Successful school principalship, evaluation and accountability
Volume 14 Number 2, 2008; Pages 19–44
Research literature has identified different models of school evaluation and accountability. Bureaucratic models focus on traditional, hierarchical accountability, while market-based models emphasise schools’ accountability to parents as consumers. Both types of models rely on contractual obligations to secure quality performance and, as such, are ‘low-trust’. By contrast, responsive models assign core responsibility to educators themselves to make decisions and allow for stakeholders’ interests and concerns. Research literature also suggests the need for a wide range of assessment types. A narrow reliance on testing to measure students' progress tends to discourage students from drawing on their varied cultural interests. It offers insufficient recognition of their experiences, discourages the development of students’ intellectual autonomy, and demoralises teachers. External accountability through tests and inspections generates ‘cultural resistance’ and ‘façade building’ from schools, which can be turned against worthwhile reform efforts. Results from Tasmania’s Successful School Principals Project (SSPP) provide further evidence of issues raised in this research. The project involved interviews with school principals and a wide range of other stakeholders. It was part of an international research project in which 63 case studies in seven countries were used to develop a survey instrument to measure principals’ leadership qualities. The Tasmanian research occurred as the new Essential Learnings curriculum was being introduced in the State. Growing hostility to the new curriculum from the media and elsewhere intensified a trend towards mandated, centrally driven measures to implement the reforms, which in turn generated dissatisfaction amongst teachers and principals. The study found that schools' involvement in processes to improve their accountability to the system and community has positive results, working to improve their students' literacy, numeracy, social success and empowerment. The study also found that successful principals are involved in most accountability processes at their schools. However, principals’ involvement in the reform process may lead them to make a more critical appraisal of policies and practices more broadly, including system initiatives. Evaluation processes should be open enough to allow questioning of system policy. Such openness encourages initiative at the local level. Education reforms are hampered by demands for uncritical loyalty, for frequent changes of strategy and for principals to spend extended periods away from their schools.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Indigenous education outcomes: are the answers in the mainstream?
10 November 2008
Australian governments have traditionally managed Indigenous education in an atmosphere of crisis and blame. This must change. Recent reports on Indigenous performance in education show mixed results: while there has been an overall increase in enrolment across all sectors, figures for educational outcomes in literacy and numeracy have either declined or remained stable in recent years. Indigenous students now comprise 4.2 per cent of the school population and are the most disadvantaged people in the educational system. Numerous reports, including the inquiries into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Stolen Generations, have highlighted the importance of education in preventing serious problems in the future. The answers to educational disadvantage can be found by bringing Indigenous students into the mainstream, but only provided that non-Indigenous educators make an effort to finally ‘get it’, to really understand why Indigenous education should be such a high priority. A number of changes are necessary if Indigenous education is to be brought into the mainstream. Teachers and non-Indigenous students must develop cultural competency: not just an understanding of Indigenous identity and place, but a profound insight into the impact of colonialisation on the psyche. Aboriginal languages need to be recognised by educators as valuable resources that children bring to the classroom. Early childhood is a crucially important period and there is a pressing need to work with young mothers and fathers to improve their literacy skills so that they can start reading to their children. There must also be a conversation between Aboriginal education experts and mainstream educational researchers, acknowledging the valuable experiences and worldviews these experts bring to the discussion. A proposed National Indigenous Teaching/Learning Council could, among other responsibilities, help prepare mainstream teachers to teach Indigenous students. Aboriginal educators must be placed in positions where they can not only influence but control the direction of change in Indigenous education. A video of the presentation is available.
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Engaging excellent Aboriginal students in science: an innovation in culturally-inclusive schooling
Volume 54 Number 4, December 2008; Pages 35–39
Last year’s Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS) was successfully held in January 2008 at the Australian Science and Mathematics School, Flinders University. Nineteen students took part, having been recruited from across Australia on the basis of academic ability, community and teacher recommendation, and outside achievements. The ten-day program was designed to balance academic pursuits with cultural and social activities, including basketball, Indigenous games, visits to the Tandanya Cultural Centre, local sports, and contact with Indigenous speakers and role models. Participants stayed at the Wiltja residential facility for South Australian Indigenous students. The academic component involved activities and workshops in the areas of environmental science, electronics/robotics and health science, followed by students’ selection of one of these topics to investigate in greater depth. The environmental science investigation incorporated elements of the local Kaurna culture, allowing the students who chose it to freely engage in ‘border crossing’ between science and Indigenous identity. A feature of the program was the presence of Aboriginal educators working in the science field who could serve as role models. Students learned the scientific content against a background of affirmation and celebration of Indigenous cultural identity. Interviews with participants after the program revealed very high levels of satisfaction and scientific engagement.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Equipping every learner for the 21st century
10 November 2008
The context for any future education system must be global, not national. Comparing students’ results across countries can give us useful insights into which educational strategies work. For example, the USA has a high-cost educational system and is a top ten nation when it comes to producing outstanding scientists, but also a bottom 20 nation when it comes to the number of students who are science illiterate. Finland and Korea, by contrast, have relatively low-cost but high-performing education systems. However, even high-performing nations will be compelled to reform their approach to education in the 21st century. ‘Education 3.0’ is a term coined to describe this change, which emphasises the skills required in a 21st-century workforce: critical thinking, innovation, the ability to solve complex problems, and teamwork. It also covers skills that are currently emerging as important, such as the ability to design, synthesise, think in a big-picture sense, play, find meaning, and apply knowledge ethically. Education 3.0 builds on the strengths of the current Education 2.0 system, which is centred around features such as accountability, transformational leadership and standardised curricula. If Education 3.0 is to be implemented, holistic transformation is needed rather than tedious incremental reform. The transformation will involve a move towards authentic learning and a focus on real-world problems. Teachers will act as coaches or facilitators for teams of students. Baseline connectivity and transformational professional development are necessary for this shift to occur: a profound focus on instruction is required from the very beginning of teacher training. With sufficient knowledge and resources, nations currently stuck in the traditional Education 1.0 system (such as Mozambique) can leapfrog directly to 3.0. The getideas.org/ website is designed to be an international forum for sharing ideas and challenging existing methodologies. It provides a range of Education 3.0 resources, including a blog, case studies, webinars, videos and links.
Subject HeadingsEducation aims and objectives
The development of a professional learning culture in a primary school in Melbourne, Australia
Volume 14 Number 2, 2008; Pages 74–82
The article looks at the development of a professional learning culture at a school in Melbourne's eastern suburbs, describing the role of the principal in promoting this process and the changing reactions of staff. The school, located in a middle-class area, has 410 students and 33 staff. The principal was appointed in July 2004. At that time, professional learning at the school was seen as an individual’s responsibility. The principal introduced three new strategies for professional learning. The first was to consolidate the existing strength that some leading staff possessed in the field of Environmental Studies. Three experienced teachers were encouraged to apply for professional learning leave to develop an inquiry-based learning program for students designed to embed Environmental Studies across the school. The second strategy was to create learning teams across all levels of VELS, broadening decision-making from the year level coordinators to the teams and encouraging the sharing of ideas in place of purely individualised teaching. Thirdly, the principal launched a staff conference for teachers, staff services officers and administrators which discussed ways to implement the Department of Education’s objectives for professional learning in schools. Staff reactions to the principal’s reforms were reflected in their responses to an annual State-wide Staff Opinion survey which asked them to rate various elements of the workplace culture. In 2005, the first year of the reforms, staff reported a sharp fall in the empathy and supportiveness of the school leadership, in the clarity of staff roles, and in levels of professional engagement and staff learning. They also reported a sharp rise in excessive work demands. By 2007, however, staff felt that levels of clarity, engagement and learning were greater, and that excessive work demands were less frequent, than they had been prior to the reforms. Their rating of leaders' empathy continued to be lower than in 2004, which suggests that the previous leadership was ‘popular, but insufficiently focused on engaging staff in ongoing professional dialogue and pushing a clear vision for the school’.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Texas school reformers try to learn lessons from Finland
8 February 2009
The success of Finland’s school education system is evident in its students' top performance on international tests in maths, science, reading comprehension and problem solving. Finland is also the land ‘where no child is left behind’ in education: its lowest-performing decile of students outperforms all international peers. While the country’s success is sometime attributed to the relatively high demographic homogeneity of its population, even students in disadvantaged immigrant communities achieve academic results not far below the average. Finland’s strong performance has emerged from a history of planning and ongoing evaluation. In the 1960s, ‘public education was so bad that parents were moving their children en masse to private schools’. A highly prescriptive national curriculum for public and private schools was established in 1968, with a strong emphasis on social equality together with firm central control through a national inspectorate. In 1979, teachers were allowed substantially more autonomy in their teaching methods. At the same time, teachers in public schools were now required to possess a Master’s degree. The curriculum was trimmed further in 1994 then built up again in 2004, partly in response to concerns that it offered too little guidance for teaching high-performing students. The curriculum challenges students: Finnish students speak three languages by the end of Year 9, and the study of algebra, statistics and geometry commences in Grade 1. There has been some discussion over the tracking of students. Students are tracked into academic and vocational streams after Year 9; prior to 1985, they were tracked after Grade 6. Finland’s education system has also been criticised for giving insufficient attention to potentially high-achieving students in the early years; for the high drop-out rate amongst boys at upper secondary level; and the consequent numerical domination of females in higher education. The article contrasts school education in Finland to that in Texas, where state authorities are currently considering the adoption of some Finnish methods.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
The role of early career scientists working in the classroom
Volume 54 Number 3, September 2008; Pages 49–53
The Scientists in Schools program was introduced to improve students’ interest in science and their understanding of scientific careers. The program introduced Early Career Scientists (ECS) into classrooms at various levels. Research undertaken in the northern region of the Northern Territory has clarified the role of the ECS and outlined several strategies for maximising their effectiveness in the classroom. Four schools in the northern region of the Northern Territory (three non-government and one government) recruited a number of tertiary science and applied science students to participate. Selection was based partially on a demonstrated passion for sharing a love of science. The 25 selected ECS attended Year 7-10 science classes two hours a week for ten weeks, often volunteering to continue throughout the school year. Teachers were given one day of release time per semester for relevant professional development. Data from discussions, observations and focus groups revealed that, in the early stages of the program, teachers tended to use the ECS as a standard teacher aide, asking them to spend more time with struggling students on worksheets and look after behaviour management issues. As the program continued, it became evident that ECS could offer significantly more and could collaborate with the teacher in a number of ways. Five roles for the ECS emerged: to motivate and inspire students to learn about science; to provide expert content knowledge and resources; to assist with delivery of the lesson; to extend gifted students and support struggling students; and to engage the majority of the class while the teacher dealt with behaviour management. Four strategies were suggested for making the best possible use of the ECS. First, building a professional relationship was essential, perhaps by visiting the ECS in their workplace or university. Second, becoming familiar with the ECS’s individual area expertise was helpful in designing activities and projects. Third, the ECS should be given an outline of the curriculum ahead of time and be included at all stages of the teaching process. Finally, the ECS should be informed ahead of time about classroom rules, safety issues and any expectations for their behaviour with the students.
Key Learning AreasScience
School climate through students' eyes
Volume 66 Number 4, December 2008; Pages 35–40
Engaging students in school-based collaborative action research can highlight areas for improvement that might otherwise be overlooked. Main Street Academix and the staff and students at schools in Sullivan County School District, Tennessee have joined forces to research school climate in the district. The initiative was triggered by a racial incident that occurred in the hallway of one of the schools and resulted in several lawsuits. The district made a decision to address the problems through collecting and examining data on school climate. As school climate has been characterised as ‘what happens when grown-ups are not around’, students were used as researchers to give a more accurate picture of perceptions on the ground. A diverse group of students was selected to participate in focus groups led by graduate and undergraduate college students. These students were then trained to administer surveys to teachers and students at their school. On many survey questions, clear differences emerged between teachers, students who were planning to go to college, and students who were not planning to go to college. While 80 per cent of teachers agreed that they felt physically safe at school, only 58 per cent of students, and 46 per cent of non-college-bound students, agreed. Staff also agreed at a far higher rate that ‘students mostly treat each other with respect at this school’. While 82 per cent of teachers said that students’ work was displayed publicly and celebrated by teachers, only 47 per cent of all students, and 29 per cent of non-college-bound students, agreed. Improvements prompted by the research included differentiating instruction, establishing positive expectations for respectful behaviour, celebrating students’ work prominently, and rewarding positive behaviour instead of focusing on the punishment of negative behaviour. After four years, there was substantial improvement in school climate across the district. Analyses indicated that the schools where school climate was most improved also showed the most improvement in academic results. This reinforces the notion that students learn best when they feel emotionally safe, and that measures that improve school climate can be effective in raising both morale and academic performance.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
Communication in mathematics: preparing preservice teachers to include writing in mathematics teaching and learning
Volume 108 Number 7, 2008; Pages 334–340
A ‘teacher development experiment’ in the USA has looked at the effect of adding writing to pre-service primary teachers’ training in maths. Fifteen pre-service teachers were introduced to the Four-Square Writing Method, and used it in their university maths methods classes before teaching it to primary school maths classes. Four-Square Graphic Organisers help to structure writing about a topic. They can be constructed by simply folding a piece of paper into four and writing a topic sentence in the middle of the sheet. The function of each square is flexible depending on the task, but in this case one square was used for the definition of the mathematical concept, another square for listing examples, another for non-examples, and the final square a summary. The concepts covered by the pre-service teachers using the Four-Square Method ranged from the formal characteristics of a triangle to explaining how to measure to the nearest millimetre. In the classroom context, one primary class used the technique to create essays on the differences between reflection and rotational symmetry. All 15 participants felt that the writing helped them to refine and elaborate on their ideas, and all were extremely positive about its use in the classroom. The students offered more feedback, were better able to organise their thoughts and carried away more memories of the lesson. Another positive of the method was that it offered a different form of assessment. Negative elements included the fact that it could be time-consuming, students tended to dislike it, and students did not wish to work independently on the task. The pre-service teachers commented that when next implementing the method, they would be sure to use separate sheets for the Four-Square and the written paragraph so the two could be viewed at the same time. They also intended to keep notebooks of the writing for future reference, and to use it in a range of situations such as reviewing, notetaking and bridging from one topic to another.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Learning alternatives and strategies for students who are struggling
September 2008; Pages 8–11
The author of Building Wings, an autobiographical account of a child’s ultimately successful struggle with a learning disorder at school, describes the disability-friendly Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. UDL was developed at the Center for Applied Special Technology in Massachusetts, and is inspired by architectural principles of universal design that plan buildings to be accessible for people with disabilities. The framework is structured around three major brain networks: the affective network, found mainly in the middle parts of the brain; the strategic network, primarily located in the areas towards the front; and the recognition network, which occupies large areas towards the back of the head. The affective network might be considered the most important in learning, since it governs engagement and motivation. Positive feelings about oneself as a learner are fundamentally important for optimal learning. The strategic network governs planning and performance of tasks. Many learning-disabled students have developed their own strategies, but may be reluctant to talk about them because they feel it is cheating or doing things the wrong way. Instead, strategies for individual learners should be encouraged and fully developed. The recognition network is used for interpretation of sensory data. Students with learning disabilities may have trouble with verbal or visual modalities, and should be encouraged to use more than one sense where possible. This might be through writing with a scratchy fountain pen or by creating mental pictures or videos of auditory information. Many multisensory learning devices and technologies are now available. Important principles include building on background knowledge; closely guiding and scaffolding struggling learners; using learning technologies and a balanced curriculum to help all learners, whether disabled or not; and encouraging student self-advocacy.
Subject HeadingsInclusive education
Volume 5 Number 3, September 2008; Pages 13–14
Most reasons for cheating can be divided into two categories: either the student feels unequal to the task, or they do not respect the assignment. A good exercise for opening a discussion about cheating is to ask students to list all the different ways they can come up with to cheat on a test. Often simply naming these ways is enough to prevent students from using them, or at least to inform the teacher of what to look for. The first reason is probably more widespread. Fear of failure is a common motivating factor for cheating, and the best way to prevent this is to make sure students are well prepared. It is preferable to cover less material well than to race through the syllabus too quickly, and worth risking a little student boredom to make sure important concepts are fully grasped. However all teachers must accept at some stage that they cannot do students’ learning for them. The second reason for cheating is more difficult to tackle. A significant proportion of cheaters cheat simply because they can, and because to do so is a challenge to ‘The System’. To address this type of cheating, it is best to be very clear about the expectations for the task, and about what will be gained by both students and teacher by assessing the skill. Showing what students could do with a good knowledge of these skills, and what they would lose if they did not know them, is another excellent strategy. Teachers are advised to spend less time trying to prevent cheating and more time preparing students well and explaining the value of their learning. Even so, it is still a good idea to lock the office and to stay in the room during tests.
Things to do in Duskwood when you're dead: English lessons from World of Warcraft
Volume 43 Number 1, 2008; Pages 47–56
World of Warcraft is a popular online computer game set in a fantasy world. Many of its players are males in their teens, a group that is often disdainful of standard classroom English. However, players often spontaneously compose complex narratives and poems based on their game experiences. The author’s experience in introducing poetry to his ‘guild’ of fellow players was positive, with players adding verses to his compositions and even introducing different genres such as haiku and narrative history. Players’ additions to ballads showed a mastery of metre and syllable stress, control of register and tone, and consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of different poetic genres. Although the author does not suggest using online games directly in English classes, there are a number of implications for the classroom. First, it is possible that boys of this age show little respect for classroom English because of its emphasis on free-form compositions and authentic individual voice. Introducing the strict rules of demanding styles (for example, the hexameter epic) may be a way to challenge the boys and demonstrate that poets and poetry are worthy of respect. An important aspect of World of Warcraft is the creation of a personal avatar or persona to navigate the game world. Using this technique and allowing students to write in persona, adopting different identities and perspectives, is another way of engaging those who feel stifled by an insistence on personal voice.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
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