The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Victoria have outlined a vision for "a teaching profession that will raise student performance in Victoria to math the very best jurisdictions worldwide". Their first step, to publish a discussion paper called 'New directions for school leadership and the teaching profession', is a way to start the debate, and seek feedback from others.
I've just finished reading the discussion paper, and whether or not you're in Victoria, or likely to want to respond, I'd recommend adding it to your reading list, as it contains a lot of very useful information nuggets on teaching and learning, and links to the associated research. Here's some of the little gems I picked up, which apply to most countries and schools, not just in Victoria.
New directions for school leadership and the teaching profession
First of all, the context to the discussion paper:
- Students at the same school differ more in their performance than students at different schools
- Students don't perform at secondary level as well as they do in primary schools
- Students from rural areas, or low SES areas, don't perform as well as their peers in city schools
- The gap between the highest and lowest performing schools is growing
Quality of teaching matters
The quality of teaching has the largest impact on student learning outcomes, other than a student's socioeconomic background (Source: Hattie)
Teaching isn't an aspirational career
Sadly, the report identifies the need to do much more to make teaching an aspirational career. As the paper says:
Few Victorian top school graduates choose teaching as a career. Those who do rarely obtain the specialist skills we need in disciplines such as maths and science.
Of those year 12 students who nominate education as their first preference for university study, only 1 per cent are high achievers with a ranking over 90.
And it shares the average ATAR require to enter undergraduate teaching courses in Victoria has been slipping for the last decade – reflecting demand for courses. And yet this is despite the fact that starting salaries for teachers are actually higher than other comparable professions – law, veterinary science and accounting. The challenge is that the top of the scale – the rock stars of the profession – is much higher outside of teaching.
New teachers need better training
In top tier systems teacher training programs focus on preparing teachers with skills for the 21st century learning environment, and are genuinely responsive to feedback from students, teachers and principals. And yet, despite being the largest employer of graduates in Victoria (same nationwide?) the DEECD has little influence over teaching training to ensure that it responds to schools' needs. Over 70% of principals think new teachers aren't prepared well to communicate with parents, manage classrooms and provide effective support and feedback to students. And only around 30% of new teachers were satisfied with the preparation provided by their teaching courses.
Teacher-driven research drives improvement
According to the discussion paper, high performing systems support research undertaken by teachers to drive innovation and school and system improvement. Practitioner-led research allows teachers to investigate issues and explore solutions to the teaching problems they face in their own school setting. High performing systems recognise that it has a much higher impact on teacher professional learning than other development opportunities and invest in it accordingly. (Source: McKinsey report) And teachers are encouraged to reflect upon and try out new ideas to better support student learning and document their findings in research articles for education journals. This school-level flexibility and teacher collaboration drives innovation in teaching and learning that can then be translated into schools across the system (Source: McKinsey report)
What can we do about it?
The point of the discussion paper is to get people's thoughts on what can be done about these things, plus all of the other areas highlighted in the report. Having seen similar issues across education systems – not just in Australia but around the world – I'm thinking about three key things:
- Better data helps teachers understand where they can help students improve their performance.
Don't get me wrong – I don't believe that weighing the pig every day makes it fatter. But I believe that providing more valuable insight for teachers into the information we do have will help them to improve learning for their students. That could be data about a single student, or comparative data, or data about what forms of professional development or teaching styles improves performance.
- We need to improve the perception of teaching as a profession.
- All areas of professional development for teachers and leaders need some help – whether that's pre-service training, or help to support improvements in teaching being made by practising teachers in the classroom today.
One of the things I've noticed is the huge enthusiasm for teachers sharing professional development practices, rather than having them imposed from the top. I think that also links into the feeling of teaching as a profession worth joining, where individuals are accountable and responsible for their own development and those of their peers – rather than having top-down impositions made on them. There's currently a growing throng of TeachMeets, where individual teachers share their tips and tricks, made possible by teachers giving up their evenings voluntarily for professional development. And a lot of the work of the Partners In Learning programme from Microsoft is about teachers sharing their experiences and development.
How about you? What do you think? Do you want to add your voice to the DEECD discussion.
PS NSW DEC have just issued a similar discussion paper - it was all over the papers on Tuesday morning, but not available for download, so I plan to take a look at that too. Knowing the way the politics work between the states, it's probably not a co-ordinated move, but each state individually recognising the same problem