“In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
– Attributed to Mark Zuckerberg
My regular readers will be aware of my proclivity for conferences. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be invited to contribute to the Education Nation conference as a blogger and reviewer for the conference, which went well both in my own estimation and based on the feedback I was given from various quarters. On the back that experience, as well as already having submitted a speaker application for FutureSchools 2017 and not having attended EduTech in the past, I decided to send an e-mail to inquire about the possibility of attending EduTech 2017 under a media pass in order to review sessions, interview speakers and generally cover the event.
Lo and behold, the organisers accepted and I am now attending EduTech under a media pass. I am in the process of going over the speaker list to formulate a list of who I plan to either interview or hear speak. As part of growing EduTech, the organisers have launched their Ambassador program and have listed me as their first ambassador on their website. I am excited and looking forward to connecting with a range of educators from across the broader Education sector as well as reconnecting with old friends.
EduTech 2017 will be held at the new International Convention Centre in Sydney (the old Sydney Entertainment Centre) on June 8 and 9 next year, with Masterclasses being held on June 7. If you are interested in going and would like 10% off the registration price, use code BRM10. Let me know through Twitter or my website contact form if you are going and you use the code. It would be great to meet up face-to-face.
In the meantime, if you have not read any of my conference review articles, please visit here to see the list and peruse to find something that catches your eye.
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.
We 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Rewardstheory 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.
I would like to begin this article by sharing a personal story, and I would like you to try to place yourself in my shoes throughout. I arrived at an education conference last year wide-eyed and more than a little naive about what was going to see and hear from the vendors. It was my very first conference and the first time I had been exposed to an educational vendor expo. I spoke with all of the vendors who had something that intrigued me or made me curious, and they all went something like this:
“How are you?”
“Well, thanks, you?”
“Yeah, good. Have you heard of our product before? It can do x, y and z.”
“Ok, can it do p or q?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
There were also a number of vendors, actually, the majority, who made no effort to engage me, or other delegates. Their body language was closed off, their facial expressions were bored and disinterested and they appeared more interested in chatting with their colleagues on their own stand and those around them. Many of them had signage that told a delegate everything they needed to know about the product and discouraged talking to them. If you did approach those vendors, they answered the questions with product knowledge drawn from within their box of knowledge about that product.
Though I was asked questions by vendors such as what year group do you teach, what subject do you teach, and have you tried competitor A’s product? Because ours is far superior, they were superficial questions which were asked from a superficial interest, driven by wanting to sell me the product or get my details for later promotional e-mails* as opposed to wanting to understand what I am trying to do in my classroom with my students at the moment and what challenges I have that they can work with me to solve. The vendors were also, it appeared, unwilling to leave the safety and comfort of their stand to get amongst the delegates and get to know and understand them and their needs.
The vendors had no understanding of how to get to know me as an educator and my needs, challenges and goals. They knew how to rattle off their sales pitch, and could do so with aplomb. This is, I believe, a distinct difference in approach and attitude.
I suspect that many of you are, whether figuratively or literally, nodding your head in agreement at this point, as your experience with vendors at expos has been somewhat similar. I had a conversation with someone recently who pointed out that it is partially our fault, as educators, for going in and often just asking “what can it do? as opposed to going in and asking “I teach x to y students and am trying to do z but have come up against problems a, b and c. Do you have a solution?”
When I initially came across Education Nation during a twitter chat earlier in the year, one of the aspects which caught my eye was the way in which the organisers had positioned the traditional vendor exhibition floor, which they were dubbing The Playground. It sounded like it would be different.
In case you are unable to read the text on that image from the Education Nation website, this is what is says:
Let’s face facts – people who attend education events are normally there for the learning opportunities they offer… NOT to speak to ‘vendors’ in the expo. But why? Sure, the companies who exhibit want you to buy their products and solutions. And traditionally, organisers set the area up for exactly that purpose. But we forget one key point… Without their products, solutions and services there’d be no buildings, no technology, no furniture, no content, no resources…there’d be no education system. The people who exhibit at an education event are every bit as important to Australian education as the schools and staff themselves. In other words, they’re not just ‘vendors’, they’re your partners. And the expo at Education Nation will reflect that. We won’t be setting out rows of stand after stand, pushing ‘special offers’, or telling YOUR partners how they can talk to you. We’ll create a different kind of space – one that’s interactive, exciting, fun and most importantly, valuable. At Education Nation, we’ll create ‘The Playground’.
I was excited by the prospects of this. My imagining of The Playground would be that the Vendors would not only know their products but would have an understanding of education and specific challenges in at least some of the areas that are faced on a daily basis. More importantly, though, I had imagined that the vendors would be intermingling with the delegates, engaging in discussions about education and specific contexts within which the delegates are teaching and the specific challenges we were facing.
This was not the case.
Acer came to the Education Nation party, and had, inarguably, the largest stand there and were the official coffee provider with a barista at one end of their stand (who made consistently great hot chocolates, but from what I heard, terrible coffee).
Although I am going to explicitly use Acer as an example in this story, it applies equally to all of the vendors, not just at Education Nation, but at any educational conference. I stood in line for my hot chocolate on several occasions and not once was I engaged in conversation by an Acer representative; no sales pitch, no good morning, how are you? I did approach the Acer stand at one point with the express purpose of scoping out what they had on offer and approached a computer that had a driving computer game on display. However, what captured my interest was actually the monitor, which was a wide-screen curved monitor.
An Acer representative approached me, just as I was starting to look at the monitor and told me that the game was playable and to just use particular keys on the keyboard to drive the car. He then turned and moved away. There was no discussion, no sales pitch, no what has you interested in this computer? No what computer are you using at school or at home at the moment? Nothing. Sadly, that is not the worst part of the story.
One of the presenters at Education Nation was Nick Patsianas (@nickpatsianas), a current Year Twelve student who is also, and I use this term as a compliment, a huge computer nerd (I would only label myself as a minor computer nerd). He was engaged in a conversation with one of the Acer representatives about some of the laptops they had on display and was explaining to the representative about how a particular component of the laptop works and why that was good for him as a student. He also explained to the representative that another feature that was purported to be in benefit, was actually a flaw, and why that was the case.
A delegate had more knowledge of the product the vendor was promoting, than the vendor himself did.
PC Locs had a stand there as well, and the representatives looked bored, disinterested and disengaged and made no effort to engage those walking past their stand, in any way unless someone actually stopped to look at a product that they had. The Brainary stand had a robot that could walk, dance and talk, and it gained some attraction, but I do not know how much genuine interest there was, and how much was due to the gimmick of the robot. Latitude Travel also showed little interest in engaging people in conversation, they certainly made no attempt to draw me in. ABI were there showing off their Snowflake system. They had a flat screen touch panel, upright, showing a simple screen, and a banner with all the info you needed to know about it.
The representative, as did many of the company representatives there, looked bored and did not show off the fact that the flatscreen touch panel could go from full vertical to horizontal and was height adjustable, and then when he did show that off, could not explain why that would be of use to a teacher for collaborative learning and publishing of work for a wider audience.
The vendors did not know how to engage educators appropriately.
Vendors, there is something you need to understand about educators. You complained we were not talking to you at Education Nation but there is a reason for that. We can find out everything we want to know about your product online. You cannot find out anything about our teaching context and the challenges we face in our specific room without engaging in conversation with us. Talk to us, not at us. Ask us what we want to be able to do and what our challenges are, rather than rattle off the specifications of the product. Leave your stands and have lunch or coffee with us. Ask us who we have just listened to speak and what we took away from that talk. Or, be even more genuine, and sit in on the talks, show an interest in education rather than just selling us products and tools and services.
Educators, there is something we need to realise about vendors. If we continue to simply ask what a product does, the vendors will continue to sell to us and talk at us. We need to go in and tell them what we want to do, whether it is a concrete function or an abstract dream. We need to share our real, genuine, everyday systemic, policy, process and people-power challenges with them to give them insight into what we face and allow them to go back to their companies and brainstorm ways of surmounting those challenges.
Until we change how we engage with the vendors, the vendors will continue to not know how to engage with us.
*There is an exception to this. Rowan and Yohan from MyEdApp engaged me in conversation very differently and did make an effort to understand my context.
The opening keynote for Education Nation in the Rethinking Reform stream by Brett Salakas was a very interesting and engaging start with some very interesting and valid points raised. Brett commented to me during lunch that it was very daunting being the first speaker at a new conference, and having Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) sitting front and center for the presentation amplified that.
Professor Masters’ was speaking to the title of Addressing the Five Key Challenges in School Education that Matter to You and ostensibly, he was going to be focusing on five areas. The first area that Professor Masters addressed was the declining PISA results, both relative and in real terms, of Australian students. This, he indicated, has been a trend that has been identifiable since 2000 and.
The mathematics results are particularly disturbing, with a significant, sharp drop year on year for each iteration of PISA from 2000 to 2012. Professor Masters commented, though it may have been stating the obvious, that we need to arrest and reverse this downward trend in results. Additionally, there is a growing disparity in schools creating a situation wherein it is becoming more and more important which school students attend. Someone failed conference etiquette and asked a question mid-presentation about where the variation lies and Professor Masters acknowledged that the total variance in results can be broken into differences between schools (twenty percent) and differences within schools (eighty percent).
Disturbingly, there is also a growing number of students who are not meeting the minimum standards; fourteen percent are not meeting the reading minimum standards, twenty percent are not meeting the mathematics minimum standards. In comparison, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Korea’s rates are between three and nine percent. The point was made that not only are our results falling year on year; but that the gap between our results and the countries around us is growing each year as they continue to improve.
Professor Masters then dived into some Census data which indicates that one in five students are currently developmentally vulnerable due to being locked into a trajectory of long-term low achievement. I, unfortunately, was not quick enough to snap the photo, or write down the specific context, however, so I would appreciate confirmation or clarification if someone did note it down (I have reached out to Professor Masters on Twitter and am awaiting confirmation), but my memory is that the likelihood of someone being the one in five student varies depending on Indigenous status, gender and socio-economic status (SES).
For Indigenous students, they have (if my memory of the context in which the figures were provided is correct) a 42.1% of being the one in five, which is just over double that of a non-Indigenous student, who has a 20.8% chance. The gender data shows that males have a 28.5% chance of being the one in five compared to females with a 15.1% chance whilst SES status plays a role as well. A low-SES student has a 32.6% chance of being the one in five student which is in stark contrast to their high-SES counterparts, who have a 15.5% chance. Professor Masters noted that this data has not historically been collected and so we are unable to identify the long-term historical trends, but that those factors will bear watching over future iterations of the census.
The next issue raised was the status of the teaching profession, wherein it is now a less attractive career option, and the distribution of offers to Year Twelve students in relation to their ATAR attainment. Masters’ graph shows that for Science and Engineering degrees, offers are typically made at the upper end of the achievement scale, whilst for education, they are being made, typically, in the low to mid-range achievement bands. Professor Masters noted that in those countries regarded as having high-quality education systems vis-a-vis their performance in PISA, they have typically put in place policies to help them draw teachers from the upper bands of academic achievement and that we need to take steps here in Australia to arrest the current downward spiral of where we draw our pre-service teachers from academically. This sounds like a laudable goal, however, as I have indicated previously, Pasi Sahlberg writes that there is very little discernible relationship between the academic achievement of a student and their eventual efficacy as a teacher.
We should, perhaps, be focusing on addressing the long-term decline in the number of students electing to undertake the hard subjects such as Physics, Advanced Mathematics and Advanced English and Engineering. It was at this point that Professor Masters made a comment, the underlying concept of which, has been a common thread in each of the sessions across the various event streams and the Twitter conversations.
“Is it time we rethink, entirely, the structure of curriculum?”
I want to hold the exploration of the underlying thought to a separate article, as it is a thread which makes the entire Education Nation experience, for me, a cohesive one, however he included, in that comment, a further questioning of the way in which education, especially in the secondary education sector, is restrained to silos, with subject areas being held separate, and in many schools have individual staffrooms and faculty areas, and rarely, it seems from the outside, collaborate on planning, assessment or teaching and learning. Professor Masters told the room that by the time a child is in Year Three, the top ten percent of students, academically, are approximately five years ahead vis-a-vis learning outcomes.
My over-the-back-fence-neighbour works in Early Childhood and we have had some conversations about the need for more work in the pre-Kindergarten area to identify and work with those children who have learning difficulties to ensure that when they start Kindergarten, they have the best possible chance of achieving learning outcomes, which was a sentiment that Professor Masters closed his presentation by speaking about and agreeing with.
At this point, the MC, Simon Dorrington, opened things up to questions from the floor, which were, unfortunately, rather long-winded and convoluted comments, rather than short and to the point questions. Simon closed out the session by adding to Professor Masters’ argument that we need to regain the time in the teaching day that has been lost to the extra-curricular and what he termed support activities, many of which should be the responsibility of the parents, something I personally agree with.
The first session, consisting of Brett Salakas’ and Professor Masters’ presentations, was a great launchpad for the Rethinking Reform stream of the conference. There was a lot of head-nodding going on throughout both presentations, and a level of excitement slowly developing. I would very much like to hear from you if you were also in the room for either presentation and your perspectives and thoughts on them. As always, though, thank you for reading. The next article will cover morning tea and my experiences and thoughts on The Playground.
As you read this, I would like you to consider what you believe the purpose and goal of the education system should be. I will openly admit that I am a conference junky. I have written previously about my love of conferences and being in the same room as those on the same page as yourself, however, I had forgotten how tiring, both mentally and physically, they are. I am sitting in my hotel room using my phone to hotspot so I can write this, with Pink Floyd playing, still buzzing from conversations I have had, connections I have made and people from my online professional learning network (PLN) that I have known for some time, but never met in person.
I am going to structure my Education Nation series of review articles slightly differently to review articles from previous conferences. Ordinarily, I would write the review of each session, weaving general feedback on the conference event as a whole throughout, as it fit the session. For this set of articles, I want to focus on the speaker and their message; and instead, will keep those overview reflections to a specific article, which will be the final article in the series, to act as a conclusion piece. If you have somehow managed to miss the pre-Education Nation articles that I wrote, you can find those in a consolidated list of the articles for this event (which these review articles will be added to) by clicking here.
As I wrote in a previous article, I had the opportunity, unlike most attendees, to move between the conference streams. My first session was a part of the Rethinking Reform stream and was Brett Salakas (@Mrsalakas) speaking under the title PISA Pipe Dreams. Brett opened by asking people to share what they were learning, questions, critiques and ideas via Twitter using the conference hashtag, #EduNationAu, which many people did. Brett then continued by telling us what he was not.
This was followed by a brief historical overview of PISA and its purpose, which he summarised as being a way of helping governments monitor education system achievements and the impacts of education. By giving all of the students, who are the same age, the same test, it sounds like it should be a good way of tracking trends and variances between countries. Yet, Brett says, it is actually that which makes it rather murky.Students sit a two-hour written test which covers scientific literacy, mathematics, reading and financial literacy.
What this means is that the state of our education system in comparison to other countries is based on a test which takes place once every three years, and allows students roughly thirty minutes for each of the four sections, which then packages the data up in neat statistical bundles which are then able to be misused and misrepresented in the media, creating a sense of fear and concern, and a backlash, against the state of the education system in Australia.
These headlines create this sense of worry about the state of our education system, the quality of our teachers and the worry about how we will remedy the situation. Often, it is easy to look to the leaders of the PISA results and ask the question “what are they doing? Let’s do that” and attempt to translate education policies and practices directly into the Australian context, without thinking through a range of issues that arise in doing so.
Brett then made the quote that I have included at the top of the article, which points out that we need to take into account the cultural context of what is happening and why it is working. Brett related that when he taught in Singapore the entire education system was streamed by ability groupings into the top, middle, and bottom third of academic results and students were taught and trained to perform to a high standard. Then he made a comment, told us about a standard practice which blew my mind and which would never happen here in Australia.
“My Year One ESL class in Singapore finished at nine pm on a Monday night.”
Stop and think about what that means for a moment. Year One students, most of whom will be either six or seven years old, lining up waiting for their teacher to arrive, beginning class and then not finishing until a time when I would like to be in bed. Presumably, there is going to be a period of travel time before those children arrive at home, and then actually get to bed and then fall asleep. That practice would cause uproar and outrage if suggested here in Australia. We need to find a solution that works here, for us, in our context.
Brett continued by pointing out a few facts about PISA, which he made quite clear were all confirmable on the PISA website. He reminded us that this fear-mongering and panic is based upon, essentially, a thirty-minute test (for each subject area PISA concerns itself with) and that there are a number of factors in play that are not typically talked about. He spoke about research by Alma Harris (@AlmaHarris1) that indicated many Nordic countries exclude migrants and refugees from the PISA testing and that some research shows many Asian countries prepare their students for PISA in a period of time immediately beforehand, in an effort to boost their results.
An interesting point was then raised, which I ha not thought about, but which does make sense, which was that although the PISA tests are written in one language, they do need to be translated into a range of languages as required for each country. The very act of translating the questions can have an impact on the complexity of the question, from a cultural point of view, as well as an academic perspective.
The next issue is a phenomenon referred to as the Wild Geese of Korea, or, in Korean, Gireogi appa (literally ‘goose dad’), wherein Korean families are sending the mother and child to a Western country, to receive a Western education, perceived to be of a higher standard than a Korean education, whilst the father remains in Korea, in a small unit.The terminology applied within Korea regarding this is quite complex and structured. However, this phenomenon raises a very important question; what are the Koreans seeing about education in the Western countries, that we are not?
This segued into an amusing clip from the movie 300, the tale of King Leonidas of Spart and his eventual defeat during the Battle of Thermopylae. This clip, however, had the audio in French, with some clever subtitles. My thanks to Kelly Hollis for finding the original link
This clip was the entry point into a discussion about the attributes we actually would like to see developed in our students. Brett related an incident that occurred at his school during an athletics carnival; specifically, the Girls one hundred metre final, which would determine the age champion for that year. Brett spoke about two girls who, for their primary education, had ben the two standout athletes, sharing honours across athletics events each year, and that this would be the decider between them. It was a significant event, with lots of parents attending to watch, as happens at sports carnivals and both girls were taking it quite seriously, the eleven-year-old Olympics, as it were.
Only a short distance into the race, one of the two girls hurt herself, pulling a hamstring. Her rival had the advantage from the start and had pulled ahead and so was not aware of what had happened, however, the other girls all stopped to check and see if she was ok. Eventually, the leading girl realised something was not right and turned around to look. Upon seeing that her rival had stopped, injured, she made a choice. Instead of continuing to take the win and the title of age champion, she went back to her rival, her friend, and did what she could to help and show concern. Brett then made a poignant statement; “every parent there at that moment knew exactly, from what had happened, why they sent their daughter to this school. That choice, that act made it clear.”
The education system in Singapore and the other high-performing countries on PISA tests work in their context as there are specific attributes which are being looked for. We need to decide what attributes we want to see in our children. Conveniently, Brett had an Answergarden for us to indicate the attributes that we feel are important.
We need to stop cherry picking aspects of education systems from countries which obtain high results on PISA testing and have a real conversation about what we, as a nation, want for our students from out education system. The countries which perform, and have performed, highly on those international standardised testing have historically put educational policies in place many years before they have had their purple patch which has focused on enabling their goal for education to be achieved. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that there has ever been a national conversation in Australia about the purpose and goals of education and how we go about achieving those goals*. Many key attributes that show up on the word cloud above, resilience, collaboration, confidence, are, Brett says, nationally imbued and are seen as typical Aussie characteristics; mateship, innovation, a fair go etc.
“Don’t curse the darkness, be the light” -Attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt
This quote was Brett’s final message. We need to act as beacons of light and positivity in education to stave off the darkness and the negativity, and connecting with other educators, those who are working to shine the light, is a fantastic way of helping to do that. Brett shared ten (it was actually twelve) educators who he sees as great educators to follow.
My key takeaway from Brett’s session was that we need to have the why and what conversation about education, and work to gain some sort of consensus about education’s goal in order to stop the cycle of ideological-based policies and provide some consistency of expectation and purpose. The over-reliance on PISA as a measure needs to be re-evaluated as well, as this feeds into the media fear-mongering about education and influences, negatively, the education conversation and perception.
What was your key takeaway from Brett’s keynote? What do you believe the purpose and goal of education should be in Australia? Let me know, either by commenting on this article or by tweeting me.
*In the time since I published this article, I have been reminded of the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, which I had forgotten about. Whilst it does provide a potential launchpad for a national conversation about the purposes and goals of education, it was not, in itself, a national conversation, given that it came out of a meeting of politicians.
Education Nation is fast approaching, and this time next week, the final session of the conference will be concluding. One of the most hotly anticipated events of Education Nation is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donelly (@ESIAuatralia). Last week, I published an article from an interview with Dr. Zyngier, which was widely read. Dr. Zyngier is speaking on the side of public education at The Great Debate, and there are some strong arguments available for him to draw upon. This article will be an exploration of Dr. Donnelly’s responses to a series of questions similar to those presented to Dr. Zyngier. As with the previous interviews, I have included Education Nation Interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly for the sake of transparency.
Dr. Donnelly provided a short summary of his stance on the issue of public versus private education. He posits that the claims that private schooling systems, e.g. Catholic and independent schools, are over-funded and cause residualisation of government schools, particularly those with disadvantaged students, is incorrect. He cites the simple fact that non-government schools receive significantly less public funding than government schools. For example, the below graph shows the relative expenditure across the two sectors and highlights the disparate nature of the level of public funding.
Dr. Donelly also decries the claim that private schools only achieve strong learning outcomes comparative to public schools because they take the best students, noting that public schools are not truly open to all. This is a valid point to make as there is a range of public schools, particularly secondary school, which are selective based on academic results, requiring a certain academic ability for enrolment into those schools, often requiring prospective students to sit an entrance exam. Additionally, Dr. Donnelly notes that many public schools are situated in suburbs which are classed as high socio-economic areas (SES) and are therefore unaffordable for many people. Linked to both arguments, Dr. Donnelly notes that the socio-economic status of a student’s family is only ten to eighteen percent of the overall factors influencing learning outcomes.
I have noted in previous articles the recent discussions that have appeared in the media regarding teacher quality, and admission to and the quality of, initial teacher education (ITE) programs. Dr. Donnelly’s views on this are somewhat similar to Dr. Zyngier’s views. Dr. Donnelly cites Parsi Sahlberg (@pasi_sahlberg), a Finnish educational researcher who found that although half of the first-year ITE students are drawn from the fifty-one to eighty percent range, rendering the argument that pre-service teachers should be drawn from the academic top thirty percent, invalid. Sahlberg has also commented that “a good step forward would be to admit that the academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers.” Dr. Donnelly also notes a 2012 submission to a Commonwealth inquiry into teacher education by Professor Geoff Masters, who commented that restricting entry to ITE programs to top academic students “…is a blunt approach to improving the selection of teachers and falls well short of international best practice.”
In addition to discussing the prospect of restricting pre-service teachers to those with the top academic results, I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views about a different method of raising the expectations of ITE programs. In Finland, ITE programs are delivered at Masters level, rather than Undergraduate level here in Australia. He explained that research conducted by Andrew Leigh into effective teaching showed that holding a Masters degree does not necessarily equate to being an effective teacher, which seems to be consistent with Pas Sahlberg’s comment mentioned, regarding the fact that there is not a causal link between the academically best teachers and the most effective teachers.
Dr. Donnelly points to Pasi Sahlberg’s findings that a teacher’s commitment and ability to engage and motivate students, along with their communication skills and, of course, subject knowledge are more influential factors in identifying effective teachers. He also points to findings in the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, that the level of the degree, Bachelor or Masters, is not particularly important. What is important is the quality of the ITE program and whether trainee teachers have been properly prepared and are ready to begin teaching in a class on their own. I have written previously about my own ITE program, and I would agree that there is scope for improvement
After discussing the subject of ITE, the interview turned to Finland and our relationship and seeming obsession with modelling the Finnish educational model. Dr. Zyngier is critical of this obsession, noting that Finland’s results in PISA and TIMSS have been falling in recent years. Dr. Donnelly is also critical of the way that educationalists jump on the bandwagon of whichever country is generating the best results in international testing, which has moved between Singapore, Sweden, Finland and is currently Shanghai, particularly given that Finland’s results have been falling as shown in the below images from Trends in the Performance of the Top Performers on PISA 2003-Pisa 2012.
The above image shows that the number of Finnish students performing in the lower levels of PISA mathematics tests has increased significantly. Makes sense, therefore, that the number of Finnish students at the top end has fallen in the same period.
Dr. Donnelly, after acknowledging Finland’s falling results in recent instances of PISA, notes that translating educational characteristics of other countries can be very difficult due to the variation in contexts. This is an interesting comment, and one I look forward to hearing expanded upon further, particularly, I suspect in the presentation by Lila Mularczyk’ (@LilaMularczyk) on day two of Education Nation, where she is examining trends in international education policy and the translation to the Australian context. Dr. Donnelly reminds us that we can learn from international education systems, however, it needs to be evidence based.
Dr. Donnelly co-chaired the National Curriculum Review alongside Professor Kenneth Wiltshire. Given that the National Curriculum has not been implemented nationally I questioned whether or not a National Curriculum should have even been the goal for Australian education. Dr. Donnelly indicated that greater autonomy and flexibility at the local level, should have been the goal, not a one size fits all curriculum that has been torn apart and rebuilt to suit the needs of some states, and implemented as-is by others. Dr. Donnelly points out that under the Australian Constitution, the government does not have a responsibility for school education. Dr. Donnelly believes that “…we should abide by the fact that we have a federal system where all roads do not lead to Canberra.
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the professional learning of teachers around the world. It is free, available at any time and on any range of topics, providing an alternative to the often expensive and/or boring and untargeted professional development sessions that teachers’ typically receive. Dr. Donnelly’s view is that whilst social media has a place, there is no substitute for providing teachers, particularly new-career teachers, with time to learn on the job, receive mentoring, and the time and ability to effectively reflect on and evaluate their own practice.
I asked Dr. Donnelly was his advice to early-career teachers that would help them avoid joining the forty percent of new teachers who are shown to leave the profession within their first five years. His advice was straightforward, yet challenging to implement:
Beware of education fads and do not be drowned in the bureaucratic and the time consuming micromanagement that is being forced on schools. Also, understand that student misbehaviour is on the increase and that a lot of students, especially at the primary school level, are unable to sit still, focus and concentrate for an extended period of time. Most importantly, realise and appreciate that being with young people is a great honour and responsibility, as there is noting more important than teaching – except being a parent.
-Dr. Kevin Donnelly.
When I interviewed Professor Masters early last month, I asked him about John Hattie’s comments regarding teachers as researchers and his sentiment was 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.
I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views on Hattie’s comments, and he replied that the relationship between researchers in universities and ACER, and classroom teachers, has been fractured. Dr. Donnelly acknowledges that it has been some time since he has been a classroom teacher and that he would love to see the results of academic researchers in the classroom, attempting to implement the practices they promote in their research. He sees a strong connection between theory and practice and would argue that many teachers are capable of undertaking research, which would provide the benefit of the research being grounded in the realities of a classroom.
Yesterday I published an article containing Heather Davis‘ keynote presentation from FlipLearnCon in Sydney, broken into bite-size sections. This article provides my keynote presentation, also broken into sections. Given that this was my first keynote presentation, I would appreciate any constructive feedback people would like to share, positive or otherwise.
My role at FlipLearnCon generated some useful discussion with my students. In the week prior to the event, students had been presenting speeches of their own, which were required to be between three and five minutes in length, as an end-of-unit assessment task. Many of the students were incredibly nervous but actually spoke quite well. Many of them sat down afterwards, convinced their speech was terrible and struggled to take on board the positive feedback from peers. I had told the students why I would be away for two days, and when they found out it was to deliver a twenty-minute speech they were horrified at the very thoughts.
Interestingly enough, when I returned to class the day after FlipLearnCon, they wanted to know how it went. So I turned it back to them, asking for a show of hands as to who sat down after their speech and thought it was terrible,with a large number of hands going up. I then asked for a show of hands as to who heard a speech they thought was terrible, not difficult to hear because of volume or annunciation (a common issue we found), but actually terrible. Not a single hand went up. I then shared with them that my presentation ended up going longer than twenty minutes, that there were some technical issues and that I stood up feeling incredibly nervous with the adrenaline pumping. I was seeing lots of heads nodding at this point as much of the class, other than technical issues, felt the same when presenting their speeches.
Like them, I continued, I persisted, despite feeling nervous, and gave the speech. I finished it and felt that it was not particularly great (unlike my Graduate Address, which I am still very proud of, and sat down afterwards feeling that I had nailed it) but that I had been given positive feedback which means that despite what I thought, the speech was good. I pointed out to them that with practice, public speaking becomes easier, but that being nervous is ok, as long as we do not allow the nerves to control us and stop us from taking opportunities.
Below, you will find my keynote presentation at FlipLearnCon. If you are interested in having a copy of the slide deck, you will find it here.
After having presented my first keynote at FlipLearnCon yesterday (Tuesday 17 May, 2016), I have a profound new respect for speakers who are tasked with presenting in the final session of a conference or professional learning day. It is a very tough gig.
Recently I became involved in a Twitter backchannel that was occurring parallel to the FlipLearnCon event in Melbourne. FlipLearnCon is a two-day conference organised by MyLearning and facilitated by South Australian educator, Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLeCornu) to provide a boot-camp style introduction to flipped learning. I have written extensively about Flipped Learning in the past (such as here and here) and there are a number of educators on Twitter who are also heavily involved in flipped learning, whether through implementing flipped learning (such as Jeremy, Heather Davis, Joel Speranza, Alfina Jackson and Matthew Burns), or as researchers of flipped learning (such as Marijne Slager and others).
In this article, I am going to focus more on my reflections of being involved as a presenter rather than a participant. I was given the opportunity to keynote from a primary education perspective for the Sydney iteration of FlipLearnCon (Heather Davis was the secondary educator presenting in Sydney) by Jeremy and Justine Isard and asked to speak about my EdVenture, how I am implementing flipped learning in my classroom, and what I have learned through trial and error. It was, I felt, a huge opportunity. I had been dabbling with flipped learning for some time, as my regular readers will be aware, and in many ways I still did not feel that I knew enough, or was far enough along with flipped learning as a pedagogical practice, to have credibility as a presenter.
However, I trust Jeremy and was excited to take the plunge. I felt that my first presentation at TeachMeet Coast in Term One went well and this was the next opportunity that popped up.
One of the fantastic takeaways from FlipConAus15 was that there was the realisation that I was not the only one wanting or trying to flip, and that there was lots of support out through online professional learning networks. Heather commented in her keynote that one of the most important things you can do to help you flip your class is to connect with others, “find your people” and leverage the support and experience of those around you.
The great benefit of being involved in FlipLearnCon was seeing the excitement and eagerness of the participants, hearing the stories of what the teachers involved have been trying and hearing about their contexts and seeing the growth in the confidence and abilities over such a short period of time.
We had a range of primary and secondary educators from Wollongong up to Newcastle, and the secondary teachers were from a range of disciplines, which afforded us a fantastic spread of perspectives and ideas for sharing with others to try in different learning areas. As part of the presentation team, seeing participants not wanting to go to lunch, so that they could continue working on practicing with the tools we had been showing them as they created their own flipped content was incredibly exciting and rejuvenating.
One of the struggles of being the lone nut leader is that you are always giving. This is not the issue, that is actually part of what we do as educators, is that we give. The issue is that if we are the leader or the person who is driving the practice in our context, or if we are the only person in the school who is interested and trying to implement is that it can be draining and disheartening. The excitement and energy in the room as teachers tried, failed, persisted, tried again, learned from each other, tried something different, experimented with different tools and came back to us excited for what they had managed to create reinvigorates and rejuvenates the soul.
We had a number of educators who went returned home/to their hotel rooms at the end of day one night and worked on creating further content, refining what they had developed that day. One of our participants, Will, is a Japanese language teacher and the content that he finished up with was fantastic and looks very refined and ready to utilise in the classroom, and he was not the only one. One of our participants, Phil, arrived on day one unsure about flipped learning and whether he would gain any real learning from the two-days. He stood up during our Content Showcase at the end of day two and proudly showed off what he had been able to develop , and for his first attempt at creating flipped learning content, it worked.
“Do you want it perfect or Tuesday?”
We were also able to convince a number of educators to join Twitter to enable them to stay in touch and connect with other educators as a way of continuing to be able to share and learn, which was also exciting, and the Principal of one school, who brought along six of his teachers for day one of the conference is now seriously considering taking them to FlipConAus16 later this year, which demonstrates a serious commitment to ensuring flipped learning as a pedagogical practice in his school succeeds.
I have to note that I was amazed at some of the contexts within which some of the participants are working. Some, like myself, are in the public education system and are working with slow, often damaged equipment, with systems and processes in place which hinder the advancement of flipped learning and are simply battling through. Others, however, are in private school contexts, with 1:1 MacBooks, Forwardboards/Lightboards purchased and funded by the school, and Principals willing to send them off to conferences such as this without them having to take leave without pay. I cannot fathom working in that kind of context and the feeling of being supported and encouraged in that way.
That said, everyone involved across the two days was incredibly hardworking, attentive, and invested in learning as much as they could. I am excited to hear from a number of our participants as to how they go implementing flipped learning in their classroom, hopefully at FlipConAus16, which is occurring in two locations this year; the Gold Coast in October, and in Adelaide during November.
As a presenter, a conference is a very different experience. I still took notes, though using Twitter rather than my normal format of handwritten notes, and I still learned a lot, primarily about some additional tools and strategies that are available to support flipped learning. I enjoyed being able to work with participants to help them develop their flipped content and experiment with the tools we had been showing them.
I want to thank Jeremy LeCornu and Justine Isard for providing me with the opportunity to extend myself beyond my comfort zone and present at FlipLearnCon, it was an experience I am glad to have under my belt. I also want to thank Heather Davis, my secondary education counterpart at the event, for her support over the course of the conference. Finally, I want to thank those who attended for being so willing to go out on a limb and invest the time to gain extend their knowledge and capabilities and for engaging so strongly across the two days. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I know that everyone involved left feeling excited about the possibilities.
I have included the links to the Storify of both days of the conference at the top of the article, and when I get a chance to upload them, will provide links to both Heather and my own keynote presentations.