Last week the NSW Department of Education released the discussion paper ‘Great Teaching, Inspired Learning’.
I won’t say a lot here about it as in many ways this entire blog is about my thoughts on such matters.
Overall it is not a bad discussion paper, not surprising considering the authors (see page 2). I think the intention is sound and the questions pertinent and well informed. LIke I argue in my last post the motivation for policy reform is usually sound, it’s often just a question of practice and implementation. I especially like the focus upon improving the learning of the most disadvantaged students in our community and the way the paper openly cites the important and damning statistics related to the underachievement of students. Likewise the questions in relation to rural and remote schools and students.
However, consistent with my many ramblings I’m concerned about the singular focus upon teachers and the idea that education is only for national economic development. Many of the causes of educational disadvantage and practices that sustain it are based in broader social policy and the education system beyond the individual teacher. Without attention to broad social inequality and the wider education system any reforms focused upon teachers will have a limited impact.
I get particularly annoyed at the limited way in which Hattie’s ‘teacher quality’ work is cited and how the mantra of ‘teacher quality’ subsequently becomes a logic of its own, a discourse even. I wonder if those using such logic have ever really read his work! Firstly logic argument ignores the big 50% of the student, and while I understand the logic that we can’t do all that much about the student so should focus our pragmatic attention where we can have influence, I respectfully disagree. Such logic allows us to not even try to look at social equality and issues of social justice, it dismisses the broader moral issues of our society and the character of that society. We can, and have in the past, made a difference here. It’s just that the dominance of economic logic the last 30 years has encouraged us to stop looking. Secondly, the teacher influence Hattie refers to is in part because those teacher take into account the students, what they come with and where they come from. Thus it’s not just ‘quality teaching’ as an issue of abstract practice but teaching that is responsive to all students in context. Furthermore Hatties’s later work on feedback (2007) and his book Visible Learning (2009) go on to explain in detail the characteristics of practice these teachers exhibit, based on a meta-analysis of quality research. As the discussion paper suggests many of these can be ‘taught’ and ‘learnt’, and indeed should be. But we also need to remember that, as Hattie implies in the introduction, none of these factors exist in isolation. To focus upon them individually is therefore artificial and perhaps even misleading.
To me this further reinforces that ‘place matters’. Here then is where I’d like to see the discussion paper look at questions of what is taught as much as the implied ‘how’ of focusing upon teachers. Teaching doesn’t happen in isolation, thus the ‘skills’ this paper implies can be developed need to take the broader social context of each school and the curriculum that mediates teachers work into account.
Failure to do so merely perpetuates the idea that teachers are the problem and conveniently sets teachers up as ‘legitimate’ scapegoats when outcomes don’t improve. It lets social policy off the hook, again.
Consistent with my ramblings perhaps the paper should really be called ‘Great Teachers & Cosmopolitan Learning’