My Way or the Highway?

In a recent episode of the Design and Play podcast, Dean Pearman and Steve Brophy spoke about the importance of sticking to their core beliefs and values. This means moving on when conflicted. Although this stance is to be applauded, I was left wondering if it were a luxury to actually be able to move on at will? It also had me wondering if perpetuating such a message is missing a trick?

I remember being told by a boss once ‘if you don’t like it here then you can leave’. I respect that, it was his choice and in the end I did leave. My concern though was not necessarily the location, but rather the leadership, the ‘my way or the highway’ mindset.

Maybe I am idealistic or just naive, but a leader cannot directly do the work of change and learning. Instead, they create the conditions for others to prosper. For some, this is putting ticks and balances in place to make sure that everyone is performing. For others it involves the distribution of leadership, development and collective capacity building.

I am always reminded of the story of Geelong Grammar’s adoption of Positive Psychology. It did not involve a few sessions with staff and students, rather it involved all members of school, including those working in administration and maintenance. This was about creating an environment where everyone can flourish.

Another similar program is Leading Teams. At the heart of this is an organisation leading change from the ground on up. This is not because someone above said so, but rather because it was a trademark agreed upon by the people on the ground. This involves trust. I remember Ray McLean recounting early stories of failure required to achieve collective success. However, too often such goal setting sessions become token, ticked off as something done, with people towing the party line, rather than sharing what they truly believe. Here I am reminded of David Culberhouse’s discussion of ‘positive deviance’, where the focus is on identifying the bright spots within an organisation and using their stories and strategies to help drive change.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone leaves in the end. However, wouldn’t it be better if such decisions happened to further opportunity, rather than fix our values? For in the end, it takes a village and surely that involves compromise. As always, comments welcome.


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New (Zealand) Experiences

Having just returned from the New Zealand, I was left with more questions than answers. Whether it be at Google Teacher Academy, Leading a Digital School conference or simply online, I have engaged with a number of New Zealand educators. I have been an avid reader of blogs from people such as Steve Mouldey, Juliet Revell, Richard Wells and Claire Amos, while Wells’ book provides a fantastic glimpse into some of the transformations that have occurred there. I was therefore intrigued to get a glimpse for myself. Here then are five thoughts I was left with based on my experiences:

  • AUTONOMY: The curriculum is built around a clear set of values, five key competencies and learning eight learning areas. Richard Wells captures this in a graphic. The support documents provide the ingredients, but leave schools to develop their own narrative. This freedom and flexibility provides a sense of autonomy for schools to respond to their own context and community. This means fluid learning communities, co-teaching and various inquiry-based pedagogies. Steve Mouldey provides a great insight into this, while Richard Wells has written a series of posts demonstrating ways of making learning more student centred.
  • COLLABORATION: Alongside choice, there is a focus on fostering the conditions to work collaboratively within clusters. For some this includes meeting between schools to moderate, while others provide connectivity to the community. These approaches are supported by initiatives and organisations such as, Mind Labs. CORE Education and the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.
  • CULTURE: From the first step into Auckland Airport, the prominence of Maori culture is clear. As an outside, it feels as if Maori culture is at the heart of New Zealand culture. From a dedicated television station, dual signs and descriptions, various forms of customary greetings, and regular reference to art and tradition, the difference to Australian is noticeable. Where it stands out from an education point of view is the use of the Maori language to encapsulate values and attributes. I wonder if one aspect which makes this possible is the presence of a unified living language? Or if it all comes back to the Treaty of Waitangi? Although in Australia there is the Welcome to Country and attempt to recognise the local people of each region, this seems to fall short of the place that Maori culture has in New Zealand.
  • RESOURCES: One argument often made to why Finland is so successful is the amount of time teachers have out of the classroom to plan and prepare. For New Zealand it is the opposite. For example, primary teachers only get ten hours release a term and for some this includes a whole day release which often chews up half of this time. This reminds me of a point that George Couros makes in the Innovator’s Mindset around creative budgeting. Couros talks about the way in which Brad Gustafson makes a line intone budget for innovative projects. A side note to resourcing is the place of community partnerships. I stayed in one town where the local public school had all of the companies that support the school listed on the fence. There seems to be a different relationship between outside organisations and schools, although it was not clear as to how far this went.
  • TRANSFORMATION: It can be easy to read an account or watch a an example from a few years ago and think that is the way it has always been and continues to be. However, what worked yesterday may not be what works today. Some of the New Zealand schools which had been been held up as showcases, demonstrating fluid and visible practices, have continued to evolve and iterate. They take what works and refine what could be better. Interestingly, this is similar to the Finnish story. It can be easy to read Pasi Sahlberg’s account and think that is the way things are. However, even Finland – seemingly at the top of the world – knows that to stand still is to go backwards.

At the start I said I was left with more questions, than answers. Some of the things that I was left wondering was what the future had to offer? The government is looking to increase funding for independent schools. Some schools still choosing to reinstate rather than redefine the status quo. Teachers supported but not necessarily in regards to time. The world is becoming more and more multinational/multicultural. It will be interesting to see where this all goes. For some this makes it an incredibly hard time to be involved with education, but I would argue that it simply makes it even more important to continue to fight for what Gert Biesta describes as a ‘good education’.

Thanks must be given to me wife who supported writing this by adding her thoughts and perspectives. If you have something else to add, as always comments welcome.


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They Kept on Teaching

I recently took up Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It was not what I expected. I read a lot of non-fiction and being out of the classroom, this has only increased. So as part of my summer siesta I turned to McCarthy for some relief.

Blood Meridian is one of those books that seems to come up again and again in discussions. I recall it being reviewed on The Book Club, while Jim Groom often mentions it. I imagined it would be an American version of the True History of the Kelly Gang. I was wrong. McCarthy makes Peter Carey look like a children’s author.

The key to Carey’s retelling is that it is done through the perspective of authority. Although he gives accounts of murder and hardship, the description is somewhat subdued. Although Blood Meridian involves power, it is a power that exists beyond the grip of authority. The fact that one of the main characters is The Judge only adds to this irony.

Blood Meridian is instead a book about silence. It attempts to captures a violent world that in Carey’s tale is somewhat left untold. When all is said and done, it feels like there is so much left unsaid. In particular, we are left guessing about the thoughts and intentions of the various characters. All we can do is presume. The only guarantee is that no matter what happens,they kept on riding.

This notion of going on reminds me of education. Often there are stories told, official stories. Ones about timetableedtech platformscurriculumdisciplines. However, beneath these tales are stories that often remain silent. Jagged stories that defy statistics. Stories of actions and interpretation. Amongst all of this there are people who each and every day simply teach on.


I have read many books, but there are only a few that I feel I will never completely forget. Midnight’s Children is one, Blood Meridian is another. So what about you? What are the uncanny books that stay with you after the fact? As always, comments welcome.


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Learnification and the Purpose of Education


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I have started reading Gert Biesta’s book, Good Education in an Age of Measurement. In the first chapter, he puts forward the case of three key arguments for a ‘good education‘: qualification, socialization and subjectification.

Qualification is defined as:

The qualification function is without doubt one of the major functions of organized education and constitutes an important rationale for having state-funded education in the first place.

Socialization as:

Through its socializing function education inserts individuals into existing ways of doing and being. In this way education plays an important role in the continuation of culture and tradition—both with regard to its desirable and its undesirable aspects.

And subjectification as:

The subjectification function might perhaps best be understood as the opposite of the socialization function. It is precisely not about the insertion of “newcomers” into existing orders, but about ways of being that hint at independence from such orders, ways of being in which the individual is not simply a “specimen” of a more encompassing order.

These, Biesta argues, are not to simply be considered in isolation, but in how they interact:

The three functions of education can therefore best be represented in the form of a Venn diagram, i.e., as three partly overlapping areas, and the more interesting and important questions are actually about the intersections between the areas rather than the individual areas per se.

This focus on purpose is in contrast to what Biesta describes as the ‘learnification’ of education. This is where the sole concern becomes the individualistic process of learning, rather than the intent that is actually associated with this.

This discussion of purpose made me wonder about things like learning walks and annual review processes. What if the success or failure of something like a learning walk was decided before anyone even enters the room? What happens if a coach considers qualification as being the primary purpose of education and inadvertently applies this lens to what they see. Yet the teacher in question’s primary concern is socialization?

I am wondering if it is for this reason that we need something more than a set of standards to improve education. We need a holistic approach, like the Modern Learning Canvas, that incorporates all the different facets.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

What about you? What tools and techniques have you used to capture a rich picture of practice? As always, comments welcome.


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Is Gender an Elephant in the (Education) Room?


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a post titled ‘Men Explain Technology To Me’, Audrey Watters unpacks the statistics and challenges that face women working in edtech. Whether it be the predominance of white males running the internet, an inherent culture of ‘mansplaining’, the culture of violence and abuse or the sheer numbers of women actually not working within the big edtech companies, Watter’s paints a picture of oppression.

Although gender and oppression is nothing new, it is the extremities of Watter’s account which brings the issue to the fore. In addition, Watter’s emphasises that these challenges are in no ways just an ‘edtech’ issue. Here is a few examples which help elaborate this:

The question I was left with was how do I respond? In particular to the wider inequities at play within education. Too often we read things online or hear things at a conference and, for whatever reason, fail to properly follow up.

My initial step was to reflect on my own habits. I started with my 200 odd blogs in my RSS Feed. After downloading the OPML file, I put them into a spreadsheet and proceeded to categorise them.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In addition, Tom Woodward pointed me to an app that analyses your Twitter:


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

The story told by both is that I am as much a part of the problem. However, it also made me wonder about the biases that were within such applications. I then started exploring what could be done to change this situation. Some possibilities include:  

  • Supporting Female Educators: The first idea I thought of doing was calling out the great work done by women. Whether it be follow Friday (#FF) or any other means of sharing. This is an area that I have been called out on before for not doing enough. There are plenty of examples listicles, such as Peter DeWitt’s 18 Women All K-12 Educators Should Know, Naomi Barnes’ Women in Science, Sue Crowley’s 100 Female Education Authors or David Wees’ Female Educational Theorists. Problem I have with this approach is that lists quickly become about who is not included as much as who is.
  • Developing Safer Technology: One of the issues that Watters raises in her post is the structure of the technology and its influence on our interactions. One suggestion she makes is reimagining commenting. Building on the IndieWeb movement, Watters suggests that comments should be housed on a ‘domain of our own’ and then linked to the source post. Another technical solution is the blocking of known serial harassers on platforms such as Twitter using something like the BlockBot.
  • Equitable Diet: What is shared online is not always equal. An answer to rebalancing my biases when it comes to blogs, articles and books is to more actively read female writers. This has included putting out the call on Twitter for new blogs to add to Feedly. I also consciously seek out female authors, especially when I do not have a particular focus.
  • Equitable Representation: Inequity is often perpetuated at conferences and professional development sessions when one male after another gets up to present. It is therefore heartening to attend conferences like Digicon where it would seem that there is a conscious decision to have an equal amount of men and women when it comes to keynotes. Beyond this, I think that it is important to encourage women to present when and where applicable, especially when it is only confidence holding them back.
  • Be More Mindful: The most important thing though is actually being aware that there is an imbalance at all. This is as much to recognise the bias at play, not to somehow magically stand outside of it. A part of this is being informed where possible.

With this all said and done, it feels naive to talk about solutions as if it is so clear cut. I fear being tokenistic, something Maha Bali makes point of in her post on marginality. I also worry about only focusing on one form of inequality, when as Watters points out, there are many, especially when it comes to edtech. I wonder if the real solution is actually being silent? Or in our lives actions and experiences? Maybe this post is simply adding to the problem and is itself a case of mansplaining? It is for this reason that this post has taken considerable time to write.

Coming back to technology, Greg Thompson talks about how technology has the power to make us. The question that I wonder is what sort of ‘us’ is it making. As always, comments welcome.


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Know They Context – Measuring Support Before Impact #twistedpair


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

This post is my contribution to Steve Wheeler’s twisted pair challenge. Although not as esoteric as Wheeler’s pairings, it at least demonstrates the links between diverse ideas.


I’ll never forget reading about the spat that followed Collingwood’s loss in the 2003 AFL Grand Final. Having lost Anthony Rocca, a key position player, the week before, Mick Malthouse decided to trial Jason Cloke in the position of centre-half forward. A young player who had spent most of his 40 games in the back line, he was thrown into the fire and failed. With only a few possessions, the coach openly spoke about his disappointment as was David Cloke, a proud father, who spoke out about the comments. What stands out to me is the expectation that placing people in unfamiliar surroundings may magically pay off. (Add Glenn Maxwell batting up the order in India to that list, another classic example.) Maybe the player had spent time as a youth in that position, maybe they had shown some promise in a different context in different surrounds or was the right fit on paper. Whatever the reason, such sporting stabs in the dark, hopeful wishes you may like, often fail to proper more often than not.


A few years ago, I was faced with the arduous task of landscaping my backyard. Starting with something of a blank canvas, I drew up an outline of the space with circles and lines to mark the dimensions where the different plants would go. Sometimes it feels both arrogant and naïve planning out a space. After going to the local nursery, I decided to plant lilly pillies down the side of the property. The aim was to create something of a hedge. On the tag, it stated that in the right conditions a lilly pilly can grow up to 100 metres tall. After bringing in new soil, watering regularly and providing large amounts of fertilizer, two of the ten trees failed to take. In addition to this, even though they were all planted at the same time, those at the back grew twice as large as the those down the side. Another observation was that the irises planted near the dead lilly pillies also had struggled to take. This raised so many questions, such as the make-up of the soil, the sunlight in these spots, the potential of basalt beneath the surface and the mix of nutrients. The reality though is that I could have planted another tree in their place, desiring order and symmetry. However, more often than not nature does not work that way. So I left it. Admitting that just maybe the lilly pilly may not be the right plant for the spot.


So often we talk about knowing thy impact. That is, to evaluate the effect of our teaching on students’ learning and achievement. Although it is important to identify what is working and how we might be going. Another story that often goes untold is what impacts upon a teacher?

The easy solution in education that everyone jumps to is the desire to get rid of your worst teacher. However, I have heard many experiences where the supposed ‘worst’ teacher is the teacher who is also the ‘least’ supported. Don’t get me wrong, they are often provided emergency support. At the heart of the matter, they are left to plan alone, expected to create everything from scratch and provide little structured support.

Measuring thy context includes things such as: support provided, level of trust in the organisation, sense of confidence, opportunity to work in a team, size of the classes, the state of the learning spaces, when your classes are timetabled on and the list goes on. This is not a list of excuses, but rather a recognition of complexity associated with impact and its connection to context.

So what about you? What is your context and how does it impact you?


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What do you think the Education State means?

Education State

I was lucky enough to heara Gail Davidson speak today. She touched on what works in schools. Although we all have our own perspective and work in unique contexts, the ingredients it comes down to, according to Davidson, are: student learning, teaching excellence and supportive environment. For her, these elements are brought about by learning deeply, across subjects and with purpose. All of our resources support this, whether it be the technology in our hands, time allocated for meeting and planning or partnerships with parents and the community. The biggest challenge is not money and time, but fostering a culture of wholeheartedness. A part of this is the power of possible, doing what needs to be done in order to succeed.

This discussion of what works and building effective schools reminded me of a recent question posed about what it means to be the education state? Daniel Andrews made the promise leading up to the recent election to make Victoria the ‘education state’. This even included placing the slogan on number plates. I feel like I have heard this sort of rhetoric before when Ted Ballieu promised to make Victorian teachers the best paid teachers in the country. As a part of his outline, he stated that he “won’t rest until we rebuild schools, rescue TAFEs and make our state the education capital of the country once again.” The question that remains though is what would it really take to make Victoria the education state. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Properly Fund Education: The Gonski Review outlined some drastic needs for education, particularly around equity. The former Liberal government took away Education Maintenance Allowance to fund their contribution in regards to Gonski, with the belief that Gonski would fill that gap. However, what has happened is that schools have lost out on EMA and are yet to see any support via Gonski.
  • Schools for Growth Areas: According to an analysis from the Gratten Review, Victoria will need 550 new schools by 2031. In the latest budget, the government funded 10. If we continue at that rate for the next 15 years then we will build 150 schools. That is 400 short. Even if the Catholic and Independent sectors pick up some of the slack, as it seems the government hopes they will, this is still a big gap. The reality is that there are too many schools bursting at the seems, especially in growth corridors, with fields of portables, struggling to provide the appropriate environment for learning.
  • Maintaining Schools for the Future: Beyond new schools, there are too many in need of maintenance and revitalisation. Let alone any discussion of portables, many old buildings are inadequate and need of refurbishment. In addition to upkeep, there has been a stalemate with funds in regards to such things as cleaning and power. This has forced many schools to think more creatively and cut various programs.
  • Adequately Support Education: It is often suggested that class size has little impact. However, David Zyngier did a study that found smaller class sizes in the early years “can lift children’s academic performance through to year 12 and beyond – especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition to this, education support needs to include kindergarten. This means providing the appropriate funding of all hours to make it an imperative. Making Victoria the education state means supporting schools and students from day dot.
  • Provide Appropriate Support: I understand that every school context is unique, but school autonomy is a cop out. It creates a sense of competition, when what is really needed is culture of collaboration and connection. A part of this is the debacle that is the four regions. The Liberals handed schools responsibility for more menial tasks, but maintained the same funding structure. Yet the Labour solution is to provide more support whether regionally or in town, while cutting costs to already cash strapped schools. This is what Dale Pearce means when he talks about funding at the gate.
  • Vision for Education: One of the biggest disappointments has been the lack of vision from the government in recent years. I am happy to recognise there were many faults with the Ultranet. However, what it offered was a vision. I understand that the government released ‘Unlocking the Potential’, yet what have they really done to support it? On last count, there was only a handful of people in the Digital Learning department, this is a far cry from the halcyon days. I know those days have come and gone, however more needs to be done to empower schools with not only knowledge, but the confidence to take education forward.

So these are some of my thoughts. What about you? What do you think is needed to make Victoria the ‘education state?’ This is a conversation that needs to be had.


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Repositioning the Use of Technology in Schools

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13990305951
 
In a recent post in his Myths of Technology series, +George Couros wrote about the idea that ‘technology dehumanises’. In this piece, Couros suggests that it is a misnomer that technology is anti-social and takes away from our relationships. Instead, technology actually provides the potential to amplify our relationships. Rather than technology, Couros posits that “people dehumanize one another, not technology”. This got me thinking about a point +Doug Belshaw made in his book ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ that digital literacies are at there heart social.
 
In a presentation for Promethean, Peter Kent put forward that interactive whiteboards offered an opportunity to modify the way we teach and the way students learn. Instead of merely using the projector to provide information, the interactive nature of the boards allow students to come up to the board and engage with information and ideas, providing the opportunities to build further conversations and opportunities. For a further explanation, see my post ‘Sum of the Parts is Different to the Whole‘. What I find most interesting about Kent’s idea though is that this focus on the use of technology to instigate conversations goes far beyond the interactive whiteboard, it can be applied to just about any technology. 
 
For example, this year I have taken to using an iPad to help model and manipulate ideas during intervention sessions. Teaching in a space with only one interactive whiteboard between three classes, I have started using the Inkflow app by Grayon on the iPad to get students to visually demonstrate understanding. Instead of getting them up to the board, the device goes to where they are. Using the iPad in this manner has allowed students to both create and comment on ideas.
 
Another example of where I have used iPad in a social manner lately is through the a series of games from Toca Boca with my daughter. Whether it be Toca House, Toca Doctor or Toca Band, the Toca Boca games provide a stimulus for some great conversations, such as discussing recycling fruit, killing germs in the mouth while brushing our teeth or the different instruments involved in a band. Although it is possible to play these games in solitude, they are not the same. Even if the conversation is later on, they provide the stimulus for so much more.
 
In another post exploring BYOD, Couros questions why we still depend upon booking time in labs in order to get access to technology in the classroom. Instead, he argues that BYOD initiatives offer the opportunity to have technology available where the instruction is. The myth therefore that technology dehumanises often starts when we see technology as an event. The human side is taken away, because instead of being incorporated into the lesson, technology becomes the sole focus of the lesson.
 
What is interesting about Couros’ message is that technology has the potential to either amplify and augment our interactions or to kill them off all together. In the end, it is us who have the final say. So how are you using technology today?

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Looking Back to Look Forward

During the week I was asked by the principal to represent the Middle Years (5-9) on a new ICT Committee. Although the school has invested in a lot of ICT, there has been very little explicit leadership to drive it. Often ICT was the last dot point of many on the list of responsibilities allocated to various leading teachers in the school. Instead it has been driven by leadership with a little l, those staff who have a passion and interest in the area. 
 
The first task set for the group is to develop a three year plan. Thinking about where the school might be in three years time got me reflecting how far things have evolved in the past three years. Here are just a few changes:
 

Collaboration and the Cloud

Three years ago, staff and students were dependent on the school share drives to share resources. The only way to really collaborate was through email. As I have stated elsewhere, the problem with this is that the ‘original’ document often gets lost in the process, meaning that everyone ends up adding their information to the files on the share drive. The move online began with detentions and reading conferences. Since then it has included sharing a wider range of resources, including planning documents and lesson activities.
 

Listening to Students

Gone is the dependency on hands up and sticky notes on the board, there are now so many interactive ways to involve students in their learning. Whether it be using ActivExpressions attached to the whiteboards or websites like Socrative and Answergarden on the web, there is an array of technology available to engage students.
 

Interaction vs. Presentation.

Although projectors and interactive whiteboards were around in the school long before three years ago, there use in last few years has progressed from simply delivering presentations to being an essential part of the lesson. Whether that means embedding hidden videos to improve the flow of a lesson or sorting information to promote discussion. More teachers are using them to actually create content that sparks conversation and student learning.
 

Online Spaces

Starting with the Ultranet and since moving to Edmodo, online spaces are progressively being used to not only convey information, but also celebrate student learning. Whether it be setting a quiz for homework, rather than giving out a sheet, or providing students with regular feedback, these spaces supplement learning and provide an option for students and teachers that was not available three years ago.
 

Portable Devices

The only portable devices available three years ago were digital cameras and Flip Cams. Since then, iPads have progressively been distributed amongst principal class and leading teachers to aide with administration, as well as support in regards to teaching. In addition to this, more and more staff are utilizing their smart devices, such as tablets and phones to support their work. This has made a considerable difference to communication, for when the server is down, teachers are no longer in the dark. Many simply access emails and other such information via their phones. In a school with 60+ staff, this is significant.
 

Supporting Teaching, Learning and Administration

Whereas in the past staff would have to sort through various excel workbooks and create their own formulas, there is now a whole range of tools and programs available to support teaching and day to day learning, such as Student Management Tools and Student Performance Analyser. These applications allow teachers and administrators to not only share information, but also set a range of formulas that lets you sort through a various data sets in a more functional manner.
 

eSmart

One of the significant changes over the last few years has been to go through the process of becoming eSmart school. This has involved a range of processes including reviewing and refining school policies relating to wellbeing, developing an explicit curriculum educating students about the appropriate use of ICT, as well as connecting with members about the perils of cybersafety.
 
 
Looking back, it is interesting to consider how much has changed in such a small amount of time. I think therefore that the challenge over the next three years is not necessarily bringing in a whole set of programs and practises, rather it is building upon those foundations that have already been set so as to continue to redefine teaching and learning in and out of the classroom. 

One of the biggest issues within the school is that too many of the good things that have happened have done so in isolation. Therefore, in my view, moving on, it is an imperative that as a team we create a plan with clear goals for everyone, provide more personalised professional development and get more staff on board. For as +Dan Rockwell suggested in his post, “help is not helpful when it creates dependence.” At the moment, too much is left to too few and it just isn’t helping anyone.

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Primary vs. Secondary – the Great Educational Schism

This post is co-written with +Catherine Gatt. Catherine is a Primary ICT Specialist, with both Primary classroom experience, as well as a Secondary background.
 
 
In a recent post on the Connected Principals blog, Sam LeDeaux posed the question: ‘Are Educators Passionate About Their Profession?‘ His basic premise was whether teacher’s go to work or go to school. This is really a part of a wider debate in education about perspective and the way we see things. One other such area where this is prevalent is the great debate over the differences between the Primary and Secondary classroom.
 
Working in a P-9 school has its benefits, including the ability to gain a valuable vantage point. However, so often with every positive there is a dark side lurking, a constant comparison about the differences in how things are done, about who works harder, about which is easier. What is disappointing is that there is often little evidence used to support these arguments, let alone first hand experience. So here is our musing on the matter with a view to both sides of the divide …

 

 

Primary

Positives

Rapport. One of the biggest positives to being a Primary teacher is that you can invest more energy and resources into a smaller group of students, rather than spreading it across a whole lot of classes. With this, you can target areas of concern or enrichment more specifically across all learning areas, not just in the subject that you teach, as can be the way in the Secondary classroom.
 
More Flexibility. Having a class for over 20 hours a week, you have more time to mould and maneuver. Therefore, if something needs to be finished or you miss out on a day due to an excursion, you have the flexibility to move sessions around to fit the needs of the students rather than the needs of the timetable.
Everyday is Different. With the opportunity to teach so many different areas, there is never any doubling up and repetition. Therefore, everyday becomes that little bit different.
A Whole Range of Experiences. Rather than getting to know how Johnny works in English or Science, working with Johnny all day, everyday, whether it be in the classroom or on an excursion, Primary teachers are privy to a wide range of opportunities and experiences. What is good about this is that the focus becomes about Johnny as a learner, rather than how Johnny is learning in XYZ.

 

 

Negatives

One Class, All of the Time. For some teachers this can be hard. If you have a difficult student who you just struggle to click with or a student who drains all of your time and attention, being their number one teacher can be a strain.
 
More Non-Face-to-Face Time. Not sure if this is consistent around the world. However, in Victoria Primary teachers get 2.5 hours for planning and administration on top of their time after school, compared to 5 hours that Secondary teachers get. An added point of confusion is that this time is simply non-face-to-face teaching and can still, under the agreement, be dictated by the school how it is used, whether this be planning in a group or monitoring students. Therefore, 2.5 hours can dwindle away to nothing once you fit planning and the odd parent meeting in.
More Growth and Differentiation. This is a slightly contentious issue, but it is fair to say that the difference between a student coming in at Prep and then leaving at the end of Year 6 is far greater than a student coming in at Year 7 and leaving at the end of Year 12. To go from a student who can’t hold a pencil or cut up a piece of paper to a student who can (hopefully) organise themselves and their learning is far greater than what occurs in the Secondary classroom.
Greater Parent Involvement. While this is often a positive, it can sometimes be a negative. There is far greater scrutiny and stress applied by parents in Primary school. Often this pressure has waned by the time students get to Secondary school.
Jack of all Trades and a Master of None. This is a significant point with the recent implementation of the Australian National Curriculum. Teachers in the Early Years are now being asked to explicitly teach subjects like Science and History, whereas in the past they were incorporated into integrated units of study and were not necessarily required to assess some of these areas. In his commentry on the +TER Podcast, Stephen Breen, President of the Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association, described the National Curriculum as , “basically a secondary model in a primary area.”
One Perspective. Despite all the guidelines, shared planning, rubrics and moderation, progress can so often be subjective and come down to the teacher judgement. On top of this, with so many areas to manage, it can be difficult to track and then there are the inter-disciplinary subjects.

 

 

Secondary

Positives

Particular Passion. Only teaching a couple of subjects, Secondary teachers can communicate and instil a passion for a specific area, rather than spreading your energies across the board. For example, you might be a fantastic musician and therefore simply take students for music.
 
Progress and Perspective. Progress is easier to track and less subjective. Even if you are the only teacher who gives Johnny a progression point for writing, you can at least speak with the Johnny’s other teachers about how he goes in their subjects.
Independence, Organisation and Schedules. Unlike the fluid timetable that sometimes exist in the Primary classroom, in the Secondary environment you know where you are teaching, what you are teaching and when as it is explicitly stated in the timetable.
Parents Trust Your Judgement. Parents, in most cases, ‘trust’ your judgements more and are less likely to interfere with decision making.

 

 

Negatives

Connections more Difficult. When you could teach a particular class for only an hour per week, maintaining rapport can be more difficult. Often such connections are fostered outside the classroom, making things such as yard duty, sporting days and excursions, so much more important.
 
Shared Responsibilities. Targeting a student’s specific needs becomes a joint responsibility across many faculties and can become difficult to monitor. Although it can be good to get a wider perspective on the problem, deciding who and how the problem will be addressed is another matter.
Engagement and Behaviour. Having spent years in education, some students have had enough of schooling and can therefore be more difficult to reason with. In addition to this, hormones kick in. Often behaviour issues become much more serious and can be more difficult to intervene. Added to all this, the tendency for teacher focused learning in many Secondary classrooms leaves some students feeling lost and alienated about who they are meant to be and what answer they are supposed to give.
Load Spread Too Thin. Your energy, time and resources are spread across a wide area of students on a daily basis. It is plausible in some schools to teach up to six different classes in one day.
Lack of Perspective. It is so easy to become ‘blinkered’ in your view of education and what is important when all you teach is one subject. Although this can provide a great depth of knowledge and passion for a certain area, it can also lack a wider perspective. Associated with this, once you are entrenched in one area, you are often less willing to take on new teaching challenges.

 

 

A Different Kind of Busy

I think that a piece like this leaves more questions than it does answers. For it takes for granted what a ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ classroom looks and feels like. There are still so many other different roles being played out in schools that so often go unaccounted, such as the Primary specialist teacher who often teacher a different class every lesson or the leading teacher whose crossover between coaching and accountability often brings with it its own headaches. In addition to this, there is the discrepancy in Secondary between the core subjects which are often allocated a session a day compared with health and humanities which are lucky to get more than two sessions a week in most schools, if that. The reality is that it is all just a different kind of busy.
 
The question then about which is ‘harder’ or ‘more difficult’ ignores one of the most important ingredients when it comes to teaching, personal preferences and passion. The question instead should be what do you prefer or what can you bring to the classroom, rather than tedious tit for tat about which has it easier or better. What is most important at the end of the day is that we don’t lose track of the most essential ingredient of them all: the learner.
 
If you think that there is something that we have missed or failed to account for, please leave a comment below. We would love to know your thoughts and to continue the conversation, especially in regards to different perspectives from learning environments around the globe.

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