on from this debate and its acrimonious nature.” The discussions about the impact of a child’s SES background depends on which research you read, is what I drew from that facet of this argument.

We need to move on, there are important issues that need to be addressed.

Education Nation | Day One Session Four | Teresa Deshon

We often use words like loyal, respectful, wise, steadfast etc. with our Grandparents, but not, it seems with today’s generation.”
– 
Teresa Deshon

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

The fourth and final session for day one of the Rethinking Reform stream at Education Nation was rather full, as it contained both the Rethinking Reform and the Digital Dimension streams. Teresa Deshon opened the session by speaking about People of Character – Your Best Self which was a focus on the pastoral curriculum that often appears to be ignored or subsumed by the focus on the academic curriculum and what that looks like at Kilvington Grammar. Teresa began with a series of back in my day… sayings and then related that it often appears as if the character traits and virtues which were taken for granted in generations gone by, resilience, steadfastness, loyalty, persistence etc. appear to be largely missing in the current school-bound generation. This, Teresa commented, was played out in (uncited) OECD data where Australia appears in the top third of many welfare concern issues tracked.

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There are significant issues facing parents in the current age and it feels like, for many teachers, that more and more of what was traditionally the domain of the parent is becoming the domain of the teacher. This has led, Teresa contends, to an increase in the need for socio-emotional skills teaching at schools. Teresa related to the audience the RULER program from Yale University which is utilised in her own school as part of the wider Character Initiative which focuses on explicitly teaching character traits and socio-emotional skills.Capture

Teresa spoke about how there are three climate types and that all three play a significant role at Kilvington grammar and that students are able to utilise to three climates to be their best self. Within the Character Initiative, the focus is on helping students from Kindergarten to Year Six set goals based upon the character trait being explicitly taught that term, whilst in Year Seven to Twelve students, they set the goals based on the character traits, complete quizzes to measure the engagement, understanding, and appreciation of the character traits whilst engaging in an analysis of the character trait as it is portrayed throughout various types of media including news, books, and movies.

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Teresa also noted that in Years Nine and Ten, students had the choice of undertaking the ethical leadership elective subject which focuses on three areas:

  1. Sustainability, resourcefulness and lateral thinking,
  2. Diversity/Celebrating and Respecting Difference, and
  3. Values in Action

It was here that Teresa made a brief reference to a flipped curriculum, and even showed a stock flipped class graphic, however, the terminology was being used in a context that was not flipped learning. Teresa was actually referring to the flip made from focusing on the academic curriculum to the pastoral curriculum as opposed to flipped learning of the type I have written about previously.

Teresa’s presentation timeslot was brief and it went by very fast. There was not, for me, any particular takeaways from the session. There were no tools or strategies talked about in depth that could be applied, but anecdotal discussion of how a program was working in a particular context. The move from focusing on the academics to the pastoral side of things intrigues me, especially when you consider that the academics do still need to be attended to, however, I do agree that the pastoral issues need to be addressed. Teresa’s opening point, about the shift of pastoral concerns being from a parental burden to a teacher burden, is an issue, and I think it goes back to the need to establish the purposes and goals of education, and whether it should include pastoral issues, or whether they need to be the domain of the parent (which is in itself another debate).

As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback you care to offer in the comments below or over on Twitter.

Education Nation | Day One Session Three | Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson

“We need to till and fertilise the soil before we can harvest the growth in our classroom.”
Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson

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

Peter Mader’s session led into lunch (which was fantastic), after which I headed off to The Learner to hear from Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson (@prue_g and @ed_cuthbertson) about how to encourage students to become active participants in their own learning. It promised to be an interesting session, which was unfortunately poorly attended, but from which I learned a lot. Prue and Ed have kindly made their slide deck available and you can find it here.

They began by providing some context for the audience, indicating that they came from a low socioeconomic status (SES) area called Conder in the ACT. They qualified it by saying that low SES in the ACT is not the same as low SES in NSW or other states, but that they are, relatively speaking, disadvantaged and isolated from the rest of the region. They added that they have both been in the school, together, for some years, which is actually an unusual situation. Apparently, the ACT used to have a policy in place to ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices that a teacher moved to a new school every two years. The unintended consequence of this was that staffing in the school was fluid and there was constant change, resulting in it being very difficult to build or change school culture. The practice has, thankfully, fallen by the wayside and has resulted in vastly improved relationships between staff members and between staff and students.

IMG_1780We began by considering that we cannot empower students when teachers are not themselves empowered and were asked to consider and map on a Cartesian Plane, school practices that were low or high quality and were empowering or disempowering for teachers.

The audience spent time collaboratively filling in their own Cartesian planes and then came back together and shared the ideas. They related to us, as they added groups ideas to the plane, that they were shown this tool by Dan Meyer and that it provided a usable tool for helping a school move from across the plane to the top right-hand quadrant.

They explored the idea that it was impossible to teach the curriculum if a teacher too busy managing behaviour issues and how teachers need to sit down at the same level as students as part of the behaviour management process, conferencing with them to discuss the root cause of the behaviour. This goes back to the theory that all behaviour has a reason or purpose behind it. The school began using the mini-conference process as a way of addressing behaviour issues constructively and that as it gained traction and acceptance from teachers, students and parents, that they were then able to use it not only to assist in resolving teacher:student issues but also in resolving teacher:teacher and student:student issues.

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The school invested time in helping staff develop their professional development plans (PDPs), identifying development opportunities that met both staff and school needs and used action research to gather data on what practices were and were not working and to be able to determine the level of impact that practices were having using data.

They spoke about the need to value the passion and knowledge of teachers and to invest in and then leverage that, compromising as needed logistically. The example they gave was that a science teacher wanted to run a particular program and had built up the interest in science to the point where students wanted to engage in that program. The school leadership was able to recognise the passion and knowledge of that teacher and gave the go-ahead for the program, with a quid-pro-quo of taking on an additional class.

CaptureThe school also uses collaboratively teaching and have placed all Year Seven mathematics classes on the same line, allowing for team teaching, planning, programming, and assessing.

Another aspect of the school which I believe is fantastic is that every teacher in the school, including the Assistant Principals and the Deputy Principal, are expected to observe and provide feedback to two other teachers, as well be observed and given feedback about their own teaching practice. I have heard this concept given many names, but the underlying spirit is brilliant and promotes growth, learning, and best-practice and that it has resulted in significant growth throughout the entire teaching staff.

The school has also worked hard to remove useless and wasteful staff meetings consisting of items that belong in an e-mail. They map out the agendas for staff meetings for the full year and make them visible to the entire staff, creating an environment where e-mail meetings are reduced and promoting genuine discussion and debate on substantive issues. One of the issues examined was the use of funding and the recognition that data and accountability for the use of funding go hand in hand. To this end, funding began to be targeted to specific purposes and programs, which needed to be evaluated and the data used to determine success and the impact thereof through action research. One outcome of this was that the way rubrics were used to judge assessment tasks was changed. They are now structured and given to students indicating that by the end of the unit they need to be able to answer specific in-depth questions, rather than simply writing a report that uses a few keywords.

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In order to improve the level of teacher wellbeing, the school instituted a family week wherein staff are encouraged to not arrive at school prior to 0800 and to not be on premises after 1530. In addition to this, once a week, each subject block (the school is grouped into three cross-faculty blocks) has a staff lunch. During that staff lunch,  which is cooked by the staff specifically to share with each other, students are not allowed to go to that staffroom and all playground duties are taken care of by the other two faculty-blocks. I have written previously about the benefits of sharing a meal with colleagues, and they have held consistently for Lanyon High School staff.

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One area that was identified as needing improvement was in collaboration with other schools. To this end, a learning community was established with nearby primary and secondary schools. As part of this, joint assemblies are held on a regular, but not interferingly regular, basis so that when students transition from primary to secondary, the school they attend is already relatively familiar due to the community environment that has been established.

At this point, we were asked to consider what an empowered student looked like and in our table groups, discussed and explored this with some consistent themes emerging in the room.

  • Safety and basic needs need to be met – relationship to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • The ability to take appropriate risks.
  • Opportunities to try, experiment, fail and reflect.
  • The ability to drive their own learning.
  • Hopeful of the future.

Prue and Ed also noted that if it is easy to measure, then it is probably not worth measuring, which led to a discussion about how do we measure if our students are empowered. Some tools that they use as a school include attendance rates, especially for those with historically low attendance as well as reading student reflection journals.

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The discussion then moved onto an explanation of the merit and reward system that was being used across the school and that while it was working well and having positive effects, there was an awareness of Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards theory and the negative potential of extrinsic motivation. There was a discussion of the fact that some schools physically cannot get through the whole curriculum and that one way they were working through that issue was to utilise the learning by design methodology in their planning and programming, as well as peer feedback on practice.

They discovered that students were working on assignments outside of school hours, collaboratively, and diving into deep discussions on concepts that were being covered in class.

We are often told, as educators, that we need to leverage a student’s interest and teach to it. However, Prue and Ed argued that if a student likes bikes, do not give him a book about bikes and teach everything through bikes as that will only destroy the love of bikes. It is also, they said, our job to expose students to other ideas, concepts, and interests rather than allow them to become single-minded about something.

Closing out, Prue and Ed spoke to us briefly about the Giving Project they run through Years Seven, Eight and Nine, the use of a genuine student parliament which has input in the school and issues that affect students, and the last comment was from Prue; “that what works is not the right question. What works somewhere does not work everywhere.”

I enjoyed the session with Prue and Ed, their passion shone through and we heard some interesting ideas about engaging students in their own learning, stemming from a focus on improved school culture. The session was not well attended, I thought and did them a disservice, however, their enthusiasm was infectious and they engaged the audience well.

As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed the other articles in this Education Nation series, you can find the consolidated list here.