Can an entire education system become coherent?
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
I’m very fortunate in my role to work with some amazing educators and schools.
Through the courses that I run, or when starting out with a new school, I often get asked if there is somewhere they could go to see a high-quality example of the practice in action. The requested practice is wide ranging and could be anything specific to literacy, or numeracy. In fact, if I’m not asked, I will often suggest that a specific school visit would be helpful.
Yes, I’m contemplating including (plutonic) educator match making on my CV.
Teaching is the best job in the world, but I would also argue that it is the hardest. This can lead to teachers searching for the holy grail, or the one true answer to everything. Education is a lucrative market and there are countless magic bullets being sold as THE solution. Whether it be a particular approach, a consultant regurgitating the wise words of others, or a product off the shelf. You see, nearly everything works in education, this means that across a system there can be a lack of coherence, different schools doing different things. The question needs to be what works best and who is doing it?
The truth is, the holy grail does exist, not just in the epic Hunters and Collectors song, but in the ongoing, never-ending development of deep teacher knowledge. This philosophy is a prerequisite for a school to be recommended by me to host visits.
Logistically it’s not as easy as swiping left when organising a visit. For example, a particular date must suit both schools, how far is it practical to travel, is there a winery nearby where we can have a long lunch, etcetera. To add to the logistics, it is also super important that a member of the leadership team attends for both support and accountability. There is also the (not so) small fact that we’ve been in the grip of a pandemic for the best part of 18 months, adding an extra complication to visits. The pandemic has no doubt been extremely challenging, but there are also some positive opportunities that have presented themselves. Educators are increasingly comfortable connecting online, reducing the constraints of geography. This is something that can be expanded upon whenever we return to something that equates to normality.
Recently I was engaged by the Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership to design and deliver a webinar series titled, ‘Enriching Literacy Practice In Foundation to Year 8’. The brief was to align with the literacy suite of courses offered through Bastow, but to have a different look and feel as per my preferences.
Since school visits are not possible, I thought “why not try and capture the experiences of the many educators/schools that I work with that are emerging or excelling.”
A number of the educators or schools that featured are recent finalists and/or winners at the Victorian Education Excellence Awards (this includes at least one nomination I know about for this year as well).
Educators from nine different schools made short videos that they sent through, which I transformed into a polished narrative for the audience to watch as part of my presentations.
The feedback was very positive. Educators love to hear what other educators are doing, especially if there is some depth and quality to the message. Everyone wants to know how they can get better outcomes for their students.
All of the schools highlighted come from different contexts, but the one thing they have in common is the culture they have developed. They have very good to excellent results, but they are playing what I call the high performing long game. They see education as a profession. There is always more to learn. In fact, they realise there is more to learn than is possible in one lifetime in education.
A quick snapshot of what this culture looks/sounds/feels like:
· videoing of practice is commonplace
· study groups around a key research based practical text
· whole school approaches and consistency in pedagogy, assessment, and curriculum
· responsive teaching based on formative assessment
· leadership that has an instructional focus
· a thirst for knowledge and striving to always get better
· a willingness to open their doors to other educators
My advice to systems would be to find your educators and schools who have brought about significant, sustained improvement to lead us on this great crusade. They will be easy to identify.
Next, put out an expression of interest for those schools who want to be part of replicating what these schools have developed.
Choose one focus area, for example reading. All professional development is targeted into this area, both face to face and online, synchronous, and asynchronous. All schools in the ‘federation’ learn together and from each other. All the resources are stored in a central place for schools that join in subsequent years, graduate teachers could access when embarking upon their careers, and it could complement pre-service teacher training too. Teachers within the federation could continue to return to the resources for years to come.
FOMO will undoubtedly lead to other schools joining in subsequent years, particularly when the level of success is apparent. The following year the process is replicated in another area, for example writing. Strong links could be made to the reading resources that have been developed. The focus could change each year and the idea is to continually build on. Another positive outcome is that administration and compliance could be minimised. The scope could be endless.
Educators would love to have this level of clarity and it would also undoubtedly lead to greater teacher retention. Sustaining the improvement and embedding these practices into the system will ensure it goes from strength to strength.
Importantly though, students will benefit immensely as a direct result of the improved consistent practice.
Let’s play the high performing long game. Where education is a profession, and coherence and alignment abound.