The big rocks: priority management for principals
March 2008; Pages 16–22
Principals who spend too much time working on the wrong things often fall prey to 'Hyperactive Superficial Principal Syndrome'. This can have negative outcomes for both principal productivity and student achievement, but is preventable with several time-saving strategies. First, every staff member must have a copy of the school’s discipline procedures, and must be aware of which breaches they are responsible for handling. This procedure avoids hours wasted on clarifying or reminding staff about discipline-related issues. Principals also need to devise a planning system that goes beyond daily to-do lists. A weekly planning session that aligns the coming week’s activities with yearly and monthly targets is essential. A daily schedule that is synchronised with class periods helps to keep principals in rhythm with their teachers and students. Key meetings must be regular and pre-scheduled. Weekly meetings of teacher teams taking the same subject and grade are especially important, and deserve double blocks of uninterrupted time ‘carved in stone’ on people’s calendars. A system for writing things down and following up is essential, since principals who rely on their memories inevitably lose track and begin to lose credibility. Notepads, note cards or an electronic device are all good options. While the business rule of handling each piece of paper once is inappropriate for school principals, time spent on emails is best restricted to one or two 30-minute blocks per day. An automatically generated reply that informs people of this policy, and gives them a telephone number in case of emergencies, is suggested. PAUT ('Putting Aside Unpleasant Tasks') is another common affliction. Principals must identify their ‘PAUT demons’, such as filing or financial planning, and develop realistic strategies for tackling them. Learning to hire effective people, nurture them without micromanagement, and delegate tasks is crucial, as is receptivity to staff criticism and comments. Teachers generally desire feedback, and visits of 5–15 minutes can assist teachers and stimulate important discussions about teaching and learning. Principals must invest time and energy in family, health, exercise, sleep and holidays. Good time management includes such long-term planning and space for relaxation and emotional support.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Stuck in the mud: how can we get professional experience moving again?
Volume 7 Number 3, September 2008; Pages 12–15
Mechanisms to provide school experience placements for student teachers are cumbersome and becoming more so. They are characteristically ad hoc and reliant on the goodwill of practicum coordinators and individual teachers. The organisation of placements is very time consuming for universities and schools. The demanding work of supervising student teachers attracts only token remuneration and receives no significant recognition from employing authorities. These problems are aggravated by teachers’ increasing workloads, the aging of the teaching workforce, and growing competition between universities for the shrinking number of placements schools are collectively willing to offer. Partnerships between individual schools and universities have been of some help, but remain patchy and have proved hard to sustain due to staff turnover. A number of measures can be applied to free up the process for providing professional experience to student teachers. Employing authorities could be made responsible for placements. Employing authorities could organise placements systematically, providing support to cover the demands that placements impose on schools, while also establishing that placements are a requirement for all schools. Teachers need to be adequately recognised and rewarded for supervising student teachers. With sufficient support, early career teachers may often make good supervisors, as they combine teaching experience with fresh memories of their own placements. Their supervision of student teachers should be recognised as a means to demonstrate accomplishment as a teacher and the capacity for development into leadership roles. Teacher accreditation and registration bodies should recognise supervision of placements and coordination of induction programs as criteria by which early career teachers can show they have met professional teaching standards. Universities, in association with employing authorities, should help teachers supervise placements by providing free or low cost professional development, aligned to postgraduate study and research work. These reforms need to be driven through coordination between governments at a senior policy level.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Keep the leadership pipeline flowing
Volume 29 Number 3, Summer 2008; Pages 33–36
Planning the leadership succession is vital for continued productivity in professional learning communities. Five strategies in particular are essential when planning for leadership development in schools and districts. First, a formal leadership development plan should be created. The plan should specify where the responsibility lies for developing leadership at the instructional level, the support level and the resourcing and administrative levels. The development plan should be clearly communicated to all stakeholders. Second, a formal succession plan should be developed at the district level. The succession plan should articulate exactly which leadership positions are critical and how the district goes about preparing staff to take up these roles. Third, schools and districts should be prepared to build capacity both laterally and vertically. Professional learning activities at the school level might provide leadership practice and skills in team organisation, mentoring and coaching ability, and curriculum mapping and design. Instructional leadership in a core subject area, such as becoming a head of department, also strengthens leadership skills. The best way for future leaders to learn about leadership is to put them in positions that require them to lead. Fourth, accountability should be distributed collectively throughout leadership teams. This allows people at different stages of leadership development to contribute as appropriate to their experience and talents. Fifth, leaders should be made responsible and accountable for the development and training of new leaders. This means revising all administrative and managerial job descriptions to incorporate leadership development as an obligatory job function. The board is then entitled to annually evaluate leaders’ success in providing leadership development opportunities. Implementing these five strategies for smooth leadership succession will markedly improve long-term leadership sustainability and continuity.
Pre-service teachers and mathematics: the impact of service-learning on teacher preparation
Volume 108 Number 3, 2008; Pages 94–102
A community service-learning project has been implemented and evaluated as part of a teacher preparation program in the USA. Twenty-nine teaching students participated in the program, which linked them to an existing after-school tutoring program that was in need of qualified volunteers. The pre-service teachers worked in groups of four to prepare and present a number of mathematics lessons to a group of disadvantaged students in Grades 4 to 6. The project was intended to build teachers’ confidence in teaching mathematics, as well as to expose them to students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The pre-service teachers’ written reflections, in conjunction with reflective discussions and results from an anonymous online survey, indicated that they found the project extremely valuable. Almost all participants said they would suggest a service-learning experience for all students in their position, with many commenting that the group teaching gave them more confidence in teaching their own material in front of a class. They found it different to student teaching, and more liberating because they were not using pre-determined materials and assessment tasks. Participants’ comments reflected their pleasure in seeing students working excitedly on maths activities, and the insight they had gained into making mathematics classes interesting, enjoyable and concrete. As well as achieving the expected outcomes of increasing pre-service teachers’ confidence and their appreciation for diversity and social justice, the program also had unexpected other benefits. Participants who had only been interested in teaching younger students were introduced to working with older students, and many found this to be highly positive. In addition, the program’s structure introduced pre-service teachers to the benefits of teacher collaboration. If collaboration is experienced positively during teacher training, teachers may be more eager to engage in collaborative work at school.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsCommunity service
United States of America (USA)
Primary teachers as readers
Volume 42 Number 1; Pages 8–23
The United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) is undertaking a research project titled Teachers as Readers, Building Communities of Readers designed to identify and foster the professional and personal reading habits of primary school teachers in England. The article reports on the first phase of this project, which involved research on primary teachers’ personal reading. A questionnaire was sent to 1,200 teachers from city and rural areas of varying socioeconomic status. A number of teacher education students also participated. When reading for pleasure respondents’ most common choice was popular fiction, biographies or autobiographies. In terms of their knowledge of children’s literature, respondents’ lists of ‘good’ children’s authors were heavily concentrated on a few writers. Only a minority of respondents demonstrated knowledge of more than two authors of poems for children or picture book fiction. This is of concern, since most of the children’s books which respondents themselves treasured had been introduced to them by their own teacher, and other research indicates that the books children read, and teachers’ mediation of that reading experience, make a strong impact on children’s self-image and aspirations. The results also suggest a need to develop teachers’ and student teachers’ knowledge of literature relating to other countries and to the cultural backgrounds of minority ethnic groups. The UKLA research occurs against a more general backdrop of concern that the number of children who report reading for pleasure has declined, and that the curriculum in England unduly emphasises literacy skills and knowledge over children's creative engagement with texts. The quantity and quality of reading for pleasure amongst primary school children can be improved through teacher education courses, in particular through renewed funding for a number of promising initiatives contained in the Arts Council’s 2004–2006 Literature Matters initiative. The related issue of professional development of existing teachers is a focus of the second phase of the UKLA project, which is investigating means to increase reading for pleasure amongst children, and develop teachers’ knowledge of literature and of ways to use it in the classroom and deepen teachers’ connections to parents, school librarians and public librarians.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Learning from literacy successes in high-achieving urban schools
Volume 61 Number 5, February 2008; Pages 422–424
Some disadvantaged urban schools in the USA have achieved significant successes in the literacy performances of their ethnically diverse students. These schools have been found to share a number of features. One common feature is the ability of their teachers to build strong links with both students and the students' parents. Teachers can build links with students by familiarising themselves with the cultural backgrounds of the students’ families. A range of multicultural literature is available to help teachers develop this awareness. Teachers at these schools also tend to be aware of individual differences in students’ values and perceptions, and of issues affecting their lives within and outside school. Effective communication with the parents of ethnically diverse students can be initiated by collecting stories from them describing home routines, the early literacy development of their children, the activities their children enjoy, and factors which the parents see as affecting their school performance. Another feature of these successful schools is that their teachers establish cross-curricular connections between students’ academic work and experiences outside of school. One effective way to build these links is through problem-based activities that ask children to call on their own cultural knowledge or to inquire into the knowledge of other children and their families. Another way is to allow students familiar with digital media to express their literacy skills through these channels. Other common features of these successful schools include setting high expectations of success, teaching both basic literacy skills and comprehension strategies, and differentiating instruction through the use of student-based assessments in preference to scripted reading programs.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Targeting adolescents' literacy skills using one-to-one instruction with research-based practices
Volume 51 Number 8, May 2008; Pages 640–650
Individual literacy instruction has been shown to improve the skills of struggling adolescent readers. Student improvement with these one-to-one programs is maximised when three conditions are met. First, a coordinator is needed who can supervise tutors’ lessons, provide feedback and assist with lesson plans. Second, careful planning and consistent lesson structure are necessary. Finally, participating tutors must have the opportunity to be appropriately trained. New technology also offers different opportunities for adolescent literacy programs. The authors have developed a program that has delivered individual instruction via Webcam to 61 adolescents, an age when students often refuse to take remedial reading due to reasons of social or peer-group unacceptability. Because tutors are all operating from the same location, supervision is significantly easier. Furthermore, supervisors can give input into the lesson while they are standing off-camera and the microphone is temporarily switched off, which maintains students’ perception that their tutor is fully in control of the lesson. The lessons begin with five to eight minutes of fluency practice, followed by the student’s summary of their assigned reading passage. If needed, tutors assist students in selecting the main ideas and removing unnecessary information. The lessons move on to 15 to 20 minutes of vocabulary instruction, usually syllable-related, and 15 to 20 minutes of guided reading. Adolescents then complete a short piece of writing, and finally they listen to the tutor read from a different young adult fiction book to the one being studied. Improvements were seen after 16 to 18 one-hour sessions held twice a week.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Cross-national comparisons of the use of formative assessment in Hong Kong and Slovenia
Volume 28 Number 2, June 2008; Pages 17–23
Formative assessment is increasingly valued around the world as a mechanism to improve both teaching practices and students’ ability to monitor their own learning. Studies have shown it to be particularly effective for low-achieving students and students with learning disabilities. In Hong Kong, the potential of formative assessment was recognised in a 1998 report, Learning to Learn. A series of booklets was issued to teachers, and ‘seed’ teachers were placed in classrooms to demonstrate how formative assessment might be implemented in practice. However, subsequent research showed that a summative approach remained dominant. Formative assessment tended to be used only to find students’ mistakes in preparation for the high-stakes testing used for final examinations. This mentality counteracted any potential benefit for students’ confidence and self-concept. Several recent and current research projects in Hong Kong have examined promising ways to apply formative assessment. For example, the Learning Oriented Assessment Project (LOAP) aimed to increase awareness of the role of formative assessment in student learning, among other objectives, and organised conferences and resource packs for professionals. In Slovenia, formative assessment has played a key role in student assessment for the last 50 years. However, in practice, formative comments were often given on the basis of good student behaviour rather than student learning. The 1980s and 1990s saw revised ‘key rules’ for education introduced. An increased focus on errors and gaps in student knowledge led to substantial fear in many students, especially high-achieving ones. Newer initiatives have aimed to tailor assessment more closely to the individual needs of students. They have also introduced a clear separation between formative and summative assessment, with the material for summative assessment only being taught after the process of formative assessment is complete. Hong Kong and Slovenia have both shown a commitment to formative assessment in formal educational documents, as well as undertaking to work with teachers, parents and students in the implementation stages.
Developing the teachers we need for the schools we want
2007; Pages 26–29
New Zealand schools have recently undergone a series of major reforms. Each reform has openly stretched and tested the capacities of teachers, administrators and educational practices. However, there have been few attempts to support teachers in developing the autonomous decision-making capabilities the reforms require. One theory of adult development suggests several strategies that are likely to help. Robert Kegan’s constructive-developmental theory builds on Piaget’s work in child development and extends it throughout the lifespan. The theory is primarily concerned with adults’ increased capacity for complexity and alternative perspective taking. The two categories of mind most commonly found in adults are the ‘socialised mind’ and the ‘self-authored mind’. Development of the socialised mind begins during adolescence and can endure throughout adulthood. People with a socialised mind are able to subordinate their own desires to those of others, as well as to the norms and standards of ‘meaning systems’ such as particular family values, a political ideology or an organisational culture. They are capable of abstract thought and self-reflection. People with a self-authored mind have extended the socialised mind to generate an identity that creates its own connections with people, ideologies and institutions. These people can step back and critically examine the ideologies, opinions and rule systems in their lives. The transition between these minds can take a long time and does not occur at all for many people. The recent New Zealand reforms have acted to make schools more self-authoring. Teachers and principals are increasingly being called upon to exercise considerable autonomy in their decision making, even though those with socialised minds may not feel comfortable doing this. An aging teacher workforce will also lead to a net loss in developmental capacity, since older individuals are more likely to be fully self-authored than younger individuals. To develop self-authorship, people must begin to become aware of things and perspectives that were once hidden or taken for granted. Journalling, meditation, assumption-questioning professional development activities, travel, and learning about adult development theories are all ways of developing self-authorship.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
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