Teacher and curriculum leader Daniel Steele asks what expectations we are really setting in education.
Seeking to shift or change a whole system is fraught with challenges, known and unknown risks, and benefits. During this last term, a possible change to our state’s approach to the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) was reported on, with a specific focus on the setting of minimum standards. Before we revise and lay down these new standards, I really believe there are some things we need to put on the proverbial school table for discussion.
Yes, it is important to have clear expectations and measurable outcomes, but there’s something everyone should know: assessment isn’t just about students. Assessment is about the teaching and learning that has taken place to support students long-term progression.
Now, before the pitchforks are dusted off and grabbed from your nearest Bunnings, I’m definitely not having a go at teachers.
Far from it, as I am one too.
Within our system, we need to focus on investing and building up our teachers. Before we overhaul and shift our VCE and set minimum expectations, there is a need to clarify our collective understanding of assessment and set clear, supportive and realistic expectations for our teachers with assessment.
If we don’t know why we are assessing, what we are actually assessing, and most importantly, how the assessment data affects the next steps in learning for students and teachers, understanding our overall impact on student progression is made much more difficult. As challenged by Professor John Hattie, it’s about educators building a shared understanding of progression and ultimately knowing thy impact.
Professor Geoff Masters, CEO of Australian Council for Educational Research speaks of assessment as a road map. If we aren’t aware of where our students are on the map, engaging and supporting them to their next point in their learning journey is fundamentally difficult.
Ultimately, as students feel a greater engagement and positive sense of belonging with their classroom and school community, there is a greater likelihood of improved student achievement and motivation.
So what does this tell us? Investing in our understanding and process of assessment will not only equip our teachers with greater skills to reach students, but can also create conditions and opportunities for students to experience success academically, personally and emotionally.
Now, this is awkward, but we need to also talk about the c-word – collaboration.
This overused, yet underestimated word, is a game changer. It is about the collective purpose in taking responsibility to co-labour in the learning of ourselves, as well as the learning of others.
No teacher, leading teacher or school leader can do it all on their own in a school. We intuitively know we need to work and learn together. The positive links between teaching teams, faculties or schools with high levels of collaboration and increased student achievement continues to jump off the pages within the literature.
What we need to be aware of though, is that the greatest discrepancies aren’t occurring between our schools, but between the classrooms within our schools.
If we are serious about raising our students’ achievement and growth, the focus needs to be supporting and challenging teachers to collaborate and mentor one another effectively.
The role of collaborative mentoring within classrooms, middle leadership teams and executive leadership teams must become the norm. Developing an expectation that we share our knowledge, experiences, failures and successes is critical for any classroom teacher, teacher leader, school leader and policymaker.
While it may appear that the discussion playing out is on setting expectations for our students, we really need to think about the expectations and support structures for our educators. The thing is, we already have these at our disposal through a variety of frameworks, models, tools and knowledge including, but not limited to, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group evidence-based research report.
The problem is we are nowhere near critical mass with this knowledge reaching schools – yet.
The questions that arise now are how can we make this knowledge base real within schools? How will we be supported to work together and challenge one another to achieve the lofty ideals that are developed?
Before we change the expectations for our students, we need to seriously consider our expectations of us collaborative assessors, learners, community inspirers.
As important as policy, politicians and systemic innovation may be, the greatest drivers and influencers of sustainable change are already in front of us: the many teachers standing up in our classrooms.
Daniel Steele is an Educator, Learning and Teaching Leader, M.Ed and Founder of the education blog www.upgradethinklearn.com