What the best* performing education systems are doing – focusing on teacher quality and training

* the criteria for best relates to student results in testing such as PISA and other benchmark testing in literacy and numeracy

When I visited some Scandinavian schools in 2012, I had the opportunity to talk with teachers and observe their classrooms. One of the great riddles of the time was “why were the Finnish schools performing so effectively?”. Two of the few metrics available to education are: effectiveness measured by student results and teacher quality measured by student performance. It seemed one part of the answer in the high-performing education systems, such as Finland, was teacher quality – the best and the brightest taught in schools. In Australia, a common answer given to the question “how does a system secure high quality teachers” was reward them with a substantial salary. However, this response seemed incomplete. For example, after talking with many Scandinavian teachers about their salaries and after doing a quick calculation, it turned out the Finnish teacher is paid something similar to the Australian teacher. There had to be more than just the monetary incentive and the intrinsic motivators that are evident in much of the research on teacher satisfaction – motivators such as, knowing what you do matters and helping young people achieve their goals or a personal passion for a subject area.

What I did notice was an emphasis in the Scandinavian schools on giving teachers time to prepare specific programmes and working directly with other professionals on designing curriculum for their classes. It seemed most of the professional development time was given to working on the teaching at hand, developing one another’s skills and flexible timetabling that gave more opportunities for working one-on-one with students or lesson preparation.

Ripley’s book, The Smartest Kids in the World, makes a similar observation and adds insight into teacher training. In Finland, all teacher preparation courses/colleges are selective and set a very high standard for entry. The thinking behind this approach is to recruit only the best and brightest of each generation to enter the schools. Therefore, the emphasis upon quality teaching begins with competing for the opportunity to train as a teacher. Finland has made the judgement that it takes substantial intellectual ability and demonstrated skill to be a teacher, and has structured their selection and training programme accordingly. A current report by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) found the path into teaching was varied and of those who entered with an ATAR (or equivalent) only 28% had an ATAR 81 and above. This would suggest we are not selecting only high achievers as Finland is doing. Turning graduates into highly skilled and accomplished classroom teachers and school leaders is completed during the training stage and not after a number of years in the profession. An amazing outworking of this shift to being highly selective about who and how many train to be a teacher (this approach started in the 1970s) and an ongoing emphasis upon high standards of practice amongst teachers, has meant the government has been able to reduce the top-down control of education. Much of the work within schools is now entrusted to the teachers and the curriculum is not mandated. As a result, school leaders and teachers can “generally design a more creative system than any centralised authority ever could” (p.151). The community is also aware how accomplished the teaching profession is as a result of this shift. A recent national study (2013) in Finland found teachers had the highest satisfaction rating of any other professional group. The satisfaction was a result of significant professional autonomy and the belief in their ability to influence children’s lives.

Teachers’ workspaces look the same the world over. Here is one in Finland and another in Denmark

Teachers’ workspaces look the same the world over. Here is one in Finland and another in Denmark

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In Denmark, there were a number of pedagogues (cover your eyes, David Gillespie, for I know you loath edu-speak) in the schools I visited. These social educators worked alongside the core instructional teachers, but I was a little confused by what exactly a pedagogue did and where they fitted into the construction of curriculum. It turns out these professionals are quite unique to Denmark, so I could be forgiven for being somewhat ignorant of their role in students’ education. The pedagogue’s work encompasses children’s educational needs, as well as their social and emotional development and physical wellbeing. They focus on creating learning experiences that develop the child’s ability to work with others and build personal skills that equip them for learning. These professionals worked alongside the curriculum teacher and the class aides as a resource teacher, creating a teaching team that worked together to construct the class programme.

A pedagogue prepares afternoon in classroom kitchen with the children participating in the after school programme.

A pedagogue prepares afternoon in classroom kitchen with the children participating in the after school programme.

Teacher and children do homework the kitchen classroom.

Teacher and children do homework the kitchen classroom.

This is where my observation connects with David Gillespie’s observations of what made for better performing systems. He identified an emphasis upon colleagues developing the effectiveness of one another. Children at this school attend an after-school programme held in their own school. Gillespie argues the secret to the high performing systems of Shanghai-China, Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong lies in the emphasis upon teacher improvement and this is achieved in the main through less time in front of the class for each teacher. This approach is funded by large classes – more students for fewer hours each week per teacher (eg. a Chinese teacher spends 10-12 hours with their class), whilst in Australia we have adopted the opposite approach of employing more teachers to teach smaller classes for most of the week (on average 20 hours). However, the teachers do not go home early in the hours saved in the performing systems. These teachers spend a significant amount of time in other teachers’ classrooms and being mentored in classroom management strategies and subject-specific guidance (what we used to call teaching method at teacher’s college) according a very structured programme. Staged mentoring is provided by teachers further along in their classroom careers. It operates like a guild system within the teacher’s own school and district. Classroom observation (both of their own and others’ classes) is emphasised and feedback is specific. Typical areas observed are student information (profile of class and context), where the teacher placed most of their attention in the lesson and degree of teacher involvement. The structure is designed to keep the best teachers in the classroom, through the incentive of keeping everyone well prepared for the task of teaching and allowing expert teachers the opportunity to exercise increasing influence over the effectiveness of colleagues. I imagine there will be many who will argue against Gillespie’s conclusions but it does seem to ring true in relation to the substantial body of research that points out these countries are clearly doing something different to Australia, the USA and UK and the research that concludes educational improvement relies upon constantly improving the quality and skills of teachers placed in front of our classes. For many years now, Professor Steve Dinham (University of Melbourne) has emphasised the importance of placing a quality teacher in every classroom and more can be done to improve education by improving the effectiveness of teachers than by any other single factor. Professor John Hattie’s famous meta-analysis of over 50,000 studies on major sources of variance in student achievement concurs. After the influence of the student (50%), the teacher accounts for 30% of variance and therefore, is very powerful in the learning equation. What teachers do, know and value matters a great deal to the performance of an education system. A recently released report by the Grattan Institute (Making time for Great Learning, 2014) emphasises the same finding. Improving the effectiveness of teaching is the best way to lift school performance, and this involves focusing on what teachers do in the classroom.

A few final and perhaps controversial points to be made relate to in-service professional development, mentoring and impact of teacher registration on the type of professional development Australian teachers will choose. I would give a big tick to the recent developments in professional mentoring and Beginning Teacher programmes. The increase in teacher-to-teacher mentoring, collaborative research projects within schools and the focus on retaining new teachers is excellent. However, I would argue we need the same approach but different programmes for more experienced teachers so we can retain them mid-career and to encourage them to stay in the classroom. We also need to consider what programmes are best suited to the teacher towards the end of a longer career, programmes that do not shuffle them off to areas of low impact but instead focus on revitalisation and sophisticated ways of using the skills and knowledge they have developed over many years in the classroom.

Finally, I am concerned that the new prescriptions for professional development under the national registration scheme will prevent any opportunity of following the teacher development programmes that are in place in high performing education systems. Our registration requirements drive teachers individually towards stand-alone day courses that are invariably sourced from outside the school environment. This model makes it difficult for colleagues and schools to pursue a systematic, embedded programme of professional development as part of the registration process. Once we have pursued the mandatory hours of accredited professional development and completed the self-identified hours and completed the mandatory training in a plethora of crisis areas such as WH&S, asthma, Child Protection, anaphylaxis, there will be little time or energy for other improvement programmes. The Grattan Institute’s report argues the best teacher development a teacher can receive is to directly help them teach their students. A significant stumbling block to giving this development is the provision of time for effective professional learning programmes. The report explores a variety of possibilities for creating real time for teacher learning and many suggestions challenge age-old taboos.

As far as I am concerned, what is the take-away point? Teacher training and on-going teacher improvement that aims at being able to guarantee the best trained and the most effective teachers are working in our classrooms should be a number one priority. How we achieve it and fund it will no doubt continue to fire up many debates, reviews, proposals and research projects. As Ripley observes, we may be spending too much time trying to reverse engineer a high-performance teaching culture. It seems reasonable to reward, train and dismiss teachers based on their performance but that approach assumes poor performers will improve significantly and the worst teachers will be replaced with better ones. I am inclined to agree with Ripley’s view that we should expect our teachers to be the best and brightest of their generation and they should be of that calibre the moment they enter the undergraduate programme.

References:

Prof. Steve Dinham, What we need to know about student achievement and quality teaching, ACER, DEECD Knox Network, 29/1/10, [http//:knoxnetwork.wikispaces.com. accessed 29/3/14]

David Gillespie, Free schools – How to get a great education for your kids without spending a fortune, MacMillan, 2014.

Dr Ben Jensen, Making time for great teaching, Grattan Institute, March 2014.

Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World and how they got that way, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2013.

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Trend spotting in workplace design

Rethinking the school staffroom Part 3

PlaceShaping Project – tackling the why and what is happening in workplaces

If you are reading this blog, then you would already be aware of my PlaceShaping project and my research trip to London last month. I focused on workplaces that offered collaborative or co-working spaces, and found they are not all the same and the differences go beyond the physical facilities and access.

So far I have formed some initial thoughts on the future trends in collaborative adult spaces and which models might offer the most to the design of future teacher workspaces.

#1. Hot-desking in itself does not create collaboration – it supports a focus on individual tasks rather than co-working or collaboration. It could also generate a competitive view of resources and heighten territorial behaviours rather than breaking them down. It’s key value is in the financial savings made by increasing use of office resources and facilitates moves to downsize the amount of space used by workstations.

#2. Hot-desking is concerned primarily with access to location and things. Co-working has a focus on access to location and people.

#3. Characteristics of successful ABWs are:

*modern aesthetic and open, flexible space

*high speed, wireless connectivity

*latest technology (in office and away from office)

*trust, mutual understanding and equitable access to necessary resources

*focus on performance enhancement

Here is the link to an amazing office space – it shows key ABW features: Work Design Now – GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Philadelphia, PA http://vimeo.com/76671083

Well equipped dining areas that also host informal meetings and places to work are common to new styles of office design.

Well equipped dining areas that also host informal meetings and places to work are common to new styles of office design.

 

An alternative workspace in a corporate environment

An alternative workspace in a corporate environment

#4. Characteristics of Co-working spaces – what you expect to find in the space:

*Wifi – high speed connectivity

*Food/coffee DIY area

*Variety of table sizes and shapes (fewer individual tables than shared tables)

*Informal aesthetic in furniture choice

*Hosted space (maintenance and fostering connections)

*Range of lighting (for practical and ambience)

*Trust, Responsibility, Personal “buy in”

*Easy to maintain and clear prompts for space etiquette

*Permanent desks and territory kept to minority (less than 20%)

*Programme of events to build connections and skills appropriate to business goals

Campus London

informal workspace in a collaborative environment

informal workspace in a collaborative environment

 

 

#5. Styling in the non-corporate flexible workspaces is whimsical, eclectic and often reflects skills/interests of founding membership and ethos of businesses the space attracts. There is a focus on human-scale with inclusive and democratic approach to the dispersal of resources.

 

Things & trends I am noticing – 

Creative, challenging, complex workspaces would thrive if there was …

  1. someone to curate the space
  2. someone to maintain the space
  3. someone to host the space
  4. strategic layouts with space for movement between people and activities and “zones”
  5. simplicity
  6. time to work and think

Good spaces – consensus in work design literature

  1. explicit objectives (what is the need for the specific design)
  2. enhance productivity
  3. reduce costs
  4. increase flexibility
  5. encourage interaction
  6. support cultural change
  7. stimulate creativity
  8. attract and retain staff
  9. express the brand
  10. reduce environmental impact

Creative Spaces for Creative Activity – a simple pattern (ref: Groves, 2010)

  1. spaces that stimulate
  2. spaces for reflection
  3. spaces for collaboration
  4. spaces to play

Other patterns to think about …

Studio – creative space where team or creative work is one show during the process

Living Room – relaxed meeting area

Shelters – semi-protected impromptu spaces

Library – quiet space for individual work (old rule of silence)

Town Hall – communal areas shared by all departments of organisation to be used formally and informally throughout the day

Blogging and WordPress

Social media, blogging and wikis are all part of co-working and collaborative work trends

For the last morning I had signed up for a WordPress course. Even though I already use this freeware, my aim was to start from the beginning with the basics just to check I was missing anything key in my set-up. I also got to take a second look at Campus London (powered by Google in the new tech city). a hackathon was taking place as part of incubator strategies used to talent or product spot.

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Our group was far more sedate but within a short period of time people were sharing and swapping intel about anything from a good accountant to latest plug-in for testing the security of your plug-ins. We were also shown data mining tools that can give you detailed feedback on your site and how users interact with it (or failed to interact with it).

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Very quickly the simple path of setting up a wordpress.com exploded into this enormous web. However, as with so many things I have seen in the past two weeks, you can start with a very simple plan. The most significant element has been the power of human interactions. In most instances, the adults were not members of the same organisation but were still making productive contributions to one another’s individual projects. Some of these friendly collaborations and associations had been going on for years. I was also shown how influential LinkedIn had become in creating a new directory of organisations and individuals – it was used substantially in the workplaces I visited.

P.S.Comment: Facebook barely rated a mentioned and a page was usually maintained for the sake of the consumer. Tweets was more common. At the conference, I sat behind one man who spent an hour taking photos of himself “listening” to the presentations and then posting them and other photos of himself networking during morning tea. At one point he had a laptop, a smartphone and an iPad connected up dispatching posts and tweeting about his day at the conference. A little too extreme for regular self-promotion?

 

Different models and different spaces for co-working

Week 2 and I continued visiting a range of co-working spaces in Central London. However, before coming back from my seaside weekend in Brighton (gale force winds, squadrons of seagulls, huge seas, drenching rain and more cakes than I have ever seen in the one postcode – apparently a full dose of the English weather & holiday fun) I paid a visit to the new co-working space in Eastbourne. Take up amongst the self-employed, established tech community has been excellent, thus ensuring a solid financial base for the space to survive and grow – according to the owner a particular success since co-working is new to the area and the town does not have a huge freelance community at the moment. The space is well appointed with a brand new fit out – meeting room, large central desk area with both casual and permanent desk occupancy, loads of natural light, an outdoor terrace, open plan kitchen area and secure building. It is located next to the railway station and central shopping area. At the moment the space is not hosted but there are plans to grow this aspect of the co-working approach, and establishing some long-term members will encourage greater “buy in” from the community.

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Back in London, I visited another Impact Hub – this time at Islington. This Hub is similar and different to other ones in the network. It was busy and fitted out like other communities focusing on freelancers/self employed individuals who want to make an impact in some way. The Hub provides a place (that is not home) to work and opportunities to connect with other like-minded businesses. Key to the space is the hosting team – the team that does everything from property management to office manager to spotting opportunities for connections and innovation. The faciities are on the top floor of an old commercial area – plenty of natural light from skylights, a range of working tables (in a variety of configurations) and sitting areas and a separate meeting room that can be booked. Membership is diverse and reflects the context in which the Hub exists (both in terms of demographics, profiles of local business, levels of support and funding available).

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I then attended a pop-up co-working event @ WorkHubs. It is a newish space that aims to support freelance, small businesses or companies that do not require permanent daily accommodation. It provides a complete business  environment – physical resources, opportunities to interact with other members and attend events that extend skills or make new contacts. The pop-up was organised by KindredHQ – look them up – an organisation that focuses on co-working and networking for freelancers and people working on their own enterprises. The conversations around the table were fantastic.

islington hub

A P.S. Comment: the art of hosting and the use of humour are evident and have a powerful influence on the interaction between the spaces and those who use them. Avoid the passive aggressive signage that springs from exhaustion on part of the “volunteer” employee who has had enough or someone who cannot face unpredictable situations. Set up the space with clear prompts, expect variable standards of tidiness/attention to detail, deal directly with specific difficulties and use some wit (not sarcasm) to encourage the preferred way of doing things.

Mind the Gap – form driving function and the cool factor

Days 1 and 2 of this London trip were spent doing a long-haul flight, however, the time was not wasted. For the sake of this project, I watched “The Internship” – a story where a pair of out-of-work salesmen, who become summer interns at Google HQ in San Francisco. I chose the film for a look inside the Google workplace – and there it was, the ultimate creative work environment with vivid colours, gadgets, interesting workspaces, funky flexible furniture, fun places to think and play, nap pods and populated with the brightest IT crowd. However, the 24/7 work playground comes with strings attached – Google is watching for the next innovation, the next product, the next genius. The purpose of this environment is to generate future business opportunities and accelerate product design. No guessing the end of the story – human relationships and genuine collaboration are the elements that make all the difference.

So, which gap do we need to mind? The subtext behind the environment and a reliance on form driving function. An environment that will support the work of the organisation is a vital precondition for success. Google embodies the notion of innovation combined with driving focus. They have thoughtfully branded technology as being witty, accessible and desirable through their physical environments and online presence (think about the changing graphics on their search page). However, behind the environment is a carefully focused business with clear strategies for staying on top of their business. The employees may look like they inhabit a utopian workplace but what the company brings to the workplace will not be enough. The working relationships between the employees are vital to the success of the company.

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A P.S. Comment:
After spending time at Campus London, I can see the “cool” factor has great pull. If it is the place to be seen and be noticed, then the co-working place will be packed. I had to start out on pieces of furniture that had style over function (note to self – desklettes with wheels and crazy shaped seats may look great but make sure they have a predictable/stable footprint when you lean forward) and then”upgrade” my position as people left. By the end I was a success in a very cool crowd – two lounge chairs and a coffee table in the cafe zone, but it did take an hour of space hopping and upgrading 🙂 There is an awkwardness that comes with working in this type of coworking environment – there are no hotdesk or permanent desk arrangements in the cafe (you can buy a resident membership, which gives you a guaranteed space on one of the other 7 floors). When the cafe is as full as it was today, it would be difficult to focus on your work and people looked uncomfortable when hunting for a spare seat or powerpoint – the rules of negotiation were not clear and there were certainly some dominant personalities in the room today.

KingsCross Hub, just across the road from megalopolis station, most definitely has the cool factor. The space is urban, ecco-chic with a reminder that its focus membership is social enterprise. With a membership of 300+ and a daily attendance capacity of 120, it is working well.

By contrast I attended a pop-up coworking event in Islington. The people were more friendly, the space was cleaner and far better maintained, the space was quiet but it just wasn’t popular. The Jelly event at Hackney was more popular – it had the feeling of a well equipped community college and people came during the day to work on projects but with little interaction.

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Start-ups, incubators and coworking in the tech world

I visited Campus London near Finsbury. It is a coworking space sponsored by Google and Central Working – well, that’s the cafe area. The rest of the complex is devoted to start-ups, fostering social enterprises, hosting events and courses that will equip entrepreneurs with skills and contacts necessary to launch themselves and their enterprises. The focus is on technology and digital industries but freelancers and designers are also welcomed into the fold. The space provides power outlets, toilets, outdoor space, tables, stools and chairs. WiFi is free and the cafe serves good coffee and food. No one is precious about mixing liquids with laptops – after all, you supply your own technology, so an incident becomes your problem.

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The day I worked in the space, it was packed. Around 100 people were working on their own projects and businesses – all day people came and went. Sometimes people helped each other with a bit of technical information or tips on running the business side of their enterprise, but in the main it had the intense and competitive feeling of a university library in the week before final exams – if your idea does not work, then you might lose out to the person across the room. Surprisingly, the noise level was quite tolerable but the constant movement around the cafe and toilets was distracting – people working in this area were always keeping an eye open for a vacant seat further down the room. There is no prebooking of facilities in this workspace – you just have to wing it every time you visit.

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Trend spotting in central London

Being in the centre of London has reminded me how cloistered the world of a teacher is during the workday. We may stay connected to the world through technology but are usually physically remote from the world that passes outside the school gates. Due to this isolation, teachers have not been part of the new ways of working that are evident in the heart of busy cities and urban areas. People are on the go. They do not need to wait inside their office block or sit behind a desk at their street address. Meetings are taking place in coffee shops, hotel foyers and temporary workspaces. People meet over their phones and laptops, and when the meeting is done, they can log straight back into their personal work tasks.

While this may generate too much multi-tasking and an even busier work schedule than ever, the trends have an element of dynamic energy that can engage people more actively in their work. Flexibility and a sense of choice over how to manage your tasks can give autonomy and a greater sense of independence in your work day. Obviously these trends do not suit all types of work, but they are rapidly becoming part of the way creatives and knowledge workers are doing business.

My hotel is a great example of the new style of design that blends living, holidaying and working into one environment. The entire property is serviced by effective WiFi connectivity. The decor is subdued but luxurious in terms of finish and fabric. The public areas flow into one another, so foyers can be meeting areas and corridors places to read or drink coffee. All the spaces have mulitple purposes and have only a few prompts to signal their primary function. The public areas are numerous and spread throughout the lower floors – however, within the spaces furniture is clustered into small groupings so that you can still maintain personal conversations or sit/work alone without being crowded by stangers. Lighting directs people to areas – brighter lighting for areas where the hotel wants you to sit, read, dine informally and more subdued lighting in areas where they want people to move through.

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