Senior management teams in schools: understanding their dynamics, enhancing their effectiveness
Volume 15 Number 1, 2009; Pages 14–25
The importance of senior management teams (SMTs) within schools has increased with the devolution of school-level management, and principals now share many decision-making responsibilities with other staff in leadership positions. Two surveys of SMT members in secondary schools in Queensland and in New Zealand have identified a number of issues influencing the effective operation of school leadership bodies. These issues can be examined within the framework of 'micropolitics', which refers to the way that power can be exerted at a local level to enhance or undermine cooperation and commitment. The issues highlighted include the nature of interpersonal relationships, participation in and transparency of decision making, the delegation of authority, leadership style within the teams, and the level of recognition of team members' role and contributions. Other issues governing the effectiveness of SMTs include the clarity of their goals and objectives, their members' competence and authoritativeness, the degree to which their values are aligned, their members' commitment to teamwork and willingness to collaborate with other staff, and the accessibility of professional development. The work of SMTs can be undermined by internal competition, domination by individuals, and personal attacks. Induction processes that include socialisation into the culture of the existing team could help mitigate these issues. The operation of SMTs can be improved by providing suitable training and opportunities for reflection and development using techniques such as brainstorming and SWOT analysis. Feedback from other staff can provide a helpful starting point. To stimulate reflection and learning within SMTs, the authors created the Teams in Educational Administration and Management (TEAM) Development Questionnaire. Refined after a trial in 2002, the questionnaire asks respondents to offer confidential comments relating to the operation of their own SMT, and on how an SMT should ideally operate. While the focus of the questionnaire is on team rather than individual performance, participants are given opportunities to reflect on their own contributions. The article includes charts to help school leaders assess their SMT's readiness to take part in the TEAM process, and how to implement it in practice.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Volume 29 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 181–214
The role of the principal is critical in designing and developing school leadership systems that support distributed leadership. Actions that support the effective development of distributed leadership include the creation of strong, collegial relationships with teachers, the rethinking of conceptions of power and leadership, and the creation of new organisational structures to promote dispersed leadership. A three-year case study examined a middle school in the USA as it transitioned to a distributed leadership approach. Block scheduling was introduced at the beginning of the leadership initiative so that teaching teams could make use of common planning time. However, the teams' achievement was initially mixed until the principal took steps to appoint informal leaders, provide protocols and procedures, and to collect and review meeting minutes. The growth of these teams indicated a gradual cultural shift in school culture where teachers' perspectives of teaching as being largely private and classroom-based were evolving to conceptions of teaching as collegial and existing beyond the classroom. The breakdown of teaching and leadership boundaries was further facilitated by the principal's emphasis on leadership as part of the teaching role, and by identifying or creating opportunities for teachers to lead, such as membership on committees or discrete tasks such as organising a basketball tournament. The variety of these roles and the fact that some were volunteer and others targeted to specific teachers allowed all teachers, rather than a select few, opportunities to lead. Another important element in promoting distributed leadership was the provision of teacher-led and teacher-directed professional development, where those with specialist knowledge or who had undertaken training shared their learning with their colleagues. Stability across the higher-level leadership positions was also seen as important to build trust and consistency of approach: teachers became familiar with the principal's informal, evolutionary approach to management functions, and appreciated opportunities to work in a way that was supported but was not strictly monitored. This trust-based, participatory leadership approach, which focused first on people, and then on structures and systems, helped mitigate both internal and external pressures, and facilitated development of distributed leadership.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Co-opting the market in support of young people who are not well served by school: service based innovation in high poverty and high difference contexts
Volume 29 Number 1, April 2009; Pages 69–75
The present Australian education system does not serve disadvantaged students well. Policies generally thought to cater for diverse needs, or to offer education choice to parents, have differentiated students' educational experiences in a way that aggravates social inequalities. This differentiation occurs within and between school sectors. In the public sector it includes selective schools, selective streams within some comprehensive schools, and schools based on specialist subject areas. It results in unequal outcomes due mainly to unequal access to social capital between the differentiated groups, an important aspect of which is the 'drift of more experienced teachers and leaders to more favoured (aka less challenging) circumstances'. The rationale that different schools are needed for students of different ability levels rests on a circular logic, since unequal schooling generates the unequal outcomes upon which judgements of ability are made. By contrast, a service-based model of schooling offers a promising means for schools to overcome social disadvantage. The model is based on anecdotal evidence that the labour market values young people who are disposed to work conscientiously and cooperatively. Schools can modify curriculum, assessment and teaching, and build community partnerships, to meet the labour market’s demand for these young people. The pedagogy required for this service orientation needs to move beyond the directive model of teaching, which is particularly unhelpful for disadvantaged students. The service-based model calls instead for the adoption of a 'need to know' approach, in which students' drive to learn about topics such as fractions emerges from the engaging nature of certain stimulating studies, eg activities around robotics. This form of teaching spurs students to take charge of their own learning, with teachers positioned as active guides. These innovations also challenge the traditional pattern of schooling, with its organisation of time, knowledge and resources into 'discrete and rotating chunks': learning around service provision has a clear purpose for the student, encourages collaboration between student and teacher, knits disparate elements of knowledge together, and is readily assessable against authentic indicators.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
Project based learning
Teaching and learning
Vocational education and training
10 July 2009; Page 13
Two thirds of Australian students who are over 15 and remain full-time at school also manage part-time jobs. Research into their experiences has been undertaken through an online survey open to students in Years 10 to 12, commissioned by an Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into Combining School and Work, which has received over 2500 responses. The Australian Government has also established the Australian Youth Forum which seeks the views of young people about their workplace experiences. Other research has been conducted by the NSW Commission for Children & Young People, and by academics including Erica Smith of the University of Ballarat. The findings of these research studies reveal sharply contrasting benefits and advantages of paid employment for school students. Paid work by youth is often interesting and varied, and develops technical and employability skills. It frequently paves the way for worthwhile careers and takes youth to supervisory positions before their studies have finished. In some cases part-time work has provided valuable support in helping young people to continue their studies. Many students report that employers are considerate and accommodate their study needs. On the other hand the research also reveals areas of concern. Most young people have little knowledge of their legal or other workplace entitlements, of health and safety requirements covering their work, or of the role of unions. The New South Wales research found that two in five students sustained injuries during their work, and one in five required 'intensive medical treatment'. A significant minority of respondents to the parliamentary survey reported unreasonable demands from employers, particularly from smaller employers, including additional and/or late shift work. Research suggests that students' schooling suffers if paid work takes up more than 10 to 15 hours per week. The Australian Government is considering formal recognition of students' work experience, including references from employers, as part of a 'job-ready certificate program'.
To have and to have not: the socioeconomics of charter schools
Volume 41 Number 2, 14 January 2009; Pages 248–279
Charter schools in the USA are said to provide more effectively than mainstream public education for a specific school community or a particular pedagogic approach. A recent study of three charter schools in California investigated how they deal with the impact of socioeconomic status (SES). At Carter Woodson Charter School, in a disadvantaged inner-urban area, the staff and students were all African-American, and the school’s mission called for cultivation of pride in their ethnic heritage. Dolores Huerta Community School, also in a disadvantaged setting, built on the cultural heritage of its Latino students, and supported Spanish bilingual education. The Integrated Studies Academy, in a more prosperous, mainly white area, applied Montessori teaching methods. Evidence about each school was collected over nine months, through interviews with the principals, teachers, students and parents; classroom observations; and school documentation. SES was found to raise few issues at the Integrated Studies Academy, where test results, behavioural standards and issues such as experimental drug taking did not raise critical long-term challenges for the school or the students. By contrast, the communities of Carter Woodson and Dolores Huerta schools suffered high levels of violence, drug and alcohol abuse and, in Carter Woodson’s case, fractured and unstable family life. They offered few positive adult advisors or role models for their students. The schools themselves had much higher teacher turnover, fewer fully credentialled teachers, and fewer material resources than the Integrated Studies Academy. The schools' staff generally attributed students' academic failure to the effects of material disadvantage and, especially at Carter Woodson, to cultural impoverishment and community demoralisation. One teacher at Dolores Huerta described attempts to overcome these hurdles through innovative pedagogical techniques, such as scaffolding and interactive teaching methods. Attempts to overcome social problems by drawing on their communities' cultural heritage had limited effect. The schools' financial and social challenges 'led to a desire to create a student body that would bring stability and success' for their missions. The selective intake of students, while associated with the specific mission of charter schools, can also allow them to exclude the most disruptive or underperforming students.
School and community
United States of America (USA)
Curriculum literacies and explicitness: what does this mean in practice?
Volume 6 Number 3, 2008; Pages 17–23
Educational disadvantage can be compounded by curricula that assume that students have the literacy capabilities expected for effective learning, and by teachers' lack of knowledge of the literacies required by these students for success. Each learning area has its own specific literacy and numeracy demands, and to facilitate student achievement, these should be addressed in both assessment and instructional design. An effective way of doing so is by aligning assessment, curriculum and pedagogy through an explicit backwards-design approach that helps emphasise learning outcomes and focus pedagogy. Using this method, assessment is addressed first, with planning and teaching approaches then designed with the skills and literacies needed for the successful completion of the assessment task in mind. Both curriculum content and required literacies, such as content area vocabulary and standard structure, should be addressed in assessment; lessons should then be designed to explicitly teach these skills. This approach does not assume that students have certain prior knowledge, but instead aims to ensure that all students have opportunities to learn the necessary skills and knowledge in order to complete the set assessment. One way to make sure that students understand the knowledge and skills required by assessment tasks is to involve students in their development. This also helps to ensure that tasks are purposeful and build on students' existing knowledge and skills. Teachers should consider modelling responses to set tasks to demonstrate expected types and quality of responses. Students' understanding of marking standards could be improved by providing opportunities to use the assessment criteria to assess their own and others' work. Assessment data should be used to determine students' current knowledge and to identify subsequent areas of learning. Tasks to measure these new skills would then be designed, and new lesson plans to teach this knowledge devised. Knowledge and skill-building would therefore be incremental and supported by strong learning foundations.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
A comparison of two reading programs on the reading outcomes of first-grade students
Volume 9 Number 1, 2009; Pages 35–46
As effective early-level reading instruction both promotes reading fluency and skills and helps prevent later reading difficulties, it is important to identify programs that provide the greatest benefit to students' learning. This article examines the impact of two popular reading programs used widely in the USA on the literacy skills of Grade 1 students. The Horizons Fast Track program uses a Direct Instruction approach to teaching reading skills. In each lesson, several skills are introduced, with complexity increasing over time. Phonics is explicitly taught, and spelling exercises and reading comprehension activities are part of highly structured, prompted lessons. The second program is Guided Reading, which aims to help students read authentic texts for meaning and integrate new skills and concepts. Before reading, the teacher provides necessary background knowledge; guided reading and discussion then takes place in blocks. The literacy skills of 107 Grade 1 students, 47 of whom were using Horizons, and 60 of whom were using Guided Reading, were tested in terms of phonemic decoding skills, nonsense-word fluency, and oral-reading fluency. Between autumn and winter, both groups' phonemic segmentation fluency increased significantly, however Guided Reading students' gains were significantly greater than Horizons students'. Students in both groups significantly increased their nonsense-word fluency scores over the course of a year, with Guided Reading students' gain slightly higher. Oral-reading fluency scores increased significantly between winter and spring for both groups, but Horizons students' scores showed substantially greater improvement over Guided Reading students' results. Given their substantial improvement in oral-reading fluency scores toward the end of the year, Horizons students may have out-performed Guided Reading students in Phonemic Segmentation Fluency if this test had been conducted at the end of, rather than the beginning of, the year. Both programs facilitated development of phonological and oral-reading fluency skills; however it is unknown whether these gains would be maintained. Previous studies have indicated that oral-reading fluency is a good predictor of students' reading abilities at the end of Grades 3, 5, and 11, suggesting that an explicit and structured program, such as Horizons, designed to improve these skills may result in greater achievement.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Catch, kick and throw: motor skills and health
Volume 8 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 28–31
Children who master skills such as ball-throwing are more likely to be active and fit as adolescents. The Physical Activity and Skills Study (PASS) examined the motor skills and physical activity levels of 276 Years 10 and 11 students who had taken part in the Move It Groove It (MIGI) program during Grades 4 and 5. The MIGI program aimed to improve children's movement skills including hopping, jumping and galloping, and object handling skills such as kicking, catching and throwing. Drawing on data taken from interviews and fitness tests, PASS found that adolescent boys were more active and fit than girls, and spent more time on both organised and non-organised activity. In both adolescence and childhood, boys' object handling skills were better than girls'. Little difference was found between the movement skills of boys and girls at either age. Children of either gender who had developed object control skills in childhood were more likely to be active as teenagers, spending roughly half an hour more on physical activity each day. They were also likely to be fitter, and believed they had higher levels of athletic competence. Well-developed object handling skills may therefore translate to confidence in sporting ability, and to increased likelihood of participating in physical activity. To promote physical activity in adolescence, concerted effort should be made to ensure that all students, and particularly girls, develop mastery of object handling skills through quality instruction and opportunities for practice. Teachers should also attempt to build students' self-concept around athletic ability. Generalist teachers should be provided with professional development to ensure that they are competent and confident in teaching object handling skills and in providing skill-specific feedback.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical Fitness
Teachers as protectors: making sense of preservice teachers' resistance to interpretation in elementary history teaching
Volume 36 Number 3, Summer 2008; Pages 172–205
Research suggests that primary teachers in the USA rarely encourage their students to examine history from multiple viewpoints. This is despite the fact that authentic engagement with historical texts can promote critical thinking and knowledge construction. The author, a teacher educator, drew upon data collected from reflective journals and interviews with 70 pre-service teachers (PSTs) undertaking a social studies methods class in order to examine possible reasons for teachers' resistance to interpretive historical approaches. During the methods class, PSTs were encouraged to engage with alternative historical perspectives, to co-construct knowledge, and to use this knowledge in their future classrooms. PSTs' resistance to interpretive approaches was found to be in part due to concerns about management, lack of expertise, and that others might perceive their teaching as inappropriate. However, most significantly, almost 70 per cent of PSTs expressed concerns about the developmental and moral appropriateness of using interpretive approaches with young children. PSTs felt that young students would be confused by such approaches, as students first needed to know the 'facts' of history as outlined in their textbooks. It was feared that teaching of multiple viewpoints would confront students' existing perspectives. PSTs were also concerned that alternative perspectives would expose children to violent, upsetting or negative themes. Their perceived responsibility to protect children from such content led them to resist the introduction of material that would result in more balanced, accurate learning. Perceptions of being trusted with the protection of children were also evident in their concern about upsetting parents by teaching such material. The study raises several points in terms of teacher education. PSTs' uncritical acceptance of textbook history as 'true' indicates a need for teacher educators to ensure that PSTs have the skills to engage critically with history. Teacher educators should model ways of 'breaking down' historical investigations for young children, and encourage reflection in terms of whether PSTs' discourses of protection conflict with notions of their role in developing students' skills in critical thinking and knowledge creation.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Teacher learning: what matters
February 2009; Pages 46–53
Effective professional development for teachers focuses on active approaches to teaching, and helps teachers develop the pedagogical skills necessary to cover specific content. High-quality professional development focuses on content knowledge and effective approaches to teaching this knowledge, and involves active, hands-on learning aligned with local curriculum and policies. Active learning approaches help teachers transform their teaching through modelling of new strategies and constructing opportunities for practice. Professional development is more effective when approached as part of efforts toward school reform: schools should endeavour to link professional development with curriculum, assessment and standards. Professional learning should be sustained and coherent in nature, with sufficient time allotted for effective learning outcomes. Collaborative, collegial learning environments that help develop communities of practice facilitate teacher improvement. Sustained, job-embedded professional learning communities enable teachers to share their individual knowledge and expertise, and draw on the knowledge of others for application and reflection in their own classrooms. These learning communities are best supported by small school environments where teachers have decision-making ability, and where common planning time is available. The development of effective learning communities can be facilitated by acceptance of shared responsibility, and formation of group identity and norms of interaction. As the focus of such groups should be the improvement of practice, members should be open with colleagues about their teaching approaches and take inquiry-based stances with standards of practice in mind. Other community-based structures to improve practice include peer observations, common analysis of student work and achievement, and involvement in collegial study groups.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
There are no Conferences available in this issue.