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Chinese Lion Dancer visiting John Paul II Catholic Primary School Rokeby Hobart
There is widespread agreement among educators and school communities about the importance of teaching phonics and other code-based literacy practices in early years classrooms. Why, however, is phonics instruction, one of the processes teachers use in helping children learn to read, so foregrounded by government policymakers and bureaucrats in Australia these days? Why is one particular approach to the teaching of phonics, synthetic phonics, now being proposed as the ‘right’ way to teach phonics in Australia? And why do some influential cognitive psychologists believe they have all the answers when it comes to teaching reading, and appear to have undue influence over important literacy policy?
These questions are confounding teachers all around Australia. They talk about the research projects they find in their professional reading. Many follow discussions on blog sites such as this one. Others are participating in research in their own classrooms or within school/university partnerships. They then speculate about the motivation behind the “silver bullet” solutions they are being sold.
The groundswell of those wanting answers has grown as the roll out of new literacy teaching programs continues across states and territories. The looming imposition of a synthetic phonics test for all Australian six year olds is adding to teacher concerns. They are clear that another test is not the way to improve national standards.
I am continually asked: why are we are once again adopting UK policies and accepting as ‘evidence’ the Rose Report from the UK? This report recommended that synthetic phonics be the preferred method for teaching early reading in the UK, but the ‘evidence’ quoted in the report has been widely disputed, including in the UK, by highly respected literacy education experts. The way the report has since been used politically is of ongoing concern.
This was the impetus for the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney to hold a symposium on The role of phonics in learning to be literate last week in Sydney in conjunction with The Australian Literacy Educators Association. The board and staff of the Primary English Teachers Association also supported the symposium. More than 140 educators attended to hear three presentations from expert literacy educators. The symposium created such widespread interest that we are holding a repeat on March 17th and another symposium in Melbourne on 5th May. It is clear that teachers and principals have both the energy and enthusiasm for ongoing professional learning in this critical area. Professional development must be tailored to the needs of individual teachers and schools. It should not be imposed by politically or commercially driven agendas.
Associate Professors Pauline Jones, Lisa Kervin and Dr Jessica Mantei (University of Wollongong) shared their emerging findings from their large research project, TRANSLIT. The project is investigating the nature of students’ literacy experiences at key points in schooling from foundation to senior secondary (preschool to school, primary to secondary school and so on). It is investigating how teachers teach ‘constrained’ skills including alphabet knowledge, word lists and phonics. These findings will be valuable for all teachers of literacy and for schools in developing their literacy programs and policies. The findings also will be useful to help those outside the teaching profession understand how isolated instructional experiences can be integrated into rich, engaging and meaningful literacy programs.
Former principal and lecturer, now literacy consultant David Hornsby reminded us that The Australian Curriculum: English defines decoding as including comprehension. Simply focusing on letter-sound relationships constitutes only recoding or moving from printed code to oral code. He demonstrated with many concrete examples why morphemes are required for phonemes to express themselves. A number of practical activities quickly dispelled several myths about how English orthography works. If morphological awareness is developed in conjunction with phonics, children come to understand that English spelling represents meaning and that meaning determines how phonology works.
Emeritus Professor Marie Emmitt led the discussion about the importance of teachers having a sophisticated knowledge of sound-letter relationships and ways children learn phonics and use complex sound letter knowledge for spelling and word identification. Teachers need to ascertain what phonic knowledge children have already learned and determine what next will assist them in their reading and writing. Meaningful opportunities for learners are then offered to enable children to further develop phonic knowledge and to see it being used strategically in assisting with word identification, writing and spelling.
Teachers and principals shared issues they are currently experiencing with the teaching of literacy in Australia.
At this symposium there was widespread agreement that:
Learning to be literate is crucial for children’s life chances.
Children who struggle to become literate face spiralling problems throughout their schooling and into their life after school. Mastering 21st century literacy skills leads to a more socially active and fulfilled life.
Socioeconomic status has a big impact on how well children read
The continual handwringing about falling literacy standards in Australia overlooks this single most important influence. While investment in schools and investment in quality teaching are crucial, until our governments do something about the growing inequity in Australian society and Australian schooling they are ignoring the one thing that can make the most difference.
Children from disadvantaged or at risk backgrounds need a much higher level of support at school. Schools who have higher enrolments of disadvantaged children therefore need the best resources, policies, support staff and wide-ranging specialist help alongside ongoing fully funded professional development for their teachers.
Learning to be literate is a highly complex contextualised social practice – not a series of hierarchical skills
Teaching literacy involves complex processes. It cannot be reduced to a linear hierarchy of skills. Learning to be literate is a rich experience that transforms the way we look at the world. Teachers need to study deeply to gain the knowledge and understanding of a wide repertoire of pedagogical skills to teach literacy. They need to apply this knowledge and experience to design learning experiences that will meet the needs of individual children in particular circumstances in specific classroom and community contexts.
Learning to read is about making meaning. There are no easy, one size fits all recipes.
Learning to read is basic to being literate and learning to read is about making meaning. Knowing how to use graphophonic knowledge is important but it is only part of the process. Teachers need to use many different strategies to help some children become readers.
Rich literature, real texts should play an important role in any literacy program
Decades of research underline the importance of the time children spend listening to and sharing stories with loved ones. Telling stories, talking together linking the child’s own experiences, linking them with books, discussing visual images and playing with language are vital in helping children make sense of their world and their place in the world. This must continue in early childhood and classroom contexts. A wide range of authentic literature and real texts are thus vital elements in any literacy program.
Phonics and other code-based literacy practices are widespread in early years learning contexts in Australia. Where is the evidence that teachers aren’t using these strategies?
With all of the talk about basing our strategies and policies on evidence teachers are puzzled about why they are continually told via media articles or policy imposed by politicians that they are not teaching phonics. Teaching phonics is embedded in the teaching practices of Australian teachers and is required by the Australian Curriculum. Where is the evidence that they are not using these strategies?
Another test is highly problematic and will disadvantage our EALD (English as an additional language or dialect) learners as well as many in vulnerable situations
Bilingual learners who are just beginning to or become confident with learning to speak English may become anxious about such tests especially where they are expected to make sense of isolated words. It is also well established that such tests can also disadvantage those children who are more vulnerable. These kinds of tests can also be problematic for young proficient readers who expect the content of their reading to make sense. Being asked to read a list of words in isolation some of which are nonsense words can send a confusing message about the nature of reading.
The proposed Year 1 phonics test is not necessary. Any approach that singles out phonics instruction, and more recently, advocates for synthetic phonics specifically, and testing the recoding of words (some of which are nonsense words) distorts and distracts from the bigger picture of our need to continue to develop effective classroom literacy practices that meet the needs of all learners.
is Professor of Teacher Education and the Arts at the University of Sydney. A former primary teacher she teaches in the areas of curriculum, English and drama, language and early literacy development. Robyn’s research has particularly focused on the use of educational or process drama with authentic literary texts to develop students’ imaginations and critical literacies. Her current research interests also include teacher education, especially the experiences of early-career teachers and mentoring; sustaining curriculum innovation; and the role of reflection in professional practice.
Robyn was president of the Primary English Teachers Association from 2001-2006, is a past president of the Australian Literacy Educators Association (ALEA). She is also a council member of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS), an Honorary Associate with Sydney Theatre Company, Board member of WestWords and Visiting Scholar at Barking Gecko Theatre. She enjoys working collaboratively with classroom teachers interested in innovative curriculum practices and has worked in partnership with Sydney Theatre Company on the teacher professional learning School Drama program since 2009.Read Less
Bullying is a universal problem that affects individuals of all ages. To date, interventions in schools have achieved mixed results with some students engaging in persistent bullying throughout their schooling and into adulthood. Others are targeted with what at times appears relentless bullying.
A plethora of research has provided insight into this social phenomenon accompanied by a range of interventions aimed at reducing bullying in schools. Despite this, there are some bullies who persist: those who increase their behaviour over time and those who consistently bully at moderate or high levels. These individuals adversely affect the mental health, wellbeing and schooling experiences of their peers. Although we often focus on the impact on victims, persistent bullies themselves experience long-term negative outcomes as a result of their ongoing bullying behaviour. Such effects include academic difficulties, higher levels of criminal involvement and engagement in various risky behaviours.
Persistent bullies continue bullying in spite of interventions and sanctions employed by schools. Why they persist remains unclear. These students were the focus of our research. We believe understanding their behaviour and why they may be resistant to change will be gained by accessing their lived experiences.
Our project explored multiple perspectives of bullying in a quest to further understand this social phenomenon and why some individuals engage in persistent bullying.
We used a case study approach to collect narratives from several South Australian University and primary school students. A pictorial mindmap ‘About your life’ was used as a unique recall-trigger to gather data. The pictorial template consisted of few words and enabled participants to tell their stories in their own way with little or no questioning. This provided deeper insight into the lives of individuals who engaged in, or were the victim of, persistent bullying.
What we found
We found that participants, both the victims and the bullies, had a sound understanding of bullying. They identified characteristics of both typical (those who do not persist with bullying behaviour) and persistent bullies.
The perceived differences between these bullies related to their peer relationships, degree of empathy and the way that they attribute blame for things that have happened to them. Certain environmental influences such as negative home lives were also perceived as reinforcing persistent bullying. The relationship between adults in the school, particularly teachers, and those who bully, can affect the way the peer group views and treats these students.
Students reported the actions of persistent bullies as negative, intentional and malicious. The bullies are aware of such attributions. These attributions influenced the peer group’s reaction, which in turn affected the way the bully behaved, fulfilling earlier expectations.
Persistent bullies also developed a negative self-concept and looked to verify this by acting in a manner that was consistent with their negative self-view. We argue that the expectations of the school community coupled with self-verification may serve to reinforce persistent bullying.
Persistent bullies also reported differences in both the quality and quantity of their relationships at school and at home. Their actions were often motivated by a strong need to belong and be accepted by their peers, a basic human need. Often they engaged in bullying to gain some acceptance, albeit negative, from peers and teachers.
The stories from persistent bullies have highlighted the significance of belonging, together with the role that others, and their beliefs, have on determining and reinforcing persistent bullying behaviour.
Deborah Green is a Lecturer in Humanities and Social Science in the School of Education at the University of South Australia. Deborah holds a Bachelor of Education (Hons.) and Doctor of Philosophy, where her thesis focussed on students who persistently bully in spite of interventions and sanctions employed by schools to reduce this behaviour. Deborah's research interests closely align with her teaching. She is particularly interested in areas of social justice, inclusive and special education, bullying, cyber-bullying, bystander behaviours and resilience.
is a Senior Lecturer in Inclusive Education and Wellbeing at the University of South Australia with research, teaching and scholarship which advocate a capabilities approach and valuing of the diversity of young people. As the School of Education, Program Director Master of Teaching, her vision is to work collaboratively to equip graduates with qualities that promote learner achievement and wellbeing which transfers to productive citizenship. Current research contributes to the broad themes of social sustainability and citizenship for young people, in particular wellbeing, relationships, identity and educational influence. Social justice, inclusion and wellbeing are integral priorities in teaching, scholarship and research.
More in our book Multiple Perspectives in Persistent Bullying: Capturing and listening to young people’s voices. Routledge, United Kingdom. ISBN: 1317335775, 9781317335771. Authors: Green D., & Price, D. (2017).
Bullying is considered a socially unacceptable form of aggression that is described as a ‘physical, verbal or psychological attack or intimidation that is intended to cause fear, distress or harm to the victim; an imbalance of power (psychological or physical) with a more powerful child (or children) oppressing less powerful ones; and repeated incidents between the same children over a prolonged period.Read Less
Teachers and researchers are increasingly aware of the importance of social and emotional competence in the classroom and beyond, including for health, education, and employment outcomes into adulthood. Social and emotional competence refers to the skills that help us to interact in positive ways with others and manage our own emotions. These skills are varied and include among others our relationships skills, confidence, coping skills, self-regulation and self-awareness.
Curriculum designed to teach social and emotional competence is known as social and emotional learning. The Australian Curriculum Frameworks emphasise the importance of social and emotional learning from the early years and throughout schooling.
A growing body of research has investigated the importance of social and emotional competence for students and there are promising results for social and emotional learning programs already being used in schools in Australia and abroad. Resources are available for Australian teachers to implement social and emotional learning in their classrooms.
In this blog post we will focus on our recent research work in three areas of social and emotional competence that we believe need more attention: the importance of social and emotional competence in the early years of schooling, for at-risk students, and for teachers.
Developing Social Emotional Competence in the Early Years
During the early preschool years, children are beginning to learn more about social emotional competencies such as self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness. Nurturing these skills is important for positive developmental outcomes and there is now a growing body of research seeking effective ways to do so.
For example, in one of our studies Investigating Social and Emotional Competence in the Early Years, among children in the four-year-old age group we identified a range of coping social and emotional competencies that young children could implement when faced with challenge or things that worried them. It was then possible to develop visual tools to teach age-appropriate coping social and emotional competencies to children in the pre-school setting such as for situations like saying goodbye to a parent at pre-school and fear of the dark.
It was also possible to identify adaptive and maladaptive social and emotional competencies that seemed to be especially salient in young children’s coping.
Adaptive behaviours are those that help a child adjust to and cope with different situations in their environment, such as at home and at school. So adaptive social and emotional competencies are a set of behaviours that a child would use to help them adjust and cope. Maladaptive behaviours are those that interfere with everyday activities and a child’s ability to cope. So maladaptive social and emotional competencies are a set of behaviours a child would use that interrupt or interfere with everyday activities.
- In the adaptive dimension children used strategies such as “Play”, “Chat to Friends” and “Work Hard”.
- In the maladaptive dimension children used strategies considered to be more distressing for the child or caregiver. These included an emotional expression dimension that reflected emotions such as “Lose it”, “Cry or scream”, and “Keep away from other children”. They also included an emotional inhibition dimension that reflected internalised emotions such as “Keep feelings to self”, “Get sick”, and “Don’t let others know how they are feeling”.
It was clear that those who used adaptive coping social and emotional competencies also experienced positive mental health and there was a link between maladaptive social and emotional competencies and some aspects of poor mental health. For example, maladaptive coping social and emotional competencies were linked to anxiety, peer related difficulties, and conduct problems.
Intervention research, research that is designed to assess the efficacy of a particular intervention, has also identified ways to teach adaptive social and emotional competencies such as coping. For example, a five-week early years coping program, COPE-R (COPE-Resilience), was designed to teach social and emotional competencies such as caring for others, communicating openly, politeness, empathy, and sharing in classroom activities.
In our study we found that:
- children as young as four can articulate a range of coping strategies;
- children’s social and emotional competencies can be measured through parent reports;
- children can be taught to use more positive coping skills and fewer negative coping skills; and,
- social and emotional learning programs of instruction can be utilised to teach both personal coping skills and prosocial skills.
The Role of Social and Emotional Competence in At-risk Students’ Academic Wellbeing
The bulk of research into social and emotional competence has focused on so-called “mainstream” student populations (e.g., using whole-class samples, whole-school samples, national and international samples). As noted above, social and emotional competence is associated with important personal and academic wellbeing outcomes for these students. Relatively less attention has been directed to social and emotional competence among ‘at-risk’ groups. These are groups of students who are at risk of dropping out of school or experiencing difficulties in their lives as they grow and develop (such as students with ADHD or learning difficulties).
Our research program’s focus on “at-risk” status has examined students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In one of our recent studies, ADHD Personal and Interpersonal Agency, and Achievement: Exploring Links from a Social Cognitive Theory Perspective, we investigated social and emotional competencies for students with ADHD. We found that self-efficacy, that is the child’s confidence in their own ability to succeed, and positive interpersonal relationships with teachers were significantly associated with academic outcomes.
Notably, we also found that these two factors played a far more substantial role in academic wellbeing for students with ADHD than for students without ADHD. On the one hand, this was quite an encouraging finding in that it identified specific ways to help improve the academic wellbeing of students with ADHD. On the other hand, however, the finding was of some concern because students with ADHD are typically lower in self-efficacy and have poorer interpersonal relationships, leading to lower academic wellbeing. Taking both together, we identified a clear need to improve these social and emotional competencies among students with ADHD.
For improving students’ academic self-efficacy, we suggested that teachers:
- Adapt lessons and activities to maximise opportunities for students’ success—with this success being a basis for building self-efficacy
- Break lessons and activities into smaller, more manageable sections to optimise opportunities for completion and a sense of competence
- Individualise instruction and learning activities where appropriate and necessary
- Develop students’ goal-setting skills that allows students to work towards competence experiences
For improving teacher-student relationships, we suggested that teachers:
- Implement the “connective instruction” framework that seeks to optimise students’ interpersonal connection with teachers (students better connecting with the teacher him/herself), the substantive connection with teachers (students better connecting to the subject matter and academic tasks and activities), and the pedagogical connection with teachers (students connecting to how the teacher communicates and delivers subject matter)
- Build students’ awareness of social cues through social skills training
- Be more patient and tolerant of differences and diversity in the classroom
- Participate in professional development aimed at assisting at-risk students and their relationships with these students
Social and Emotional Competence and Teachers
Thus far we have focused on promoting social and emotional competencies among students. Alongside attention to students’ social and emotional competencies, we argue that teachers’ social and emotional competence is also crucial. This is because:
- Social and emotional competence plays a central role in determining how, what, when, and why teachers do what they do in the classroom. When teachers are socially and emotionally competent, they are better able to create a classroom environment that is positive, supportive, and well organised.
- Social and emotional competence also influences how teachers interact with others at work. When teachers have strong social skills, for example, they are able to be more responsive to students’ needs.
- Social and emotional competence is beneficial for teachers’ own wellbeing by helping them to manage the ups and downs of their work
- Teachers are often responsible for implementing social and emotional learning in the classroom and teachers’ social and emotional competence has a big influence on how they go about doing this. For example, when teachers are socially and emotionally competent, they tend to have more positive interactions with students and use teaching practices that are more conducive to learning.
Given that social and emotional competence is highly relevant to teachers’ work, what does this mean for schools and teachers?
- At an individual-level, professional development focused on teachers’ social and emotional competence is an avenue that is gaining support for improving teachers’ wellbeing and their ability to create a more positive and supportive classroom environment. For example, mindfulness-based professional development programs involve training in emotional skills (e.g., role plays to help teachers to recognise and be aware of their emotions), mindfulness (e.g., deliberate practice of present moment awareness), and caring and compassion (e.g., mindful listening to others without judgement).
- At a school-wide level, it is also important to create an environment where teachers’ social and emotional competence is supported. This lays a foundation for teachers’ own wellbeing and in turn their students’ learning.
The burgeoning awareness of the importance of social and emotional competence for children is having an effect in our schools, helping our children thrive in their classrooms and beyond. To date, most of this attention has focused on mainstream students. We believe our research and work focusing attention on young children, at-risk students, and teachers, for whom additional attention is important, will further promote positive and healthy individuals and schools.
The research cited here is in an edited volume by Erica Frydenberg, Andrew Martin and Rebecca Collie, Social and Emotional Learning in Australia and the Asia-Pacific, published by Springer Nature in Singapore in 2017 and to be launched today, Wednesday 29th July, at the 2017 Australian Association for Research in Education Conference in Canberra. The authors will be participating in a symposium after the launch.
Rebecca Collie, B.Ed. (Hons), M.A., Ph.D., is a Research Fellow in Educational and Developmental Psychology at the University of NSW. Her research interests focus on motivation and well-being among students and teachers, teachers’; and students’; psychosocial experiences at school (perceptions of school climate, job satisfaction, etc.), and quantitative research methods. Through her research, Rebecca aims to promote positive work environments and experiences among teachers as well as engagement and learning among students. She conducted her master’s and doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and her undergraduate education at the University of Melbourne. She has also worked as a primary school teacher in Melbourne. For more about Rebecca’s publications visit here.
Professor Andrew Martin, PhD, is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Co- Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in student motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods.
Erica Frydenberg is an educational, clinical and organizational psychologist who has practiced extensively in the Australian educational setting. She is a Principal Research Fellow and Associate Professor in psychology in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. She is an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society. Erica has authored and co-authored over 150 academic journal articles and chapters in the field of coping, developed psychological instruments to measure coping in children, adolescents and adults and authored and co-authored 15 books on topics ranging from early years through to adolescence and parenting. She has received numerous Australian Research Council and philanthropic grants, has been engaged widely as a consultant and has received many awards. For more about Erica visit her website.Read Less
Every edition of eTOPICS will include a SPOTLIGHT on a different State or Territory of Australia throughout the year, highlighting research, educational intiaitves and successes.
Please contact the editor if you wish to submit a SPOTLIGHT for a future edition.
Paul Colyer - ACPPA
Does the use of positive, consistent language across the school impact relationships at St Joseph’s School, Murray Bridge?
Research would acknowledge the variety of generations within the teaching profession within St Joseph’s and identify the characteristics, motivations and strengths that each of the generations bring to the teaching profession, specifically those working within school. In doing this we acknowledge that the register of language has changed over the past 40 years. Research would then explore the characteristics of language used to motivate and inspire students.
This research would then draw on a data set established prior to any conversation with children. The Class questionnaire would focus on the impact of teacher language on students and the emotions evoked from this language, be it positive or negative.
The research would explore what Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs are used at St Joseph’s and more broadly with the Kids Matter Survey findings. This honest evaluation would also establish how often SEL programs are taught and whether we witness students using this knowledge independently.
Fullan (2012) would suggest that a leader has the potential to enable change, suggesting that there are various levers of change that a leader can employ to engage staff to improve learning outcomes. Fullan recommends Motion Leadership as a style of leadership to engage entire systems of mixed age employees to have moral imperative to want best outcomes for students. If characteristics of language are known to whole school staff then it can be used in their daily conversations, pedagogy and interactions to positively impact students and the community.
The nucleus of the project is to develop a whole school language that is multilingual which builds community that is positive and consistent, where relationships are nurtured.
The role of the teacher in an Australian classroom is changing, and not in a good way. As I see it, the relentless pressure for schools to perform well in NAPLAN, the demands of various mandated curriculum and the ubiquitous concerns about ‘quality teaching’ are making teachers lose confidence in their own professional abilities. There is little space left for them to make their own decisions and act on their own ideas and knowledge as educators.
I believe it is time in Australia to start reclaiming the notion of teacher as curriculum worker, that is someone who can translate and transform their professional knowledge into appropriate conditions for learning for their particular students in their particular schools. There needs to be a pushback to the current constraints.
We know from myriad research (just look at Finland) that teachers flourish and children learn when teachers are given such freedoms.
I am not saying we should embark on a mission to get rid of MySchool or NAPLAN, or try to dismantle the national curriculum, that would probably not be a fruitful mission for our energy. There are, however, I believe, some ways in which we, as an education community, each with our different roles, might walk this tension between the enabling and constraining factors to help teachers make this space for themselves.
How the problem grew
In their 2007 book Schooling by Design, Wiggins and McTighe expressed their frustration with what they saw as an uncomfortable relationship between teachers and curriculum:
Over the years, we have observed countless examples of teachers who, though industrious and well meaning, act in ways that suggest that they misunderstand their jobs. It may seem odd or even outrageous to say that many teachers misconceive their obligations. But we believe this is the case. Nor do we think this is surprising or an aspersion on the character or insight of teachers. We believe that teachers, in good faith, act on an inaccurate understanding of the role of “teacher” because they imitate what they experienced, and their supervisors rarely make clear that the job is to cause understanding, not merely to march through the curriculum and hope that some content will stick. (2007, p. 128)
This observation probably made them seriously unpopular with teachers, but I think the issue is at least as much a systemic one as it is an individual one. To be honest, I think we’ve been deprofessionalised in terms of our capacity as a profession to undertake curriculum work over the past 20 years.
As the amount of curriculum content has gone up, we’ve been encouraged to see the tick box list of dot points (as we like to call them in NSW) as the curriculum itself for the purposes of accountability, and like the frog in the pot of gradually boiling water, we perhaps haven’t noticed how stark the difference really is. Personally, I don’t think that initial teacher education programs have, as a rule, been good at supporting the development of ‘curriculum worker’ as a principal dimension of beginning teacher identity either, preoccupied largely with the ‘what’ and less than we should be with the ‘how’.
The original Shape of the Australian Curriculum paper, published in 2009, had the following to say about teachers as curriculum workers:
The curriculum should allow jurisdictions, systems and schools to implement it in a way that values teachers’ professional knowledge and that reflects the needs and interests evident in local contexts, as it will be teachers who decide how best to organise learning for students. Organisation of learning should take account of individual family, cultural and community backgrounds; acknowledge and build on prior learning experiences; and fill gaps in those experiences. (ACARA, 2009, p. 8)
The national curriculum will describe a learning entitlement for each Australian student, clearly explaining what is to be taught and learned in each area. Implementing the national curriculum, as in the case of state and territory curriculums, will rely on teachers’ professional judgments about how best to organise learning for students, how to reflect local and regional circumstances, and how best to take advantage of their own specialised professional knowledge and their students’ interests. (ACARA, 2009, p. 11)
By the 2012 version of the paper, these passages had morphed into:
Jurisdictions, systems and schools will be able to implement the Australian Curriculum in ways that value teachers’ professional knowledge, reflect local contexts and take into account individual students’ family, cultural and community backgrounds. Schools and teachers determine pedagogical and other delivery considerations. (ACARA, 2012, p. 11)
The Australian Curriculum makes clear to teachers what is to be taught. It also makes clear to students what they should learn and the quality of learning expected of them. Schools are able to decide how best to deliver the curriculum, drawing on integrated approaches where appropriate and using pedagogical approaches that account for students’ needs, interests and the school and community context. (ACARA, 2012, p. 25)
The differences are subtle but the shift from teachers deciding how best to organise learning for students to schools being able to decide how best to deliver the curriculum is not just a semantic one.
Teachers as curriculum workers
The role I am thinking of is where teachers understand curriculum work as a complex process involving prioritisation, translation, and transformation of knowledge into appropriate conditions for learning. It is about understanding curriculum work as a deeply creative and productive process that relies on confidence with and command of content; deep pedagogical expertise; and a good understanding of the learners in question. It is understanding teaching as scholarly work, as intellectual work, as knowledge work.
As I see it, it is around embracing and consciously growing teacher professional judgement as a matter of professional development priority. Teacher professional judgement has been regarded with increasing suspicion over the past 20 years, but so much of teachers’ curriculum work, not to mention other work, relies on finely honed professional judgement. We’ve come to think of it as unreliable and ‘subjective’, when in actual fact we should be fighting this take on it and working collaboratively to sharpen it.
We might do this by sustaining real conversations about curricular and pedagogical practice, pushing each other to draw evidence from a broad range of sources and use it in both employing our judgement and opening that judgement up to the scrutiny of others. I know of no teacher in touch with their students and their learning who can’t tell you vastly more about those students’ performance than a supposedly objective test score.
I won’t pretend that professional judgement is the ‘silver bullet’ that professional standards were posed to be in the early 2000s, but so much of engaging in critical curriculum work relies on confident and well developed professional judgement that I believe we must focus on this as a matter of priority, lest it disappear entirely down the rabbit hole in our fixation on ‘objective data’.
We’re hearing a lot of late about the possibilities for curriculum integration in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Without teachers being supported to embrace their identity as curriculum workers more overtly, more stridently and more expansively, visions of integration, whether oriented toward STEM, STEAM (STEM + Arts), or anything else, are, to my mind, unlikely to come about.
Does the implementation of Mindfulness and Calming Activities after recess and lunch improve student engagement in learning?
Abstract for the ACF – Childhood Trauma Conference 2018
Theme: Trauma informed practice in schools
Presentation Title: Mindfulness – Engagement - Learning
All Saints Catholic Primary School, Seaford SA
At All Saints Catholic Primary School we have many children who have experienced various levels of Trauma throughout their childhood and in their home environment. These children present with social, emotional, academic and behaviour difficulties which effects their ability to engage in learning on a daily basis.
The focus of our Action Research Project was to identify the children who have experienced trauma and implement strategies to improve their engagement in learning. We recognised that the most difficult times for our traumatised children is after play times. Our main focus of our project was to implement calming and mindful activities after play times as a way of creating a calm learning environment and preparing the children to engage positively in learning.
Throughout our 18 month journey we took data from staff, students and parents. We analysed the data to prove our inquiry question “Does the implementation of Mindfulness and Calming Activities after recess and lunch improve student engagement in learning?” Ultimately we found that mindfulness and calming activities after play times had a big impact on how students engaged in their learning! Children were taught about brain functions and practised mindfulness daily. Staff were trained in Trauma Informed Practice and Mindfulness.
The Trauma Project at All Saints has been a valuable learning experience for our staff, children and community. It is only the beginning of the work that we intend to do around developing the WHOLE child. Staff have become more informed in the neurobiology of the brain therefore being able to teach our children about how the brain works. The Trauma Committee have become leaders to other staff, especially new staff, and are able to mentor colleagues on how to integrate mindfulness in the class.
One of the challenges our staff are facing is understanding children’s trauma stories and finding ways to support, connect and understand these students. We are currently witnessing a gradual change within our school culture as to how our staff is viewing children’s behaviour. Our teachers are now applying their knowledge of the Limbic system when faced with students displaying unmindful thoughts and actions. This reinforces the importance of getting to know the story behind the negative behaviour, as we’re seeing more teachers take this into consideration.
The trauma project has launched a wellbeing focus at All Saints and it has become part of our strategic plan to improve child wellbeing. We have already learnt that calming strategies and mindfulness can make a large impact on a child’s engagement in learning. We are now keen to find out what other strategies we can use to become more trauma sensitive. One idea we have is to create a central “Calm Zone” where children can visit when they are feeling overwhelmed in their classroom or in the yard.
Our children have become “experts” in the neurobiology of the brain and are able to articulate their learning when faced with threatening situations. They understand why we do calming activities and they are making the connections with how and why they react to certain situations. The children now realise that the physical sensations they experience are actually the expression of certain emotions. In some cases children are able to use a range of calming techniques on their own to help manage their emotional responses. Our children are now able to identify early warning signs in themselves and are able to use calming techniques appropriately to reduce their level of anxiety. It is so rewarding to see children self-regulating and self-soothing when they are feeling anxious or angry.
The Trauma Project has been a significant development in child wellbeing at All Saints and helped promote a positive and calm learning environment. We feel that we have made a positive impact on the school and we are eager to continue working towards trauma informed practice throughout the whole school. Being a trauma sensitive school is something that requires persistence, patience and passion. We believe that we have made a great step towards trauma informed practice and required the dedication of the entire community to continue our journey in child development at All Saints.
Most Australian teachers returned to their schools last week, and for many their first day back was a pupil-free day spent doing doing professional development. I am sure most teachers were respectful and attentive to whatever sessions had been organised for them and fellow staff members by their school, but after the long summer holidays it can be a challenge.
I wonder how effective these professional development experiences might be for our teachers? Do we really know? Usually professional development is evaluated on the day and feedback is given, but how reliable or useful might this be? I am especially interested having just read a new paper by Professor Mary M Kennedy from Michigan State University.
So how does teacher professional development work?
Kennedy looked at 28 studies of all types of professional development (PD) programs for teacher learning in the US. Kennedy invites her readers to think about the idea that although there is widespread agreement about the importance of PD, and that PD can foster improvements in teaching, there is little consensus about how PD actually works.
She asks questions such as: What happens in PD? How does it actually foster teacher learning and furthermore how is it expected to change teaching practice? How can education researchers give more attention to developing their ideas about teacher learning alongside what they know about student learning?
Kennedy points out that there is no single overarching theory of teaching or of teacher learning and this is what makes the effects of PD complex. Now more than ever, teachers are enveloped by multiple conflicting messages about what is most important in the classroom, and that if one’s attention is in a particular area, then it may compromise their effectiveness in another. I often hear the lament that the education system is “noisy” and the feeling of being overloaded by education ideas/strategies/practices/content is tangible.
A second feature Kennedy raises has to do with how teachers’ translate new ideas into their own systems of practice. It’s worth remembering that PD is usually conducted outside of the classroom and whatever is said, modelled or shown during a PD session is meant to alter behaviours inside the classroom. It is a tall order when you break it down; the problem of enactment as Kennedy calls it, becomes very real.
Often in education literature, the terms professional development and professional learning are used interchangeably. And so, the term professional development is the activity, the process and experience teachers engage in, in order to develop their professional learning. Certainly from Australian colleagues there appears to be some agreement that professional learning primarily should be school-based and school-managed, and be focused on improving and reflecting on teaching practice. The scholarship of practitioner research embraces many of these ideals.
Critical professional development program design
In the final section of Kennedy’s paper there is a useful discussion of critical PD program design features:
- There should be some element of content knowledge that has a broader goal of exposing student thinking
- PD must include opportunities for collective participation – where it’s possible for teachers to discuss the intellectual work they are engaged in
- It ought to have intensity in relation to time and the amount of information transmitted and especially when the PD program provides strategies or insights
- Consider using coaches, again it depends on the coach, and the studies reviewed showed that coaches, as might be expected, vary in value
- Should pay attention to the PD providers, for example, how are they selected, prepared for their work and examine how their efficacy is assessed; and
- Issues of sustainability are critical in terms of the PD effects, and what does that look like at the end of the program, and then after one, or two years.
Kennedy finishes her review with a call to arms in that we need to ensure that PD promotes real learning for teachers’ rather than merely adding more noise to their working environment. Here, here I say!
I confess, that the Kennedy paper spoke to me at the right time. I was preparing for a PD session with teachers at Parramatta High School on the first day of the new school year. I changed a few of my plans.
*It is important to note in the paper it is PD (professional development) programs that Professor Kennedy is referring to.
Kennedy, M. (2016). How does professional development improve learning? Review of Educational Research, , 86(4), 945-980.
Friday 1st December was a massive day of colour and excitement for St Joseph’s Taree. We had our very first Dye Hard Colour Run for our Catholic Mission Fundraiser and what a day it was.
Year 6 students are the organisers of our Catholic Mission Day every year. These activities vary from year to year, always with an exciting day for our school community to participate in and enjoy together. But this Colour Run was a day to beat all days!
The day began with a school community celebration in the Sr Ellen Shanahan School Hall, marking the beginning of Advent. This celebration was run by Year 6 and reminded us all of the wonder and awe of the divine birth of Jesus Christ. Advent is a time of hope, peace, love and joy which we often need to be reminded of leading up to Christmas.
At 12:50pm Year 6 students had prepared a mini-market and gaming room for our guests to meander through. We had a sausage sizzle, cake stall, face painting, biscuit decorating, jewellery stall and X-Box gaming room. Kathy Brown, who runs our canteen, prepared an amazing array of rainbow treats for the community to purchase.
At 1:30pm the run began. Mr Hassett, one of the Year 6 teachers, set up a series of obstacle challenges for the participants to navigate through while teachers were placed around the course at colour stations to throw colour at the runners.
Year 6 began the run, followed by the rest of the school. Parents, past students and new comers filled our beautiful school grounds to participate and I can’t express the happiness and joy radiating from all who were involved. The participants ran all afternoon until the whole school and every individual inside the school gates were covered from head to toe with vibrant colour.
I had to take a moment, and I literally only had a moment, to look up and witness the gloriousness of the day. This event was planned to fundraise with the focus on wellbeing, community and family. The true success of the day was hearing students, parents and guests commenting on what a great day it was and how much fun everyone had. The smiles were radiating from the faces of everyone and my heart couldn’t have been more filled with joy.
Happiness, family, community, sunshine and colour. What more could one ask for?
The Dye Hard Colour Run was a fundraiser to support two charities. These are Catholic Mission, who work tirelessly for the vulnerable people in our world and the Sims Cambodia Project which is run by two Australian School teachers, Brian and Sue Morgan. Brian and Sue retired from their teaching jobs in Newcastle and have been tirelessly doing some serious missionary work with the poorest of the poor in Cambodia. One of their major projects is to build a school. As much money as possible will be sent straight to Bruce and Sue to help this dream become a reality.
Thank you to all those who participated and help fundraise for these two great causes.
The day was just sensational. The liturgy was really simple and really important. The crowd was just amazing! What a great day, great sense of community, loads of smiling faces and the money raised will go towards making a difference in the lives of those who don’t have all that we enjoy each day.
Religious Education Coordinator
St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Taree
Principal - St Joseph's Catholic Primary School, Taree
The ACPPA story is one to be celebrated and lived!
Since its beginnings in the early 1980's ACPPA has been faithfully led by many dedicated Principals from around the county to make it what it is today...and what it will be tomorrow!
Keep a look out for 'blasts from the past' in future eTOPICS.
Interested in an ACPPA Alumni?? Email us to find out more.
BACK Brian Devitt Daniel Hollamby Phil Cash Bill Kelly John O’Brien
FRONT Owen Wilde Anne Cougle Bernadette Ahearn Frank Hennessy Kay Lane
When reflecting back on Principalship in the 80’s and 90’s, one of the most endearing memories is of the annual ACPPA Conferences. A number of Catholic principals had attended the APPA annual conference, which provided great professional development, led by some of the best educational thinkers in the world. However the focus was on general primary education issues.
Those pioneer principals began a conversation as to whether there was a place for a similar national conference where the focus would be on the very special and unique mission of a primary school principal in a Catholic school. A group of Queensland primary principals (pictured) were given the responsibility to plan and organise such a conference.
And so ACPPA came into being. 109 principals from every state in Australia assembled at Marist Brothers College, Ashgrove in Brisbane for the inaugural conference. The theme was A New Time: A New Vision and was led by Kevin Treston. At this conference a formal motion was carried to form the Australian Catholic Primary Principals’ Association, a constitution adopted and the first National Executive elected. The President was Frank Hennessy, Secretary Bernadette Ahearn and Treasurer Phil Cash, all Brisbane principals.
The conference using the boarding school facilities at Ashgrove was a resounding success. Not even the fact that the hot water system in some of the bathrooms malfunctioned, meaning the male principals from NSW, NT, VIC and SA had only cold showers, detracted from this event.
What this conference did most emphatically establish was the importance and value of the collegiality practiced with great enthusiasm in the hospitality room in the boarding house. It is significant that 33 years later, some 100-plus principals once again enjoyed this feature in a beautiful setting overlooking the Brisbane River, with the brilliantly lit Story Bridge in the background, during last year’s annual ACPPA/APPA conference.
1. Be Personally Effective
- Be approachable
- Adapt your personal style to connect in the best way with your audience(s)
- Deliver messages in a clear, interesting and engaging way
- Watch and respond to non-verbal cues to improve comfort level and buy-in
- Be responsive
- Follow up
- Demonstrate expertise
- Meet commitments and do things on time
2. Share Information Regularly and Appropriately
- Be committed to sharing information with employees
- Treat confidential information appropriately
3. Create Line of Sight
- Explain the company’s vision, mission and goals in ways that are relevant to employees’ jobs
- Be a translator
4. Communicate Change
- Inform employees about changes taking place in the organization
- Explain the reasons behind decisions
- Be okay to not have all the answers (and help find them)
5. Create Dialogue
- Ask questions
- Ask open-ended questions to gather more information and create dialogue
- Seek diverse perspectives
6. Give, Get and Use Feedback
- Be open to feedback from employees
- Take actions based on the feedback of employees
7. Advocate for the Team and Organization
- Put the interests of the group/organization before your own
Thinking about the steps to becoming an effective leadercommunicator, which ones do you already apply on a regular basis? Which ones do you think may take some concentrated effort to incorporate into your everyday processes?
Consider making a list of simple actions you might take to address the ones that don’t come as naturally to you and work to apply at least one item from the list every day.
—David GrossmanRead Less