Education Opinion

Lessons from Down Under

By Learning Forward — March 09, 2012 2 min read
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I recently had the honor of representing Learning Forward at the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) conference in Melbourne. I was asked to deliver a keynote on the importance of professional learning as a lever for improving educator practice and student learning. The focus of the conference was effective teaching. Vicki Phillips from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also delivered a wonderful presentation on all the foundation has learned from its investments. The final presenter, Australian Adam Smith, delivered a very compelling argument for futures thinking in education as well as the importance of student voice.

The theme of the conference was:

(learn + act) x share = GROW

When you look at the formula, you can’t help but be impressed. By pulling together just a few words in this way, they completely captured how I think about professional learning. I truly believe you always start with the learning, but it’s the doing or acting that matters most. However, if there are not structures for collaboration and sharing, true growth at scale doesn’t occur. Brilliant!

If you are not familiar with AITSL, I urge you to visit their website, where you’ll find a wealth of information from an organization that has only been in existence since January 2010. In just two years, AITSL has facilitated the development of Australia’s first set of national standards for teachers. As you review these standards, you’ll see they articulate what teachers are expected to know and be able to do at four career stages: graduate, proficient, highly accomplished, and lead.

Differentiating expectations this way, I believe, offers school systems the ability to be very explicit about expectations while making the path to teacher-leadership very clear. For example, Standard 2 focuses on knowing the content and how to teach it. Graduate level teachers are expected to “demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the concepts, substance, and structure of the content and teaching strategies of the teaching area. Lead teachers, on the other hand, are expected to “lead initiatives within the school to evaluate and improve knowledge of content and teaching strategies and demonstrate exemplary teaching of subjects using effective, research-based learning and teaching programs.”

Prior to the rollout of the teaching standards, AITSL developed Australia’s first set of standards for principals and a draft charter for professional learning. It’s exciting when you think about what’s possible when a nation:
1. Sets clear expectations for effective teaching (the #1 school-related factor that contributes to how well students do in school);
2. Articulates a vision for highly effective principal leadership (the #2 school-related factor and the primary way schools get effective teaching at scale); and
3. Pays attention to a system of professional learning that lead to the effective practice of teachers, leaders, and the individuals in the districts who support their work.

I urge you to keep an eye on your friends from down under; there’s a lot we can learn from their work. In the spirit of the conference: I’ve learned, I’ve acted, and now I’m sharing in the hopes that we all might grow in this work and improve our collective practice on behalf of the students we serve.

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward

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