Mixed Messages

I have been reading about this initiative on the WISE website about lifting the public image of education in Chile.  They are working on changing the perception of education in the public and increasing the image. It has got me thinking about the messages we send out, often without thinking, which impact on the public image.

I remember asking my students in an inquiry unit, “How do I learn best” about what learning looks like.  I was really surprised by their answers.  I thought they would talk about working with friends, real life experiences, hands on learning etc.    Instead they talked of silence, sitting with one child per table and wait for it….worksheets!  Needless to say I was taken back by these responses but I could understand where these messages come from.

Growing up I was told I was great at Maths because I had good recall of my times tables. When people talked about Maths it always related to if I knew the times tables.  Of course I thought that was what was most important about Maths.  Being a good reader was determined by how long the book I was reading was.  “Wow, that’s a big book.  You must be a good reader.”

All around us we see underlying messages of what is important.  The new National Plan for School Improvement, an initiative by the Australian Government, uses an A+ in their logo. This sends the message that improving schools, and in fact learning, is all about getting an A+. Even if there is more to the plan, the message is clear.

In NSW, the ‘Teachers Make a Difference,” videos are meant to lift the perceptions of teachers in the public eye.  Although the videos are great at showing how teachers are more than someone who stands at the front of the classroom there are other messages.  The “First Day of School,” video shows the teacher meeting a student on their way into the school, both on their first day.  So instead of showing how wonderful teachers are at building relationships with students, the message becomes that teachers arrive at school at 9 am as the students are walking in.  I know this doesn’t happen but I have lost count of the times I have been told it must be great to have a job when you only work 9-3.

Maybe the greater message of how teachers change lives or that our government cares about education is more important but we shouldn’t overlook the underlying messages and how they effect how we think of teaching and education.

Great Schools

Last week I attended the Better Schools forum. Better Schools is mantra the Federal Government is using for its new campaign to improve the quality of education and equity of education throughout Australia.

Firstly, I have an issue with the title, Better Schools, implying that our schools are in major need of improving. Unfortunately it seems at the moment that our Government lacks the confidence in our education system, a side effect of over analysing data I am sure!  As we continue to pick our education system to pieces and compare it to ‘top tier education countries’ we lose sight of the important role our teachers have and the wonderful job they do.

That aside, the forum has been a great opportunity to ask questions of our Minister of Education, even if it is lacking conviction. (A much better consultation would see Mr Garrett, the Minister for School Education, asking the questions and educators, parents and students answering them) The forum does allow our Government to show their preparedness to act on behalf of all of the stakeholders of education.

The forum was held in Canberra but was shown online and you could submit questions through twitter, email and the website. I had several questions and they certainly weren’t unique. I hope that those involved in Better Schools took this as a sign of the areas we believe needs more clarifying. Many questions stemmed from the Gonski report, while others were focussed to the Parliamentary Secretary for School Education, Jacinta Collins, who spoke about education and disabilities. Mine were more focussed on the lack of teacher empowerment and an over emphasis of assessing learning outcomes such as NAPLAN.

My questions:

  • For many years now educators have been disempowered in teaching.  Does the Government believe it is important to empower teachers to do the job they have been employed to do? To trust educators that they know learning and teaching? To promote innovation in education? Does the Government think it is important to trust teachers and how will they ensure this is supported?
  • How can we have reform of Education without input from those at the coal face? How will the Government use the grass roots teachers to inform policy?
  • What do you personally believe a quality teacher does?
  • The title ‘Better schools’ implies our schools are not very good and need improving.  How will the Government build the respect and image of educators?
  • How will Better Schools support innovation in education in a system which is heavily reliant on compliance?

I had one questions answered, “What does ‘Educational Outcomes’actually mean?” To be honest I already knew the answer. But it was reiterated for me by Mr Garrett who explained outcomes as …. results. How students perform. Yes, how well students have performed in their ATAR, NAPLAN and reports from tests.

You can see the whole Better Schools Forum here or if you would like to see Mr Garrett’s response to my question skip to 48.25

The only problem is that I don’t believe there is a teacher out there who believes this is education. This is not what we work tirelessly and whole heartedly to achieve. Yes, of course it is part of it, don’t get me wrong. But it is so much more.

Educational outcomes are about preparing our students for the future. Building on curiosity and creativity to embed life long learning. Educational outcomes prepare our students to be collaborators, confident and reflective of their actions. It is teaching students to know themselves, be accepting of others and appreciate uniqueness. It is building skills in problem solving, using technology and connecting locally and globally.

Yes, it is what students learn but it is also about so much more.