Categories
Education Leadership

Making teachers nervous the key to lifting standards?

nervous emojiFour years ago I wrote a piece for the UK Huffington Post reflecting on the nonsense being espoused by the then head of OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Upon his appointment as Chief Inspector of Schools he dispensed this advice to UK headmasters:

“A good head would never be loved by his or her staff. If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you know you are doing something right.”

In the same piece I noted that whilst now living in Australia, it was prudent to keep an eye on UK education matters, as more often than not, Australia adopts education strategies and policies borne out of the UK – albeit with a significant time lag – for example, standardised testing, national curriculum etc.

And now it seems Australia is at it again.

News broke this week that the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) will now be known as the NSW Education Standards Authority and will be given even more power to lift school compliance and teacher quality.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article, NSW Education Minister – the usually sensible – Adrian Piccoli said,

“The board ought to make schools nervous around school registration requirements, and it ought to make teachers nervous around teaching standards.”

Why the minister would want to add to the stresses already at play in schools is beyond me. For example, in Australia, school principals are five times more likely to face threats of violence than the general population, and seven times more likely to face physical violence whilst statistics show that early career teachers leave the profession at alarming rates. I can only presume he has taken advice that suggests instilling fear into already-stressed individuals and organisations is best for lifting outcomes. (I’m yet to read any research that suggests this is the case… but hey-ho).

And how will – do you think – the minister and the NSW Education Standards Authority determine whether these nervous teachers have improved? What targets will be set? Go on… I bet you CAN guess…

Take it away Tom…

In that same SMH article, Tom Alegounarias, who will become the part-time chair with a chief executive beneath him in the new structure, cited the highest achieving education jurisdictions globally as a target for NSW.

“It’s about setting our targets against international standards. How do we get to Shanghai, how do we get to Finland?”

Clearly I can’t miss the opportunity to suggest to Tom that the best way to get to either Shanghai or Finland would be by plane – boom-tish! (I’m here all week!)

But I have written before as to why we shouldn’t be overly smitten with China’s approaches to education (seriously… cigarette companies sponsor schools) or uncritically fawn over Finland (for example, youth unemployment is double that of Australia).

Unsurprisingly, Alegounarias also suggested that the reform would be deemed a success if there was “a big bump” in the state’s NAPLAN results in the next few years. This reductionist approach is concerning given that it has actually been suggested that such a “bump” would prove nothing. In case you don’t want to read that article in full, here is a very important section of it… (italics indicate direct quote from the article and I’ve added bold to the bits I think are really important).


Margaret Wu states that the fluctuation in NAPLAN scores can be as much as ± 5.2. This is because of a standard error of measurement of about 2.6 standard deviations.

This means there is a 95% confidence that if the same students were to complete the same test again (without new learning between tests) the results would vary by as much as ± 5.2 (2.6 x 2) of the original score. This represents nearly 12% variability for each individual score.

The standard error of measurement depends on the test reliability, meaning the capacity of the test to produce consistent and robust results.

What some researchers say is that the NAPLAN test’s large margin for errors makes the comparison across years inaccurate.

For example, if a student gets 74% in a test and another gets 70% and the error is 5, that means that essentially the first mark is 74 + or – 5, and the other mark is 70% + or – 5.

This means the two different marks can overlap by a fair bit. So it is not really possible to say a score of 74 is that much different to a score of 70.

The implication is that when you take this into account over a whole cohort of people it is difficult to sat (sic) categorically that one set of marks is any different compared with another.

In short:

Teachers and principals should not be judged based on NAPLAN findings and, as others have argued, more formative (assessment during learning) rather than summative (assessment at the end of a learning cycle) measures for providing teaching and learning feedback should be explored. 


What concerns me most is this stuff about NAPLAN – as well as research around teacher wellbeing – isn’t written on a scroll hidden inside a booby-trapped tomb within the grounds of a mythical city that no-one can find… it’s on the inter-web-thingamajig… and I’m pretty sure that most government buildings would have access to that. And before people counter with research that suggests the opposite – that teachers are lucky to have the job they have and could use a little more stress in their lives, and that NAPLAN rocks – I’m only putting forward the links here by way of adding to the conversation.

Too many arguments in education are based around all-or-nothing binaries, and people are quick to jump into one camp or another and attach a hashtag. But I reckon the solutions might a little more nuanced than that.

But nuance does not a vote winning catch cry make, or a feel good movement create…

To understand more of the nuance, the government could ask teachers what they think (like I did on Twitter) – click the tweet to see the discussion that follows…

But then again, open discussion with the profession might make politicians nervous.

Categories
Education Media

The Revolution Won’t Necessarily Be Televised

keep-calm-and-start-a-revolution-6Over the past month Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, aired a four-part documentary called Revolution School in which it followed the staff and students of Kambrya College in Victoria throughout the course of 2015. The premise of the doco was that Kambrya was a struggling school – in 2008 its Year 12 results put it in the state’s bottom 10% of schools – and that by applying “cutting edge research developed by Professor John Hattie at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, [Kambrya] undergoes a dramatic transformation. Ultimately [Revolution School] is a lesson for all schools in Australia, identifying what they can do to improve standards at this critical time.”

It was set against the backdrop of an Australian education system that is, “letting down our kids and the nation” and that’s compounded by the ‘fact’ that most of the things educators and parents think matter in education actually don’t.

John Hattie states from the outset that reducing class size, private education and giving parents choice do not “make a difference to the quality of education.”

The show concluded this week and it’s fair to say it received a mixed response – from 43 people on Twitter at least.

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Here, for what it’s worth, are my thoughts on it.

THE TITLE – REVOLUTION SCHOOL

revolution

noun: revolution; plural noun: revolutions

a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation.

I can only assume that this was a decision made by TV execs who needed something catchy, and to be fair it certainly caught my attention when I saw it advertised. I was genuinely curious to see what kind of revolution was taking place, but I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

To be clear – I’m not dismissive of the efforts of the teachers, the consultants and – importantly – the students. Any school, teacher or student who works to improve standards is worthy of acknowledgement. From the outset I commend the staff and students of Kambrya for allowing the cameras in to give an insight into how a dedicated team of teachers (as well as the kids) can address some of the daily challenges faced in a typical school. For some watching it would have proven insightful.

Rather I was left underwhelmed because there was very little in the show that could be seen as being revolutionary. Whilst it might have documented a wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes or operations at Kambrya, the claim that Revolution School would “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia,” might be seen as a tad patronising.

It should be noted that Revolution School  had at one time been titled Making The Grade, which in my opinion would have been a more appropriate (if less appealing to TV execs) title for the documentary.

THE STRATEGIES

Many of the strategies for improvement were a result of the school’s partnership with Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE), with its impressive team of educators and experts. Teachers were able to work with the likes of John Hattie, Lea Waters, Bill Rogers and Di Snowball to refine their approaches in class and the wider community. However the coverage of these working relationships was superficial at best, limited to soundbites and the obligatory rounds of applause at the end of teacher PL sessions. Bill Rogers, for example is a legend in the realm of classroom climate and handling behaviour issues, but all we got from his appearance was the idea that you could chart on a whiteboard how on-task the class are over the course of a lesson. Now I appreciate that TV execs might not think that a more in-depth exploration of classroom climate would be compelling viewing, but if Revolution School really was going to “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia” then these are the paths they needed to go down.

Similarly with regard to Lea Waters’ work on wellbeing, I cringed at the superficial nature in which it was presented to the TV audience, with no reference to what Positive Psychology is or the potential significance of character strengths.

However one soundbite I did enjoy was literacy expert Di Snowball’s reflection of the way in which many schools teach reading using literacy exercise books. In doing this kids only read small passages in isolation – something that was implied did little to encourage a love of reading and as Di pointed out:

What’s the point of improving reading through these programmes if you aren’t then reading?

John Hattie was a common voice throughout the series and in Episode 4 introduced the idea of teachers having their lessons transcribed live, and their words projected onto screens around the classroom. A programme from MGSE called “The Visible Classroom.” (As an aside, this is on top of Hattie’s Visible Learning approach, and Lea Waters’ Visible Wellbeing approach. I’m spotting a theme.) One of the main reasons for doing this is so that the data from the class can be evaluated by MGSE to ascertain how much a teacher talks and what kind of dialogue with regards to questions and interaction is happening. Hattie argues that teachers should be talking for around 50% of the time in class, but in reality most teachers spend 80-90% of the time talking. Assuming this premise is correct, the episode went on to show teachers who had in fact reduced their talk in class, but again tellingly for a series that was to “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia,” it didn’t explore the changes in practice/planning that teachers undertook to make this happen. I’d imagine for some teachers these changes would have presented significant challenges, and it would have been good to see how these challenges were addressed.

Towards the end of the series the concept of Clinical Teaching (the approach taught at MGSE) was introduced as having “the potential to revolutionise our classrooms” but again I was – along with many teachers I’d expect – left underwhelmed. The core principles of Clinical Teaching as explained by Hattie are:

  • Diagnose: Ascertain the areas in which kids need to improve, learn etc.
  • Intervene: Deploy strategies, questions and activities that address these areas.
  • Evaluate: Ascertain whether or not kids have improved their knowledge, skills or understand.

In other words… teach.

Look, I know I’m being a little flippant here, and I do know that this might seem revolutionary to some… but seriously, I recommend you read pretty much anything by Dylan Wiliam, because formative assessment has been addressing this stuff for yonks.

AS FOR THE OTHER STUFF…

An outdoor ed camp, a class for disengaged boys, a kid who left under a cloud of drug use, another who left after Year 10, kids getting into strife for fighting and (alleged but ultimately unproven) theft, a school production of Aladdin, a formal ball, a kid who didn’t get into medicine, stressed out G&T kids, a girl arguing with her mother, school captain elections and a deputy who was a little skeptical of consultants… are the ingredients of a typical day in a typical school and I’m unsure as to what lessons they taught us, other than apparently after going on a four-day hike, some kids who hated school and had previously all failed a maths test all of a sudden aced it on their return… Again, not underestimating the impact of the outdoor education or the commitment of the staff, but come on… the superficial nature in which it was covered left me cold.

I was left wondering if police officers are equally underwhelmed after watching an episode of RBT? Or what about doctors and nurses after watching Trauma: Life in the ER?

But then again RBT & Trauma aren’t broadcast on the premise that the policing or health professions are failing to such an extent that they require such TV shows to “serve as a lesson.”

Now to be fair, the series finished by highlighting the gains the school has made which are impressive and for which everyone’s efforts should be applauded, and it’s worth noting that this has been an 8 year journey of which MGSE were a part for the past 12 months. Clearly they’ve made great gains but there are still some questions that remain particularly given the premise upon which the series was set.

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QUESTIONS THAT REMAIN

  1. When Hattie says it’s not the school that make a difference, but the teachers, what does that really mean?
  2. When Hattie says, “Class size doesn’t matter,” do you think he should clarify that by finishing that statement with, “if we don’t change our practice.” As you may be aware I’ve covered this in the past in my blog posts and in an interview I had with John Hattie himself. 
  3. Aren’t the things advocated for in Clinical Teaching (more student interaction, better feedback etc) impacted by class size?
  4. What was the impact on staff & student engagement of having cameras in the school?
  5. How many adults (teachers, consultants, camera & sound operators) were in each classroom and what impact would this have had?
  6. Given the series website states, “By applying simple low cost ideas in the classroom Kambrya undergoes a dramatic transformation,” how much would it cost your school to do something similar with MGSE? Having looked at the MGSE’s School Network page, a quick calculation would put it at around $50-60K
  7. How did the airing of students struggling with drugs and family pressures serve as a lesson for schools around Australia?
  8. What have you learned (with regard to pedagogy, wellbeing, classroom management, professional growth, enhancing student outcomes) as a result of watching #RevolutionSchool?
Categories
Education Social Justice

Why I’m supporting the ILF

KindleFirst of all, thank you! Thank you to everyone who has already got a copy of my book #SchoolOfThought!

I was blown away to wake up on Sunday to find it #2 in ‘Schools & Teaching’ on Kindle in Australia… behind the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Malala!

If you get my newsletter you’ll be aware that all the profits from the sale of #SchoolOfThought will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) here in Australia.

I just wanted to share with you some of the reasons why I’m supporting this great organisation.

First and foremost on my travels around Australia, I’m constantly challenged by the inequities I witness. With regard to Indigenous Australians these inequities are extreme. According to the ILF:

  • Between 40% and 60% of Indigenous children in very remote locations across WA, SA and NT are achieving below minimum standard in Reading in Year 3.
  • Only 2 out of 10 children in very remote parts of the NT are achieving at or above the minimum standard for reading in Year 3. This drops to only 1 out of 10 by the time a child reaches Year 9.
  • School attendance rates are as low as 14% in very remote areas of Australia.

PrintThe ILF operates without any government or major corporate funding and has a full-time staff of just three.

Despite this, each year they manage to get thousands of books into hundreds of
communities, and run community literacy projects – including two in Walmajarri language.

If you’d like to support the ILF in their work, but aren’t that keen on having to get my book to do so, you can find out more about them at: http://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/

You might also like to get involved in the Foundation’s major fundraising campaign: 
Indigenous Literacy Day, on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

And of course, you can do all this AND grab a copy of #SchoolOfThought…

*I know that some Aussie readers might be put off by having to buy the paperback through Amazon in $USD. We’re working on it, and hope to have be able to offer you a way to pay in $AUD in a couple of weeks. 

Categories
Engagement & Motivation

Should You *Reward* Good Behaviour?

I’ve been doing a lot of work around Carol Dweck’s Mindset theory of late. This complements the approach I take to engagement in school (or any environment) which I largely base on Ryan & Deci’s Self Determination Theory.

The essence of what I explore is that authentic engagement is achieved when:

  • Relationships have been established built around trust, respect and care.
  • individuals have a level of choice and voice (autonomy).
  • Individuals improve for the sake of improving – not merely for the sake of a grade or a prize (mastery) and;
  • Individuals can articulate the purpose for their undertaking of a task.

I love the thought that engagement is not just about being on task but rather – as Geoff Munns of the Fair Go Project put it – authentic engagement is about being in task. 

This video gives you a brief outline of the Fair Go Project, and you can download the full report here.

Anyhow… I often hear from teachers who having attended my workshops start to question the role of their student rewards programs. Increasingly companies like this one are offering up rewards to “drive positive behaviours in school.”

When I worked in Manchester we did something similar – offering movie tickets or the like – for students who achieved a certain level of attendance, kept out of trouble or generally did the right thing. To put this into context the school I worked at dealt with some significant issues, and – on the surface at least – these strategies appeared to enhance some of the pupils’ behaviours.

Having said that, Ryan & Deci conclude that:

Extrinsic rewards are typically negative because they “undermine people’s taking responsibility for motivating or regulating themselves”. Rather, extrinsic rewards are a controlling strategy that often leads to greater surveillance, evaluation and competition, all of which have been found to undermine enhanced engagement & regulation.

They discuss rewards in education in detail in this article and conclude that tangible rewards to in fact have a significant undermining effect.

Carol Dweck and her research team recently published Academic Tenacity – Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long Term LearningIn it they say:

Although gold stars, prizes, and other extrinsic rewards may have their place for instance, as a last resort to jump-start a desired behaviour or as a symbol of competence and belonging – educators should use them judiciously, as they can easily overshadow any intrinsic reasons for a behaviour.

Clearly your approach to using rewards will be ultimately guided by your desired outcome.

If you’re keen to get kids to comply with a set of behaviours then rewards would certainly support that.

If you’re using them to encourage life-long learning, self-direction, self-regulation or authentic engagement, you may want to rethink your strategy.

Categories
Change Education

Snake, Walkmans, Moments & School…

What do these three things have in common,  and why on earth would I waste your time asking you that question?

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 5.08.34 pm

If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll be aware of just how amazing Nokia phones were.

What’s that? You can’t remember? Check this out.

Of course, Sony Walkmans were so popular even competitor’s offerings were referred to as Walkmans, and how many times have you thanked your lucky stars that your Kodak Moments weren’t captured in the era of Facebook or Instagram?

Nowadays, a straw poll of any group I speak with shows that very few have a Nokia phone, Sony Walkman (yes they still make and sell Walkmans) or have a Kodak anything… 

Why? We haven’t stopped communicating, listening to music or taking pictures – in fact we’re probably doing all three more than any generation before us – and yet all three companies have had to diversify to survive.

How did Sony in particular, given they owned a heck of a lot of music and the most widely used personal music device, miss the boat?

Is it possible they were so confident in what they were offering, they didn’t need to consider an alternative scenario?

Maybe. Lot’s of analysts have… erm… analysed the ups and downs of these companies in more detail than I have here, but that’s what I see they have in common.

Ok… so why waste your time with that?

What if education institutions as we know them are the Nokia, Sony and Kodak of Learning. We all know people – lots of them – who attend them, work in them and/or are generally in favour of them. They are the market leaders in Learning so to speak, with a captive audience.

Most would agree that education institutions offer two things – amongst a raft of other opportunities of course.

  1. A forum to enhance your knowledge, understanding, and skills in order to engage with the world.
  2. Access to qualifications/accreditation that further your education or employment options.

How has technology and changes in society and the economy disrupted this? Well the truth is, they haven’t – not much – really – yet.

But what about when they do? What will happen when society realises some of the short comings of its education system?

At one end of the academic spectrum, the majority of the long-term unemployed are young people who left school in the last ten years, whilst at the other, hundreds of medical graduates can’t find internships.

I wrote a fair bit about the fact we’re educating our kids into unemployment for the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Anyhoo… I noticed of late there seems to be some fairly distinctive lines being drawn in the sand with regard to the whole “Is School Fit for Purpose?” debate…

And these lines are not really furthering the debate. Too many are picking sides, picking names (progressive, traditionalist, 21C, anythingpreneur etc.) and picking fights.

A case in point:

This is a tweet from Britain’s School Behaviour Tzar Tom Bennett:

Now to be fair to Tom – he is an incredibly well-respected (by the profession & the government) commentator – some of the language in the graphic that he links to is well and truly ripe for a laugh, but I fear that by setting it up as the work of “an idiot” – he encourages the subsequent replies that his tweet receives… all eye-rolling etc…

The fact is that some  of the concepts that the graphic is trying to convey are worth discussing. To deny that seems a bit daft to me, And by going to the nth degree – on either side of the debate – much of the nuance in lost.

I believe it’s in this nuanced space where the education debate must take place so we can ask and then address questions like:

  • Why do our ‘best and brightest’ students feel the need to cheat at their selective schools or in their university courses?
  • Given Finland performs relatively well in PISA, why is it their Youth Unemployment rate around 24.5%? (By comparison in Australia it’s around 12% and we think that’s high.)
  • Why do Gallup regularly report that in Australia, around 30% of Year 5 kids and 50% of Year 12 kids have disengaged from learning?
  • What’s the best way to prepare students – and ourselves – for the workplace given that many estimate that 50% of the workforce will be freelance in the next decade?
  • And what do we make of the fact that Ernst & Young has declared that in the UK, they no longer take into account an applicants A-Levels or degree qualifications? Often educationalists cite tech companies like Google or Apple as examples of the shifting economy and workplace… but here we’re talking about accountants.
  • What happens to our institutions when we recognise the education system is failing too many kids, that learning can happen anywhere and that traditional qualifications might not carry the weight they once did?
  • And how long will it be before we realise that either/or arguments are unlikely to present many insights to these questions?
Categories
Education Leadership Wellbeing

3 things you (probably) didn’t know about Finland

FinlandEvery couple of years, the OECD publish a report from their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Their findings are (very helpfully) compiled into league tables, charting the performance of each of the participating countries in maths, literacy and application of scientific knowledge.

These tables are then used to fuel media stories like this one, which make claims like:

“Australian schools should copy their top-performing Asian neighbours and push to keep only the best teachers in the classroom if local students are to stop slipping further down the ladder.”

The PISA report also provides ammunition for politicians like Education Minister Christopher Pyne to come up with gems like this:

“We’ve spent a great deal of money, 40 per cent more on school education in the last 10 years, but we haven’t focused on the basics – teacher quality, autonomy in schools, parental engagement and the curriculum. We’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted with other issues. And our competitive – competitor nations, particularly in Asia, they have focused on the basics.

 

We need to have a back-to-basics approach.”

So what’s this got to do with Finland? After all it seems the media and the politicians are only focused on beating our Asian competitors.

Well, many of the opponents to the “Beat Asia” campaign, cite the Finnish education system as the one we should look to in order to raise standards.

I’m all for looking at other systems to see what we can learn. Indeed it was when I looked at the Finnish system I learned the following…

1. More than 30% of Finnish students say they aren’t happy, or they do not belong at school.

According to the last set of PISA results (PDF) – published in 2013 – on average, 20% of Australian students report they are not happy or that they do not belong at school. Yet in Finland, 32% of students report that they aren’t happy.

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Since PISA started, we have seen a steady decline in the amount of kids who feel they belong in schools in Australia, but interestingly, this decline has been even more pronounced in Finland.

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This is of particular interest to me given the link between school connectedness and wellbeing. 

2. The Youth Unemployment rate in Finland currently stands at 23%

The Finnish rate of Youth Unemployment runs at almost double that of Australia’s current rate of Youth Unemployment that stands at 12%. 

I’m not sure the significance of this to be honest, but I do find it interesting.

What is the education system doing if it serving kids well on standardised tests but not enabling them to get into the workforce? I’d love to get a better perspective if anyone is well placed to offer me some advice?

I’ve previously attempted to tweet Pasi Sahlberg to get his thoughts on this, but he’s a busy guy. If anyone knows him, could you ask him for me please?

3. Finland value different things & different people in education

OK, you probably thought this might the case, but it is nevertheless still interesting to note the different reactions of Christopher Pyne and his Finnish counterpart in the face of declining standards.

Whilst Pyne spoke about competing, getting back-to-basics and teachers who weren’t up to scratch…

When questioned what her thoughts were about the fact the likes of Liechtenstein and Estonia had overtaken Finland in Maths, Finnish Education Minister, Krista Kiuru said:

“We will bring in not only experts in research and education and political decision-makers but also student representatives and parents. Besides strengthening equality, we must find means to improve and sustain motivation in learning and studying and make schools a good environment to be in.”

Krista Kiuru engages education experts, students and parents in order to make schools a better environment to be in.

Christopher Pyne brings in Kevin Donnelly.

For me, this is one of the main reasons why we should look to Finland to see what we can learn from them. Their focus on the bigger picture.

Categories
Education Leadership Wellbeing

5 Key Takeaways about Student Wellbeing

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 3.13.02 pmA couple of weeks ago the Centre for Education Statistics & Evaluation released their literature review into Student Wellbeing. You can access the entire document here. It clearly and concisely lays out all the considerations important for addressing student wellbeing in your school. It also offers dozens of research papers to explore by way of referencing.

Having said that, if you’re pushed for time, I’ve distilled the essence of it here. [Anything in italics denotes it has been taken verbatim from the report]

The Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations (DEEWR) defines wellbeing as:

A sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school.

I’ve spoken and written at length to explore the research evidence shows that students with high levels of wellbeing are more likely to have higher academic achievement and complete Year 12; better mental health; and a more pro-social, responsible and lawful lifestyle. And yet – even though we know this – I often find approaches to wellbeing in organisations that are tokenistic, or tick-a-box in nature.

Assuming your school or organisation is keen to address wellbeing in a meaningful way, the literature suggests you need to have 5 things in place.

1. Schools need to provide a safe environment

The report states: A safe school is one where the physical environment is safe and does not lead to harm or injury for students; the emotional environment is one of positivity and free from negative behaviours such as bullying which can affect mental health; and where a healthy lifestyle is promoted through initiatives such as increased participation in sport and/or healthy food at the canteen. 

2. Connectedness

A sense of belonging to the school environment is an established protective factor for child and adolescent health, education, and social wellbeing. Students with low connectedness are two to three times more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to more connected peers.

The reports states: McNeely et al examined the association between school connectedness and the school environment using data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and hierarchical linear models. They found that positive classroom management climates, participation in extracurricular activities and tolerant disciplinary policies were associated positively with higher school connectedness. Other strategies can include increasing the time, interest and support given to students by teachers, empowering students to have a voice, engaging community partners to provide a range of services at the school that students need, and developing a shared vision of high standards and behaviours for the school. Involvement in extra-curricular activity and exposure to a challenging curriculum can also assist with connectedness. 

3. Learning Engagement

According to the report: Students can engage with school at social, institutional and intellectual levels. Social engagement is how a student is involved in the life of the school and can refer to a sense of belonging, positive relationships and participation in clubs and sports etc. Institutional engagement is how a student values school and strives to meet the formal requirements of schooling such as attendance, positive behaviour and homework, and intellectual engagement relates to emotional and psychological investment in schooling such as interest, effort and motivation.

So key points of interest for me – particularly given my interest in engagement and positive psychology – were the following suggestions:

i. Quality instruction may mean student participation in design, delivery and review of the program and/or active participation in parts of their education, from consultation to decision-making. 

ii. The work of Suzy Green was cited as such: When people work with their strengths [signature strengths as defined by Martin Seligman], they tend to learn more readily, perform at a higher level, are more motivated and confident and have a stronger sense of satisfaction, mastery and competence.

iii. And Lea Waters’ research into Positive Psychology interventions in school was summarised as: Waters reviewed evidence from 12 schools that had implemented positive psychology interventions focusing on gratitude, hope, serenity, resilience and character strengths, and found that these interventions were significantly related to student wellbeing, relationships and academic performance.

4. Social & Emotional Learning

I’ve heard a few teachers – and even leaders – suggest that there simply isn’t time to address the social and emotional learning of students. But if you’re trying to make a case for it in your school, you could cite the research of Durlak et al (2011). (Again from the report) They conducted a meta-analysis of 213 studies of SEL programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students in the US. They found that compared to control participants, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behaviour, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.

5. Whole School Approach

Student wellbeing cannot be seen as something else we do in schools. It can not be thought of in isolation. As the report suggests: Critical elements to supporting wellbeing at the school level are: strong school leadership which emphasises and promotes the importance of wellbeing at the school and within the broader school community; and a culture of high expectations for all students with teachers who emphasise continuously improving. In other words, wellbeing must be integrated into the school learning environment, the curriculum and pedagogy, the policies and procedures at schools, and the partnerships inherent within and outside schools including teachers, students, parents, support staff and community groups.

I highly recommend having a look at the whole report, not least for the wealth of resources it will point you to in order to address each of these five key areas.

I believe that engagement & wellbeing are at the crux of what we do in schools and if we get this right, outcomes will – largely – look after themselves (for staff as well as students).

But still… too many schools, organisations and systems pursue outcomes at the expense of engagement and wellbeing, and then they struggle to understand why staff, students and the wider community are so disaffected.

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Chatting with John Hattie Education

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 3

This is the third in a series of posts based around an interview I had with John Hattie earlier this year.

Whilst many education conferences around the world issue a call to arms – of sorts – to embrace 21st Century Skills, it’s worth pointing out that the cohort of kids that started Kindy in the year 2000 are now – for whom those the system worked – into their second year of an undergraduate course.

Bit late for them.

More than that though, the phrase – to me at least – seems divisive.

SugataWe all know that the Y2K bug came to nothing, but did something happen at 11:59pm on Friday 31st December 1999 that meant all that went before in classrooms was now obsolete?

Certainly some high profile thinkers have come to this opinion.

2013 TED Talk Prize winner Sugata Mitra actually states:

“Schools as we know them are obsolete.”

Now of course I’m not saying that schools shouldn’t be moving with the times. Rather, my problem is the way in which the need to move with the times has been communicated to teachers. Talk around 21st Century Skills is vague; it means different things to different people.

Having previously discussed Direct Instruction v Inquiry Based Learning with John Hattie, our conversation naturally turned to the notion of 21st Century Skills.

“I have a problem with this notion of twenty first century skills,”

says Hattie, “I’m just finishing a synthesis on learning strategies, it’s not as big [as others he’s done] there’s only about 15 – 20 million kids in the sample, and one of the things that I’ve learnt from the learning strategies, and a lot of them include the 21st Century skill strategies is that there’s a dirty secret.”

And the dirty secret is that not only does Hattie believe that these strategies are very simplistic, but he is skeptical of classes that focus solely on critical thinking or creativity – something I’m seeing some (but not many) schools adopt.

“These strategies only work within the subject area,”

Hattie says, “They’re not generic. So one of my problems with the 21st Century skills is schools are running critical thinking and creativity classes as if those things can generically cross over. [But] you can think that way in Maths but not necessarily in physics or in English.”

Of course most schools who embrace 21st Century Skills are seemingly embedding them in their teaching of the curriculum. But then this leads us back to the Content v Skills debate and the teaching style most appropriate.

“You’re right, it polarises the debate in terms of strategies versus content. I bet in every school that you go into, you look at the assessments – and I do that because that’s what kids look at in terms of what teacher’s values – you’re still dominated by content.”

It’s a fair point, consider how much your school focuses on kids ability to digest content compared to how much it genuinely assesses critical or creative thinking.

I wonder if this in some way might explain why Hattie can’t find evidence of Inquiry Based Learning, or 21st Century Skills having much of an impact.

In many cases, maybe what we say we value isn’t what we end up assessing?

Hattie’s main worry is that some schools are over privileging 21st Century Skills, because what he calls “surface learning” is – for the most part – over-privileged by many.

His argument is we need a balance of surface to deep transfer. He says,

“We’ve over-obsessed on content.”

But in response to this comes a “generic notion [of 21st Century Learning], and my terror is that schools will be teaching 21st Century Skills. I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think it’s a viable way to go. New Zealand went down that line of enquiry thinking schools and schools were very proud to say ‘we’re deep thinkers, we’re enquiry thinkers’ – it didn’t work.”

He then went on to discuss what had worked in New Zealand, which I found interesting…

Hattie says, “There needs to be a constructive alignment particularly in high schools between what we say we’re going to do and what we actually assess.”

One of the reasons New Zealand have significantly improved their retention rate is because they changed the upper high school assessment system.

“We got away from this notion that you can only be excellent in physics and chemistry and we said you can be excellent in many things,” he says, “And we showed that even kids who wanted to be water polo coaches or baristas could be excellent at those things and could learn skills right till the end of high school.”

Sounds good to me I thought… how did that go down?

“[Because] it was privileged along with physics and everything else it made many of those teachers very upset. It’s been a traumatic transformation but it’s been a very positive one; it hasn’t been without its problems,” he says.

“Its critics are still out there claiming that we’ve got rid of Shakespeare and calculus and chemistry. And for some kids we have, as we should have done.”

I wonder if that’s the key to a 21st Century education – having diversity and a flexibility in the curriculum that is equally valued based on the needs of students and communities?

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Chatting with John Hattie Education

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 2

This is the second in a series of posts based around an interview with educational researcher and Chair of AITSL, John Hattie.

The Education DebateThere are many facets to the education debate and one that pushes more buttons than most is the Traditional v Progressive teaching debate. Some read this as the Didactic v Student Centred or sometimes the Knowledge v Skills argument but either way, lines get drawn in the sand and teachers choose their respective side.

There are many bloggers who write extensively around this subject. I often read through this one by Harry Webb – who blogs forthrightly and points you in the direction of many more blogs and research to support his points – although I’m not 100% convinced that’s his real name… I could be wrong though.

I was keen to know what John Hattie – who was recently appointed the Chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) – thought about this debate, particularly as AITSL has devised a set of National Teacher Standards, are piloting innovativeLearning Frontiers approach to teaching and who on their website, showcase “best practice” by way of vignettes and short interviews with teachers.

This is interesting because Learning Frontiers, many of the standards, vignettes and interviews extol the virtues of inquiry or discovery based learning and even Learning Styles; strategies about which Hattie is on record as saying,

“We have a whole rhetoric about discovery learning, constructivism, and learning styles that has got zero evidence for them anywhere.”

I wanted to know if there was a disconnect between what he, as the chair of AITSL believed to be true, and what AITSL were promoting as ‘best practice.’

The first thing Hattie wanted to do was clear up his position around constructivism. Whilst he agrees there is – of course – a constructivist theory of knowing, he says, “There is not a constructivist theory of teaching. And that’s a massive difference and every time I mention it I try and exploit that difference which no one picks up.”

He went on to elaborate that often teachers have to deliberately teach students in order for them to construct knowledge. “I have no difficulty with constructivist knowledge’s of learning, and knowing, but not teaching.”

To further press his point home, Hattie referred to the article Should There Be a Three-Strikes Rule Against Pure Discovery Learning? by Richard Mayer which described three major series of investigations of discovery learning and inquiry learning that showed despite it continues to fail it is still used. Hattie says, “I think the problem is that, that people fail to make that distinction between the theories of knowledge such as Piaget and the teaching.”

So why are such approached included in AITSL’s website?

“I’m disappointed if there are things on the AITSL website that talk about learning styles,”

“They did a massive review in the last month or so going through and hopefully taking everything out that’s hinting [at these concepts]. We do know some of that stuff has a high likelihood of not working [and] they have taken that seriously and they have gone through and if anyone finds stuff that’s still left there we’d all be delighted to know.”

This naturally led into a chat about 21st Century Skills… which I’ll share with you in the next post.

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Chatting with John Hattie Education Leadership

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 1

Visible LearningLate last year I wrote a blog post called, Is John Talking Through His Hattie?

The subject of the post was a series of posts and articles I had come across that called into question the validity of the statistical analysis that is the backbone of John Hattie’s Visible Learning work.

To save you the time of reading that post, the key point raised was:

John Hattie had admitted half the statistics in Visible Learning are wrong.

Within a couple of days I had a reply on the post from John Hattie himself suggesting that I was “Retweeting a lie.”

I decided that this might be an opportunity to directly engage with John regarding the post and the issues raised. He agreed, and what followed was a great 60min chat about all things education, despite a few technical issues that this song brilliant captures…

The interview will actually be the basis for a series of posts, with this being the first.

So… to that blog post.

Did Hattie ever say half the statistics in Visible Learning are wrong?

Well, not according to him, he says,

“The message is that someone tweeted from a conference in London a few months ago, that apparently I said ‘half the statistics are wrong’ and I never said that.”

But that’s not to say there weren’t issues with the statistics. The main argument centres around something called the Common Language Effect Size, which allows you to compare effect sizes in simple terms. For example, Strategy A has a 90% chance of working better than Strategy B.

And it is here where Hattie admits there were some errors.

He says, “Unfortunately at the very last minute I put the wrong column up on the – as part of the confidence levels rather than the actual common language exercise.” It wasn’t until about three years later when some students in Norway alerted Hattie to the errors that the correct data was added to reprints of Visible Learning.

But as and when the next edition is published Hattie says, “I’d take all that stuff out because it didn’t work [anyway].”

Hattie says that whilst “there are some minor errors” in Visible Learning – errors that he says he and others have picked up – these are corrected quickly. And though he is disappointed that such errors occur he is confident that it doesn’t change the overall message of the book, as he says, “Not one iota.”

No doubt debate will continue in educational circles and the blogosphere, but Hattie says,

“The nature of academia is that you live off critique and so I thrive off that and so that’s why I’m happy to talk to you and anyone [but] I’m not going to tell you right now everything’s perfect.”

Hattie says he’s been doing this work and publishing Visible Learning work since about 1989 and what fascinates him is, that in the twenty or thirty years since he started working on it, “No one – not a single person – has critiqued the idea and come up with an alternative explanation for the data.”

In this series of Chatting with John Hattie posts I’ll share with you – amongst other things – our discussions around the use (and mis-use) of Visible Learning, 21st Century Learning, AITSL, Teacher Quality, and advice for new teachers.