Four ways the government can empower teachers

SMH 30-6

Teachers tell Fairfax Media what would help them feel empowered

Potential kingmaker Nick Xenophon has said he will drag both parties to the centre if he holds the balance of power after the election. And one part of Senator Xenophon’s negotiations will be how each party would “empower teachers to be better.”

So we asked the teachers what they needed “to be better.”

1. Encourage more collaboration

Des Fox said it is important to build teachers’ understanding of children’s brain function and development
Des Fox said it is important to build teachers’ understanding of children’s brain function and development Photo: David Butow

“Where is the support?” asked John Hattie, director of the Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne. Professor Hattie said there should be a movement towards placing highly accomplished teachers in every school to improve the system and inspire others. This would work towards promoting collaboration within the workplace
Bill Cohen, a secondary school teacher and librarian in Sydney’s north, recalled a lesson he taught last week on population geography in which he enlisted the help of a maths teacher at his school to explain the mathematical concepts behind the topic.

“The very best teaching, in terms of collaboration, is when you see teachers reaching out across faculties and working together,” Mr Cohen said.

“Students pick up so much of what is modelled for them by their teachers. So if students see teachers actively collaborating, that is going to have an immediate and enduring effect on their own desires to collaborate.”

2. Increased parent engagement

Des Fox, principal of a Catholic primary school in south-western Sydney, said targeted learning can be improved by engaged parents, particularly in low socioeconomic areas.

“We are teachers, so our first priority is always working with children. Whatever resources we have will be put into teachers working with children,” said Mr Fox.

With the time and resource restrictions on teachers, he said having that extra support from parents at home can benefit the child’s learning and improve their emotional well being – and the research supported this.

The 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment showed that involved parents develop children’s skills in more areas than languages. Children are also better at planning, initiating and completing set tasks, which are all valuable skills for development.

Natasha Watt, deputy principal of Woonona High School in Northern Wollongong, said informational workshops with parents on assessments during the Higher School Certificate has produced positive results.

“The number of kids that go into university has increased by over 20 per cent in three years,” she said.

3. Support the development of children’s emotional well being

In his 37 years in education, Mr Fox has found that a child’s desire to learn can be compromised by problems at home or trauma early in life.

“It’s something beyond our control, but we are able to control the environment in the school and provide kids with a safe and effective learning area,” Mr Fox said.

He said it is important to build teachers’ understanding of children’s brain function and development so that children are socially and emotionally supported to become successful learners.

4. Funding

Funding “can support teachers in enhancing their quality of teaching and learning in a variety of ways,” said Gary Zadkovich, deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation.

Woonona’s Ms Watt said with extra government funding she was able to witness improvements in teaching by a system called ‘lesson studies’. This system required funding to allow teachers to take a timetabled day off so that they could collaboratively assess teaching methods and learning outcomes for their students.

She said funding had also provided her school the opportunity to invest in more resources to assist with classroom learning.

The federal government has promised to continue existing funding for schools with an increase of $4.1 billion in funding to 2020. Labor has vowed to fully fund the so-called Gonski model over two years, injecting $4.5 billion to 2019.

“In education, the proof that money does matter is evident in the private school fees that some parents are prepared to pay,” said Mr Zadkovich.

“As all teachers and parents understand, investment in our children’s education certainly does matter.”

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An educator from Armidale, NSW, Australia.... I have been teaching for over fifteen years and I have been teaching Science for the last 4 years. Why Boys' education -- I feel boys are often left out of education policy development...... I am into technology, but have loads of things to learn.... all my rants here are my personal opinions

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