'Under pressure I fall back to being a teacher …' Confronting contending desires for schooling and teaching in a middle school reform project
Volume 36 Number 1, April 2009; Pages 27–42
Middle years programs are frequently set up to manage behavioural challenges and maintain students' academic and social engagement at school during early adolescence. As part of a year-long study, the authors evaluated such a program for Year 9 students at a public secondary school in Victoria. Called ARCH (active, resilient, connected, happy), the program involved substantial revisions to the curriculum, timetabling, physical organisation and staffing for this cohort, and was designed to create an 'oasis of care' separated to some extent from the rest of the school's practices and expectations in order to promote engagement with academic learning. The researchers evaluated the program through observations of classrooms and staff meetings and formal and informal discussion with teachers, students and the principal. Both teachers and students valued the closer personal connections they made through ARCH. However, several tensions were identified. First, the methods established to overcome disengagement often clashed with the elements of the school's culture that identified it, in the public eye, as a 'good school'. The school valued solid, visible, clearly structured academic work, and was competitive, encouraging keen participation in sports and music contests. It was strongly concerned with public image, including meticulous standards for dress and behaviour; and took a disciplinary approach toward misbehaviour. The ARCH program generated uneasiness among parents due to the lack of homework, while 'the teachers worried constantly about whether they had enough structure and formal learning in their program (especially in terms of science)'. A further tension existed between the encouragement of authentic, personal, human expression and interactions, and the 'institutional and legal relationship', including surveillance and discipline, between teacher and student: '... the idea that they can now relate to each other simply as people [was], sociologically at least, an illusion.' For example, some students resented that while they were encouraged to write personal diaries, their writing was then scrutinised by teachers; others resented that teachers, due to their closer relationships with students, could better track and report absences or lateness. The study raises the issue of teachers balancing human connection with discipline, oversight, and the assessment of student achievement.
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Are principals really retiring types? Part 1: Is something different happening?
Volume 29 Number 1, 2009; Pages 22–25
There is anecdotal evidence that former principals may be an under-utilised resource for education systems. The author, a retired principal currently employed as Senior Project Officer for the New South Wales Department of Education and Training, is conducting research to explore this topic. The article describes findings from his initial literature review. Most principals in New South Wales, and the senior staff best placed to move into their roles, are approaching the traditional age for retirement. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that many recently retired principals are already re-engaging part-time or even full-time in the workforce, and finding satisfaction in doing so. In fact, the notion of 'retirement age' has become blurred with the relaxation of legal requirements to retire by a certain age. The notion of 'premature retirement' could therefore be more accurately applied in situations where a principal has retired despite still being 'effective, motivated and satisfied'. Another issue is the alleged shortage of principals. Shortages are evident only in some contexts, and are due to a mixture of an ageing workforce, early-career departure of Generation X and Y staff from schools, and the reluctance of quality candidates to apply for vacancies. A further issue is the phenomenon of Baby Boomers as a 'sandwich generation', simultaneously helping to support aged parents, and 18–30 year old sons and daughters still living in the family home. The findings challenge suggestions that late-career principals are on a 'glide-path' toward retirement. On the contrary, evidence suggests that principals remain active, engaged and keen to keep learning. Older principals would welcome incentives to stay on, but although governments offer certain general incentives for workers to remain in or re-engage with the workforce, education authorities appear reluctant to offer specific measures to ageing school leaders. Principals may be attracted by new models of work, such as co-principalship, consultancies, or coaching roles. Older principals should receive professional development designed to prepare them for coaching roles in their later working years after they have formally retired. A second report on this research is due to appear in the next edition of The Australian Educational Leader.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Volume 12 Number 2, 15 April 2009; Pages 115–113
The New Basics curriculum framework, trialled by Education Queensland, regrouped traditional subject areas into four foundational areas and assessed students through extended rich tasks. The authors undertook a study of a school that had implemented New Basics. The school had been unsuccessful in its application to participate in an official trial of the framework, and therefore was not involved in official professional development activities to support its implementation, but the authors and the school staff themselves perceived that its adoption had nevertheless been a strong success. Data for the study was obtained through a survey of all school staff taken after two years of implementation, supplemented by field notes of observations of classroom teaching and of teachers' formal and informal discussions. Teachers indicated that the new framework had significantly increased students' engagement in and persistence with academic tasks, and also with community work; made them more willing to monitor and assess their own learning; and reduced behaviour problems. Staff attributed the successful implementation in part to a knowledgeable and supportive school leadership, who encouraged teachers to explore ways to implement the New Basics, and to the distributed nature of leadership within the school. Another supportive factor was the establishment of a community of learners to support co-learning, and help teachers adapt to an unfamiliar set of ideas. Weekly whole-staff meetings and regular curriculum-planning team meetings provided forums for discussion, where participants felt able to explore ideas and discuss their attempts, even where unsuccessful, to implement the new approach. The underlying philosophy and values of the school aligned closely with the thinking behind New Basics: this was another critical factor in its successful adoption, and likely to prove more effective than 'economic or status motives' in future efforts to implement such reforms. The authors describe the New Basics framework as post-modernist: characterised by diversity and, as Doune MacDonald has written, by 'the questioning of truth, certainty, objectivity and conventional use of time and space', in contrast to modernist schooling, which sees students as pursuing individual enlightenment through the traditional, liberal cannon of 'truth and objectivity' through clearly demarcated disciplines.
Volume 8 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 264–286
Recent research has suggested that teachers take on leadership roles to enhance professional growth, develop leadership skills, build confidence, and reinvigorate their working lives. Teachers in such roles are also well-placed to support their colleagues' professional development. Using interviews and observations, the authors examined the motivations of five middle years teachers of English who applied for leadership roles in the Reading Achievement Now! program in the USA. The significance of the 'teacher leader' designation to the teachers, as well as the teachers' ability to influence the work of other teachers were also examined. Teachers' reasons for taking on the teacher leader role included moral imperatives around the perceived need to create improved learning environments and to improve teaching practices around particular issues; access to professional growth opportunities that would develop their teaching capacities and improve prospects for advancement; and the financial incentive offered as part of the program, which was felt to be symbolic of recognition. The 'teacher leader' title was felt to be far less significant than other forms of validation: some teachers felt embarrassed by the designation and preferred other titles, such as 'consultant', and others felt that the emphasis should be on the role itself and its component activities rather than a title. The teachers, in their role as teacher leaders, had a significant positive impact on the pedagogical practices of their peers. Their own reflective and instructional skills developed through their participation in leadership workshops and activities, and they were able to draw on these when working with their peers. They took care to remain approachable and visible, and to ensure that their leadership and teacher roles remained closely linked. They developed strategies to guide and improve teachers' development in a positive and supportive manner: these strategies included using inclusive and supportive language, promoting transparency of teaching practices, and drawing on their own difficulties and experiences as teachers when offering suggestions for new pedagogical approaches. Structures need to be put into place to support teacher leadership programs that can promote efforts for school improvement. These include providing recognition, rewards and opportunities that together allow teachers to fulfil both personal and professional aspirations.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Teaching and learning
Increasing achievement by focusing grade-level teams on improving classroom learning: a prospective, quasi-experimental study of Title I schools
20 March 2009
Subject HeadingsEducation research
United States of America (USA)
Teaching and learning
Volume 41 Number 3, June 2009; Pages 409–431
Over the past 20 years, secondary education in the USA has included courses known as STS, relating science and technology to current social issues. While many teachers approve of STS, others feel it cannot be incorporated appropriately into the current science curriculum; that the ethical topics it raises are not part of their role; or that values not related to the scientific method are not relevant in the classroom. STS may conflict with teachers' perceptions of science as objective, and its interdisciplinary focus may also be perceived as diluting learning in individual disciplines. Integration of STS requires teachers to reorient their perceptions about and values relating to science; this can pose a challenge to teachers' scientific identities and perspectives. Teachers tend to relate to one of two types of significant, deep-rooted conceptualisations of science. The first is a view of science as objective, knowledge-seeking and value-free, often due to experiences of deep intellectual engagement with the subject matter. Adherence to a traditional view of science can keep teachers from engaging with social issues within science, and from seeking ways to change their teaching approaches. The second conceptualisation is of science as having a 'higher aspect' relating to a teacher's deeply held personal, spiritual, or moral connections. A teacher's strong religious beliefs may see them conceiving of biology as a description of nature; a humanist may see science as contributing to the meaning of humanity. Teachers who do deal with the social issues of science may do so in part because their conceptualisation of science is of a discipline able to support issues such as environmentalism or democratic ideals. Teachers should be aware of the bases of their conceptualisations, and these should be taken into account and reflected upon during professional development. This would help to develop understandings of the relationship between science and society. To encourage teacher willingness, integration of STS needs to be meaningful and have adequate theoretical foundation.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Volume 37 Number 2, May 2009; Pages 315–227
Current emphasis on evidence-based practices in education exists within a discourse of management based around improvement, standards, and most significantly, effectiveness. To enhance effectiveness and therefore efficiency, governments are increasingly promoting evidence-based best practices rather than encouraging educators to conduct their own inquiry-based research. However, system-wide, imposed best practices by nature simplify and assume predictable education outcomes, and reduce teachers' agency to make context-specific educative judgements. Moreover, while evidence-based approaches are usually described as scientific, education research is often empirical rather than scientific in nature, drawing on correlations rather than seeking to determine cause and effect. Evidence-based recommendations are therefore largely based on what appears to work rather than what necessarily does work. In contrast, true scientific inquiry in education is an intellectual pursuit involving systematic, critical testing and experimentation that seeks to solve the 'why' of learning rather than the 'what'. Teachers should engage, and be encouraged to engage, in such inquiry in order to avoid becoming deliverers of imposed best practices that may have been drawn from contexts vastly different from the requirements of their own teaching environments. Encouraging teachers' engagement in inquiry recognises their status as knowledgeable professionals, and as part of a democratic learning community. Teachers must have opportunities to consider and deliberate the purposes of evidence-based policies as well as education in general, and ensure that the aims and goals of education are clearly articulated so that the means is not divorced from the ends. They should ensure that debates about teaching are actively situated within discourses of education rather than discourses of management. They should seek to resist policies that rely on efficiency-related, empirical bases rather than scientific ones, and should confirm that proposed policies have value to learners beyond narrow skills development approaches. Teachers should be wary of policies that simply recommend procedures that have worked historically, and should become actively involved in scientific inquiry to develop their own best practices for their own teaching contexts.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Volume 41 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 338–363
The complexities of teaching in culturally diverse, low socioeconomic areas are often simplified into generalisations and deficit assumptions. Teachers and teacher educators need to be aware of and value diversity, and have opportunities to develop their skills by engaging with diverse and challenging school contexts. This article analyses the changing understandings and career path of a teacher who aspired to work in disadvantaged school contexts in the USA, but whose classroom efficacy was ultimately undermined by his naïve understandings of the urban context. The teacher, Nathan, was a young male who, despite his Indian heritage, identified as white due to his largely white, middle-class upbringing, and approached teaching from a democratic, social justice perspective. Although his previous teaching experiences in urban contexts had been largely successful, Nathan’s pre-service teaching placement, undertaken in a Grade 4 class in a challenging, low-SES school, resulted in a disconnect between Nathan, his supervising teacher, and the students. The assistive role he was forced to take and his supervising teacher’s lack of modelling of relationship-building with students hindered his ability to connect with students, which in his previous teaching posts he had done by drawing on his Indian heritage as a ‘cultural-in’. His beliefs about appropriate and caring classroom practices conflicted with his supervising teacher’s and with the school’s norms, demonstrating a disjunct between his perceptions of ideal practice and urban classroom realities. Drawing on his past positive experiences, Nathan admitted to being naïve of the difficulties encountered by students in these contexts, and was profoundly influenced by the conditions at the school and the societal issues that entered the urban classroom. Although successful in his teacher education program, he was unable to apply his knowledge in the urban classroom context, and ultimately reassessed his capacity and desire to teach in an urban environment. Teacher education programs need to ensure that pre-service teachers have the facility to understand and accommodate the needs of disadvantaged students, and be able to navigate individual school norms and the ways they may be influenced by social context. Pre-service teachers must have opportunities to connect the theory and the practice of teaching.
Subject HeadingsEthnic groups
United States of America (USA)
Teaching and learning
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