It has been a long while since I have written a post. Apologies. It has not been due to lack of interest, or material. Just a very diverse and challenging year.
I have gained much from Twitter this year. Thank you to all I follow for your thoughts, insights and, perhaps most importantly, your links to blogs, reports, news stories from around the world, that are related to education. One of the most recent blog posts that struck a chord was by Margery Evans, the CEO of AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership). It is here. In this post she writes:
“If there is one persistent truth about teachers, it is the dedication that leads us to live and breathe our profession. It is part of each one of us, embedded in and expressed through our personal values and world views, a constant focus of our attention.
The membership of our community is ever changing as new graduates enter the profession and experienced educators retire. We evolve as new research about teaching and learning informs our practices and the understanding of what it takes to be an excellent teacher grows. We create and re-create our profession constantly, but some qualities endure, foremost of which is our focus on providing the best possible education for all students and the very personal way in which we exercise our professional responsibilities.
The core medium of the teaching process is and always will be the individual human being.
This is what makes the act of teaching so very personal, complex and enduringly difficult to capture in theory and policy documents. Our diversity as teachers is what makes our profession strong, but it also poses challenges….We all understand that the quality of teaching is a key factor in determining educational outcomes for students, and that school leaders set the tone and tempo that enable excellent teaching to flourish……..what we are doing is establishing the traditions that will help our profession to endure and remain focused on excellence, as it constantly changes and evolves. We are creating the frameworks that bind the family of educators together and help us to recognise, share and develop the professional qualities that we value in ourselves and each other …”
Apart from bringing a tear to my eye, it made me wonder about the traditions we have as individual teachers, as the discipline groups to which we belong, as schools and as broader educational systems. Are all of these traditions ones that “will help our profession to endure and remain focused on excellence”?
As Margery notes in this post, it is what we bring as individual human beings to this dynamic that will influence how the system behaves. We need to drive the profession. No longer passengers along for the ride. We need to set the agenda, set the parameters around the discussions and, above all, lead by example.
One of the most inspiring events I attended during 2013 was the launch of the book “The Self-Transforming School” by Brian Caldwell and Jim Spinks. In the Foreword, Dame Pat Collarbone writes that
“….in order to bring about systemic transformation, we need to develop the capacity to lead that change at a local level rather than introduce more and more measures and bureaucracy……..a command-and-control culture has cascaded down through the system for decades so that many people now do not know what it means to take up their own authority. A dependency culture creates not only inefficiencies but, all too often, low morale……it is often very hard and painful for people to discard ways of working that they have developed over many years and that have served them well in the past……..the way in which leaders lead or resist change, and how they engage with their staff, sets the climate of a school that either promotes trust and innovation or reinforces rigidity and resistance……..senior leaders usually have a sound knowledge of the theory of change, are able to visualise where they want to take their school, but find it hard to distribute leadership whilst retaining accountability. ….transformation [requires] …a higher level of professionalism of teachers, leaders and those that support them.”
So, how do we reinvent ourselves and our schools to better create an education with a better fit for the children of today and tomorrow?
We need to start with ourselves.
One of the chapters in the book is titled “Innovation Everywhere”. It speaks of the need to ‘see ahead’ (future-focused), ‘see behind’ (honouring and extending past accomplishments), ‘see above’ (understanding the policy context in which we operate), ‘see below’ (deep understanding of the needs, interests, motivations and aspirations of students and staff) , ‘see beside’ (networking professional knowledge and looking at what other schools are doing) and ‘see beyond’ (to what research points at, looking at best practice in other fields). The authors write of the need for schools ‘to do well in what they are currently expected to do’ but also ‘keep an eye on promising innovations and future possibilities’ using a ‘split screen approach’.
Michael Fullan is quoted on Page 127, that with respect to transforming learning,
“No matter how you cut it, we are not making progress…the goals are too vague, having a glitzy attraction. When [we look at] specificity, the focus is on standards and assessment (which does help with clarity), but the crucial third pillar – pedagogy or fostering actual learning – is neglected”
In my opinion, the focus on pedagogy should be the cornerstone of every teacher’s development as an educational professional. How do we make learning better? We need to look closely at what we are doing in our classrooms. Take notice of who is learning and why, who is not and why not. What are the essential elements of our disciplines young people should be learning and why? How do we teach people to be better learners? To know more about themselves as learners and learn how to better unlearn and then relearn? How to motivate themselves to learn. How to be persistent and persevere when challenges arise. How to be ‘grittier’ as Angela Lee Duckworth says in her excellent TED talk. (You may also like to read the US government’s report on Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance and this blog post). These are the skills that will matter for the future.
But all of this noticing and reflecting needs to be done with a weather eye on what is already known about learning. It needs to be informed and grounded by research. Not just affirmed by peers or past experience or intuition. Not what makes us feel good..or what makes our students feel good. Does what we do improve learning? How do we know?
This is why we need to engage with developing our own professional learning journeys and driving ourselves on that journey. It should not be someone else’s call. If we want our students to be autonomous learners, we need to be as well. If we want our schools to be self-transforming, we need to be too. We need to be the change we want to see ‘above’ and ‘below’.
So, at this time of the year that is full of tradition, I will take some time over the break to consider the traditions that inform and guide my practice as a teacher. And develop some new ones. Ones that will embrace constant and considered transformation. Ones that will focus on pedagogy and improving learning for me, my students, my school and the system in which I teach, “framing what it takes to grow, develop and be successful in our profession” (from Margery Evans’ post again).
How will you frame your professional growth and development for 2014?