Seeking to shift or change a whole system is fraught with challenges, known and unknown risks, and benefits. Over the last week, a possible change to our state’s approach to VCE was reported on, with a specific focus on the setting of minimum standards. Before we revise and lay down these new standards, I really believe there are some things we need to put onto the proverbial school table for discussion.
Yes, it is important to have clear expectations and measurable outcomes, but there’s something you should know: assessment isn’t really about the students. Assessment is about the teaching and learning that has taken place.
Now, before the pitchforks are dusted off and grabbed from your nearest Bunnings, I’m definitely not having a go at teachers.
Far from it, as I am one too.
What I am saying is that within our system, we need to focus on investing and building up our teachers. Before we overhaul and shift our VCE and set minimum expectations, there is a need to clarify our collective understanding of assessment and set clear, supportive and realistic expectations for our teachers with assessment.
If we don’t know why we are assessing, what we are actually assessing, and most importantly, how the assessment data informs the next step in learning, the task to engage students in school and learning is made so much more difficult.
Understanding the learning intentions and criteria for what success looks like in any learning area is critical for our students and teachers.
Investing in our understanding and process of assessment will not only equip our teachers with greater skills to reach students, but can also create conditions and opportunities for any student to experience success academically, personally, socially and emotionally. (If there’s one thing we are seeing within impactful schools it is a positive correlation between students’ connections to their community and their achievement).
Now, this is awkward, but we need to also talk about the c-word…collaboration.
Oh my God, he just mentioned that c-word.
This overused, yet underestimated word, is a game changer. No teacher, leading teacher or school leader can do it all on their own. The thing is, we already know this. The positive links between teaching teams, faculties or schools with high levels of collaboration and increased student achievement continues to jump off the pages within within the literature.
Collaboration, taking responsibility to co-labour in the learning ourselves, as well as the learning of others is critical.
What we need to be aware of though, is that the greatest discrepancies aren’t occurring between our schools, but between the classrooms within our schools.
If we are serious about raising our students’ achievement and growth, the focus needs to be supporting and challenging us, as teachers, to collaborate and mentor one another effectively.
The role of mentoring within classrooms, middle leadership team and executive leadership teams must become the norm. Developing an expectation that we share our knowledge, experiences, failures and successes is critical for any classroom teacher, teacher leader, school leader and policymaker.
While it may appear that the discussion playing out is on setting expectations for our students, we really need to think about the expectations and support structures for our educators. The thing is we already have these at our disposal through the frameworks, models, tools and knowledge within Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) evidence-based research.
The problem is we haven’t got anywhere near critical mass with this knowledge reaching schools…yet.
(Don’t get upset, see the word yet? That means we’re not giving up)
The questions that arise now are how can we make this knowledge base real within schools? How will we be supported to work together and challenge one another to achieve the lofty ideals that are developed?
Before we change the expectations for our students, we need to seriously consider our expectations of us all as assessors, learners, community inspirers and collaborators.
As important as policy, politicians and systemic innovation may be, the greatest drivers and influencers of sustainable change are already in front of us: the many teachers standing up in our classrooms.
Interested in a resource to help kick start collaboration in your school?