Tuesday, October 11, 2005
The rise and fall and rise again of teacher expertise
Prof Frank Crowther
To see changes sometimes you to have to stand back at a distance and look for patterns. It is the same as with the difference between the weather and a storm – when you are in the middle of a storm it is hard to work out what is the weather pattern is.
The same applies in education. Many people think major educational changes started in 1986 with Tomorrow’s Schools. This of course it not true. It was more just another nail in the coffin of creative teachers.
With this in mind it was interesting to read Professor Frank Crowther’s (Queensland University) address to Australian Principals. We are of the same generation and his thoughts, about the loss of professionalism and respect for teachers, mirrored my own.
Briefly he was saying that in the late 60s and 70s the conditions were right for creative teaching and it was then that the biggest changes in teaching and learning occurred. Child centred methods and open education changed the shape of teaching dramatically – if only in primary classes.
It was an exciting time to be teacher. The Professor talks about teachers meeting in the local pub to talk about teaching and share ideas. I also remember the endless discussions we had in our pub in our own town. I remember too, that we listened to ourselves, not distant curriculum writers, or even principals.
It was in this time that New Zealand teachers gained their well earned reputation for being creative teachers but, as Crowther says, today teachers are not getting the respect they deserve, and his reasons are true for New Zealand as well.
By the mid 70s there was a backlash and ‘research’ was saying that socio- economic factors outside the school had a greater effect than teachers. Schools were asked to respond to arange of equity initiatives and, as a result, teachers became less relevant in parents minds than where you lived.
Then came the worldwide rush to catch up with the Russians and the centralized curriculums, originating in the USA, spread to New Zealand. Now, as Crowther writes, ‘Curriculum was God’. Teachers now played second fiddle to the voices of distant ‘experts’.
The next step in the demotion of teacher expertise and respect was the elevation by 'research' of the principal as the key figure in educational change. As their status rose the teachers fell.
And then we come to Tomorrows Schools, introduced as part of the worldwide market forces ideology, and with this, in the 90s, the current curriculums which are so detailed as to be incoherent. This, along with an audit and accountability culture, placed what few really creative teachers there were at risk. Teachers were now seen as curriculum ‘deliverers’- more technicians. That there are still creative teachers surviving is a testament to the power of their own beliefs.
Today there are signs of hope as the 'market forces ideology', and associated compliance requirements on schools, are seen to be failing. And, all of a sudden the teachers are being recognized by ‘research’ as the most important factor in a child's learning. And even the idea of schools working together to share their expertise is all the rage.
Crowther concluded his talk by saying we need to do what we did all those years ago but this them do them better. Creative teachers are now being seen as the key to real change. Their role is now to be curriculum ‘designers’ by placing their attention on the learning needs of each student. Principals now need to engage the ingenuity of creative teachers and also to appreciate that problems can only be solved at the local level – with support of the powers that be.
Creative teachers are the only people who can create the learners we need to thrive in an ever changing future.
Schools need to be seen as 'professional learning communities' that respect creative teachers as true co-leaders. As Crowther writes, ‘Principals who can develop such learning communities can create creative schools with extraordinary teachers, and make learning stretching, creative, fun and successful.’
A new sense of excitement could well be on the horizon. Only those who have been around long enough will know this sense of possibility is not new – but this time perhaps the time is right?
Makes all the imposed rubbish we have been through almost worth it!