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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The development of professional standards for teaching school geography

Jeana Kriewaldt
Dianne Mulcahy

Dianne Mulcahy is a Senior Lecturer and Jeana Kriewaldt is Lecturer and Coordinator, Geography / Humanities Programs, at the Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne.

Information for those interested in participating in the study can be found on the ICCR website. Further enquiries about the project should be directed to Dianne Mulcahy.

Professional teaching standards are seen to be important in improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools. These standards seek to articulate what is valued about teaching and describe the essential features of what teachers know, believe and are able to do. Providing opportunities for teachers to open up the ‘black box’ of teaching and learning, and to explore these complex and reciprocal processes in an explicit way, standards constitute a key element in the nation’s aspirations to develop world-class standards of classroom teaching.


This research will establish a set of standards for the discipline of geography. School geography has a key role in developing young people’s understanding of the physical environment, the social construction of space, spatial analysis and people–environment relations (Morgan & Lambert 2005). Professional standards and designs for professional learning in this field are needed to formally guide those teaching geography as the unique character and content of geography teaching is not captured in standards development in other fields (Kriewaldt 2006). No other discipline uses the distinctive set of spatial organising concepts – location, distribution, region, scale, distance, region, movement, spatial association, spatial interaction and spatial change over time. These concepts are a key element in providing a unique framework for understanding essential spatial and ecological dimensions of the Earth encompassing its environments, peoples and their interactions. This project will analyse in greater depth the subject and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of geography teaching. PCK is the meaningful blending of content and pedagogy for teaching in a particular field.


Set within the specialism of Geographic Education, this project will incorporate perspectives of the consequential stakeholders (Groundwater-Smith 2005) of standards, that is, students. A notable element of the research design is that it is based on the conceptual approach of ‘complementary accounts’ (Clarke 2001, Clarke et al. 2006) whereby videos of accomplished classroom teachers will be made in order to study how teachers and students negotiate and articulate the meaning of accomplished teaching. Accordingly, the project will capture what teachers actually do in the classroom, affording an understanding of standards as situated and embodied (Mulcahy 1999, 2000). The video records will be supplemented with post-lesson video-stimulated interviews with students and the teacher.


This new project is administered through The University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Education and funded through an Australian Research Council Linkages grant. It aims to investigate how multiple perspectives on quality teaching as practised can add to the development of professional teaching standards, and how professional teaching standards that are grounded in practice can be used to support teacher professional learning and the professional knowledge base that teachers build through this learning.


The study will involve complementary accounts of geography lessons in six schools in Victoria, NSW and SA. The sample of schools selected will represent a range of school communities, year levels and types of geography lessons. Teacher panels will be set up with teachers (80 altogether) drawn from the five major states. These teachers will meet twice and work with the video footage to develop draft standards. Based on the findings from this phase of research, teachers may elect to collect data from their own practice settings. Thirty teachers will be interviewed towards exploring the teacher learning arising out of their work with standards. The final phase of the project will involve the development of professional learning resources using the video resources as a base.

The outcomes of the study will include (i) a set of standards for teaching geography that is built on a platform of co-participation by teachers, learners and other stakeholders and utilises video to capture accomplished geography teaching; and (ii) prototype professional learning resources that embody what is widely recognised as accomplished practice in geography teaching. This project addresses a significant need to bridge the gap between teaching standards and teacher learning. Education authorities may use this research to identify, adjust or re-evaluate strategies for developing and using standards for professional learning and/or showcase accomplished teaching.

The project is being conducted Dr Dianne Mulcahy (team leader), Jeana Kriewaldt, Associate Professor David Clarke, Nick Hutchinson from the Australian Geography Teachers’ Association, Anne Dempster from the Geography Teachers’ Association of Victoria and Fran Cosgrove from the Victorian Institute of Teaching.


Clarke, D J (Ed.) 2001, Perspectives on Practice and Meaning in Mathematics and Science Classrooms, Kluwer Academic Press, Dordrecht, Netherlands.

Clarke, D J, Keitel, C & Shimizu, Y (Eds) 2006, Mathematics Classrooms in Twelve Countries: The Insider's Perspective, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam.

Groundwater-Smith, S 2005,. The everyday neglect of student voice in our schools, Paper presented to Contemporary Questions in Curriculum Seminar Series, Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne.

Kriewaldt, J 2006, Towards professional standards for Geography Teachers in Australia. Proceedings of the International Geographical Union for the Congress for Geographical Education Symposium, Brisbane, July 2006, pp 264–9.

Morgan, J & Lambert, D 2005, Geography: Teaching School Subjects 11–19, Routledge, London.

Mulcahy, D 1999, (actor-net) 'Working bodies and representations: Tales from a training field', Science, Technology, & Human Values, vol.24, no1, 80–104.

Mulcahy, D 2000, 'Body matters in vocational education: the case of the competently trained', International Journal of Lifelong Education, vol 19, no 6, 506–24.

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Teacher training
Teacher evaluation