TOP SECRET: For Principals’ Eyes Only

Are you a Principal?

Yes? Read on. No? Walk away from the screen. You were never here.


Last year I posed a question in a blog post.

Why did the principal cross the corridor? Why would the principal of your school come into your classroom?

As principals, I thought it might be useful to share the results with you.

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Three results really stand out for me.

i. Nearly 30% of teachers think that their principal would cross the corridor to hang out with the kids and see what they’re up to. 

I think this is great, because after all this is what we’re all about! But I wonder why this figure isn’t higher…

ii. 31% of teachers wouldn’t expect to see their principal in their classroom.

I wonder why principals aren’t popping into these classrooms? What would you say to these principals?

iii. Not a single respondent thought their principal would come into their classroom to learn from them.

It’s a shame that teachers feel this way, as I’m confident most principals are well aware that they could learn a great deal from their staff.

I wonder what you can do in your school or those schools in your networks that would positively influence these figures?

I’d love to hear some of your ideas below in the comments section.

Education Leadership

“Class Size” debate just got farcical…

A couple of weeks back I blogged about the Class Size Myth.

I made two simple points.

  1. A smaller class size in and of itself does nothing to enhance student learning. A poor lesson infront of 40 kids will still be a poor lesson in front of 20.
  2. But, in order to implement the proven strategies for improved learning, we need smaller class sizes.

This post had more hits in one day than my blog normally gets in a month, and it presented an argument that most people seemed to understand.

Unless – that is – you are the CEO of the NSW Institute of Teachers (NSWIT) – the lead authority for teaching in NSW.

In a Sun-Herald article entitled, Bigger class sizes free teachers to raise standards, NSWIT CEO, Kate O’Donnell states,

It’s not about saying make the class sizes bigger so teachers can have less contact time but, rather, to make sure in the teaching day there is time allowed for teachers to do something else other than be physically in front of their students, which is ultimately where we want them to be at their best.

But it is about making class sizes bigger, with the inference that this will somehow raise teaching standards.

Interesting. It goes against all the research I’ve read as well as going against common sense… so what’s doing?

The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell recently cut $1 Billion or so from the NSW education budget at a time that increased spending on education has been identified as a key factor in improving teaching and learning. By cutting spending it could be construed that he cares little for education – not a good look for any politician, let alone a first-term premier.

What he needs here is, a way in which he can appear to be interested in raising teaching standards whilst saving money. If he can convince the electorate that he is a good bet educationally and economically speaking, he may well be able to swing this past the voters.

So, what better way then, than to have the head of the government’s teacher authority, Ms Kate O’Donnell cite the great performances of other countries (I presume like most in this debate, she is using PISA as her guiding light) who all have big class sizes… brilliant!

She says,

There’s evidence that in effective systems that do sacrifice smaller class sizes, particularly in older grades, they’re not sacrificing student outcomes.

But the only problem with this statement is that is no evidence that this is the case at all.

Let’s take the two “top-performing” systems (as much as it irks me to distil learning down to a simple PISA score).

The use of the word “sacrifice” by Ms O’Donnell suggests that governments are deliberately forgoing smaller classes in order to make educational gains.

But, in Finland the government committed to reducing class sizes in the late 60s, and as a result the maximum class size is now 20, with science lessons capped at 16.

Whilst, the OECD reports that in China,

In major cities (and Shanghai is typical), recent drastic declines in population have forced local governments to adopt small classes so as to minimise teacher layoffs. This has significantly reduced teachers’ workload and created room for student activities during lessons that would be impossible in large classes.

But hang on, Ms O’Donnell tells us that large classes will reduce teachers’ workload… geez my head hurts.

And the only city from which China’s PISA scores are formulated?  You guessed it… Shanghai.

I find it strange that the government would – on the one hand – use findings from the OECD to strengthen its argument to improve teaching, but then – on the other hand – dismiss (or ignore, or be completely unaware of) findings from the OECD that cite small class sizes as one of the reasons for academic success (albeit in standardised tests).

I can only assume that one of three things has happened here.

The Sun-Herald misquoted Ms O’Donnell, which would be alarming.

The Government and the NSWIT are misinterpreting data and research, which would be equally alarming given their level of responsibility.

Or they are deliberately misleading NSW, which would be even more alarming, if not entirely surprising. By citing that bigger classes pave the way to better teaching, are they laying a foundation for a policy change?

And, it’s not just happening in NSW.

The Federal Opposition Education Spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has already gone on the record saying he believes class size has little impact on learning, while the QLD government is keen to cram more kids into each classroom too.

I’m not sure what Ted Baillieu, the Victorian premier, thinks about class size, although he did give assurances in 2011 that class sizes would not increase. This came a year or so after he said that under his government, VIC teachers would be the best paid in the land and we all know how that is going!

Education Leadership

The Class Size Myths – Which do you believe?

Over the Australian Summer I finally decided to read John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers.True False

Hattie’s theories on education are backed up by countless research papers and evidence.

In the never-ending quest to improve teaching (and teachers) Hattie is as revered by politicians and system leaders around the world as he is viewed with suspicion by front-line teachers.

His most controversial assertion is that reducing class size is a waste of time and money. His research proves having fewer kids in class has little impact on teaching and learning.

And don’t the politicians love that!

Bigger Classes = Fewer Teachers = Less money needed for education – Take that Gonski!

In Queensland, the state government has moved to remove the maximum class size limit, presumably confident of a Coalition victory in the September Federal Election, given that Shadow Education Spokesman Christopher Pyne is on record as saying that class sizes have little impact on teaching.

But here’s the thing… each of the interventions that Hattie studied, were done so in isolation.

Does reducing class size in and of itself improve teaching? Is it the silver bullet? 

Of course not. A crap lesson in front of 40 kids will still be a crap lesson in front of 20. Hattie himself makes the point that looking at class sizes in isolation showed that some teachers didn’t change their methods regardless of the number of kids in front of them.

But when you look at Hattie’s list of interventions that he claims DO have a great impact then things really start to get interesting with regard to class size.

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A teacher’s ability to implement any one or all of these interventions is impacted on by the amount of kids they have in front of them. Anyone who says different has no understanding of teaching, or is clinging to this ideology because it’s the theory du jour and is probably helping them climb the international speaking ladder.

So when politicians say that they won’t be supporting a reduction in class size, what they are actually saying is that they do not support the concepts of developing high expectations for each student, providing quality feedback, improving teacher-student relationships, implementing quality vocabulary or comprehension programs. What politicians are saying is “We’re not particularly interested in improving teaching and learning in our schools. It’s just a little bit too expensive.”

This myth of class-size being irrelevant has permeated into the education debate in many countries like the UK and US. Although, interestingly not Finland where the government agreed to reduce class size, and now the average class size is around 20 kids, with science lessons capped at 16. Sixteen!!

I’m not dismissing Hattie’s work out of hand as I agree with every single one of his “High Influence” interventions for improving teaching & learning – it’s just that having smaller class sizes is essential in order to enable teachers to implement these interventions.

You can read more about the mathematics behind effect size here…

Engagement & Motivation Leadership

Do other schools think more of you than your own?

When I’m in schools, I always recognise that the teachers I’m working with are the experts on their

As well as being expert educators, they understand the idiosyncrasies of their colleagues, leaders, students and wider community.

However, what I’m finding more and more is that within schools, teacher “expertise” is often not recognised outside of their perceived domain.

In other words, teachers limit ourselves and each other by our job title. We are there to teach our subject(s), do playground duty and write reports. There is little attention paid to actively recognising and nurturing innovation, collaboration or creativity.

Up until a few years ago this meant that people just got on with what they were paid to do and thought little more of it.

However, with the advent of social media, and Twitter in particular, this has changed.

Online, I regularly see PE teachers from one school collaborating with English or Drama teachers from another. Sharing their ideas, experiences etc. Maths teachers developing innovative ideas with art teacher.

Yet when I ask about such collaborations taking place within the walls of their own school, very often there’s not much doing.

Which led me to ask this question (on Twitter obviously!):

Which led to some interesting debate on Twitter over the weekend… here are the picks…

So with these thoughts in mind, I sought the opinion of school leaders who I KNOW value and actively encourage autonomy, creativity and innovation in their staff.

Ben Jones – Head of Teaching & Learning in Public School in Western Sydney

Stephen Harris – Principal of Northern Beaches Christian School

And to finish with, I couldn’t go past this one… I LOVE the sentiments expressed by John his tweet.

John Goh – Principal of a Public Primary School in Western Sydney


Change Leadership Tech & Social Media

What if every teacher blogged?

Let’s just say for a moment that in teaching, we value concepts such as:

  • Fostering relationships
  • Enhancing resilience & staff wellbeing
  • Encouraging deep reflection
  • Sharing of best practice and vision
  • Engagement in our profession
  • Enhancing teacher quality
  • Cross-curricular links
  • Links to the “real” world*
  • Peer-to-peer coaching
  • The development of a body of work
  • The ability to stay “current” with social & technological trends

Which one of these would blogging NOT address?

I believe that blogging is the simplest, cheapest but also the most effective way to enhance teacher quality in your school… without the need to fire or hire anyone.

I suggest that as a start, school leaders could create a school-based blog and allocate 1hr every one or two weeks for staff to blog. You can keep it completely “in-house” or use it as a window into your learning community – whatever suits your school.

In fact there are probably already a number of bloggers on your staff who could help facilitate the setting up of your blog.

If your school is devoid of bloggers, this link gives you the 101 on what’s needed to get a blog up and running.

Make sure you encourage openness, honesty and consistency. Encourage staff to read and comment on each others posts. Make sure you allocate time for this.

Struggling to think about what to write about? Why not start with:

What went well for me at school this week and why?

Do this for a couple of weeks and see how it develops.

As with most things, it will take time, but persevere and perhaps in 6-12 months, you could write a post about the benefits, challenges and opportunities blogging  in your school has presented.

And please send me the link to your post when you do!

Of course if your school is already doing this please feel free to leave us a comment to share your experiences.

*I’m not sure why school is so often seen as NOT being a part of the “real” world. But that’s another blog post for another time. 🙂

Education Leadership Wellbeing

Your invitation to join the discussion

On Wednesday 14th November at 7pm AEDT (6pm in Brisbane, 4pm in Perth & 8am in London) I will be on the panel for the PLANE LeadMeet Education and Wellbeing Q&A Live Webinar.

I’m really looking forward to it as alongside me on the panel will be 2009 Young Australian of the Year for Tasmania Sam Cawthorn, Daily Telegraph Education Columnist Maralyn Parker and Middle School Teacher extraordinaire Summer Howarth.

Watch the 60sec promo for it below.

You can register to be in the audience here.

Depending how you’re feeling, you can ask a question, make comments, tweet away or just sit back and listen.

Obviously a Q&A show needs questions so please submit a question for the panel.

Can’t make it? You can follow the show on Twitter by following #lmplane

Education Leadership

Why did the Principal cross the corridor?

This post is not intended as a dig at principals, but I do wonder if the system sometimes stops our schools’ leaders from doing what they’d really like to be doing…

Does this happen in other workplace settings too?

Change Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership Wellbeing

Forget teaching… how about some learning?

If you’re interested, I’m involved in two professional learning events in the coming days.

PLANE Festival of Learning










You can REGISTER HERE to attend or you can watch the Live Feed here.

Follow on Twitter using #FOL12

If you’re there, please stop by and have a chat!

PLANE LeadMeet – The Wellbeing Series

On Tuesday 23rd October at 7pm (Sydney Time) I will be hosting the first of four LeadMeets – online Webinars aimed at school leaders to discuss ideas in and around wellbeing. They are free to attend.

Watch the promo below and REGISTER HERE.

Education Leadership

Mass exodus of the educators – My latest SMH article

In June this year, the NSW government released budget figures that claimed ten percent of teachers leave within their first five years in the profession. If this figure is to be believed then those running education systems around the world should be beating a path to Macquarie Street to find out how the government is so successful at retaining teachers.

The problem is they don’t provide an accurate picture of reality.

Read my full article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership

What could leaders learn from Rugby League?

I’d imagine a few things would come to mind if I asked this question to a room of teachers. Some of the answers, I’m sure would be pretty funny – if a little inappropriate.

However, yesterday I was reading this article by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter FitzSimons, discussing the merits of Des Hasler’s coaching techniques over those of his counterparts in the NRL. Towards the end of his piece, FitzSimons makes this point:

There are two ways of coaching football. One is to regard yourself as the puppet master endlessly sending runners out on to the field, ensuring that each cog in the machine is conforming to your precise instructions. And the other is to empower the players to make the decisions themselves, trust them to get it right, give them the tools to win, and then let them get on with building it. In my experience, it is not only the second model which is the most invigorating for the players, but also the most successful in the long-term.

Is there anything we can take from this, not only in terms of leadership in school or the corporate world, but for teachers working with students on a day-to-day basis?