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.

And so begins a new journey….

It has been a while since my last post and in that time a lot has changed. After 12 years in the primary classroom I have decided on a change from teaching and have started a job at Monash University as an Educational Designer. And so begins a new journey.

Image: ‘reads by the sea‘ Found on flickrcc.net

In my role I work with the Virtual Learning Environment, the project responsible for implementing a set of new learning technologies across the university, the first being Moodle.  There are many aspects to my role but I essentially work with academics supporting them in using learning technologies in learning, share good practice across the university and provide training in learning technologies.

For the past 12 years primary teaching has completely consumed me, especially in the last few years as I grew more and more passionate about empowering students, engaging them with ICT and dreaming of education reform. So why leave I hear you ask. Well there are a few reasons I guess.

  • In the last few months I have come to see myself more as an educator than a primary teacher so working in the tertiary sector will allow me to build a new skill set
  • I want to build change management skills and work collaboratively to bring about change. Unfortunately the lack of career structure in education means I was unable to get these opportunities in primary schools
  • I was tired.  Tired of the ever increasing work load and tired of hitting my head against the same brick wall with the lack of direction of education in Victoria.

Although I will be working in the higher sector of education I will still keep my hands in the honey pot of primary and secondary education.  I plan to continue to attend Teach Meets, conferences, PD and to stay connected with my amazing networks on and offline.  And I plan to talk more about reform in Education, hopefully making some impact on the changes that need to take place. Now I will just add the #highered hashtag to some of my tweets!

But for now to focus on my new role…..

It has been very excited starting a new job and I have enjoyed reflecting on me as a learner.  Don’t get me wrong, I am constantly learning, but it is rare that I am put in a position where I the learning curve is so large.  An environment where I had to use my prior knowledge and make connections with my new knowledge. A place where I was in a state of cognitive dissonance and my head was working in overtime to sort through my new information. It was quite eye opening to reflect on the skills I used to ensure I could ‘survive.’

It was quite invigorating! And in fact it continues to excite me everyday.

So what is it that excites me so much about my new role?

  • I love that I am trusted as a professional to do my job and respected in the knowledge and skills I bring to the position. I am asked what I think and how I can contribute.
  • I love that collaboration is preferred and it is expected that everyone will work together. And that because of this everyone works together so well.
  • I love that the vision is clear and everyone is working towards it.
  • I love that the people in my team use technologies like google docs and calendars to be more efficient and organised
  • I love that wellbeing is important and that you have time to get to know the people you work with over lunch because you actually get lunch!

And now I have a whole heap of new learning to share so hopefully the blog posts with be more frequent.




Future directions

Recently the  Department of Education and Early Childhood (DEECD) outlined its plan for reforming education in Victoria, Australia. The document, which you can read here, describes the vision for future education in Victoria and is open for discussion until September.

The discussion paper, titled New Directions for School Leadership and the Teaching Profession, focuses on three key areas of reform.

  • Building on teacher training and attracting high quality to teachers to the profession.
  • Establish a culture of excellence within the profession
  • Promote leadership and support principals.
Although I was disappointed that the discussion paper had been developed with no discussion from educators, I am pleased to have an opportunity to feedback and reflect on this paper.
Image: ‘During class
On the same night the paper was distributed, fellow educators were already on twitter discussing their thoughts and posing questions from the document.  It was an empowering moment to know that the DEECD wanted our feedback.
Over the last couple of weeks I have developed my feedback to Minister Hall and Dixon. You are free to read it here and offer any feedback. It is certainly not a comprehensive effort and I would have much preferred the opportunity to sit in a group and discuss it.  I hope these opportunities will come.
I now hope others will take the time to share their thoughts on this reform, to be active in making a change in education.


This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012.  Read further posts in the series here.

Our final day of the summit is a day of action.  Through our questions, we have been able to pinpoint the areas of action and change, which reflect what we have seen, experienced and discussed.

There are 6 areas of change which were recurring in all of the conversations;

  • Transform curriculum
  • Transform teacher training
  • Transform learning
  • Transform learning environments
  • Transform support
  • Transform assessment

As we form our groups for the culmination of ideas, it is a picture of empowerment as the local principals, parents and young people are the key holders of conversation.  For us who have travelled it is a great opportunity to take a back seat, allowing the people who collectively form education in Rwanda, to take control.

Sarah, a volunteer teacher from New Zealand had opened my eyes to idea of ‘fly in, fly out’ people.   They see many of these in Rwanda. Early on I resigned to the fact that I was a ‘fly in, fly out’ visitor and I was conscious of this when I responded in discussions. As someone who had only been in the country a few days I was well aware of my lack of understanding of the real obstacles that Rwandans face, so I was therefore not qualified to make decisions on their behalf.

Rwanda has shown remarkable strength in how they have shifted culture since the Genocide in 1994. As 800,00 people lost their lives, the rest of the world held back and in the end it was the troops of Kagame’s RPF, which brought an end to the Genocide.  Since then they have stood as one and stepped forward together to create a country of unity. When empowered to create your own solutions it produces an inner strength worth so much more than any gift. As aid agenceies have learnt, you can not continue to give without any ownership as it builds no inner strength or skill. Just as with education, we can not spoon feed students learning. It gives it no meaning or worth. We must own our own learning.

With these thoughts heavy in my mind I am pleased to see the actions being created by the people who will shape them for Rwanda. I sit back and hear Sam, a parent, share his ideas of using teacher training time on pedagogy, focussing on how to teach rather than what to teach.  Barack, the young entrepreneur, shares his ideas of adding school placements to teacher training. It is inspiring to hear and I can’t help wishing I could bottle it!

The  principals who have worked with us will now take these actions back to their schools.  I have confidence that these conversations will be popping up in schools all over Rwanda.  I know as I head back to Australia I will take with me the confidence that with the people I have met, and the message we share, education reform is not only a dream but has a reality about it.  I am thankful for the experiences, conversations and laughter shared with amazing people who prompted me to reflect on my own ideas and find direction in my own thoughts.

Collision of Minds

This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012.  Read further posts in the series here.

We once again become a collective in the beautiful surroundings of the Cathedral where we move into our second and third converstaions. With the more we see and the more we talk about, the more questions come to mind, making it a tough decision on which conversations to join.

  • How do you teach individually in large classes?
  • How do we create a secure environment for students?
  • What needs to be thrown out of our practice to allow change?
  • What would child centred PBL look like in a school in a developing country.
  • Are teachers capable of teaching job creating skills?
  • Do current assessment/exams help or hinder learning?
  • How do we change the priorities of our communities?
  • When we adjust minor things are we just repainting the wall?
  • Do we need a new paradigm?

I start by joining the group looking at PBL and am refreshed at Matthew’s opening statement regarding how limiting a label can be. By labeling Rwanda as a developing country we put limitations on what they can achieve and the size of the steps they can take in reform. I enjoy the opportunity to listen in this group and choose not to offer my ideas, soaking in the conversation.

Today I do move groups, making the most of the open space as I  join the group discussing how to increase community in schools. In this conversation my passion takes over and  I throw in a few questions; What creates a community? Can we force the forming of a community?  Can we make people be part of a community? Unfortunately the conversations are cut short as we are required to move on.

As the last two days have continued I have become more and more frustrated with the structure of the summit.  I was first enticed by the idea of an open summit where the collision of minds would be the focus, not the timing on the an agenda, so stopping in the middle of great conversations has been difficult for me.

As I reflect on how I feel about having these amazing conversations restricted, I try to put myself in the shoes of others at the summit. Many of the delegates are principals who have not experienced this type of open space learning before, and for them working in groups with free flowing conversation is a learning they will take back to their schools and put into practice. This reflection soon morphs into my big question of the day.

Does Rwanda first need to make the same mistakes as other countries in the world before they can really reform Education?

I had heard someone describe Rwandan Education as missing the Industrial Revolution when making a statement of how far behind in education reform they are. This should be an empowering position to be in. If we look at many of the mistakes made in education in the past, standardized testing comes to mind, does this not put Rwanda in a perfect position to reform education?  A place where there is less shift to make, less learning to unlearn.

This also correlates with my reflection on the summit itself.  If the principals involved in the summit were making leaps in the change they were experiencing, why not go all the way? Maybe this just reflects my character – why take small steps when you can get there quicker in leaps and bounds? Yes we make mistakes along the way but we also pick ourselves up quicker too. By taking more risks we can achieve more.