Professional Leaning in a Digital Age

Mikey G Ottawa

“You Find Yourself Yet?” by Mikey G Ottawa (Flickr)

What does teacher professional learning look like in a digital age? What kind of impact on student learning outcomes and the school community does a highly connected, digitally literate teacher have? How can educators work more effectively with one another using available tools? I’m incredibly lucky to be an Education student at a time when pertinent questions like these are still waiting to be fully investigated. Now in the second year, my doctoral research has led me to explore the professional learning of teachers, principals, preservice teachers and school leaders. While I’ll never be an expert in this area, it’s exciting to see what’s now possible and to know there are so many awesome teachers out there.

We’re witnessing a shift taking place – from the now antiquated professional “development” forms of lectures, one-day training courses and PD days to more highly personalised, relevant professional learning that’s tailored to the needs of the individual teacher. I’m optimistic that more and more teachers can become effective learners in the digital age and empower themselves and their students in the process. I’ve often felt that school leaders (and principals especially) need to be on board. My recent work experience has also led me to believe that we should do everything we can to support preservice teachers to learn far beyond the life of their degrees. 

I’ve been especially lucky to work with Cathie Howe, Professional Learning & Leadership Advisor at Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre (MacICT). Cathie is a passionate educator who supports teachers in schools across Greater Sydney and New South Wales. Professional Learning in a Digital Age (PLDA) is a course that we’ve developed at MacICT to reflect the new, connected ways in which teachers can learn. The course provides first-time support through training sessions in a range of current tools for content aggregation and people-to-people connections, including Feedly, Google Plus Communities, Twitter and Creative Commons. These sessions are run in both face-to-face and online modes. Following the training, participants engage a four-week Mini-Online Course (MOC), with weekly activities where they use digital tools to practice the Four Cs of communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity.

Being able to teach in an area so close to my doctoral research is incredibly rewarding. As always, I have a lot to learn – so do we all. Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding our community, building connections and discovering our voices. It’s a pleasure to support our thirty-nine teachers on this journey.   

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Does Money Buy a Better Education?

I just listened to the most recent episode of EdPod, ABC Radio National’s monthly roundup of education issues. In the current episode, interviewer Natasha Mitchell and corporate lawyer David Gillespie discuss the question: “does money buy a better quality education?” Gillespie, father of six, decides to select public education for his six children, having worked out that it would cost him over a million dollars to send all six children to private schools. 

I found Gillespie’s argument and research fascinating. The program touches on a range of vexed issues in current education policy, and it was refreshing to hear an argument that is, at least, focused more on research than ideology. The emphasis on “macro” or metadata is very much in line with the work of John Hattie and others, who attempt to look at literally thousands of studies (culminating in sample sizes of millions) to establish statistical significance or otherwise. As always, I think there is a danger in relying on quantitative data too much; we run the risk of missing important, context-relevant insights. I’d also argue that when parents select schools for their kids, the context of the individual school is very important. This isn’t always reflected in the metadata. 
 
To illustrate his argument, Gillespie uses the analogy of a flight to London. When flying, passengers have the choice of economy (government schools), business (Catholic schools) or first-class (wealthy, independent schools). Regardless of the passengers’ choices, all are on the same flight; all arrive safely at their destination at the same time. To illustrate the point further, Gillespie points out that most money spent in education is on teachers – but this is fairly even across the three systems in Australia, so when parents pay for a private education, they are essentially paying for the “extras” – the swimming pools, flashy computers, or, to use the analogy, the “leather seats” of the first class flight. 
 
I think this analogy of the economy, business and first classes “all making it to London” is interesting. At the same time, I found this analogy highly flawed. While everyone might get to London, one person could arrive to find himself starving on the streets, while another checks into the Hilton. Have they both really “got there?” While academic outcomes can be useful to demonstrate a student’s success in school, I think there may be better measurements of success that factor in the post-school competencies and opportunities for every young adult.
 
Of course, the elephant in the room is socio-economics. Gillespie suggests that the private school rates of success are not down to SES or necessarily the quality of the teachers; rather, they exist because high calibre students are “herded” into these environments. Sure, many now argue that the teacher is more important than the school’s SES, but NSW government schools still do their own “herding,” whether in relation to catchment areas or the same kind of talent herding (and brain drain for surrounding schools) in the state selective school environments. As a parent, I may have little choice about the state school to which I send my child (more so if I’m struggling financially or live in a postcode marked by systemic disadvantage). Surely, there are different levels of choice operating here – if a corporate lawyer’s choice to send his children to the local state school is in a different postcode to mine? 
 
Another point to bear in mind is that most teachers in NSW government schools have been “posted” to the school, not hired directly. As such, principals in these schools have often had very little choice about the teachers appointed. By contrast, many Catholic and independent schools closely vet their teachers and attempt to hire teachers that are academically and socially suited to the school. In saying this, I really do support state schools and recognise the importance of transfer points and posting as a means to staff difficult schools. However, a degree of school autonomy that ensures better and more suitable teachers throughout the school is equally worth considering, and the way forward is probably more “both/and” than “either/or.”
 
If you’re a parent or teacher, you may find this segment of the program really worth the ten or so minutes of listening. 
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Technology – “Just a Tool?”

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day discussing her experiences studying an Education Masters degree in the late 90s. She noted that a professor she had held in high esteem really helped her to keep a healthy perspective on the role of technology in education:

“Right from early on, she kept telling us ‘technology is just a tool.’ I think that became an important reminder throughout my research and I’ve carried that view into the classroom. Technology really is just a tool.

Many of us have often encountered similar viewpoints, and on one level, it’s very easy to accept statements like these. Historically, the late 90s and early 2000s were a time of enormous change as the touted “information super highway” became about much more than just information storage and retrieval. As we began to explore the read/write web, our experience of technology was as much shaped by our participation as by our access to information. In many ways, we’ve become the technology; it expresses our identity to the world, shapes our perspectives and transforms our experiences.

Of course, in education, there was (and still is) a knee-jerk reaction to the hype, hence the need to regard technology as simply a “tool.” This is understandable. Given objections that, for example, technology might be used as a substitute for good pedagogy, why not pigeonhole technology into the toolshed and focus on what’s important? 

Of course, pedagogy is – and will always be – important. But in essence, what is pedagogy? Adult educator Malcolm Knowles famously defined pedagogy as “the art and science of education,” a definition now widely accepted among the global education community. It’s a nice binary – art suggests capricious, free thinking and creativity “in the moment,” while science suggests cold, hard objectivity, rationality and critical thinking. Put them together and you certainly have an interesting mix. But where does this leave technology as “just a tool?” Modern (post 1950s!) pedagogical approaches like reciprocal teaching, teacher-student self-verbalisation, real-time collaboration and project-based learning are so entwined with technology that they’re shaped and enhanced by its use. To see technology solely as a tool suggests that these pedagogies are somehow removed. 

Today, there was some real buzz on the web about Da Vinci’s famous “piano-cello,” an instrument designed by the artist but never properly “invented,” until now.

To consider a musical instrument like the piano, cello or piano-cello as “just a tool” seems to be missing the point. Of course, any musical instrument is merely a piece of technology – but when we view instruments like these on another level, we see that the technology has incredible capacity to transform identity, perspectives and experience. The music we create with these tools is so inextricably entwined with the technology. That’s why Da Vinci, Stradivarius and others were so committed to extending their imaginations with the technology of their day as far as humanly possible. 

I don’t believe that technology is, or ever will be, “just a tool.” I’d rather leave that definition to spanners and screwdrivers and get on with dreaming about how future technologies might change the way I teach and learn – and what role I can play in getting there. 

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Mapping Bigger Pictures

Last week saw the end of my first year as a teacher at university. Before primary and secondary colleagues reading this think “oh, the life!” I should point out that I’ll be kept quite busy with marking, research, PhD and future planning up until Christmas eve, and I hope to be back in January teaching during the summer school period.

The transition from working mostly with kids to working solely with adults has left an indelible mark on my identity as teacher, albeit a mark that I’m still daily trying to figure out. My students this year were effusive in their praise, and though I know that I could have done better, I’m very lucky to know that I’ve made a difference.

The hardest part is that, at this stage in an academic career, I really can’t separate the layers of my professional identity. In many ways, the school world used to be so separate from real life. My roles were so neatly laid out like a fortnightly timetable; commitments were funnelled into lots of twenty and fifty minutes, separated neatly by chiming bells, buses and uniforms. It seemed in many ways a beautiful little world just carved out for me – finite, structured, made clear. 

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Within this structure, I worked out who I was in reference to the ideas that circulated within that environment. I was considered “innovative” by some because, in spite of the order, I moved outside the immediacy of the school environment, throwing myself into countless hours of dabbling with new technology tools, researching for my Masters, blogging and networking with teachers from around the world. But I always knew that I could come back to the safety and security of the school walls.

Now the structures seem to be shifting. “Self” means father, researcher, student, teacher, lecturer, tutor, cellist, traveller, blogger… Conversations from one area bleed into another, and I find myself helplessly thinking across traditional boundaries (it seems I’m only comfortable when I do, because sticking to one area makes me more consciously aware of what little I know). The world beyond the schoolyard is liberating but scary at the same time. I’ve always been comfortable moving from one skin into the next, so there’s nothing really to be afraid of but it does take some getting used to. It’s the intersections that are the most interesting, so I need to learn to stop trying to be the best at everything and start thinking about how overlapping roles gives me unique perspectives on education. 

I sit down to blog and I’m never quite sure where to position the perspective, how to “think” my way through the writing, what the purpose will be or who I’m supposed to be talking to. The blog itself has to undergo a huge shift, but mapping it out isn’t easy. 

I’m doing my best to map things out as best I can. My supervisor and I sit in his office with a whiteboard and marker, mapping out the chapters of a thesis I’m yet to write. 

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2013 09 27 12 49 20

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to map out the changes in my thinking, planning and research for the future. The world of my classroom involved neat little programs, units and assessment tasks, many of which I’d taught for years on end. Now I’m thrust into a world of mapping much bigger pictures: government policies, national accreditation requirements, collective case studies of seventeen schools, two hundred years of educational theory… 

Academics often talk about juggling their commitment to teaching with research and the pressures of publishing. These last few weeks, I know what they mean; I’m marking 122 assignments, each requiring full attention, careful consideration and detailed feedback. To stay fresh, I intersperse readings on the educational theories of Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey, an intersection I’m hoping to explore in Chapter 2 of my thesis. I’m already getting a sense that teaching and research should be equal guests at the table, so I’m hoping to listen to their conversations more closely. 

At the same time, I’m learning to appreciate pre-service teachers and their world. I’m learning to empathise with their fears of standing up and teaching a class of kids, managing difficult behaviour, finding their first job and making their way in the world. Though it’s been twelve years since I was in their specific shoes, the world is now a different place.

As always, I know that it’s the slight turn of the wheel that often makes the difference to the journey. Like the kid in the video below, I’m trying new things to shift my perspective slightly and see the world differently. Each day is different – and I’m enjoying being me. 

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From Teacher to Parent – Why Gender Matters

 

In exactly one month to the day, I’ll be a dad – responsible for bringing someone into the world. My wife made the choice of not knowing the sex of the baby which I’m happy about. Many people comment to the effect of, “that’s great – you’ll love the surprise!” I suppose it’s also about giving the kid a chance to be themselves before we’ve had a chance to work it out and there’s something liberating about that.  

Like all keen parents, we’ve been working around the clock to set up the new space. After numerous trips to shopping centres and factory outlets, we’re reasonably au fait with the range of toys, gadgets, clothes and kiddy creature comforts. My wife complains that everything seems funnelled into the visual categories of bright pink and baby blue; it seems, as a society, we’re still wanting to label our children as boys and girls – and the pink/blue binary seems to suggest that mums and dads are deciding that their child will be recognisable from birth as a boy or girl. Perhaps this also represents some kind of a knee-jerk reaction to the gender freedom movements of the 70s that advocated, for example, the denial of baby dolls for girls as a form of resistance to patriarchy. Perhaps it’s just indelible the way we are. 

My own story of gender is one that is so inextricably linked to my life growing up in a boys’ school and, more recently, my work as a teacher, for the most part, teaching girls. These experiences are a mix of chance, choice and opportunity – but I seem unable to escape the questions that so fundamentally define who I am as a human being and the notion that these questions should guide the way I think and act as a parent or teacher.

My own schooling was galvanising at best and traumatising at worst. A Catholic boys’ school with a strong sporting culture, rugby players six feet tall with teenage stubble, broken voices and menacing scowls ruled the playground like gods. Masculinity was the currency hard-faught for and, for those a little too pale, skinny, articulate, emotional – a little too different – this kind of masculinity was a currency rarely won. Words like faggot, pansy, poof and queer were necessary weapons for asserting yourself over others. Very often, such weapons were used by teachers in positions of power (almost always the gruffly-spoken male teachers that had been hired as role models, usually less capable than many of the female teachers who would later serve as role models for the teacher I wanted to be). These words had hardly anything to do with sexuality (many of the boys who were called “poofs” were heterosexual and, as a quick Facebook survey reveals, now with wives and children to prove it) but  everything to do with how we were supposed to think, behave and interact. It seems as interesting to me now as it did then that the personality traits that so readily had you labelled as homosexual (concern for others’ feelings, admitting you were scared, or wanting to stand up for someone else who was being bullied) were as much, perhaps, about not being close to female as about actually being gay. In between the bullying and the Catholic church’s negative stance on homosexuality and the relative subjugation and glass ceiling of female leaders, I was never very sure where the God of compassion was. As a an extremely shy and anxious kid, I never really had much opportunity to talk to girls let alone work out how boys and girls might, when it all boils down, be more similar than different. 

In this respect, statements like “man up,” “act like a man” and “don’t be a girl” are as much about hiding the traits that might be considered feminine in an effort to be a part of the problem and ignore possible solutions. As many like Tony Porter have argued, this is a form of misogyny – and for me, these were the lessons of the classroom and the playground that were my reality for eight years. They were lessons reinforced by teachers who, in their “dark sarcasm” were hardly any better than the kids who in groups would ambush you to “teach you a lesson” in a quiet corner of the street as you walked home. A lot of people argue that bullying makes you strong, but for those who feel the pain inescapably, it can just as easily make you weak.  

“My liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.”

A Call to Men – Tony Porter (TED)

In more recent times, I’ve seen another side of Catholic education – one that involves genuinely caring for the individual, the celebration of social justice, gender equality, positivity and following in the footsteps of some remarkable men and women. This environment has taught me a different lesson and very often, my teachers have been girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen. I chose this environment partly for something different and partly because I wanted to run away from the boys that had made me weak. 

What extraordinary lessons I’ve learned when, like many teachers, I claim to have learned far more in my time in the classroom than I have “taught.” It’s from women and girls that I’ve learned what real strength is. Our world is full of life-changing stories of females that have half the physical strength of their male counterparts, making up for it tenfold in emotional strength and compassion (and we all know that that’s the real strength). In particular, it’s through the women I’ve known that I learned to let my guard down, open up, feel emotion and ultimately be the person I wanted to be. The qualities that I sought to hide, dismiss or even have disappear – the love of language, perspective, sensitivity, expression and compassion – are the same qualities that women have valued in me. Perhaps more important than anything in this world, women have taught me empathy. Maybe that’s why those like the Dalai Lama believe that women can and should lead on a much larger scale than before:

The Power of Women – Dalai Lama

Ah, but that’s the problem – doesn’t it sound easy? So many women can empathise with the kind of bullying, violent behaviour and subjugation that I experienced. New data from WHO is telling us that more than a third of the world’s women are victims of violence. In light of these and other statistics, I’d be a fool to think that my childhood experiences (now well in the past) can really help me to fully appreciate and completely empathise with the violence and suffering that so many women in the world endure, from the time they are born (just think of female infanticide) to death (think higher mortality rates in many areas like domestic violence, crime and childbirth in the developing world). When I walk the streets in my male body, I’m in a different space – one that’s far removed from the kind of violence and bullying that plagued me as a child. Perhaps for me, the nightmare is over – but it would be naive to think that other’s nightmares are as short-lived. 

On the other hand, perhaps what I’ve been through and done counts for something small? As a male teacher teaching girls, I knew I wanted the best for them (that’s really not saying much: all teachers want the best for their kids). I knew that I could use my emotional strength to help them to become stronger. I learned from research that indicates the positive role that male role models can play in the lives of adolescent girls. I took as much time to listen non-judgementally – and while I knew I couldn’t fully relate, I’d let them know, whenever possible, that I would try as much as I could to relate. As a Music teacher, I taught my girls to be angry about the fact that western art Music is a five hundred year story of dead, white males. As a technology teacher, I was fascinated by the girls whose understanding of how computers work at times eclipsed my own understanding. As an English teacher, I told the stories of women burning bras in the 70s. I embraced writers like Jane Austen and her satirical critique on the dependence of women on men – the need to “marry well” – as a socially-constructed economic reality that could be changed, and has since changed because of the thoughts and actions of countless women. My wife once told me that the younger girls “need to hear these stories from you – otherwise they won’t really appreciate them.” Listening to girls and women decry feminists (one girl once told me that women who promoted equal rights “were just a bunch of Nazi femo-cows”), I can sometimes see this.

In the time since I left high school, my confidence has multiplied tenfold. I’m more aware of who I am and what really matters in life. As a teacher, I’m probably over confident, a quality that – through what educators call the “hidden curriculum” – has meant my students appear similarly confident, ready to stick their hands up, express opinions at the drop of a hat and dive into tasks even when they’re not entirely sure of what to do. Maybe these are all good things – and maybe our gender has some deeper meaning to the purpose of life – or maybe we simply are who we are?

So, does it matter whether my wife and I have a boy or a girl? Not really. As I said before, in spite of the coloured clothes, childhood taunts, economic realities and grim statistics, we’re probably much more biologically similar than different. Like any parent, I’ll do the best I can in the time that I have. But like all of life’s great mysteries, you have to know the rules before you can break them. I hope to give them, at least, a little head start on that score. 

 

 

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Warts and All…

I finished my first full semester of university teaching yesterday, having had the pleasure of working with sixty-two pre-service English teachers in their final year before the classroom. In many ways this caps off my introduction to a place that is both familiar and foreign. On the one hand, I’ve managed to survive (and even thrive) on the strength of my decade of teaching experience, drawing on many of the strategies, resources, technologies and approaches – including the talent, ideas and values of those teachers who have shaped me. Although I’m yet to receive any feedback from my formal evaluations, many of my students have commented on my willingness to teach by example. As one student remarked, “a lot of lecturers out there tell students about pedagogy – you’re one of the few who actually do pedagogy.”

I like to think about what I do as a form of “warts and all” teaching – where I make tonnes of mistakes, learn from them and share my insights in the process. I’ve really given up on perfection and the idea that there is an elusive model of a perfect teacher still waiting for me to discover. Sure, there are a multitude of teachers who are better than I’ll ever be, but I think that mistakes are far more valuable to learn from.

On the other hand, university teaching can be quite a different place to the secondary classroom, and I’m learning quickly that I need to invest, equally in becoming the best researcher I can be. One of the most inspiring discoveries that any newcomer to the academic world can make – and needs to make – is that research and practice can go together hand in hand. For me, it’s the kind of research that makes me a better teacher that I feel I could easily make my life’s work. The fact that I’m in the right place and the right time means that my work life 2013 really couldn’t get much better.  

 

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Embracing Failure Again

Recently, I presented my PhD proposal before a review panel at the university where I’m currently studying and teaching. Those who have been through the process know how gruelling it can be to have your ideas placed under the microscope. For those who haven’t, a proposal review it’s a process that’s almost a cross between making a sales pitch, delivering a carefully-scripted monologue of Shakespearean proportions (not quality!) and being prepared to unpack the whole process when asked questions about your understanding of the research, the design, methodology and instrumentation of your study proposal and your personal beliefs about education and what brought you to being where you are at this point in time.

My review was a particularly valuable experience, causing me question how we define, through the discourses in education, our socially constructed versions of success and failure.

On one level I “failed.” My reviewers quickly picked up my selectivity and partiality towards a particular area of the research while neglecting other areas that were, upon reflection, closely related. I made quite a number of oversights in the design of my study, thinking in grandiose dimensions and answering carefully composed questions with big picture statements that didn’t address the issues raised by my supportive audience. I now have a list of areas to address that’s literally as long as my arm! It’s a typical “revise and resubmit” result that is often inferred in academic circles as a gentle way of saying “go back to the drawing board.” 

Yet, I’m reminded of my parting words the day I left my last school. I told the teachers there – many of whom I’d worked with for nearly a decade – that what would always stay with me is the sense that I was able to embrace my many failures and to be supported by those around me – by kids who realised that I was human and colleagues that struggled with the same stress, workload and self-consciousness.

In this light, I think that embracing failure is ultimately a form of success. For my proposal, I had some of the best minds in Education who had spent a lot of time reading through my thirty-something thousand words, helping me to structure my thoughts, willing to listen to my ideas over a coffee and, when the time called for it, willing to tell me that I what I have done wasn’t to the mark and that I needed to rethink my ideas and approach. As a result, I’ve spent a week or so with the same research and realised that there’s much more that I don’t know; I’ve begun to learn with a renewed passion what I otherwise would have left aside. Many of my doctoral peers were able to see me make my own mistakes – publicly as it just so happened – and learn from them (particularly as several of them present next month). They probably respect me just as much (if not more so) for making these mistakes as they would if the whole proposal had gone smoothly without a hitch. In way, I’m glad to have made these mistakes – and glad that I can once again embrace failure. That’s the best recipe for success. 

 

 

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Finding the Voice

For the past few months, my Back2skool blog has really been weighing heavily on my mind, as I struggle to find a voice in the crowd. When I started blogging in 2008, every day in the classroom was a new experience and I was like a child with technology. I found it so easy to let the ideas just flow onto the keyboard, through images and video. I also found that I tended to learn more through the reflective experience of typing each blog post – through the language that gives so much structure to one’s own learning.

This year, I’ve moved away from teaching kids and begun the next part of the journey – teaching the big kids as best I can while concentrating much of my efforts in trying to hone an academic voice (one worthy of the publishing I’ll need to secure a permanent position).  

Still in the process of working out who I am in the new environment, I find I’m more and more reserved in what I share, vetting the things I say and often going to great lengths to check my facts before I suggest something to a colleague or student. This isn’t the fault of the environment, per se – it just seems to be how I’ve adapted in the early stages of becoming an academic. 

So the struggle is one within the mind – and it’s one that I really hope to conquer in the coming months. I have plenty of ideas that, with the right time and thought, could be worth writing down online. Ideas like  teaching teachers, finding my place in a field of research and exploring new technologies are hopefully ones worth sharing.

Life is still (and perhaps always) a work in progress, but I’m determined to continue to put ideas out there that matter to other people. 

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No Ivory Towers

I was having a chat with my wife last night about our mutual experiences moving from secondary education into working as tutors and lecturers in higher ed as both of us complete PhDs. Felicity has a couple of years on me, being nearly finished with hers while I’m just beginning to dip my toes into the water. Her experiences played a big part in me finally deciding to take a break from the secondary classroom; she told me I’d spend a lot of time grieving the loss of the kids (I know – probably not the sort of thing a burned out teacher says… but we both loved teaching in schools and were very far off being burned out). 

During our conversation, I asked Felicity: what had surprised her most about trying to establish herself as a higher educator?

“What surprises me is the fact that, in doing the best job possible, I’m no longer a threat to anyone. There are plenty of senior lecturers and professors with more years of experience, publications and knowledge of the research than I may ever have. Any of them could easily cut me down if they wanted. But somehow, in the three years I’ve worked at uni, nobody ever has. People just value who I am, what I have to say and what I do.” 

This really got me thinking about the analogy of the academic sitting grandly in the “ivory tower,” far removed from the realities of the primary/secondary classroom teacher. It’s funny that academics are often criticised for their apparent lack of understanding – and I’ve often wondered if that’s really a fair assessment. 

My own experiences in schools isn’t entirely dissimilar to Felicity’s. Being keen, saying yes to great initiatives, working in teams to solve problems and collaborate, sharing who I am transparently with people – all of these things matter so much to good teachers and are important to the future of education. Any Google search reveals that there are brilliant teachers out there who willingly share ideas, resources, solutions and important questions with the world; their transparency and generosity speaks volumes about their professionalism. So when does that become a threat? For whom?

I think the answer to these questions has a lot to do with power and the simple paradox that while true education is empowerment of the individual, it should never really be about power, at least not the kind of power that corrupts. The real power can and should be in the knowledge, understanding and openness that we foster as teachers – in getting our students to become the people they want to be.

In being well-educated, each of us has enormous power in the world. We have, for example, privilege over those in developing countries simply by virtue of being born where we are. As teachers in Australia, we’re a part of the global minority, the 6.7% of the world’s population with a university degree. The perspectives on the world that we acquire through our education is an enormous part of the privilege we enjoy. 

So if we use our education to assert control over others, for our own political gain or otherwise, we’re abusing the power we have. Fortunately, the academics with whom I’m very lucky to work try extremely hard to be the best teachers they can be, knowing that they’re helping more people to gain a university education and become empowered. Fortunately, the vast majority of primary and secondary teachers with whom I’ve worked try extremely hard to empower the minds of young people and help them move towards the next stage in their lives. 

So for all the BS that goes on anywhere – the rhetoric, power-play, cards held close to the chest or cutting down – it doesn’t seem like there are any ivory towers anywhere near me. What a wonderful thing.  

 

 

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Two weeks in higher ed and things never looked better

Well, two weeks have passed on what has, so far, been a journey into my new career. Moving from secondary teaching into the world of Higher Ed was always going to be a steep learning curb – but I think I’m slowly working things out. Insights include the following:  

- Uni students are still students. They have needs and they still glow inside when I hand out stickers for good work. Sure, we’re all adults (and we have a chuckle when I explain how positive reinforcement works).

postscript – at the store today, I couldn’t help myself – and purchased three new sticker books…


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- The future of education in Australia is in good hands. The pre-service teachers with whom I work have hopes, dreams and passion for good teaching, creativity, loving their future students and nurturing their freedom of thought. 

- Many of these pre-service teachers went to school in tech-rich environments. “Digital divides” hardly seem relevant any more – and I feel like the ancient one when I admit that I went through high school in the mid-90s. At the end of the day, I’m still learning all the time from the students that I teach. 

- Juggling research and teaching is a real challenge. The criticisms of those in Eigher Ed (e.g. academics living in the ivory tower) aren’t fair any more than criticisms of primary/secondary teachers being “child minders” are. There should be room for middle ground – secondary teachers can be passionate researchers just as academics can be passionate teachers. My workload for the next week includes 40 hours marking, preparing for 3 classes, starting over 100 hours of research assistance work, doing the usual admin and, God forbid, making a start on my PhD.

- Nonetheless, I still celebrate openness. Studying a PhD in a higher institution is a luxury (check world figures on this and you’ll see what minuscule number of people actually have the luck and good fortune to make it to where I have). I feel that contributing back to research is the very least that can be done – and I openly share who I am and what I do.  

 

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