Telling or Teaching?

I picked up this 1937 Teachers Quarterly for a $1 at a market over the summer. It was really for a bit of a laugh to read and look at how much had changed.

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But I was a little surprised to see that after all these years, educators are continuing to send the same messages. And it appears, policy writers are reluctant to listen.

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I think the main difference is that this article was written for teachers with a want to change them. Now teachers are very familiar with less talk, more learning. Sadly it a message we try to get through to our government who are supporting teaching as “telling” through their advocacy of programs such as direct explicit instruction.

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As education continues to become a valuable market where NAPLAN results are the currency, educators are having to defend pedagogies and their knowledge of how learning occurs.

And this is likely to become even more extreme as we hand over education to private businesses with discussion turning to Australian versions of Charter Schools.

We hold the answers

This week I have been sent a newspaper article and a blog post, both of which resonated strongly with me and probably shows me that people know me well.

The first came as a tweet “@medg56 RT @Kenjaneth13: A 10 year old who sees the world as it is and envisions the way it should be tinyurl.com/la2l644 .. A young @melcashen….” To be honest I wish I was like this when I was 10 but my interest in politics has only come over the last couple of years.

Please take the time to read the post and even leave a comment.  After reading it I noticed I had tears streaming down my face.  Like Maggie, I have an interest in politics. An interest that started through the frustration of not being able to make a difference in education.  I decided I needed to know more about policy to understand what was happening in our education system so am completing my Master of Education Policy International.  I am hopeful that the more I understand, the more voice I will have to fight for education and the more people (politicians) will listen. Like Maggie I have the same why questions.

Maggie is obviously a special young lady who sees the world not only as it is but as it should be. This is the stuff we dream of teaching but instead there is a focus on tests rather than “potential, creativity and kindness.”

Another article was sent to me today by a colleague and definitely rings true. Last week saw the Education Columnist at the Daily Telegraph, Maralyn Parker, use the opportunity of her last day to share some advice with her readers.  Advice I also advocate.

Everything about your profession is politicised. Your classrooms, the facilities and resources available to you, the number and type of students you teach, what you teach, how you are taught to be teachers, what you are paid, the level of support given to you – all of these things are governed by highly politicised processes.” Her advice to this – be political.  And she is right!

We need to talk about politics, we need to talk to politicians.  We need to understand what is happening and ask questions.  We need to be educating our communities about what is happening.  No longer can we think we can’t make a difference.  It is time to make a difference, whether it is taking Maralyn’s advice and joining a union or a professional organisation, responding to discussion paper or even understanding what is happening through reading white papers such as the recent Victorian Government Action Paper. Talk about it at lunch time, in staff meetings and online. We hold the answers.

2615548443_9d1ea02dacImage: ‘In My Place

I agree with Maralyn that we are at such a pivotal time in Australian Education.  Our new Education Minister is set to make a lot of changes to national curriculum, autonomy in schools and privatising HECS debts as a start. Now more than ever we need to focus on politics. Education depends on it.

And I don’t think it is fair to leave it to Maggie to ask the tough questions.

Aspirations

At today’s visit is to Quintin Kynaston Academy, located just around the corner from Abbey Road Studios, it was wonderful to have students greeting and talking to us as we signed in at the school.  Students sharing their school and being proud of their learning environment is always an exciting way to see a school.  These students were very eager to talk and chat as they showed us around the school.

After the tour we had the opportunity to see some specific areas of the school such as the young carers group.  This group of KS3 & 4 students are carers of parents with mental illnesses who meet weekly to talk about strategies, share frustrations and develop awareness across the school. The self referred group has 8 students today and they are open and articulate about why they are there.  It was lovely to see students who are forgotten by a system such as this getting support not only from their school but their peers too.

I also had an opportunity to see the Aspire unit at the school. This unit is similar to a Pupil Referral Unit but sits within the school.  Students are referred to a PRU if they are excluded or unable to attend mainstream school where they can receive a more tailored and personalised program and some of the students here are referrals such as these from outside schools but can also come from within the school.  What makes this unique is the fact that the referral unit is attached to the school and classes are taught by mainstream teachers.  In Aspire students work in small numbers with teachers and support staff towards 5 GCSEs with two optional subject areas such as construction, hospitality or art.

I could see they were very passionate about offering opportunities for students but I find I am second guessing the school’s motives.  Is it really the students they have in mind when developing these programs or is it about the money. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to appear to be putting down schools and teachers and I don’t for a minute think that teachers are thinking money but that it the effect the policy in this country has.

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Our second visit for the day cements my thinking about the pressures on schools with the push towards marketisation of education and academy schools. At our visit to the Jack Petchey Academy they explain they were one of the original new labor academies set up in 2006 to replace the failing Kingsland School with new buildings.

The idea of closing a school and starting a new one in exactly the same location to improve education intrigues me. I wonder how many of the students who attended the school before the closure of Kingsland school are still enrolled at the school.  I know that as a Labour Academy they would be able to select 10% of the students based on the specialisation of Health, Care and Medical Science as to change the socio economic standing of the school.  It would be interesting to see how long the school was closed for, where the students went in the meantime and how many of the original students returned to the school when it reopened.

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This visit certainly got the conversation going in our group.  Many were upset with the amount of testing that was done.  And it seemed they were very proud of testing their students every three weeks and completing ‘Mocksteds’ whereas to many of us that is not what education is about.  The school seemed to be very strict and rules were enforced tightly. I have always had a belief of education being a better method than adding rule after rule. It appeared here that there were a lot of rules enforcing what they believe students needed for their work life but I would question whether they are learning or  just becoming compliant.

The fact that the sponsor could decide on some rules within the school worried me. It was mentioned that Jack Petchey is a great sponsor and although he is interested in the school he does not enforce them to do anything, except for the rule about no chewing gum.  So although in this instance Jack Petchey doesn’t make the rules the system is set up that it is possible for sponsors to decide on the values, rules and the way the school is run.

A common theme of the academies we visited was their use of language to describe functions within the school.  On speaking to the deputy at Petchey I asked about using principal instead of head teacher.  She said she felt it sounded better and more “businessy.”  It is interesting that they found it was a good thing to be using business speak in their school.  They also used words like line manager, deploy and secure, demonstrating the changing face of schools.

Once again there is no blaming the school for this but this is the repercussion of the system in place.  In listening to the school they are passionate about offering the best possible opportunities for students but they are surrounded by a system which promotes competition and testing.

When the sun shines through…..

In today’s school visit I had a chance to teach 24 eleven year olds from Niels Steensens.  It was a lovely experience and I had a chance to work with the students for around 90 minutes.  After looking at some images of Australia and thinking about the different perspectives the students had an opportunity to ask questions.  Although this was quite reciprocal as the three of us in the room asked as many questions of them. It was clear fairly quickly that students in Denmark are different to those in Australia.  The respect from the teacher was one of mutuality.  Not once did she make a decision without asking the students if it was OK first.  And I felt silly when I asked her if it was OK to take the student’s photos.  She turned directly to them and and repeated my question. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t considered their voice to begin with.

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Our conversations turned to different rules schools have in Australia and they were shocked to hear that in schools we had to wear uniforms, could be suspended from school and each class had a set of rules, which were strictly adhered to.  It became clear that students here had a huge respect for what their teachers asked of them, which I believe comes from the teachers also having such respect for them.  It was  an expectation that they were responsible for their own learning and that all of the students felt it was important to go to school.

Our afternoon visit was to Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium where we were mesmerised by some of learning spaces. Gammel Hellerup is the former school of the famous Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, who has recently returned to design the sports hall and field.  Ingels’ designs aim to make the best use of space and even the curved top of the sports hall is utilised as seating in the outside area.   The new football field will form part of a drama and arts centre, where the roof will become the seating for the sports field.  Take a look at the plans here.

Gammel Hellerup

During our chat with teachers from Gammel Hellerup it is clear they have had to deal with lots of changes over the last few years. The 2005 reforms which saw more autonomy for head teachers and a new financial structure has meant the leadership teams have had to deal with new and unexpected issues. I am intrigued how autonomy and choice of schools affects students in Denmark where the welfare state ensures everyone is treated equally.  In Australia I expect the push for more autonomy and school choice because of the traditionally more dog eat dog environment we have but for Denmark it seems to be more traditional for them to prioritise equality.  Maybe that’s for a later blog post!

New Education Adventure

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today I sit at another airport as I write this post.  The last time I did this was May last year as I waited for my flight to Rwanda, which would in turn be the catalyst for many changes in the last 12 months. The first being a new job and a move to Melbourne.  It was Rwanda that really opened my eyes to education being bigger than just my primary classroom.  Don’t get me wrong,  I understood the process education took but to make change in education I knew I needed to understand it well.  From the first years to the years beyond secondary school.  It certainly prompted my move into higher education and I have truly loved the experience (as much as I miss the classroom) and have learnt so much in the past 12 months, all of which no doubt I will use when back teaching in a school.

The second decision, made after my Rwandan trip, was to head back to uni to get my Masters and it is this course which brings me to the airport today.  The International Study Tour is the second subject in my Master of Educational Policy (International).  I really enjoyed learning about China, India, England and Finland in my first subject, Comparative Studies and look forward to seeing first hand how policy effects education in Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

It is hard to know what to expect from schools in these countries, well except England where I taught for 4 years, and that is one of the real joys of learning!  I have over the years visited many classrooms but this trip will be a little different as I have always had my teacher hat on, looking at what I can take back to my classroom.  Tomorrow I will have my policy hat on, looking at how the policy effects education, schools and classrooms.

Part of my assessment is to write a reflective journal on my visits so I look forward to blogging over the next three weeks and sharing my experiences. But for now I have a plane to catch!

So there’s a new Bill?

Tonight my twitter feed is flowing fast as the Australian Political leadership contest is played out in front of our eyes. Lost in those feeds is the news that the Australian Education Bill 2013 was passed in the senate.  What this means in the political future, it seems no one can predict, but it shouldn’t make it any less important.

I don’t pretend to understand politics and in fact my knowledge of how a bill is passed comes from visiting Parliament House with my students. But I do know education.  And I think it is really important to read through the Education Bill, to have some understanding of the direction our Government is heading in regards to education, because the objects of this Act will effect educators and the students we teach.

You may be easily mistaken after the hype from the media to think that this Bill is just about Gonski but it is more than that.  Don’t get me wrong I think the most positive aspect to come from this Bill is a more equitable approach to school funding and a more fair and effective system.

There are other postive aspects to the Bill as it  talks often about about individual students and meeting student needs. Both good things to be talking about. But on the other hand “high quality” and “equitable” are spoken of in terms of where we sit in the education league tables and that we are in the top 5 performing countries by the year 2025.  And most alarming to me is that “Data collected on schools and school students will:

(a) be of a higher quality; and
(b) contain more detail; and
(c) be more consistent; and
(d) be more available to the public;
than data currently collected on schools and school students.”

Sounds like more NAPLAN to me.

Another thing to consider is the Bill also implements the National Plan for School Improvement.  Once again there are many aspects of this plan which I am happy to see.  A look into vocational education, strengthening of community relationships, more support for graduate teachers, varied admission to university courses, more training for leaders. But the use of words such as ‘best and brightest’, ‘lift results’ and ‘left behind’ worry me greatly.

And there is more that scares me; a rigid curriculum, literacy and numeracy tests before teachers can graduate, data about school performance, more information in my school website, teachers receiving a review.  There is a lot of policy being ‘done to teachers and students.’

So please take the time to read these documents, talk about them in your staff room and think about our future of education.