Autonomy and Respect

Interesting weekend reading.

Firstly, Twitter feed from ASCD sent me to an article at the website titled “Why are Finland’s schools so successful?” by LynNell Hancock.This was interesting because it wasn’t the usual rant which, in our media, invariably is used as a platform on which that particular media outlet could stand and lambast whichever government it had ‘issues’ with. And our media seem to end up simplistically blaming teachers for Australia’s students’ comparatively poor performance on a number of dubious measures of  achievement in one-off specialised and standardised tests. From the article, however: “There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.”
This article looked at Finland’s educational history and what their vision was for education and how they determinedly and authentically went about trying to achieve that vision, not distracted by other bright shiny educational ‘imperatives’. This was the part that particularly resonated with me:

Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”
Autonomy and respect. Everyone needs to feel that they have control over what they are doing, that their professional judgement is listened to and respected. 
In a related piece in Saturday’s AGE, there was an article stating that the paper had obtained documents from Treasury that advised the Bailleau Victorian government to increase teachers’ pay. This was before Bailleau reneged on a promise to make Victorian teachers the best paid in the nation. Performance Pay might be the compromise, coming in at a later date. Performance Pay on its own is not the answer. And it should not be tied to the merely measurable. As quoted from the Smithsonian article:

“If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”
Higher salaries across the board will lead to teachers perhaps respecting themselves a bit better and a cultural shift that better values the work teachers do. With this greater respect, I think teachers will see the need for a greater level of professional learning, both pre-service and as a continual part of practice quality & engagement. Too much is being imposed at the moment.
The third reading this weekend that correlated with the above two was an article in The Weekend Australian Magazine titled “Spoilt for Choice” by John Tierney. This article focused on a condition described as ‘decision fatigue’.  this is associated with a phenomenon called ‘ego depletion’. Experiments have determined that ‘there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control…the experiments confirmed the notion of willpower as like a muscle that was fatigued with use’ . So, for example, if you force yourself to remain stoic through a particularly gruelling experience, you are more likely to ‘give in’ during other experiences that follow.   ‘The more choices you make throughout a day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts’
I think any teacher can relate to the feeling of being mentally drained after a series of intense interactions with a class full of students. One has to be mindful of so many interactions. The tiredness that comes invades what I call the ‘headspace’. Every class involes hundreds of little decisions to be made – “Do I pick up on that response or let it go? What is my overriding learning intention for this lesson? Will I ask Mary to come to the whiteboard to do that? Should I wait for another 10 seconds for someone to respond? How can I check for understanding on this concept?” I know that it is more than just not wanting to make other decisions when I get home from work, it is actually that I cannot. Sometimes the decision as to what to have for dinner can be too much.
So, increasing teachers’ pay needs to come without any ‘increased performance’ strings. It needs to be seen as a just and overdue payment for the important work we already do. If anything, as with the Finland system, we need to have more time in schools to think about what we’re doing and why…..

“Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students”
Can Australia’s educational system become a lighthouse for the world? Isn’t it worth trying?

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, Vision. Bookmark the permalink.

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