Letting go: former principals reflect on their role exit
Number 163, April 2007; Pages 1–12
The authors report on interviews with 38 former Government school principals in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania about their reasons for leaving their positions. The principals, 11 women and 27 men, were aged 48-63 and had between six and 21 years’ experience. A total of 28 had retired early while the others had either resigned, been regraded to teaching positions or taken leave. The research was supported by professional associations and the Australian Education Union. The interviewees’ original reasons for taking a position as principal included having been inspired (and sometimes mentored) by existing school leaders; having had a positive experience as an acting principal; confidence that they could perform the role well; and previous involvement in professional associations or consultancy work. The reasons they cited for withdrawal centred on the impact of job-related stress on their health. The princiapls attributed their stress broadly to the scale and scope of their work, decision-making timelines and a lack of adequate resourcing. Specific stresses included difficult or underperforming staff members, aggressive parents, having to name teachers in excess of staffing needs, and community problems such as unemployment and student homelessness. They also noted the rise in administrative demands that detracted from their educational leadership role. The principals had wished for help in dealing with their problems, but faced significant difficulties in asking for it. They had been reluctant to discuss concerns with ‘competitor’ principals in schools nearby, and had also wished to avoid making their problems visible lest they damaged their school’s image. In each State they voiced strong reluctance to seek help through official education department channels, for fear of being judged incompetent, or having confidentiality breached by departmental counsellors. Instead they turned for support to professional and personal networks and private counselling services. The ‘highs’ of their jobs had included their roles in improving school programs, resources and culture, and successful management of challenges. To retain current principals, the interviewees suggested measures such as employment of other staff to take on principals’ administrative roles, co-principalships and paid sabbaticals every five years.
Journeying towards integrative curriculum
Volume 27 Number 1, 2007; Pages 67–70
Calls for a more integrated curriculum in primary schools have become more sophisticated over time, as they incorporate growing awareness of the nature of student learning. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an ‘integrated curriculum’ often meant little more than ‘writing, drawing, counting and reading about the same thing’. Teachers tended to select a theme based more on the ease with which tasks could be linked to it than on its potential to stimulate deep thinking. During the 1980s, integrated curriculum work came to incorporate more student-centred approaches to learning, and teachers began to encourage children’s input into tasks. Usually, however, such tasks were still loosely linked, did not introduce fresh ideas to students, and concentrated too heavily on language arts and social education. In the 1990s, a great step forward was taken as units came to be planned around the understandings that students were expected acquire from such work. This approach demanded close consideration of the potential of a topic to stimulate deep learning. It drew on inquiry-based learning strategies grounded in constructivist theory. It also emphasised the relationship between the ‘process’ subjects of English and Maths and content subjects relating the physical and social worlds. Since then, system-level initiatives based on the Essential Learnings approach have integrated the curriculum further through their emphasis on generic skills in thinking and communication. Contemporary integrative curricula encourage ‘learning to learn’ and reflection on the learning process. They also recognise that schools may emphasise different elements within the integrated curriculum, such as problem and project-based learning, shared or independent learning, and the idea of a negotiated curriculum. Challenges remain. To integrate the curriculum effectively, teachers need a strong grasp of its potential interconnections. Such understanding needs ‘sustained, reflective conversations for which many teachers have precious little time and/or skill’. Teachers also need to convey these connections to students. This role involves highly skilled questioning, an ability to relate subject matter to the lives and learning styles of students, and the capacity to create a ‘connected and relational’ classroom environment with positive relationships between students and teacher and between students themselves.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Standards-based reform of mathematics education in rural high schools
Volume 22 Number 2, 2007
The implementation of a revised maths curriculum in rural secondary schools has been investigated in the USA. The new Ohio State curriculum integrates algebra, geometry, statistics and probability, using constructivist learning principles. Researchers interviewed 20 principals in three varied rural regions of the state about their views on the reforms and how they had implemented them. Over half the principals thought the central element of the new curriculum was its focus on understanding, problem solving and higher order thinking. Ten also highlighted the importance of ICT, but usually as a vague, generic resource rather than a tool with specific learning implications. Over half saw the role of reform as ‘raising the bar’ for students, mainly however in relation to the minority of students preparing for tertiary study. Ten felt that textbooks, more than official standards or course sequencing, represented ‘the true curriculum’ and were the definitive form of instructional material. Other principals were equivocal or critical about textbooks for varied reasons. The most common strategy for implementing curriculum reform was simply to align courses of study to Ohio state standards with the aim of preparing students for tests. Individualisation was the second most common strategy for curriculum reform, although the respondents differed as to its value and ‘some seemed almost opposed to it on principle’. Individualisation mainly took the form of ‘tracking’ students into different sequences of courses. Students aiming at tertiary entry were typically taught traditional, distinct courses such as algebra, with the general track students being taught integrated maths, and VET students appearing to receive more applied maths. All the principals saw professional development as important, using ‘whatever resources were available’ and also formal or informal collaboration between teachers. Although sometimes sceptical of the reforms, the principals ‘saw themselves as instruments of the state’s reform agenda’. The factors influencing their view of the reforms seemed to relate more to broad professional and political issues than local concerns, however the incremental way in which they tended to introduce the reforms may have been a response to the traditional values of their rural communities.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Word study instruction and second-grade children's independent writing
Volume 38 Number 4, November 2006; Pages 427–465
The 'word study' approach to spelling represents a break from traditional spelling instruction’s focus on memorising words, concentrating instead on teaching conceptual knowledge of English construction and specific strategies for spelling and reading unfamiliar words. Activities focus on ways to identify patterns and derivations of English words that can then be applied more generally to reading and writing. A study in Ohio has evaluated students’ use of word study strategies in their mediation of spelling. Students in a Grade 2 class were grouped into three levels of competence in spelling, and a randomly selected boy and girl from each level were then observed while they completed journal entries, to determine the degree to which they used word study techniques in their writing. Researchers also observed the influence of social interaction, such as suggestions from peers, in word study use. Such interaction was found to play a scaffolding role in children’s adoption of word study techniques. All six students used some word-study techniques in composing their journals, but these techniques only benefited middle-band students. Students in low bands only used very basic strategies such as sounding out and using dictionaries, and failed to grasp how the principles taught in class related to their other work. Students in high bands failed to improve through use of word study because the English word patterns taught at this level are changeable, with many exceptions to rules. However, before the efficacy of word study can be accurately assessed, some instructional requirements must be met. Some students may need explicit instruction on the applicability of word study to writing tasks. ‘Critical moment teaching’ while students are engaged in trying to spell a word is also an integral aspect of successful word study instruction. The research found that the word-study approach could not readily be integrated with guided reading because the children’s reading level and spelling level were not necessarily synchronous. Lack of professional resources can also constrain the effectiveness of word study.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
English language teaching
Looking to the future
Autumn 2007; Pages 4–6
Concerns exist around many features of Australia’s early child care services. Many families still do not have adequate access to pre-school education services. The cost of early education varies, but at times rivals fees of elite independent schools. A major change in the industry appears to have gone largely unnoticed in the community: the shift from a publicly provided and operated service to one that is now largely for-profit and market driven. Over 70% of child care services are now commercially owned and run and in Queensland the figure is almost 90%. Two child care chains are publicly listed corporations, ‘and profits market capitalisation and share prices have skyrocketed’. This situation has emerged from a tradition in which pre-school education was seen as ‘middle class’ and from the generally unplanned nature of child care services. While child care as such is federally funded, preschool education is funded at State level. Licencing and quality assurances standards are focused on basic care and safety rather than on educational quality. Preschools outside the school system are not subject to a quality assurance scheme. There is no system to accredit early childhood education courses, no registration scheme for practitioners, and no process for monitoring outcomes for children. About half of the staff in early childhood education centres lack formal qualifications in the field. Qualified staff are in short supply and in any case ‘the high cost of hiring them is prohibitive’. Family Day Care has recently become subject to a national quality assurance process, however the quality of such care varies widely, as does the level of support available to carers. Providers tend not to have qualifications, hindering their ability to offer stimulating environments to children. Thorough planning is required to match child care supply and demand, taking account of the complex needs and preferences of families. More support is needed in terms of staff training and the funding of places. There will be ongoing problems in this area, however, as qualified staff usually prefer to the better pay and conditions available in schools.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Early childhood education
A new way forward
Autumn 2007; Pages 7–8
Australia’s current child care arrangements are fragmented, having arisen ‘for different purposes, at different times, and funded – in varying ways – by different levels of government’. The arrangements also contain a degree of tension between the goal of high quality services for all children and families and the Australian Government's focus on assisting mothers to return to the workforce. The creation of a unified system for early child care services offers the best means to deal with many problems facing the industry. Such a system would provide economies of scale in relation to staff and infrastructure, relieving the administrative pressure on small providers. It could also improve career structures, and provide opportunities for staff development and communication amongst practitioners, who often feel professionally isolated and ‘stuck’. Savings achieved through a systems approach could be used to address other key goals for early childhood services: reducing staff-child ratios and paying for the appointment of more staff with professional qualifications in the field. Pay parity with teachers in schools also needs to be pursued through ‘robust and determined’ efforts to attract and retain committed and well-qualified staff for the industry. The article includes a link to a transcript of the author’s recent speech on this topic, on the website of Early Childhood Australia.
Subject HeadingsEarly childhood education
The unhealthy state of play
Volume 6 Number 2, May 2007; Pages 36–41
Changes to school play-time policies may be discouraging children’s physical activity levels, and hence contributing to childhood obesity. In recent times, lunch and recess breaks have been reduced in number, often by abolishing afternoon recess, and in duration. One reason for the changes has been the drive for more class time. Another major reason is growing concern for student safety in the playground. This concern has been exacerbated by the growth in student numbers and congestion of play areas, which has been shown to contribute to the frequency of injuries. These safety restrictions reflect a ‘compensation culture’, where schools are more conscious of their legal liability in case of accidents and adopt ‘bubble-wrap’ policies. Fears for safety have lead to the removal of play equipment, particularly loose equipment such as tyres, wood, and ropes previously used in creative and imaginative play. More controlled, built play environments increasingly replace the challenging and unpredictable natural environments preferred by children. Many popular play activities that are deemed dangerous, such as ‘poison ball’ and boys’ rough-housing, have been banned despite scarce evidence of their hazard. Safety concerns also incur other negative consequences, particularly upon students’ relationship building and self reliance. For example, studies suggest that ‘play fighting’ is valuable as both a vigorous activity and a means for boys to express feelings and build friendships. Increased staff presence in the playground has also affected children’s self reliance, as previously children resolved their own problems and relied on staff assistance only in the event of serious injury or unresolvable disputes. Teachers no longer join in activities out of fear that this will be perceived as negligent, which is unfortunate because of the legitimising influence teacher participation can give to play. Consequently, ‘guard duty’ is an increasingly unpopular task for teachers. Schools need to achieve a balance of providing appropriate action to reduce accidents, for instance, by investing in proper under-surfacing for play equipment, while encouraging play with minimal intervention.
New Zealand teacher education: progression or prescription?
Volume 33 Number 2, 2006; Pages 102–123
The article describes the approach and findings of numerous reviews and inquiries into New Zealand teacher education over the last century. One undercurrent in these reviews is an ongoing, unresolved, see-sawing contest over the appropriate balance between theory and practice in teacher education courses. This struggle impacts on induction, teacher supply policies, and decisions over the appropriate mix of knowledge and skills that courses should cover. Two other, interrelated themes are also evident: the deregulation of teacher education since the 1980s, and ongoing trend toward more centralised government control of teacher education. Under the Education Act of 1989, schools elected Boards of Trustees responsible for school management, while the Education Review Office and Teachers’ Council ‘assumed a surveillance and accountability role’ over teachers and teacher education. The changes were said to be in the spirit of consumer choice and ‘an end to “provider capture” by teachers and teacher educators’. In this environment, competition between teacher education colleges grew steadily, increased by the entry of private providers, and college principals ‘underwent a metamorphosis from professional leaders heading a staff of teacher educators, to chief executive officers’. In the 1990s teacher education courses became subject to new standards authorised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. A number of other issues remain unresolved. They include the wide variation in the quality of teacher induction, the ‘serious dislocation’ between pre-service and in-service programs, and the quality of applicants for teacher education courses, which reflects ‘the common perception of teaching as a lower-status profession’.
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Science, inquiry and professional learning
Volume 6 Number 2, May 2007; Pages 18–21
An inquiry-based approach to science education is increasingly influential in science curricula around the world. An inquiry-based approach is aimed primarily at developing critical thinking skills. It stresses both the engagement of students in their own learning and the development of strategies aimed at solving personally relevant problems. However, inquiry skills must not be taught independently of content, nor should inquiry be the sole teaching strategy employed. Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Ontario has been particularly successful in its implementation of an inquiry-based science curriculum. At Year 9 level, the school breaks from traditional teaching practice of describing the scientific method. Instead, it requires students to participate actively in experiment design, data collection and research. Teachers model, teach and practice each step of the scientific method with students, while providing formative feedback, thereby encouraging real problem-solving skills rather than superficial knowledge of the methodology. In senior years, students refine and develop their skills in technical report writing, research, data manipulation and analysis. Students also develop skills in communicating and justifying their research. Churchill’s science program is reliant on continuous professional development, which teachers address as a group. New teachers are mentored by science staff and departmental and administrative heads, so that a commitment to the inquiry program is maintained over time. Science faculty nurture internal leadership potential, so that sustaining and improving Science education is viewed as a shared responsibility. Teachers have become proficient users of various instructional strategies deemed helpful within an inquiry-based curricula, such as having students demonstrate understanding through analogy, using conferencing as a small group instructional strategy, and using authentic, rich assessment tasks that cover both curricular expectations and content literacy. Assessment strategies such as upfront provision and demonstration of assessment criteria to students, peer and self-assessment, and collaboration with students in development of criteria ensure that students are aware of curriculum expectations. Examinations in the middle years have increasingly been replaced by alternative forms of assessment.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Know and do: help for beginning teachers
Volume 6 Number 2, May 2007; Pages 14–17
Effective teachers understand the importance of ongoing professional development. All teachers need to know how to access a range of tools and resources, and be able to source these in collaboration with peers. Teacher education should encourage teachers to develop their skills over the course of their career, and help show them how to do so. It should also provide students with a strong grounding in four areas. Content knowledge is developed during pre-service education. Effective teachers update content knowledge by reading research and/or undertaking further study. Knowledge of pedagogy is also developed in pre-service education, although the bulk of learning occurs throughout practice. Beginning teachers need systems knowledge, covering rights and obligations, official rules and procedures, legalities, ethics, government and other policies, the nature of school relationships and authority, and the constant change in each area. Professional knowledge is developed across several areas, such as methods of assessment; options for reporting student performance; principles for curriculum development; methods for evaluation of self, peers and school; classroom management; technology and sources of learning resources. Being able to source current educational findings and participate in relevant professional communities is essential. Many effective sources of professional learning use technology, which opens up access to researchers, academics and practitioners across all levels. AAMT’s web forum is one example, allowing maths teachers to discuss current education issues and share learning activities, new ICT tools and assessment strategies.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Helping schools recover from crisis
May 2007; Pages 42–45
It is critical that schools are capable of providing leadership and support in response to crisis. Various structures exist to help schools cope with crisis, but the role of individual schools in leading and counselling students is indispensable. When a 2006 road accident in Mildura killed six Mildura Senior College students and injured seven others, Principal Dennis Norton followed a detailed emergency management plan to support students. The school took responsibility for informing students of official details to minimise rumours, established counselling procedures for the community, and provided briefings to parents and teachers on caring for grief-stricken students. The Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) has in place structures designed to support schools in crisis, such as the emergency management unit, which assisted the school in developing response strategies. The emergency management unit's key objective is to equip schools to deal effectively with serious incidents such as sudden deaths, bushfires, and break-ins. Schools are required to report all serious incidents to the emergency management unit and maintain a current emergency plan detailing response procedures. The unit provides professional learning on incident response, crime prevention and asset protection, and publishes crisis prevention and recovery materials. It liaises with emergency services providers in order to alert schools to potential risks, particularly over the bushfire season. In December 2006, 41 Victorian schools were closed due to the proximity of bushfires. However, schools are occasionally confronted with human crises, which offer a similar challenge to environmental disasters and require equally strong whole-school responses. Drought-affected communities, for example, are currently suffering from economic hardship, which can negatively affect children’s emotional wellbeing. Schools in the Loddon Mallee Region therefore strive to boost community morale by hosting as many activities as possible and providing meals for children, while working to minimise any school activities that incur cost. Eastern Region schools have initiated a partnership with drought-affected communities in order to lessen this burden. Schools in the Monash region of Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs have become ‘buddies’ of schools in Loddon Mallee, fundraising money in the city in order to subsidise Loddon Mallee costs. Monash students have gained awareness and ‘social capital’ from the partnership.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Tailor made: sewing up an effective conference
May 2007; Pages 4–7
Requirements to participate in set amounts of professional learning programs have increased school leaders’ awareness of the types of learning programs available. Research has shown that professional learning programs are most effective when they are customised and school-based, rather than run externally by a private enterprise. Customised approaches ensure that content is relevant to the specific needs of participants and to the school’s curriculum focus. However, many schools utilise the expertise of external organisations in customising the design, development and evaluation of their school-based program. These consultants have experience with a variety of programs and can advise schools about the relative effectiveness of different programs, researchers, ‘content consultants’ and facilitators. However, before consulting with external organisations, the school leadership should confer with the school community to ensure that the needs of staff are met. The school must make a decision about the broad learning area and specific focus that the learning program is to pursue. The school community should have final say in the objectives of the program, its time frame, which staff are to be involved, its budget, and how its effects are to be evaluated and assessed. Before starting the program, all staff should have a clear conception of how practice in the school will be transformed by the program, what knowledge is assumed at the commencement of the course and why the program is necessary. The facilitator must be able to address the needs of staff within the cultural context of the school, so it is imperative that the facilitator meet with staff prior to the program to develop a preliminary judgement of staff strengths, deficiencies, and experience. In a well-organised school-based program, schools are able to tailor a consistent message delivered to all staff, and staff are able to receive and build upon shared knowledge. The work of the program thereby becomes integrated rather than isolated, as staff are able to receive informal follow-up support and evaluation from colleagues. Long-term, focused and relevant programs that can be modified according to changing needs are thus the most effective way of securing long-term change in practice.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Extended learning: in the IB, the sky really is no limit
May 2007; Pages 34–37
The International Baccalaureate (IB) program offers an internationally-focused curriculum with a strong emphasis on compassion, critical thinking and the development of research skills. IB students must study literature, a second language, and subjects from social science, natural science and mathematics. Other components include ‘creativity, action and service’, which requires extra-curricular community involvement, and ‘theory of knowledge’, an epistemology course. The final core requirement of the IB is a 4,000-word research essay on a topic derived from an IB study, completed over the course of the year. The supervising teacher is a subject specialist who offers advice and answers general questions about research and writing processes, rather than teaching content about the essay topic. Supervisors help students formulate essay topics, narrow topics into a suitable research question, refine material, and eventually critique drafts based on IB marking criteria, so as to ensure the student's work is as effective as possible. After intensive research, the student is likely to be more familiar with their narrow essay topic than their teacher is, so students take their supervisor’s comments as instructive, but not decisive, in reviewing their essay. This situation prepares students for more mature and critical interaction with educators at university level. The most important role of the essay supervisor is to teach students to reflect critically on their own work, so that students learn vital self-directed research skills such as sorting relevant information, constructing an extended argument and self-editing. There is significant emphasis on students’ own research, which may include collecting primary data or analysing existing primary materials in a new way. The IB emphases academic honesty by including citation instruction in the curriculum and withholding diplomas from students found guilty of plagiarism. Completing an extended essay on top of the significant IB workload is extremely demanding, but develops skills vital for university level research in any discipline. The extended essay can also benefit students’ personal development.
Subject HeadingsInternational education
Reading, writing, and thinking for all
Volume 64 Number 7, April 2007; Pages 63–66
Critical thinking and cultural and social awareness are necessary qualifications for all employees and citizens. All students, regardless of their socio-economic status or ethnicity, are capable of learning these skills, and their inclusion in language arts subjects can meaningfully enhance the subject. Tempe Preparatory Academy is one school that has emphasised liberal arts study with exemplary results. The open-enrolment high school serves a middle class and lower middle class community, but the school’s commitment to intensive ‘Humane Letters’ instruction has produced consistently strong results on state-wide measurement standards, and on the SAT tests used for tertiary entrance. Tempe’s Humane Letters class consists of intensive sessions spent reading, writing and debating texts. Students are expected to maintain a demanding reading schedule of fiction and non-fiction, including classics such as Aristotle’s Poetics, and the works of Plato and Karl Marx, as well as some modern classics such as 1984. They are also required to write nine essays a year, each extensively revised and redrafted using a clearly defined framework. Despite the heavy workload and assessment, students at Tempe name Humane Letters as their favourite subject. View Park serves an overwhelmingly low-income, African-American community. The school has also implemented an English curriculum focused on developing analytical and argumentative skills through debate, which has led to polished, passionately written work. Students at View Park received the highest test scores among black students in their state. Studies have shown that critical thinking and clear expression are critical for success at tertiary level, but are neglected in traditional K-12 education. ‘Argumentative literacy’ is also increasingly sought-after in jobs that do not require college education. There are specific requirements of a liberal-arts perspective in language study. Schools must overcome ‘curricular chaos’ by explicitly defining and monitoring the curriculum in terms of text syllabus, assessment systems, and assessment type. Teachers must overcome the misconception that students are incapable of deep analysis, and set high expectations in terms of quantity and quality of content. In order to provide students with the necessary critical skills for college, employment, and citizenship, schools must emphasise argumentative literacy in existing programs.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
Thought and thinking
United States of America (USA)
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