Becoming a teacher leader: teachers re-thinking their roles
Volume 17 Number 1, 2011; Pages 16–27
The development of teacher leaders is explored through the experiences of a group of teachers who took leadership roles during the implementation of a school improvement program. The program was titled Innovative Designs for Enhancing Achievement in Schools (IDEAS). The study's 21 participants were all experienced teachers. All worked in the government sector: 19 at large secondary schools, the other two at primary level, with four based in Victoria and 15 in Western Australia. Evidence was obtained mainly via interviews with the participants, who had all taken official roles as IDEAS facilitators for periods of two to four years. These positions had required them to play leadership roles on the ground, however the participants reported two major obstacles to the adoption of such roles. The first barrier was their own initial confusion about the nature of leadership. Many had previously associated leadership only with 'position, authority and status'. During their work as IDEAS facilitators they came to interpret leadership in a new way, associating it with the disposition to accept responsibility, and with activities such as effective communication and the deepening of work relationships with other staff. This shift in perspective had subsequently made some of them more open to the idea of accepting formal leadership positions, such as Head of Department. A second, powerful obstacle to playing a leadership role was their anxiety about the changes it would bring to their interaction with fellow teachers. The facilitator role called on them to involve themselves more deeply in school operations, and some participants worried that this would increase their exposure to various existing antagonisms between staff. Participants also feared that adopting a leadership role would generate new forms of antagonism from peers, who were likely to interpret the facilitator role as an assertion of ambition, and spurious authority, by someone outside the school's formal leadership group. To a significant extent these concerns were diminished by whole-school awareness that the program explicitly called on facilitators to play leadership roles, of a specific and defined nature. The study indicates that the successful development of teacher leaders will often require a fundamental shift in conceptions about the nature of leadership itself, framed in a way that allows for the egalitarian traditions of many school communities.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Assessing values education: a tentative exploration
Volume 31 Number 3, 2011; Pages 49–55
While values education is now widely adopted in Australia, it is difficult to assess students' learning in this area. Any attempt to measure a set of prescribed values risks privileging these values over others that may be equally desirable. Such difficulties may be avoided if assessment is refocused from the acquisition of specified values towards the skills and knowledge that students apply during the values education process. For example, teachers may seek to identify students' competence in articulating, defending and acting on values; applying values to decide competing claims; predicting and evaluating the consequences of actions; defending and acting on values; and interpreting and judging evidence in the light of given values. The author discusses how this approach to assessment might be applied to the four types of values education commonly found in Australian schools. Educators taking the trait approach to values attempt to imbue students with specific character traits such as honesty, loyalty and compassion. To do so they use mechanisms such as direct exhortation, role modeling, and subject content covering the biographies of historical individuals who displayed desired traits. This traditional approach is 'moral absolutist', privileging selected values above others. A second approach, values clarification, involves students in collaborative discussions where they articulate values personally meaningful to them. This relativistic approach avoids perceptions of indoctrination. The cognitive developmental approach looks at values in terms of the quality of students' moral reasoning, described in terms of six developmental stages. Students are called on to apply reasoning to resolve moral dilemmas in a given scenario. Assessment of their work may be modified to allow for 'stage-appropriate' moral reasoning. Under the fourth approach, role playing, students adopt characters in hypothetical conflict scenarios. Assessment of this form of values work might include measures of students' sensitivity to others' feelings, and of their ability to assume different perspectives.
Values education (character education)
Volume 7 Number 3, September 2011
Teachers' professional use of Twitter has been explored in a recent research project. Existing research on the professional use of Twitter by educators has focused on its use as a 'backchannel' during professional learning events – a means for informal, peer-to-peer communication to supplement official activities during a conference or presentation. The current study involved 10 teachers whose Twitter accounts had at least 100 'followers' (other Twitter users who had subscribed to receive their posting, or 'tweets'). The teachers, five female five male, covered a range of subject areas and degrees of experience. One taught in the K–5 band of year levels, three taught years 6–8, and six taught years 9–12. The researchers selected 200 consecutive tweets from each participant's Twitter 'stream' (chronological feed of messages). The research involved analysis of the tweets, and of participants' responses to a survey undertaken for the study. The participants also completed a survey. Participants reported using Twitter to establish connections to educators who shared their subject specialisms or were 'like-minded'; to learn from content experts; as a forum for discussion; and to extend their professional reputations. They each identified individual sets of criteria on who to follow, eg people who provided ideas and resources rather than 'just opinion'; who were willing to engage in two-way interaction; or who displayed an 'open, positive and constructive' tone. Twitter was seen as a 'jumping off point': all of the participants had taken connections made via Twitter to another forum such as wikis, Facebook or personal meetings. Analysis showed that almost 40 per cent of participants' tweets concerned educational thinking or practice, just over 10 per cent concerned resource sharing, and less than four per cent were devoted to questions. The social dimension of tweeting was important, accounting for 43 per cent of tweets. Tweet communications were valued as a way to receive support, and 'blow off steam' to colleagues. The article includes a 'critical event recall' table documenting incidents for each participant in which Twitter had had a significant, tangible impact on their professional practice.
Subject HeadingsSocial media
Teaching and learning
Strategies to increase the value of physical educators in K–12 schools
Volume 82 Number 6, August 2011; Pages 17–20
Physical Education (PE) is marginalised in US schools, throughout the K–12 years. This marginalisation has adverse consequences for PE teachers. It leads to 'washout': the erosion of under-utilised skills that they had learnt during their teacher education courses. PE teachers lose some of their capacity to plan and innovate, and to assess students. Marginalisation also leads to burnout, through stress induced by the restriction placed on their roles, and lowers PE teachers' efficacy. PE teachers can take a number of steps to address this marginalisation. Firstly, they should take care to align students' tasks in PE to instructional goals. The curriculum should set developmentally-appropriate outcomes covering psychomotor, cognitive and affective domains of learning. Lesson design should set students relevant and achievable goals, broken down into specific tasks. Secondly, assessment should be designed to enhance learning rather than simply measure it. PE teachers are sometimes concerned that they have too little time to undertake quality assessment. To save time, assessment may be integrated into game play. Teachers may also wish to be selective in what they assess. Assessments can be piloted before being used for grading. Peer- and self-assessment can also be used. Students can be discouraged by psychomotor assessment: to minimise this problem, they should be given adequate time to learn the assessed skills, and taught the value of assessment for improving performance. Assessment should be seen as an ongoing, inbuilt part of lessons rather than a high-stakes challenge. Assessment results should be used to refine program quality. A third step is to ensure ongoing quality professional development, in forms such as content-specific workshops or partnerships with PE teacher education programs run by tertiary faculties. Fourthly, PE teachers should advocate for their profession, targeting students, parents, school and system leaders and community members. PE teachr bulletins and newsletters may include tips such as activities for the home, healthy recipes and ways to access resources. A website can provide additional material such as links to PE videos and policy documents, while social media can be used to develop interaction and a sense of community. Special events and partnerships can be used to showcase PE programs.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Teaching and learning
Getting off to a good start: employment status and beginning teachers
Number 1, 2011; Pages 10–15
The high level of stress faced by new teachers is now widely recognised. Few other professions expect novice practitioners to take on many of the responsibilities faced by experienced peers. A study has examined the first-year work experiences of 12 primary teachers in New Zealand. The teachers, 11 of whom were women, had all undertaken the same three-year undergraduate primary teaching course at a New Zealand university. Four times over their first year the author conducted individual interviews with each participant. Responses highlighted the impact of the participants' employment status, as ongoing or non-permanent teachers at their school. Those with short term or relief positions described the emotional stress caused by uncertainty about their future employment. The stress was compounded by the added work pressures of having to prepare for and attend job interviews elsewhere, and, in some cases, by the fact that they were competing with other non-permanent teachers at their school for a limited number of teaching positions. The non-permanent teachers also spoke of disillusionment and self-doubt as a result of having to reapply for their current positions. Participants in ongoing positions emphasised the time it had taken them to get to know their school's philosophy, work practices and expectations, and to establish relationships with peers. The participants also emphasised the advantages for their professional learning as teachers to maintain contact with students, and monitor their progress, over more than one year. Other research also raises concerns about the impact of non-permanent job status on teachers. For example, research has found that non-permanent teachers are more likely to volunteer for extra-curricular responsibilities, risking burnout. One way to address concerns about non-permanent job status would be to offer teachers employment for periods of not less than two years at a time.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Using focus groups to support conceptual development in social studies
Number 1, 2011
Focus groups offer a means to help students grasp key concepts in social studies units. This finding emerged from a small-scale, two-year action research project in New Zealand, conducted with students in years 9 and 10 at an urban secondary school. The core of the group, who participated over both years, was four Māori or Pasifika boys. Evidence was collected from sources including focus group notes, results of common assessment tasks, and student workbooks. Students' units of study were organised around key concepts, identified from the relevant achievement objective. Selected techniques helped students to identify and focus on these concepts. One technique was 'flying in fives': short activities intended to engage students at the start of lessons, often used for diagnostic purposes and to reinforce prior learning. In these activities the students were asked to apply specific concepts to their local communities. For example, the concept of social cohesion was applied through the question 'is there social cohesion in our community?'. Another activity, focused on the concept of discrimination, called on students to ask a family member about a time they had faced discrimination, and to record the results. To reinforce students' grasp of concepts they were asked to map their understandings of them, comparing the results to their earlier mappings. The alignment of groups' activities, classroom activities and learning goals was important in shifting the teaching and learning focus from content to concepts. The groups also had a metacognitive component as students monitored and reflected on their own learning goals.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Volume 13 Number 2, 2010; Pages 133–142
Schools can benefit from the involvement of elderly citizens as volunteers. These citizens provide an opportunity to acquaint students with history as experienced by an older generation, and with a deeper sense of 'the challenges in life'. Their presence may allow students to receive more individualised attention. These citizens themselves often benefit from social connection to young people. Their involvement may deepen students' knowledge of older people and generate more positive attitudes toward them, while senior citizens become more aware of current school practices. However, the value of their participation may be diminished or blocked by preconceived, negative impressions of the other generation held by the volunteers or the students. There is also the possibility that volunteers will convey incorrect or distorted information to students. Schools may take several steps to improve the quality of senior citizens' involvement in school routines. Teachers should nominate specific tasks for the volunteers, based on prior consultations with them regarding their interests and preferences. Prior to one-on-one discussions with a volunteer, students might be offered conversational strategies, eg potential discussion topics and initial, ice-breaker questions that are easily answered. Volunteers should receive verbal or written feedback, and formal recognition for their involvement. Potential volunteers should be screened in conformity to any system requirements and so that school staff themselves are satisfied about the volunteers' suitability. Schools should keep records of emergency contact numbers for volunteers, as well as any relevant health issues. The senior citizens may be involved in a range of activities and events. They may be guest speakers; involved in family nights where they might share stories or traditions; help in practical activities; become pen pals to students, helping them with spelling and writing skills; and reading books with students. A 'now and then' session could be used to explore cultural changes. Potential volunteers may be contacted through students' own families, retirement villages, or via existing community programs such as those conducted through local libraries.
School and community
It is widely accepted that children need many opportunities for play, and also that children have too few of such opportunities. However, other issues concerning children's play have not received so much attention, and deserve closer consideration. Firstly, traditional teacher-directed activities are now commonly represented as 'play' even though they involve little or no scope for imagination or creativity. In this respect the term 'play' has undergone the same kind of appropriation as other terms such as 'authentic', 'student-centred' and 'discovery-based', which have been applied for their popularity while their original content has been diluted or distorted. Secondly, younger and older children should have more chances to play together. Older children are able to support younger children's play, and are less likely to be 'boring or condescending' than adults. Thirdly, some form of play is important for all people, not just children, for the joy of open-ended conjecture and discovery. This is because, fourthly, play is an end in itself rather than a means to an end. While play as creative exploration may be generative, it should not have to be justified by end results. Finally, play and work should not be seen as either/or alternatives for school students: they should both be distinguished from learning. Learning is enjoyable, but unlike play it does not have enjoyment as its main purpose; it may be intense and challenging like work, without being productive activity as such.
What's in a song? Teaching language through music (K–2)
Songs can be used to help young students to access complex language. One reason is that song lyrics are easy to recall: they are usually linked closely to melody, in the form of clear musical phrases of consistent length, which are repeated or imitated throughout the piece. The frequent use of rhyme in lyrics also makes them memorable. Songs help to build vocabulary, partly because songwriters often resort to uncommon words in order to match the syllables of their lyrics to a given musical phrase. Songs can be used through a range of classroom activities. Adapting a familiar song to a rap beat, or some other form of chant, removes melodic support and obliges students to attend to the lyrics. Another technique is to have students write additional verses to a known song, or to adapt existing lyrics. YouTube and other internet resources offer an abundance of songs, including items such as advertising jingles, that can be used in the classroom.
There are no Conferences available in this issue.