Developing leadership capacity in the Hume Region, Victoria
The education landscape is littered with ‘new ideas’ and initiatives. They are seductive, because they promise ways to help us respond to the very complex task of educating individual students; and some of these programs are valuable. However, I wonder if sometimes we don’t fall into faddism.
To go beyond fads we need to look at the broad context of what we are trying to achieve, and to take a concerted long-term view of what we are aiming at. One way to do that is to go back to the purpose of education, which, in my view, is to provide for every young person the chance to achieve the best result they can from their schooling, regardless of their personal circumstance.
That means deepening our understanding of our craft as educators. It means grounding initiatives in thorough research. It means a robust interrogation of our current practice, and thorough debate within schools, at the whole school level, about how VELS is implemented, and which elements of it are to be privileged by teachers.
In this increasingly complex education landscape, improvement is not accomplished by simply telling principals to achieve this or that. It involves capacity building. The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development plays a strong role in leadership development, and in the Hume Region we are focusing on supporting the development of the instructional leadership role of principals and assistant principals in our schools. In the past the principal used to be the head teacher, and most often was a very good teacher. The challenge now is to refocus on their instructional role, so that principals have the knowledge to look at a classroom and think, ‘that’s good practice’ or ‘that needs to improve’. In some situations principals may need to reprioritise their work to achieve that goal.
The Hume Region
The Hume Region of the Victorian Department of Education encompasses the north-eastern area of the State, bounded by Corryong to the east, Kinglake to the south, Shepparton/Mooroopna to the west and Wodonga to the north. The region provides educational services to over 33,000 students in 164 government schools, which include 132 primary and 25 secondary schools, five special schools and two P–12 schools.
Curriculum planning and leadership development in Hume
The region is rolling out a training program for its principals. The program consists of 12 modules, the first two of which cover numeracy. Future modules will cover topics including literacy, brain science and the learner, analysis and strategic use of data, negotiation skills, and strategic leadership of cultural change.
Part of the teacher’s role is to identify and clarify students’ pre-existing understandings, to draw out students' preconceptions and challenge their misconceptions. Principals should help teachers develop their skills in this area, and the modules will assist them in doing so.
Effective teachers apply frequent formative assessment to monitor student learning progress. Assessments need to tap into students' understanding rather than merely measure the ability to repeat facts or perform isolated tasks. The modules will aim to deepen principals’ knowledge of the usefulness and purpose of assessment tools, to help them lead teachers’ work in this area.
There is also a body of core knowledge, an overarching framework of knowledge, which every teacher needs. One of the ways that this knowledge is applied is in teaching connected concepts in depth:
The modules will cover knowledge of concepts and strategies, beginning with those related to numeracy.
Students need metacognitive skills to monitor their own learning. Effective teachers make students' thinking visible to themselves, their peers and their teacher. The modules will aim to equip principals to oversee the matching of tasks to the pre-existing understandings of a student.
While some elements of the modules draw on a cognitive approach to learning, we have by no means abandoned direct instruction. We need both approaches.
Differentiation of students
We need to recognise that almost every young child can learn, albeit at differential rates. Schools sometimes need to break down class groups according to experience or knowledge levels. It is a challenge for teachers to be able to differentiate kids in this way, but we want our whole teaching workforce to believe that that is possible. Principals need the knowledge to support teachers in this process.
Teachers develop class profiles by mapping each student to learning lines, with progress continually monitored. Differentiation tools are used to match these tasks to individual student needs. Teachers use purposeful teaching and a variety of conceptual supports to scaffold numeracy learning.
The program aims to ensure that all school leaders in the Hume Region have a high level of understanding and common language about some of the core aspects of leading school improvement. This will increase their potential for higher quality professional conversations as colleagues, and for more effective action in their schools. This common curriculum for principals is not intended to be an exhaustive course covering the core elements of school leadership but is targeted at changing some important aspects of school, and particularly classroom, practice.
Learning from the program will be embedded in the workplace through explicit and structured planning. The common curriculum for principals includes a process through which school leaders get feedback from their peers and support to develop their staff. Collegiate groups and critical friends as well as school leadership team discussions will be an important part of this process.
Professional Learning in Effective Schools, Blueprint for Government Schools, Victorian Department of Education 2005. http://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/teachlearn/teacher/ProfLearningInEffectiveSchools.pdf