Wanted: a new respect for oneself, for others and for learning

Yes, I know – no post in a comparatively long time. Work, illness, work…teacher readers know the story well. Even at this minute, I should be marking many, many SACS that I have let get on top of me..but the brain won’t work that much.

I have kept an article aside from The Age from Monday July 12 titled Wanted: a new respect for learning by Caroline Milburn. The contention of the article is that Australia has a problem with its attitude to learning. The author refers to a recent report put out by the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council : Transforming Learning and the Transmission of Knowledge – preparing a Learning Society for the Future. In this report’s Introduction, it is stated:

 “Breakthroughs in our understanding of the fundamental science of learning, encompassing the scientific understanding of how our brains function, our motivations and the practice of teaching, are at a stage at which linking research and practice has the potential to transform how each one of us acquires and retains knowledge throughout our lives. The outcome of embracing this opportunity at this potent time will be a resilient and adaptive nation, prepared to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future. Example breakthroughs include understanding the influence of the brain’s attention and memory forming processes on learning effectiveness. These can be influenced by personal strategies and instructional design, yielding potential for improving learning capacity. Motivational states which can be adapted also affect learning effectiveness. One such example is the motivational impact of the community and cultural value of learning. By encouraging a culture that supports the value of learning, Australia would increase individual motivation for learning, enhancing each person’s capacity for attaining and retaining knowledge”

 This sounds pretty impressive. There is a professional learning group at my school that is currently exploring how the science of the brain links to learning and how to harness the potential of the mind to improve this learning in our students. I would also recommend The Art of Changing the Brain by James E Zull if you would like a ‘primer’ in this area.

Recent events, however, have made me stop and consider again something that I firmly believe – what is best practice for student learning is also best practice for adult learning. In particular, the statement above that reads in part: “Motivational states…affect learning effectiveness”. Teachers won’t be effective learners, in a professional sense, unless they are in a postive motivational state to do so.

The Age article goes on to support some sort of performance management scheme whereby professional excellence in teaching can be recognised and rewarded. High expectations and challenge are always cited as being necessary conditions for effective learning for students. So should they be for adults. Do schools and their leadership teams ensure that high expectations, challenge and reward are offered to their teachers? Are teachers encouraged to extend their reach? Broaden their knowledge bases? Is this done in a structured, coherent manner? There is a systemic responsibility here.

For teachers to be (forgive me) ‘reachers’, we need to have the self-confidence and self-belief in order to try to aim higher. To not be risk-averse. To not always be ‘safe’ with where and who we are. High-performing schools need high-performing teachers. Is there a plan to get us there?

A comprehensive, coherent and cohesive professional learning program in schools is the only way I can see this becoming a reality. In the Council’s report mentioned above they state:

“Studies have shown that outside the students themselves, excellent teaching is the single most powerful influence on student achievement (Hattie, 2003). This importance has not always been clearly articulated to the community, and over recent decades teaching has become a career path that is neither well respected nor well remunerated. In order to maximise their impact, teachers need to have high levels of knowledge in the areas they teach, be at the forefront of research into how to teach, as well as maintain high levels of commitment and emotional engagement”…….and recommend…”the introduction of a campaign to enhance the status and esteem society holds for its teachers. In addition, it is recommended that remuneration and support for their continuous professional development in both pedagogy and discipline studies would reflect the central importance of teaching in learning and learning in teaching. In order to become a society that values learning and knowledge, we need to be a society that values and supports the role of teachers and professional educators in preparing every individual to participate in society”

More power to them.

And to us.


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
This entry was posted in Systems, The profession, Things that engage. Bookmark the permalink.

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