“Ako: being a teacher, being a learner, being part of a learning profession”

I rather enjoyed this paper in which the authors “report on how …teachers [identified as being strongly worth retaining] are faring after four years of teaching, and consider questions such as: Why do some teachers stay in the profession while so many others leave? What is it about the culture of schools and the quality of the teachers’ opportunities that bring out the best in the teachers? And what messages are there for those with responsibility for enabling public schooling systems to retain the teachers they need if their ambitious goals for schooling are to be realised?” (p2)

The authors make some really interesting points about supporting new teachers, retaining good teachers, and creating excellent learning environments through support for teachers as learners.  I shall quote pieces of it, but it is freely available online…

“Teacher education is an opportunity and a crisis of enormous proportion. (Fullan, 1991, p. 290)” (cited p1)

The work of teachers looks on the surface to be similar, regardless of country, but different systems have different approaches to the challenge of ensuring that all students get a “fair go” in relation to education. Countries all over the world are working to reform their educational systems, and many have tried a series of efforts to increase such factors as equity and student achievement. They are endeavouring to create schools that encourage the development of unprecedented levels of critical thinking and problem solving to help the next generation of students live in quite a different world from any previous generation. Both New Zealand and the US have attempted large reforms in the last 15 years, although these reforms have gone in profoundly different directions. Because teaching clearly matters, and because vast numbers of new teachers will be required to fill the gaps left by retiring teachers in the next decade (Darling-Hammond, 2003), one key component to improving schools is recruiting and supporting teachers of promise.” (p2)

“There are significant differences in the ways that children are educated in the US and New Zealand, yet both countries struggle with how to provide a system that is fair and equitable, and ensures that all students enjoy and succeed as learners, and both have instituted a series of reforms over the past decades that have shaped—and are still shaping—the contexts of schools.” (p2)

The US has approached the need for school reform by talking about “risk” and “falling behind” and has responded by tightening standards and increasing the importance of standardised tests (Zhao, 2006). Many, like Hattie (2003), are highly critical of the US’s response to lift student achievement:

The typical response has been to devise so-called ‘idiot-proof’ solutions where the proofing has been to restrain the idiots to tight scripts—tighter curricular specification, prescribed textbooks, bounded structures of classrooms, scripts of the teaching act, and all this prescribed by a structure of accountability. The national testing movements have been introduced to ensure teachers teach the right stuff, concentrate on the right set of processes (those to pass pencil and paper tests), and then use the best set of teaching activities to maximise this narrow form of achievement (i.e., lots of worksheets of mock multiple choice exams). (p. 1)

The New Zealand draft national curriculum, on the other hand, proposes that schools will design and implement their own curricula, based on principles of excellence. It emphasises the importance of students becoming active, confident, creative, and innovative learners and thinkers; of supporting their diverse cultural heritage; and of highlighting equity, connectedness, and coherence. New Zealand teachers, particularly in elementary schools, have considerable discretion in curriculum design and approaches compared with their American counterparts, and New Zealand schools have so far resisted national testing and a focus on raising test scores on a narrow range of measures. [compare this with recent changes made by our current National government, though…]

This is consistent with New Zealand’s reform history which tends to focus on personalisation rather than standardisation. In the landmark Tomorrow’s Schools reform, for example, the New Zealand Department of Education—and all of the duties of the department—was abolished and replaced by a much smaller, policy-focused Ministry of Education (MOE). Every school in the country became instantly self-governing, with hiring and firing control and curriculum decisions (within the framework of a national curriculum) all made at the school level by a parent-elected board of trustees (Fiske & Ladd, 2000). Since 1989 there has been tension between school self-management and trying to get traction on the large issues of disparities in student performance. As Wylie (2002, p. 3) notes: “Simply shifting administrative responsibility to schools and adding boards to schools does not seem to raise student achievement.”” (p3)

The authors classified their new teachers into 4 types: (what they called) ‘Movers, leavers, travellers, and stayers’ (p7), each of which they discuss in some detail, before concluding:

The schools that new teachers need

A school that keeps new teachers satisfied and growing has to walk several difficult lines. On the one hand, these schools need to be carefully invested in the learning of students; on the other, they need to be carefully invested in the learning of teachers. They have to provide enough challenge for teachers to feel that they are growing through new roles; but they have to be careful to not overburden the teachers and burn them out. They have to create organised, school-centred learning opportunities for teachers and they have to leave openings for teachers to come to their own learning opportunities.

Learning-supportive schools: where adults and children are all learning

As demonstrated in the international literature (Hallinger & Heck, 2002), schools that know what they are there for, and why, and prioritise student and teacher learning, greatly affect how and what teachers learn. They engage teachers in devising challenging and achievable goals, they build commitment, capacity, and resilience in teachers to develop the skills to achieve these goals (Leithwood, Day, Sammons, Harris, & Hopkins, 2006), and they are satisfying places in which to work. The major implication is that school leaders need to learn how to create these cultures, and they need the resources to support them.

In these vibrant cultures teachers are curious about their students and open to experimentation. They make space for ideas and discussion. They are courageous enough to take students outside the schools on trips to expand their horizons despite the health and safety requirements and form filling that lead other schools and teachers to give up and stay indoors. They are responsive to, rather than dictated by, the contexts in which they work (Leithwood et al., 2006).” (p12)

‘The task of recruiting and retaining strong teachers for all schools within this decade is indeed daunting, but to ignore it is to leave students in jeopardy and the future of public education in doubt. Schools of 2010 can be well-staffed and effective only if today’s policymakers, school officials, and teachers recognize and respond to the challenge in a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained way… Only if we embrace this challenge can we take seriously our nations’ commitment to the future of all children.‘ (Johnson et al., 2004, p. 271)

In the two years that we have been following these teachers of promise—these teachers that both teacher educators and administrators said we need to keep in teaching—30 percent of them have left New Zealand schools. In a global market with an ageing workforce, we cannot afford to have this many of our most promising teachers leave the classroom in the first four years of their careers. While these teachers of promise are dogged about seeking out working conditions that support their mission to make a difference in the world, they are too often disappointed and stymied by schools that lack supportive cultures to promote the learning and development of both children and adults. If New Zealand is to retain the sort of excellent teachers who will take part in transforming education into the information age (Gilbert, 2005) we will need a teaching force that is more than simply competent. We will need innovative, smart teachers—teachers of promise.

Given the conditions for teaching in New Zealand, with school-based management and high levels of school and teacher autonomy, we had an expectation that the professional learning opportunities might be more aligned to individual teachers’ needs than might be possible in other educational systems. However, to date, the community of practice available to our teachers has largely been only school-based, with the notable exception of involvement in a small number of national professional development initiatives. The intensity of the teachers’ work has limited their opportunities to actively pursue their own educational interests, and many have taken on new roles with little guidance or training. It appears to us that the New Zealand education system of self-managed schools has as yet given insufficient attention to creating the conditions needed for teachers to see legitimate ways for them to continue to develop their teaching expertise beyond the bounds of their current school.” (p17)

Ref: Marie Cameron, Jennifer Garvey Berger, Susan Lovett, and Robyn Baker (2007) Ako*: Being a teacher, being a learner, being part of a learning profession. Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Chicago, 9 April 2007


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, Standardised Testing, Teaching excellence and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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