June 13th, 2020
If you hadn’t heard, my role as an educator in 2020 has changed. I’ve moved (by choice) from leading a PDHPE faculty in a NSW Department of Education high school into a corporate role with School Services as a Teacher Quality Advisor.
(* Side Note – I would prefer the title of my role to be called a TeachING Quality Advisor – less focus on the individual, more on the practice – but that’s another post, another time).
Part of my role is to deliver professional learning to teacher networks and schools. This professional learning is consistently aligned to the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) version of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (the Standards).
I was idling on a Saturday afternoon and I can’t remember what prompted me to ask a question of Twitter, but I did.
I think my motivation in asking was around a disconnect that I was already seeing in my role – a disconnect that often put me at odds with the people I delivered professional learning to. The source of the disconnect revolves around the way teachers (in NSW, but probably more widely) view the purpose of the Standards as part of their teaching lives.
I was encouraged to see online colleagues beginning to respond to my “provocation”.
Darcy Moore reframed my original thinking in a way that opened up a very interesting avenue for the enquiry:
July 15th, 2020
It’s taken me about a month (hahaha!) to get back to this. But the beginning of this post has nagged and cajoled me to finish what I was trying to say when I started, so with a dram or two of Slane by my side, it’s time to push on.
Thinking back to Darcy’s tweet (above) – that would be worthy of a much longer and detailed investigation.
Undertaking an evaluation of the impact of the APST on student outcomes would be a personal quest of Holy Grail proportions. It turns out that AITSL have already done one in 2016, so there’s a place to start and move forward from (see link below).
But allow me a moment of indulgence. It might not be impossible, and maybe by leaning in with a framework like Guskeys “5 Levels of information” it would be an excellent journey for someone with the time, resources and support of organisations like NESA and their employer. Guskey (in a nutshell) outlines 5 levels of information to observe the impact of professional learning. Professional learning in this case would mean engagement with APST as a vehicle to improve quality teaching and ultimately lift student outcomes.
The Guskey levels are ordered 1 to 5, with level 5 being both the most difficult to observe but potentially illustrating the greatest impact of the application of the professional learning (I’m paraphrasing here). I’ll list the levels below. As I read them I tried to see it as a way to gauge the impact of the APST as professional learning for teachers (as indeed they are often held up as the lens for most professional learning in NSW currently).
Level 1 – Participant’s reactions to the professional learning is the easiest type of data to gather and analyse. “Was your time involved with the learning well spent?”
Level 2 – Participant’s learning – “In addition to liking their professional learning experiences, participants should learn something from them. Level 2 focuses on measuring the new knowledge, skills, and perhaps attitudes
or dispositions that participants gain”
Level 3 – Organisational support and change – “Did the professional learning promote changes that were aligned with the mission of the school?”
Level 4: Participant’s use of new knowledge and skills – “Did the new knowledge and skills that participants learned make a difference in their
Level 5: Student learning outcomes – “What was the impact on students? Did the professional learning benefit them in any way?” (Guskey 2002)
In my current role, I would find this type of investigation incredibly interesting (call me an edu-nerd if you want), but I realise that I have no chance of completing something like this without time, resources and support. It’s not hobby project undertaken lightly. I did casually pitch the idea to my state’s regulatory authority (NESA), but at the time of typing I haven’t heard back. My guess is because the national Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) leads state based NESA with respect to teacher accreditation and teaching standards this is where I would need pitch the idea. I reckon it’s a research gap that that could definitely be explored further.
As I mentioned before, they have already published a paper on an evaluation of the APST in 2016 – where they remarked in Section E – Considerations for the Future that “improved student outcomes was not selected as an indicator of successful implementation of the Standards because the Evaluation time frame was too soon to reflect a change. However, the aim of implementing the Standards was to contribute to improved teaching practice, which, should indirectly impact positively on student outcomes. Longer term investigation of the impact of the Standards should consider improvements to teaching practice and the relationship with changes in student outcomes.” It’s a worthwhile read, and offers potential for a practitioner conversation in the future.
So, while curriculum content delivered in schools seems to be reviewed and updated quite regularly, it could be argued that it’s time for the quality teaching standards to be reviewed as well, specifically around the question of their impact on student learning outcomes (our core business as teachers). At the very least, from the admittedly small sample but vigorously contested conversation my Twitter question opened up, perhaps a bigger and just as vigorous conversation is needed involving all educators that have been intimately involved in schools around applying and managing policy and processes regarding quality teaching practice and the standards that frame it. Which is every current teacher, actually.
The responses on Twitter matched in many respects the responses I get when talking about the ASPT in schools. Anecdotally, teachers I speak to generally regard them suspiciously, scornfully, or as just another compliance check box on their To Do list, not revisited unless they have to. For example, aligning the standards to performance development plans in NSW gives them some relevance, if crafted well and in good spirit, but unless the school leadership team advocates their relevance and significance, word is they are mostly relegated to reluctant engagement.
Which is a pity, because I can see see the utility in them for teachers. Given, they are a construct of what “the system” suggests quality teaching practice should look like, yet working in schools for 30 years has shown me that the common understanding amongst practitioners around what makes quality teaching practice is varied (to put it kindly) and in some cases practiced poorly enough to the detriment of students and colleagues. The APST also differentiate quality practice between the different career stages – Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead teacher levels, illustrating what teachers at each level can demonstrate in day to day practice. What is wrong with having a common language and set of common understandings for teachers to talk about, observe and develop quality teaching in themselves and with their colleagues? Not much, I’d argue, but are the current standards achieving that? In their 2016 evaluation report, AITSL observed that teachers “had lower knowledge of the Standards than school leaders and teacher educators”; “teachers with the least experience (0-5 years) had higher positive attitudes and levels of use of the Standards than more experienced teachers” and “teachers from secondary schools had lower positive attitudes and implementation intentions than primary teachers.” (AITSL 2016)
I would venture that in 4 years, things have not changed much. Something is wrong.
Where to from here?
I’m glad you asked.
I think it was a few days after the original Twitter conversation, Dylan Wiliam popped up in my feed (or maybe someone tagged me about his tweet – I’m not sure sure now, but if you did – you know who you are) and an interesting line of inquiry opened:
State of the art is a big call. So I went to check out the “Evidence Based Education” website, and found what Dylan Wiliam was pointing to in his tweet. In the “Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review” I found this:
Now this (to me) isn’t perfect as an alternative to the APST, but I do like how it moves something like the APST from it’s general descriptors format toward more practical illustrations. This was something that was mentioned in the original chat – the perception the APST aren’t clear enough on “what do I have to do?”
To be fair, I think the APST and the GTT are different documents with different purposes. The differences are clear – in the GTT there’s no indication of what the different career stages should be demonstrating in daily practice; no mention of wider community stakeholders; no reference to ongoing professional learning for teachers – all things mentioned as part of the quality teacher pathways in the APST.
As a point of difference the GTT was a good find. Then my mind wandered to thinking “what do other places use to guide their teachers with respect to standards?” So I did a quick look at some quickly brainstormed jurisdictions.
I’ve always been partial to New Zealand in the way they do many things, and their standards document was a bit of an eye opener.
I love their commitment to their first nations people – it’s built into their standards from the get go.
Finland. Everyone loves Finland. Check out the discussion of their professional development and teacher evaluation processes in this paper. It is definitely different to NSW.
I’ll just slip a little personal observation in here – political and social discourse around what education “is” will always determine the policy and process actions that teachers are expected to follow. Expectations around teacher and teaching quality is currently betrothed to the dominant educational paradigm of summative assessment and comparative outcomes, rather than individual growth and achievement of competencies, and any significant change in the expectations around teachers (away from what we have now) will be glacial until the perception of the purpose for schooling changes, if it ever does.
I think I’m almost done here. But one question still bothers me. For any teaching standards to work (i.e – become meaninginful to teachers), what increases the likelihood of that happening? This paper by Kairen Call makes a very interesting read around “teacher ownership” of the standards, in particular beginning teachers. I think … no… I know that is the key. Whatever the model, teachers have to own it. It has to work for them while realistically reflecting the professional commitment teachers make in growing their own quality teaching practice resulting in maximising individual student outcomes.
I’m interested to hear from teachers that use the current APST in all it’s forms – AITSL’s or NESA’s, or others – if you owned them, what would professional standards for teachers need to look “be” for them to be something you regarded as integral to your work? And not the anachronistic standards you walk past?
AITSL – Final Report – Evaluation of the Australian Professional
Standards for Teachers (December 2016)
Australian Journal for Teacher Education – ” Understanding Teacher Evaluation in Finland: A Professional Development Framework” (2019)
Australian Journal for Teacher Education – “Professional Teaching Standards: A Comparative Analysis of Their History, Implementation and Efficacy (2018)
Evidence Based Education – “Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review”
Guskey, T – “Gauge Impact with 5 levels of data” – Learning Forward Journal (April 2016)
New Zealand Teaching Council – “Standards for the Teaching Profession”