Leadership, collaboration and authentic teaching: these were some of the topics covered in a Diocesan first, where experts in education gathered to collaborate and share their passion.
The professional development event was six months in the making – part of a broader strategic approach to improvement – and brought together teachers and support staff from all Catholic secondary schools in the Diocese, with the experience offered as nine different events separated according to staff's positions.
“[This event] is an investment in a shared direction and a common journey to bring about improvement,” said John Lo Cascio, CEDoW Head of Secondary School Improvement Services. “Education of the young people in our care is every teacher’s responsibility and this is an opportunity for us to improve the way we do this.”
“Regardless of your role, there’s one comment element that matters most,” said CEDoW Director of Schools, Peter Turner, who introduced the school support officer event, “That’s to answer for ourselves as the staff of our schools, and as the staff of the Catholic Education Office - who are we?, what do we stand for? and why?”
So, how can teachers and support staff inspire the next generation – and find fulfilment in their own careers? This is what experts shared.
REMEMBER YOUR MISSION
In his talk, Rev Dr Richard Leonard SJ, a writer, film critic and director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting, examined the pivotal question of mission and identity for a Catholic school, especially for support staff.
He asked, "How can we promote a system of education that focuses on Christian faith within a world that increasingly says we are nuts to believe anything other than that which we can see and hear and test?"
His answer? Inspire each other and always remember your values. “We can’t be rocks and islands, life is too complex and often too lonely,” he said. “We have to have positive regard for each other and the way in which we lead others. We need to be people of trust and people who are safe.”
"Besides students themselves, teachers have the greatest impact on student learning," said Professor Stephen Dinham OAM from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, the University of Melbourne. "Quality teaching supported by quality leadership and quality professional learning leads to improvement and student success.”
Underpinned by current research, Professor Dinham emphasised that, in his view, learning styles are a myth that carry little validity and questioned their use in supporting student learning. He stressed that “every student should be known as a learner and a person, and it is what we as teachers do with that information that will make a difference".
FORGET WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW
Dr Ryan Dunn, lecturer at the University of Melbourne, aimed to debunk the common misconceptions about how students learn and had a number of key takeaways for our teachers. “Students and teachers alike are benefitted by a clearly defined understanding of the practice of learning and teaching within the context that they work in,” he said.
“Developing expert teachers who demonstrate teaching that causes learning are able to combine pedagogical content knowledge with the adaptive use of evidence to inform the approaches they use.” Dr Dunn's presentation included a quote by educational author of The Wisdom of Practice, Lee Shulman, and calls classroom teaching ‘the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented’.
HAVE HIGH EXPECTATIONS
As a training associate for Solution Tree Australia and a sessional lecturer, Janelle McGann has a passionate interest in supporting teachers and leaders in developing systems which nurture the human spirit of individuals and organisations.
“Effective differentiation instruction occurs when teachers make informed and deliberate decisions about their teaching, which are designed to meet the specific needs of students,” she said. “It begins with the relationship that teachers have with students and involves continuous, ongoing assessment of where each student is at.”
She went on to say, “Have high expectations for all students and don't differentiate outcomes. Differentiate process, product or content to meet the needs of students and provide them with choices to demonstrate their learning.”
FEEDBACK IMPROVES LEARNING
Anna Bennett is a training associate with Solution Tree Australia and works with educators, school communities and education systems to build their capacity for planning and implementing effective learning and teaching practices from K–12.
- What are the forms of assessment and feedback that students can receive about their learning?;
- Which of these are most effective and why?; and
- What do l need to consider when providing feedback?
Additionally, participants considered questions related to learning improvement:
- What is the role of learning intentions and success criteria with effective assessment?;
- How do l collect and use student feedback?; and
- How can l use self-assessment and peer feedback to enhance the learning of my students?
According to Dr Catherine Wormald, a lecturer in gifted education and special education at the University of Wollongong, differentiation is a proactive, pre-planned process rather than a “reactive adlib process”.
“In planning for differentiation, the evidenced-based approaches such as the use of Bloom's Taxonomy, The Tomlinson Model, The Maker Model and the Williams Model are encouraged,” she said. Dr Wormald prompted teachers to pick and choose from the various teaching models and strategies that would work best given the interest, readiness and learning profile of their students.
Radmila Harding, an associate with Understanding by Design (a planning framework to guide curriculum, instruction, and assessment), highlighted that differentiation is a responsibility of every teacher in order to meet the learning needs of all children.
According to Ms Harding, the ability to differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of more able learners has generally taken a back seat to differentiation to meet the needs of students who find it more difficult to access the curriculum. Ms Harding argued that it should be equally important.
ALWAYS BE AGILE
During his presentation Growth Mindset trainer and affiliate director of the Institute for Habits of Mind, James Anderson, took teachers inside Carol Dweck’s work (world-renowned Stanford University psychologist) on Growth Mindsets – and the importance of agility. “I hope you’ll come away challenged, thinking deeply about your own practice and equipped with strategies that will help students develop greater learning agility, and not only prepare them for the rapidly changing and complex world they will be living in, but show them how to thrive in it.”
"The 'greatness gap' exists when we believe that those that can are there due to innate abilities, rather than recognising the hard work that it took them to achieve what they have," he said. "Our role as teachers is to reframe what can look like an insurmountable gap for those that can't yet, and instead facilitate the learning for the students that will move them a step closer to that achievement."
THE IMPACT OF POSITIVITY
Experienced educators from the Institute of Positive Education, Renee Lane and Lucy Carroll, shared Geelong Grammar School’s journey to implement positive education into the daily lives of their students. “Positive education aims to encourage and support individuals, schools and communities to flourish,” they shared. Participants enjoyed the interactive strategies shared by the presenters, such as ‘brain breaks’, mindfulness and physical breakout activities and the ‘majority aim’.
In a parting message about the day Mr Lo Cascio said to staff, “The foundations have been laid and we can continue to build on them. If we can collaborate and build on what we have learnt while accepting student learning improvement is our responsibility, our students will improve. Please make that commitment, to build on the insights you’ve gained here - together we can make a difference for our students.”