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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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New schools: an Australian case study

Volume 16 Number 1,  2010; Pages 76–91
Zeffie Nicholas

A study has examined issues faced by a new school during its set-up and initial years of operation, based on the case study of a new Catholic secondary school in western Sydney. The author and researcher was the school's first curriculum coordinator. Evidence was gathered from various forms of school documentation and an observational journal. The school's experiences are compared to the findings of a literature review covering early school set-ups. This literature indicates that the staff in new schools characteristically begin with high ambitions to be innovative but 'frequently revert back to the norm' as a result of pressures from stakeholders, resourcing concerns, the changing mix of staff, the heavy workload arising from the implementation of new processes and the desire to win local community support. The experiences of the case study school support these conclusions and suggest high priority issues to be addressed by the future principals of other new schools. The principal needs to develop a process that allows both foundation staff and newer staff to own the school's vision: foundation staff need reassurance that the school's initial vision will not be lost, while incoming staff need a chance for input that goes beyond tokenistic measures. Another issue is the need to clarify management structures, processes and roles at an early stage, since confusion on this count will impose additional pressure on staff. Key planning issues involving external stakeholders need to be decided before the school commences operation. The case study school was on a temporary site at the back of a primary school, straining relations between the schools; staff attributed these problems to 'the diocesan system' and a 'lack of planning and foresight'. Staff also need professional development if new to their roles. At the case study school only one staff member had previously had an equivalent position at their former school. Even with good planning the pressures and shifts encountered by staff at a new school are likely to produce staff turnover, which also needs to be factored into the planning process.


Subject Headings

Educational planning
School principals
School leadership
New South Wales (NSW)
Case studies
Catholic schools

Changing roles, relationships and responsibilities in changing times

Volume 38 Number 3, August 2010; Pages 195–206
Rosie Le Cornu

The past two decades have seen changes in how the professional experience components of teacher education courses in Australia are constructed, with a shift in emphasis from highly individualised 'teaching practice' to an orientation around learning communities. Drawing on several studies based around one Australian university's teacher education program, the author examines how this reconceptualisation of professional experience has changed the roles of pre-service teachers, university mentors, mentor teachers and school-based coordinators. Pre-service teachers are now required not only to monitor their own development, but to collaborate with their peers and to contribute to the wider professional learning community within the school. They take greater responsibility for their own professional learning than is required by more traditional models. The role of the university mentor has also changed with the introduction of a site-based support model. They are now responsible for a group of students across all components of the course. They also collaborate more closely with teachers and other school-based personnel, and where practicable they play a mentoring role with the mentor teacher. Mentor teachers themselves now have greater responsibility for assessing a pre-service teacher's performance, and they appreciated the recognition that this gave them. They also recognised that the learning communities model provided opportunities for them to discuss their practices with other mentor teachers. Most mentor teachers felt well supported by both the site coordinator and the university mentor, although in one study a minority of mentor teachers noted that they are now less likely to have a university mentor in the classroom conducting observations, a practice that they value. A further significant change is in the role of the school coordinator. With new emphases on developing learning partnerships, coordinators work to build relationships within the school and between the school and university, and are frequently pivotal to the quality of the professional experience program. The greater responsibilities of all participants under this model point to the need for increased resources for both schools and universities if the learning communities approach is to be maintained.


Subject Headings

Teacher training
Educational planning

Neophyte leaders' views on leadership preparation and succession strategies in New Zealand: accumulating evidence of serious supply and quality issues

Volume 16 Number 1,  2010; Pages 58–75
Reynold Macpherson

The article describes findings from the second stage of a review into strategies to improve the leadership skills of middle and senior level leaders in New Zealand schools. It complements evidence from the first phase of the research. The article is based on the results of a survey of 18 female and 10 male educators, who were novices in middle or senior leadership roles. The 28 participants evenly represented primary and secondary schooling, and graduate and post-graduate levels of qualification. Participants identified certain deterrents to the pursuit of leadership roles, including lack of basic skills and knowledge of leadership, which highlights the need to offer professional development in these areas to potential school leaders. When asked about factors that had contributed to their preparation for middle level leadership, participants indicated that they had had adequate levels of direct support from existing leaders, but that experiential learning had formed a disproportionately large part of their preparation for leadership compared to higher education and formal professional development from expert leaders. None of them had prepared systematically for the managerial tasks faced by senior leaders below the level of principal; some retrospectively felt they would have benefitted from more formal and role-specific training for these positions. The survey also indicated that they had been promoted through the school ranks soon after they had achieved competency at one role, with the result that most of their time as leaders was spent 'learning on the job'. Another finding was that principals at small schools who have teaching roles received very limited learning opportunities, which creates the risk of leadership failure, high turnover and consequent disruption of the schools, restricting their students' life chances. The participants' responses indicated the value of offering substantial skills training for mid-level and senior level leadership in schools. Such training should be offered both to new incumbents and to aspirants. A good model for such training is offered by New Zealand's National Aspiring Principals' Pilot (NAPP).


Subject Headings

New Zealand
Professional development
School leadership
Educational planning
Education policy
Educational evaluation

Recognizing different kinds of "head starts"

Volume 39 Number 4, May 2010; Page 295–300
Marjorie Faulstich Orellana, Jacqueline D'warte

In 2008 the National Early Literacy Panel in the USA made a decision to focus on identifying precursors to conventional literacy skills and how children could be supported to develop these skills. The authors argue that such an approach is too narrow, and that a more flexible approach to literacy that encompasses a wider range of literacy skills, such as those skills found among learners from bilingual or other language communities, should be taken. Models for early childhood education should identify and address the disconnect between the skills students use and develop at home and in other authentic contexts, and those valued and measured at school, particularly for those from minority or bilingual communities. This social view of literacy, where students acquire a 'repertoire of practices' able to be used in a variety of social contexts, is in evidence in the various curriculums of several countries, including Australia. A sociocultural approach takes a more holistic view of literacy, seeing it as more than just the combination of a number of isolated skills. Key to this approach is responding to the diverse linguistic resources of different students, and helping them engage in different ways with a variety of authentic texts. Approaches to assessment should also be considered. Rather than focusing on the assessment of isolated literacy skills, educators should seek to identify and examine the range of complex skills used when moving between different cultural and linguistic groups, as well as those used when negotiating differences between the literacy practices found at home and at school. The ability to move between different cultural and linguistic contexts, while not a 'conventional' literacy skill, is one that will be become increasingly important in a globalised world. Rather than separately assessing students on their English and home language, their overall 'language flexibility' should be measured, and students should then be supported to develop their skills in order to improve their communicative success in various authentic contexts.


Subject Headings

Multicultural education
United States of America (USA)

Children should be seen and heard: the power of student voice in sustaining new teachers

Volume 13 Number 1, March 2010; Page 54–69
Helen Demetriou, Elaine Wilson

Consulting with students about their learning needs and interests provides a means for teachers to build closer relationships with their students and improve the effectiveness of their teaching. Using interviews, the author examined the classroom experiences of 11 new teachers in Britain and assessed to what degree these experiences were influenced by the quality of their relationships with their students. Some of the teachers reported having difficulties fitting in to the school environment and in dealing with student behaviour. These issues, which included student apathy, resentment and poor behaviour, were often the result of communication difficulties and tended to be experienced more often by teachers who struggled to relate to their students. These teachers often became disheartened and had low self-concept. The teachers who had more success in relating to their students, on the other hand, were those who took the time to listen to their students about academic and social issues and who encouraged them in their learning. These teachers considered good relations with their students to be 'crucial', and were able to come across as friendly and interested without compromising their authority. They acknowledged that these relationships often took time to build, but that doing so helped to engage students in their learning and resulted in improved behaviour. Learning about individual students' motivations and preferences helped them to better tailor their classroom approaches. These teachers also emphasised that while content knowledge was important other elements of learning, such as developing social skills and a sense of self-efficacy, were also valuable. These teachers were also more aware of their own limitations and were less likely to blame themselves if not all of their lesson goals were achieved. While not all problems can be overcome this way, taking the time to listen to students in order to develop a genuine rapport can help improve behaviour and promote student interest in learning, helping new teachers transition more easily into the school environment.


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Behavioural problems
Behaviour management

Overlapping student environments: an examination of the homeschool connection and its impact on achievement

Volume 42 Number 4, May 2010; Page 430–449
Keli Garas-York

The values and aspirations of parents, as well as the ways in which these are enacted in the home, can contrast substantially with those typically found in schools. This is often the case with those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds. Using case studies and interviews, the author examined the links between home environment and student achievement. The participants were five high-achieving African American students, two under-achieving African American students considered to have the potential to be high-achieving, and the students' parents or primary caregivers. While the students' parents and caregivers said that they valued education and had high aspirations for their children, the ways in which this was demonstrated in the home varied, and at times seemed to conflict with these assertions. For example, while the mother of one underachieving student wanted him to go to college, she had only vague plans in place to foster the skills and abilities needed to do so. Her aspirations for him seemed incongruous with his skills: for example, she expressed a desire that he become an NBA star despite the fact that he was not on a basketball team. The mother of the second underachiever expressed similar sentiments about the role of education, but in reality tended to place value on other characteristics, such as her daughter's fun and vivacious nature, more than academic achievement. Additionally, she did little to actively encourage her daughter to take responsibility for her own actions and achievement. In contrast, the parents or caretakers of the high-achieving children played active roles in their children's academic lives and often established routines and systems, for example ensuring that they went to the library on a regular basis, to support their children's learning. These parents tended to be hard-working role models for their children, often working several jobs or undertaking study of their own. In these cases, parents' espoused values and goals tended to be more closely matched with their actions. The mismatch between what is valued at home and what is valued at school has potential ramifications for student achievement, and should be addressed.


Subject Headings

Parent and child
Middle schooling
Socially disadvantaged

Reading and school completion: critical connections and Matthew effects

Volume 26 Number 1, 1st  Quarter  2010; Pages 67–90
Amy Reschly

The article reviews evidence about links between students' levels of reading proficiency, engagement and school completion. Evidence indicates that difficulties with reading are the most common reason for early primary grade retention, which is associated with higher than average rates of dropout in later years. In high-accountability environments there is a particularly strong link between reading difficulties and transfer to special education programs, which are in turn associated with high dropout rates. However, effective reading instruction and interventions can sharply reduce the risk of reading failure, according to evidence from major projects and studies, including The HighScope Perry Preschool Study, the Chicago Longitudinal Study, Project Follow Through and Success for All Foundation. Such projects can reduce the 'Matthew effect' from early learning experiences, in which initial differences or effects grow over time, and instead generate positive interactions between reading practice, acquisition of reading skills, engagement and motivation to learn. Motivation is influenced by teachers' behaviour and the level of support they offer, collaboration amongst students, evaluation practices and goals. Engagement develops from the interaction between academic achievement, participation in the school environment and a sense of belonging in the school. Another highly successful project is the Check & Connect intervention for marginalised students which has been applied, in modified form, to the Early Risers Skills for Success Program for at-risk children exhibiting antisocial behaviour. During this program mentors monitored students' weekly reading progress at school and at home, resulting in improvements in the children's phonemic awareness and decreases in anti-social behaviour.


Subject Headings

Retention rates in schools
Primary education

Urban school reform enabled by transformative professional development: impact on teacher change and student learning of science

Volume 45 Number 1, January 2010; Page 4–27
Carla C. Johnson, Jamison D. Fargo

Students in inner city contexts in the USA often have few opportunities to learn science, an issue that has been compounded by accountability requirements that have decreased the focus on science teaching and learning. Drawing on classroom observations and student achievement data over a two year period, the authors examine the impact of an ongoing professional development program designed to improve outcomes for both teachers and students. The program, which ran in two disadvantaged schools, involved an intensive two-week summer institute and ongoing monthly professional development days. During these sessions the teachers worked together to refine both their classroom approaches and the curriculum itself, developing culturally relevant lessons and seeking to address science literacy skills. The teachers also developed appropriate resources emphasising inquiry-based instruction and were given opportunities to observe each other’s teaching. Changes in pedagogical approach and student achievement were measured against the achievement of teachers and students from two schools that were not participating in the program. Across the two years of the program, the instructional effectiveness of the teachers at the program schools increased, while the control schools teachers’ effectiveness decreased. Teachers from the program schools also demonstrated improved ability to implement effective lesson plans and evaluate and respond to student learning; this was not the case for the control schools. The teachers were also more inclined to work collaboratively and felt empowered as a result of participation in the program. However, while both program schools demonstrated substantial increases in terms of the quality of their science content, such as teachers’ content knowledge and their ability to challenge students, one of the schools was unable to sustain this growth. This was largely due to the uncertainty and low morale brought about by threats of school closure, which eventually came to pass. Teacher attitudes during this time were changeable, and their self-efficacy and sense of morale, which had been heightened under the program, were undermined by the uncertain and turbulent school and district context. While the program helped teachers improve their classroom practice, the difficulties faced by the participating schools indicate the need for effective support so that teachers can sustain these changes during difficult times.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Science teaching
Secondary education

"That school had become all about show": image making and the ironies of constructing a good urban school

Volume 45 Number 3, May 2010; Page 371–393
Tricia Niesz

Fearful of threats of sanctions or closure as a result of poor performance on high-stakes accountability tests, some schools in the USA are resorting to 'image making' as a survival strategy. Drawing on observations and interviews, the author describes how a struggling school in Philadelphia that was at risk of probation sought to promote a positive image and how this image contrasted with its teachers' and students' actual experiences. When engaging with the media or the public, the school positioned itself as encouraging progressive and inquiry based learning approaches. It frequently highlighted the work of two exemplary change-oriented teachers and implied that they were representative of the school's overall approach, which was not the case. While the school outwardly emphasised change-oriented teaching approaches, in reality the staff were subject to a strict school mandate that required them to devote significant amounts of class time towards preparation for accountability tests. Progressive teaching approaches were a luxury afforded only to a few, and even then were acknowledged as being largely 'for show'. The uneven treatment of teachers led to resentment between different groups of teachers, stymieing efforts to develop a collaborative learning community and undermining teacher effectiveness. Other efforts designed to paint the school in a positive light included the implementation of strict safety and uniform rules. However, many teachers expressed concerned about these rules, highlighting that the 'militaristic' emphasis on appropriate behaviour and appearance reflected a 'boot camp mentality' rather than being aligned to students' interests. The teachers increasingly felt that the school was focused on image to the detriment of students' needs. For example, when attendance levels fell, discussions focused on how this would affect the school's image, rather than on what it meant for the students. Similarly, while the school implemented a number of innovative programs and partnerships, this was done in an ad hoc manner that avoided staff buy in, and often failed to reflect the actual learning needs and requirements of the students. The study highlights that survival efforts in a high-stakes accountability environment can be to the exclusion of meaningful educational change.


Subject Headings

School leadership
School culture
United States of America (USA)

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