After an email from a parent tonight, I was left in a bit of a pensive mood. I reflected on the fact that teaching is one of the few professions where there is an unwritten expectation from some people that we fix the problems of all of our clients, 30 young people at a time in a 45 – 90 minute time slot, as well as helping them learn skills and content. That’s a tough ask, and made me feel a bit disheartened. Then I did the maths.
As a secondary school teacher, I teach approximately 150 kids across 7 classes. Let’s say I’m in the classroom for 5 hours a day. That’s 300 minutes of face to face time. Now, I usually see about 90 of those kids per day on average. Divide 300 minutes by 90 and mathematically speaking, each student should get 3.33 minutes of time with me per day. Oh, but then subtract the time I spend instructing, talking to the class, dealing with behavioural issues, supporting the students who are struggling the most. Time is whittled down until some kids don’t get any one on one time at all.
This disheartened me even more. Until I let the maths go and thought about it from a social/emotional perspective.
This is the reality of secondary teaching, but the kids cope. They may not all get equal one on one time with us (as much as they are entitled to, in my opinion) but that doesn’t mean they’re not watching us, learning from and with us and engaging with us. It doesn’t mean we’re not helping them in one way or another just because we don’t spend 3.33 minutes standing by their desk, just for them. Hopefully they develop the capacity to become the independent but connected problem solvers they need to be out in the big wide world. Because it’s not the teachers who need to solve the kids’ problems – but we CAN help them with the skills to find solutions.
So to get back to my opening point: no, teachers cannot fix all of the problems that kids face. As much as we’d love to, there’s not enough time in the day. But what we do manage to achieve in that average of less than 3 minutes per kid per day – knowing them, caring for them, nursing them – is pretty darn amazing and something we can be proud of!
I’ve been a little quiet on here lately. To be honest, things have been flat out with planning, teaching, marking, parent-teacher interviews, professional development, study and finding time to have a bit of a life in there somewhere.
But I wanted to take a moment to plug an app I came across last night. I’m planning on investing in an Apple TV in order to mirror my iPad wirelessly onto the projectors at school and display a huge range of cool audiovisual content. However until then, I’ve been on the hunt for some way of mirroring on a budget. So imagine my excitement when I found this handy little app.
Air Whiteboard is selling on iTunes for just a couple of dollars. It allows you to project the documents on your iPad onto other iPads or computers by streaming to a web browser. Simply connect the devices to the same local area network, type the web address provided on your iPad into Chrome or Safari, and away you go (theoretically). You can use it as a blank canvas to write or draw on, or mark up documents uploaded from Google Drive or Drop Box.
Whilst lagging a little, the app worked beautifully when connected to my home internet streaming to my laptop, and reasonably well on the school’s internet streaming to my Year 11s’ laptops. But they are an exceptionally small class, and it didn’t function quite so well when attempting to stream to the classroom projector or with a larger class. These are issues I will continue to investigate and post about later if a solution reveals itself. However, for the cost of the app, it does most of what I would have hoped for while I wait patiently for my new techno toy in the form of Apple TV. That’s when the fun will really start!
During a conversation this afternoon, our principal asked a colleague and I to define “school improvement.” After taking a moment or two to consider my response, I realised that he had essentially asked us a trick question. And I thank him for that, because it really got me thinking.
The term “school improvement'” is one that is used often in current political, social, cultural and educational debates and agendas. From politicians to social commentators to principals, teachers, parents and sometimes even students – we all want improvement, yet it seems that we can’t necessarily come to an agreement about what that means. But during today’s meeting, it hit me that perhaps the reason we can’t seem to come to a common definition is because we are all looking at it with different hats. So we need to consider the perspectives of all stakeholders.
The government seems focused on standardised tests and funding. It seems like a cold, heartless approach. However they need evidence that they are allocating money effectively in order to provide the best possible education for all Australian students. Many would argue that they may be misplacing that funding. I’m not going to enter into that debate here, but what I do want to acknowledge is that whilst I, as an educator, may cringe at the anonymity of standardised tests such as NAPLAN, the government needs tools of some sort to gauge how millions of Australian students are progressing.
If we consider individual schools, the focus moves to ensuring that students have the opportunity to access appropriate pathways upon leaving school. There is also a focus on developing leadership and positive citizenship. What we see here is the holistic education of the ‘whole child.’ This becomes even more so when we narrow our focus to examine what is going on in individual classrooms. Within my classroom, school improvement is about helping the individual child recognise and develop both their strengths and weaknesses, helping them to build resilience and a positive self-image and expectation of personal success.
As was pointed out during our discussion, parents perceive school improvement from a different perspective. For them, it is about their child being nurtured, encouraged and supported to achieve personal success – whatever that may be for the child.
And for students, I believe that school improvement is about feeling welcome and loved, confident of personal success, and as my colleague pointed out, “interest and relevance.”
It is clear that the key stakeholders desire success and improvement for students, but that they come at the concept from very different angles. And the story becomes more complicated when we consider demographic. The social and cultural composition of the community in which a school exists has a very strong influence on the school’s role and goals. For example, a school located in a low socio-economic area would have very different goals from one in a more affluent area. That is not to say that expectations for success are lower in the first community, but more that success is defined or identified in different ways.
Perhaps what we need to do is accept that, whilst we might not always agree with each others’ approach, key stakeholders all want the best outcomes for Australian education. “School improvement” will ultimately mean different things to different people, and will differ from school to school. Individual schools and teachers can make use of tools through groups such as AITSL and ACER for quantitative data, but it is crucial that they revisit their aims and mission statements and measure their improvement qualitatively. It is in this that we can truly identify effective school improvement: how well are we addressing and achieving our stated aims in order to provide the best educational experience in relation to the specific needs of our students and school community?