Education Nation | Day One Session Two | Peter Mader

“We need to find the sweet spot in our teaching.”
– Peter Mader

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

After morning tea and some time in The Playground, I was scheduled to join The Leader stream to hear Peter Mader (@mader_peter) speak about Strategies for bridging the policy / practice divideI was very much looking forward to this session, as it is a real problem which faces educators everywhere and hearing some strategies for working through the divide that can occur would have been ver valuable.


I say would have been, as Peter, to his credit, was up front at the beginning and said that the abstract from the website for his session is not what his session actually was. This, to be honest, really annoyed me. I had chosen this session, as had everyone else, based on what was written in the abstract. I do not know whether an updated abstract was sent to the organisers and not uploaded, or whether Peter chose not to send an updated abstract, but I felt misled. Despite that, Peter’s session was interesting.

He opened by asking us to discuss in our table groups the question “if you could change any one educational policy  for the benefit of student right now, what would it be?” Peter asked someone from each table to share what they came up with and a range of responses and some common themes heard.

  • The vast number of policies
  • The language of the policies that results in a threatening and negative vibe coming from them, particularly in the accountability stakes
  • The number of policies that are designed to manage risk, or to put it more bluntly, cover the relevant Department of Education in case a student or teacher is injured which has the unintended consequence of discouraging teachers from taking appropriate risks with new pedagogies and which discourage students from taking appropriate risks and learn from them
  • The need to return the focus to learning and open up the tools of teaching and learning that are available (YouTube was given as an example) and the need to remove policies that interfere with learning.
  • Frustration around the current staffing agreement where the filling of a position rotates between merit selection by a panel from the school and direct appointment by the department with little to no say or control about the quality of the person appointed by the relevant Department of Education and the resultant impacts on a school.
  • Frustration over NAPLAN and belief by many educators that it is unreflective of the spirit of the National Curriculum, that the data is misused and misreported.

Peter identified that there seems to be a common theme across these areas, which is a feeling of disconnect between the policy writers and those who are required to operate within the constraints of the policies. He indicated that he wanted to talk about policies of leadership at the macro level that can affect change at the micro level.

His next comment was that having recently spoken to some newly graduated teachers, he found that there was little to no awareness of the importance of professional associations. He is absolutely correct. From my own experience, in my initial teacher education (ITE) program my peers and I had at the time, and largely still do not, no awareness of the professional associations available. I would qualify that by also noting that no professional associations reached out to us by sending representatives to the university to speak to us or via e-mail with the sole exception of the NSW Teachers Federation.

A list of Professional Association Networks found on the AITSL website

Peter continued by remarking that we need to find the sweet spot in teaching despite the discord and the uncertainty across the entire education sector about the perceived purposes and goals of education (there is that concept again). He spoke about there being two narratives around education and that they conflict with each other. Peter spoke about the need to co-design policy ahead of the consultation phase, i.e., if stakeholders are engaged in the development process, the consultation is less likely to throw up red flags. Typically, he indicated, the policy is written and given for review without enough time for genuine analysis and feedback to be provided ahead of the implementation, showing that it is a superficial request, with no actual interest in hearing feedback for improvement.

Peter argued that decision makers and policy writers either need to have an education background, or to have trusted and experienced people around them who have an education background. I have heard arguments on this topic from both sides, however, and it is an interesting subject. Changing tack, Peter then said that to affect change, educators need three things; relevance, reason, and resources.

South Australia, Peter’s home state, is the state with the worst cash balance in the country he told us and so questions about how to fund education were serious and relevant. Politicians, he noted, often talk about the economy vis-a-vis what it should look like and how they will achieve that goal. However, they rarely connect education to the future by talking about what education should look like (purpose and goals  again?) with any real substance, nor do they talk about how they will achieve that goal with any real substance. There is even less talk about to feed into that change and improvement with regards to ITE.

Peter then introduced the first of the narratives that he mentioned earlier, which was the role that media commentary plays in education, yet that it also has no real connection to schools. He posited that the clickbait headlines surrounding things like NAPLAN and PISA results induce a sense of nostalgia in adults, a feeling of back in my day… and a panic that there is a need to return back to basics and drill and skill.  This, for me, was echoing comments and sentiments that Brett Salakas had made in his presentation to the Rethinking Reform delegates earlier in the morning. If our results are falling, then we need to copy what the top countries are doing because it clearly works seems to be the prevailing mindset impressed upon us by the media in its educational commentary.

Peter phrased it as the media and older generations wanting us to subscribe to a better version of the 1960s. He noted that there were some good things in the 1960s, but that we have of course moved on from then and that there were some definite poor practices in the 1960s.

Given I was born in 1983, I will have to take his word for it.

Peter showed a quoted [?] Ball from 2008 who apparently said that “learning is re-rendered as a cost-effective policy outcome and achievement is merely a set of productivity targets.” While the media  give the impression that education is all about NAPLAN and PISA, Malcolm Turnbull has said that “[t]here has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian.

Peter then asked us, in our table groups, to discuss what it is that is stopping us from shifting away from the obsession with standardised testing. There were, again, some very interesting ideas that came from the room.IMG_1777

  • Mindsets about education and the purpose, goals and expectations therein from the community and students.
  • Confusion about the new career pathway and how it is no longer a single career trajectory.
  • Politicians who surround themselves with consultants who are not teachers, or who have been out of the classroom for a long period of time.
  • Fear of taking risks during an election cycle.
  • The different types of schools and the misfit of policy and expectation to education realities.
  • The fact that the locus of control is with the politicians as they control the purse-strings.

My next note simply says YouTube: Future of Work which at the time, I must have thought would be enough information to find the video that we either were shown or that was discussed. Unfortunately, there are several videos on YouTube with that phrase in the title. I have reached out to Peter to find out who the speaker in the video was to help me narrow it down and will update this article when he confirms that for me.

Peter rounded out by commenting that learning is for life and accordingly, it should be meaningful, that we need to focus son assessment rather than testing, which are distinctly different from each other and asked us if there was, perhaps, a third option.

I was disappointed that the session was not what it was advertised as being and there was some frustration in the room about that. Speaking with one delegate, he was very disappointed as he had chosen The Leader specifically as it fits with his own Professional Development Plan and the goals of the school he is in at the moment, but that this session, as with many of the others in The Leader were a let down and that he had wasted the school’s money and two days of professional development. Overall, for me personally, whilst I was disappointed that it was not what it was advertised as being, I did find it an interesting, though at times frustrating, session.

Education Nation | Considering the Program

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

Times listed in this article are correct at the time of publishing, but are subject to change.

It is interesting timing, sitting here composing this article, with Education Nation only a week away, considering that the topic for #satchatoz this past weekend was how [do] conferences help us grow professionally. I have been amazed at the response to both my interview with Professor Geoff Masters and the interview with Dr. David Zyngier. I am excited to announce that I have just received the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly, who is arguing the side of private education in The Great Debate against Dr. Zyngier. You can get involved with The Great Debate by submitting a question for the moderated questions from the floor component of the Debate by clicking here.

Today, however, I want to have a look at the programs for the various conference streams. There is a lot to be excited about on the program for Education Nation, making it difficult to choose a particular stream to be involved in. Of course, each stream has a particular focus and which you will choose will vary according to your context and your needs. I am in the position of being able to move between the event streams thanks to the media pass, and it made for some very difficult choices, as I wanted to engage with at least one session in each stream across the two days.

I have included a copy of the EduNationAu Timetable, which I have put together from the separate programs on the Education Nation website to allow for seeing what was happening at any time and it showed that the events do not necessarily line up in regards to timings for each session. I have chosen the sessions I will be attending according to a few criteria:

  1. Benefit for my own practice
  2. Interest in the topic or speaker
  3. Engaging with a session from each event stream


The first session I plan to attend is in the Rethinking Reform stream, and will be my first opportunity to hear Brett Salakas (@Mrsalakas) speak. He will be exploring the subject of PISA and the growing fascination with the results and our place in relation to the other OECD member nations. It promises to provide an open and frank exploration of our current relationship with PISA pipe dreams and the cultural contexts involved. Following Brett’s session  was my first dilemma. Do I stay and listen to Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) identify and discuss the five most important challenges facing schools, or alternatively, head across to the Digital Dimensions stream to hear Simon McKenzie (@connectedtchr) identify if we have just made everything worse with the rollout of technology in schools, from both positive and negative perspectives. Simon’s session promises to be very intriguing and potentially controversial given the explosion of one-to-one and BYOD programs in recent years.

Both options are incredibly appealing, however, in the end, I decided to remain in my seat for Professor Masters’ session. Primarily due to time; both sessions are scheduled to commence at 0940, and though there is typically some fluidity in the actual timings at conferences, I wanted to avoid being that person who enters a room late and then proceeds to become the show as they attempt to find a seat, get there and then set up for the session. I look forward to reading the tweets stemming from Simon’s session, and please, if you write a blog article from that session (or any other), send me the link so that we can re-share it with the wider Education Nation PLN.


After the morning break, I plan to spend the entire second session engaging with one of the deep-dive workshops, The Leader. Specifically, I will be attending the session which examines strategies for bridging the gap when policy and practice diverge, presented by Peter Mader (@Mader_Peter). It is an interesting area to explore, and also a common problem. Educational policy is typically slow to respond to new information and requirements, particularly when it is required to run the gamut of a bureaucracy.


Michael’s session finished and provides me with a ten-minute window to move across to my next session, hearing from Ed Cutherbertson and Prue Gill (@Ed_Cuthbertson and @Prue_G) of Lanyon High School share strategies that teachers are able to utilise in their classroom to provide their students with voice and agency, allowing them to feel valued, and encouraging students to become active participants in their own learning. This session is a lengthy one, which gives me that it will provide a wide range of strategies to assist teachers in building those relationships, in providing the voice and agency to their students. Student voice and agency has been a topic of discussion more and more on social media and there is a body of research building around this issue.


Following the afternoon break, my first choice, actually, it was the first thing I marked down as wanting to attend, is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@DZyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia). The debate surrounding public versus private education is a hot one, and both sides have some excellent arguments. I have not heard the two sides facing off in a debate before, and this is sure to be interesting and fiery. I have already published my interview with Dr. Zyngier and tomorrow I aim to publish the interview with Dr. Donnelly. Dr. Donnelly is well known in the media for his provocative statements, and I look forward to engaging with his responses, and to hearing the feedback on the article.

Do not forget to submit your questions about public education versus private education. There is still time!

Though my choices for the final session of day one of Education Nation were guided by The Great Debate, I am genuinely interested in hearing what Teresa Deshon has to say about the role of the pastoral curriculum in her case study; People of Character – Your Best Self. The academic curriculum takes the majority of our teaching time and Teresa’s question, “…[b]ut what of the pastoral curriculum?” is an excellent one. I am looking forward to hearing the strategies that Teresa and her colleagues have employed to change the focus  to the pastoral curriculum, and still maintained the academic curriculum learning outcomes for their students.


At the end of day one of Education Nation, I will be attending the live #AussieEd event at Kirribilli Club (view map), tickets to which are still available. It will be my first AussieEd event, and am looking forward to it.

Day two begins bright and early, and pending Ministerial commitments, will begin for those in the Rethinking Reform forum, with an Address and Question and Answer session with the incumbent Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham (@birmo). I requested a pre-Education Nation interview with Minister Birmingham, which was accepted, however, with the announcement of the impending Federal election made shortly thereafter, I daresay I ended up down the priority list as neither myself nor my speaker liaison heard back regarding the interview. I am very curious to hear about his views on the future of education in Australia, as well as what questions from the floor will be accepted and how they will be answered.

The timing of Minister Birmingham’s address meant that I am unable to attend any other event streams in the morning session as I would be arriving midway through, which is never pleasant. That said, Lila Mularczyk’s (@LilaMularczyk) subsequent presentation  examining trends in education policy and the translation to the Australian context will be very interesting. I feel that this session will follow on nicely from Brett Salakas’ day one keynote address. Both keynotes will be examining the Australian relationship with global educational systems, from slightly different perspectives. I look forward to seeing what crossover conclusions the two share.

I will be spending a significant portion of day two in the Rethinking Reform session, as returning from the morning will see me settling in for two sessions which I suspect will provide a lot of food for thought. Murat Dizdar will commence the session with an examination of how some schools in the NSW public education system are adopting the national education reform platform a discussion of the operational lessons that can be taken from those schools.

Following on from Murat, is Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire, presenting an exploration of the future of curriculum in Australia. Dr. Wiltshire is not likely to hold back, having been openly critical of the national curriculum and the process through which it has been developed. Dr. Wiltshire lays blame on the doorstep of ACARA itself, specifically the structure and functioning, labelling it a largely discredited body within education circles. I am very much looking forward to hearing him speak. As an early career teacher, the future of the curriculum is a rather important topic for me and my students, both now and in the future.


After Dr. Wiltshire’s presentation, I plan to take some time out. His speech will finish at roughly the same time as the concurrent sessions from The Leader, The Learner, and The Educator, and with all due respect to Phillip Cooke (@sailpip), who is presenting immediately after Dr. Wiltshire; a discussion of the HSC and how it prepares students for life after school is not in my area of interest at the moment. I believe that I would gain more benefit from taking some time to refresh my brain, to re-engage with my notes, get some writing done, explore The Playground and network and meet up with some educators that I have chatted with on Twitter in the past.

Following the lunch break, I will have the opportunity to hear Olivia O’Neil speak in the Digital Dimensions forum about redeveloping a school by engaging the emerging Gen Y teachers. I am looking forward to hearing Olivia speak, as I know a lot of what has been occurring at the school she is Principal of, Brighton Secondary College from conversations with Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLeCornu), whom I heard speak originally at FlipConAus last year. I am looking forward to hearing about a journey of which I already know a little bit from the perspective of the Principal, and the challenges that were faced from that vantage point and how they were dealt with.


I plan to remain in the Digital Dimensions forum to hear Leanne Steed and Elizabeth Amvrazis as they examine the purpose of education through a lens of technology-laden classrooms and the way in which technology can empower our students.

I will then be moving back to the Rethinking Reform forum to hear someone whom I admire greatly, Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) as she speaks about the relationship between the focus on using evidence-based pedagogies and the feeling of empowerment or disempowerment by teachers. Evidence-based pedagogies are another hot topic (I quite enjoy reading Greg Ashman’s (@greg_ashman) articles in this area). If the discussions about performance-based pay for teachers come to fruition, it will be an issue of even greater importance, and make the difference, perhaps, between teachers keeping and losing their positions.


The final Education Nation session on my agenda is part of The Educator stream, and I have chosen it specifically as it is a presentation on a topic that I am not still somewhat skeptical about. The Hewes family will be closing out The Educator with a workshop giving deeper insight into Project Based Learning (PBL). The workshop is slated to allow participants to design a PBL project, ostensibly, I presume, to take back to our classroom and implement. I am not entirely sure why I am skeptical about PBL. I suspect that a lot of it is most likely misconceptions, and I have heard some local horror stories about PBL gone wrong. That said, I am looking forward to engaging with this workshop, and hopefully coming away with a new understanding and appreciation for PBL and its place in my pedagogical toolkit.

That, as I mentioned, is the final session for Education Nation 2016. I am very much looking forward to the two days and fully expect that I will need the ensuing few days to recover mentally. What are your expected highlights for the event? Let me know via Twitter using #EduNationAu which will be the main event hashtag. As always, thank you for reading, and stay tuned tomorrow for the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly.