April 2007; Pages 11–13
Techniques to attract and retain highly effective teachers in hard-to-staff schools have been investigated in a study at the University of Melbourne. The study involved a survey of more than 900 primary and secondary teachers in Victoria, in different regions and across all sectors. The respondents were asked questions aimed at identifying their attitudes to teaching. Earlier research has found that highly effective teachers are characterised by confidence, enthusiasm, concern about students and eagerness for professional growth. On this basis, respondents to the current survey who rated highly in these qualities were defined as ‘highly effective’ for the purposes of the study. Responses were consistent across geographical region and sector, but varied widely between teachers classed as highly effective and less effective. With regard to factors that attract teachers to a school, all types of respondents cited practical issues such as a partner’s job transfer, but highly effective teachers were much more likely to cite professional and educational factors as well, such as a school’s reputation for innovation; the chance to work in a new educational setting; promotional opportunities; and the chance to implement improvements at the school. In terms of factors encouraging teachers to remain in a school, highly effective teachers tended to cite the quality of school leadership and challenging responsibilities. Highly effective primary teachers tended to cite promotion prospects as well, while highly effective secondary teachers often nominated the issues of curriculum reform and professional development. To attract and retain highly effective teachers, schools in difficult-to-staff areas should strive to offer innovative teaching methods; opportunities for promotion, if possible; responsible positions with real influence over educational direction; and real staff input over curriculum and professional development. Systems should fund a higher number of senior positions at hard-to-staff schools, and should offer HECS scholarships for teachers’ further study. Centres for innovation should be set up in some disadvantaged areas. Systems should encourage procedures at hard-to-staff schools that allow highly effective teachers room to negotiate their specific roles and responsibilities.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Daring to trust: beyond risk minimisation in schools
Volume 6 Number 1, March 2007; Pages 6–13
Accountability and audit requirements are now so demanding on school principals that they have begun to restrict principals' running of schools and to hinder the development of trust in the principal’s relationships with others. Electronic record keeping provides finely detailed ways to identify and calculate risk in almost all aspects of life. It has led to increased inspection and monitoring of human behaviour. The resulting ‘regime of inspection’ is generating a growing number of risk experts. They have a vested interest in rendering human behaviour ever more transparent and in creating a climate of ‘dependency and indeed vulnerability within other professional groups, like school principals’, in which it feels safer to leave decisions to external consultants. The tendency towards centralised risk control has been increased by ‘moral panics’ caused by extensive media coverage of inappropriate conduct by small numbers of teachers. It has also been aggravated by the ‘commodification of schooling’, in which educators are seen as service providers to consumers. This approach shifts the focus from educators’ professional skills towards their performance against more superficial but more easily measurable results. Risk management in these terms relies on standardised formulations and broad numerical calculations. It underplays or ignores the immediate contextual factors that must be considered for effective decision making and the trust that must therefore be given to decision makers on the ground. A far more promising approach to risk management starts by recognising the competence of on-the-spot leaders and building on it, and by accepting that decision making cannot be fully transparent to higher authorities. An organisation’s culture should encourage mistakes to be reported rather than glossed over and should take the absence of such reports as cause for increased vigilance. Defences, whether technological or procedural, should not try to replace human judgement, which remains vital for dealing with new and unexpected elements of problem situations. Blameworthy behaviour by an individual should result in sanctions but should not be allowed to conceal wider, underlying causes of problems.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Industrial health and safety
Teacher beliefs and constraints in implementing a context-based approach in chemistry
Volume 53 Number 1, Autumn 2007; Pages 14–18
In traditional school chemistry, teachers intermittently draw on real-world examples to illustrate a concept. One of the most promising reforms to school chemistry in the last decade has been the introduction of a 'context-based' approach to the subject, in which conceptual knowledge about chemistry is linked more systematically to relevant real-world contexts. This approach is evident in American Chemical Society's ChemCom publications and in the Salters program used in Britain. Its value has been supported by world's best practice research evaluations. Some leading proponents have argued that the adoption of the context-based approach requires a radical shift away from traditional 'concept to exercises pedagogy', which relies on rote learning and routine algorithmic tasks. Over the last five years, context-based chemistry has been piloted in Queensland's Year 11 and 12 syllabus. A recent study has surveyed the opinions of twelve Queensland educators regarding the success of the pilot. One of the educators was a university lecturer who has been a leader in the introduction of a context-based approach to senior school physics in the State. The other eleven participants were experienced and well-regarded teachers of senior secondary chemistry. The participants agreed that a context-based approach would help to interest and engage students. However, opinions were divided on the best way to relate conceptual knowledge to real world contexts. Six teacher participants believed context should be introduced before concepts. Three teachers feared that this approach would not help students who struggle to make conceptual links, while others again urged against setting down fixed ways to relate context to conceptual knowledge. The teachers in general reported significant resistance to their attempts to introduce context-based chemistry in the classroom. They said some students found it hard to adapt from rote learning for examinations to demands to say 'what they think' or to undertake activities with minimal guidance. Respondents felt some fellow teachers 'don't see what is possible' or 'lack the energy to change'. Some parents, they said, looked for traditional teaching approaches and blamed the school if students were anxious about the new approach. The findings suggest that more education about context-based chemistry is needed for teachers, students and parents.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Breakthrough classroom instruction
Number 162, February 2007
A breakthrough in classroom instruction is within reach of the education community. It is based on ‘precise, validated, data-driven expert activity that can respond to the learning needs of individual students’, termed Critical Learning Instructional Pathways (CLIPs) by the authors. The paper illustrates such an approach, drawing on Hill and Crevola’s work in early literacy instruction. The approach first requires all students to be ‘pre-tested’ at the start of each school year. Pre-test data for each individual should be summarised in their Student Learning Profile, determining their stage of development. Class data can be summarised in an Instructional Strategies Matrix that sets out areas for assessment, eg vocabulary or oral language; stages of development, eg early emergent; and the types of small group instructional strategies suitable for each stage. As well as annual pre-testing, educators should monitor each student’s progress day by day. A key step in this process is to organise students into small, variable groups based on their short-term instructional needs. A Focus Sheet should be created for each group. The article includes a sample Focus Sheet used for K–3 reading. It includes the instructional strategy used, in this case Guided reading; goals for student achievement; notes on progress and needs of each student in the group; and statements of how the group work relates to whole-class activities on the topic. A new Focus Sheet is prepared after every lesson to inform the next one. Struggling individual students may need exceptional treatment to address specific learning needs. The wholesale introduction of this ‘breakthrough’ framework will require rigorous planning, the involvement of university research centres, education systems, private companies with specialist expertise in testing and publishing. Once established, the framework will allow principals, regional leaders and system leaders to take more responsibility for the quality of instruction based on closer knowledge of what is actually being taught.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Teaching and learning
What is the best way to motivate students in science?
Volume 53 Number 1, Autumn 2007
Science students' motivation is in large part a product of previous classroom experiences in the subject, so quality teaching can change students’ goals and beliefs for the better. A range of strategies can be used to engage students more effectively with the subject. Maximising opportunities for students to experience success will help promote their self-confidence. Tasks should be set at a moderate but achievable level of difficulty for each student. Student success in science procedures, understanding and assessment is best achieved when teachers state goals for the lesson, provide clear and uncomplicated explanations, encourage discussion, provide hands on activities with appropriate support and set flexible assessment that allows for individual variation in abilities. By allowing a degree of flexibility in work pace and assessment requirements coupled with encouragement and praise for effort, teachers ensure that all students are given the opportunity to experience success. Using novelty in classes by demonstrating unexpected experiment results, displaying computer simulations of strange events or articulating ‘amazing’ facts can arouse ‘situational’ interest, which can develop into longstanding personal interest over time. Providing variety in the topics and activities covered by introducing dramatisations, model making and out-of-room activities not only provides novelty value, but widens the base of appeal to all students. Another motivating strategy is permitting degrees of choice, such as choice of work partners, assignment topics, assignment presentation or experiment methodology. However, determining both the research question and the methodology used to investigate it requires high-level skills, and so the extent of student decision making should be controlled. Making the content of lessons relevant to real life experience or products or to other school subjects can demonstrate the value of learning the material, and the content derives interest from this. Two final motivating strategies are social interaction and collaboration in activities and teacher enthusiasm for the topic, which enhances the perceived value and interest of the task.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Many children from non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESB) are seen very differently inside and outside of school. In their homes and communities, they may confidently and effectively assume a range of responsibilities, such as caring for siblings, helping with the family business or translating for non-English-speaking peers. In school, they are more likely to be perceived as poor learners, lacking basic skills and with little interest in schooling. Teachers need a number of qualities to overcome the ‘deficit’ view of NESB students. They must understand learning from a constructivist perspective and help students build bridges between new and existing knowledge. Direct instruction may be part of, but should not dominate, culturally inclusive classrooms. Teachers need to know about their students’ lives. This does not mean generalised information about cultural or ethnic groups, but personalised knowledge of every student’s background, skills and aspirations. As most US teachers are white, middle-class and monolingual, their lives differ profoundly from many of their students’. They therefore not only need strategies for gathering information about their students, but also the sociocultural consciousness necessary to interpret that information constructively. Teachers need to understand the inequities in society and how these can be perpetuated or challenged by schools. Evidence suggests that many teachers see minority student groups from a deficit perspective, and consequently have low expectations for their academic achievement. In contrast, teachers with confident, affirming views about diversity will provide all students with challenging curriculum, high-performance standards and strategies for managing their own learning. They will also use appropriate instructional strategies in their classes to activate every student’s cultural, linguistic and intellectual capabilities. Lastly, teachers need to advocate on behalf of the students from diverse backgrounds in their classes to overcome the practices embedded in everyday schooling which serve to disadvantage them. These include large class sizes, inadequate resources, assignment of the least experienced teachers to the students most in need and curriculum that does not reflect diversity. In doing so, teachers fulfil their ethical obligation to help all students reach their full learning potential.
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
United States of America (USA)
Fractures in New Zealand elementary school settings
Volume 77 Number 1, January 2007; Pages 36–40
A New Zealand study has examined causes of fractures sustained by primary school students, particularly targeting injuries incurred when falling from playground equipment. First aid officers from 76 schools, representing more than 25,000 students, recorded information about the nature and circumstance of fractures sustained by students during regular school hours. The sample represented large and small urban, provincial and rural schools serving communities of all socioeconomic levels, and covered government and non-government sectors. The results indicated that falls from playground equipment were the primary cause of fractures, but were responsible for less than half such injuries overall. The height of the equipment was found to be unrelated to the number of injuries sustained. Boys and students of heavily populated schools incurred the most fractures, regardless of the socioeconomic status of the school. New Zealand has a relatively low incidence of fractures in primary schools despite the moderate climate that encourages outdoor activity and offers a large allocation of free play time. The relatively low accident figures may be related to the prevalence of grassed rather than concreted play areas in New Zealand and the high level of adult supervision of outdoor activities. Results of the study indicate that the emphasis of safety restrictions on playground equipment, height limits and landing surfaces should be shifted to other factors such as crowding and the nature of students' interaction. Improvements in safety may be best achieved by de-emphasising the risk-taking and competitive aspects of sport, without compromising other health goals such as the reduction of obesity, promotion of physical activity and encouragement of challenge and stimulation.
Principalship: the first 100 days
January 2007; Pages 34–36
Good planning, awareness of limitations and sensitivity to the feelings of staff are central to winning the trust and loyalty of the school community at the beginning of a principalship. A smooth transition to the role is facilitated by making initial contact with the incumbent principal. A predecessor can advise on features of the school community and indicate broad features of the school budget, as well as facilitating meetings with parents and the business community. An understanding of the strategic direction of the school is critical, as is an awareness of the sensitive nature of change under a new principal. Likewise, even small changes to school practice may be viewed with suspicion if undertaken without regard to existing school cultures. Key staff may be able to illuminate idiosyncrasies and sensitive issues in the school culture that might otherwise cause conflict. Meetings with staff are also necessary to ascertain existing forms of planning, pedagogy, assessment and reporting. These meetings should be regular and informal. When commencing a new position, a principal’s focus should be the development of relationships and accumulation of background knowledge of the school’s context. Relationship development is assisted by discussion with teachers, students, ancillary staff and the principals of neighbouring schools. Potential mentors, such as former principals or colleagues, can offer advice in this regard. Without such a foundation, a principal cannot lead curriculum effectively.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
School and community
Science needs a new formula
16 April 2007; Page 16
Since the 1960s science education has focused on specific disciplines such as chemistry, physics and biology. This approach, developed with extensive input from the scientific community, emerged from the USA in response to competitive pressures during the Cold War. However, this model does not meet the present-day needs of Australia. Issues such as climate change, salinity, fossil fuels and stem-cell research make science increasingly relevant and important, and call for a scientifically literate population. Students, however, often feel that the subject is disconnected from their real-world experiences and the number of students pursuing science in schools and universities is diminishing, at a time when there is a serious shortage of scientists. Aggravating this problem is the shortage of teachers in this field, particularly those with sufficient expertise. Only 40 per cent of physics teachers majored in physics. The introduction of more, better qualified teachers is essential. Such teachers are best placed to connect scientific knowledge to a problem-solving approach to student learning and relate it to real-life scenarios of interest to students. However, teachers are constrained from applying such an approach by the current curriculum model. Bi-partisan support for a national curriculum offers an opportunity to overcome these restrictions. Rather than simply aligning the States’ present curriculums, the government should design a new national curriculum that engages students more effectively with science. This curriculum would shift the emphasis from factual content to conceptual understanding and encourage an interdisciplinary approach to science problems, while retaining scope for local input.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
PE not carrying its weight
16 April 2007; Page 11
Research in Australia and internationally has found that Physical Education (PE) receives an inadequate allocation of hours in the school curriculum. Only three per cent of teachers meet the Victorian Government’s time requirements for Physical Education and sporting activity, a drop from five per cent only four years earlier, according to a 2004 RMIT study that surveyed the opinions of 300 classroom teachers. The study found that many teachers lack confidence to teach the subject, with 45 per cent indicating a wish for more professional development in this area. The school curriculum is overcrowded and PE’s low status results in its marginalisation in timetables. In Australia, the SunSmart campaign has resulted in limits on the number of hours that students can spend outside the classroom while at school. Internationally, Physical Education teachers believe that their subject is less highly regarded than other subjects and that spending on facilities and equipment suffers as a consequence. The Australian Government has turned more to the sporting community than to PE professionals in the campaign to encourage more physical activity among children. The benefits of PE are underlined by a US study, which found that students who undertake the subject at school are more likely to be physically active after school hours.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
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