Teacher Staffroom Episode 13: Supporting teachers through a crisis

From Teacher magazine, I'm Rebecca Vukovic, and you're listening to an episode of Teacher Staffroom, where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight and action.

So this month has been has been one characterised by a lot of fear and uncertainty as the world grapples with the challenge of containing the spread of the coronavirus, otherwise known as Covid-19. Here in Australia, the majority of schools remain open, until the beginning of the Term 1 holidays and here at Teacher magazine, we knew that we had to adapt some of the content we had scheduled, to ensure that we were providing articles to support you during this time.

So in this episode, I'll be doing a bit of a round-up of what we've published so far related to Covid-19, as well as other more general content that I thought would be of interest. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts via the comment box at the bottom of each article, or via our social media channels. And I'd also encourage you to share this content with your colleagues in education as we all work to support each other during such a challenging time. Let's get started.

Okay, so the first piece I'd like to share is one from Teacher columnist and Director for Education and Skills at the OECD, Andreas Schleicher. To give you some background, last week the OECD released the second volume of the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (or TALIS), that explored teachers and school leaders as valued professionals. We covered all the highlights from this report in an article for Teacher, which I'll link to in the transcript for this episode. To mark the release of the report, Andreas penned a column that discusses some of the insights to come from the study and how they relate to the coronavirus pandemic, even though the data were collected before the crisis hit, in 2018.

He talks about leveraging technology – or more specifically, while many schools are now equipped with at least the minimum technology that is needed for online learning, there is still a quarter of school principals who said in TALIS that shortage or inadequacy of digital technology was hindering learning quite a bit or a lot, a figure that ranged from less than 2 per cent in Singapore, through to 30 per cent in France and Italy, to over 80 per cent in Vietnam.

In the article, he also talks about empowering teachers, enabling innovation, upholding the social fabric of schools and communities, and redefining leadership. But the message that I found most powerful from his column was his message about valuing teachers. Here's a quote from the column. Andreas said:

This is the time for leaders who raise the status of those working at the frontline of our societies. In France, where I live, we join our neighbours every evening to applaud the health workers who leave their loved ones in the morning to go out and work and save lives. It is time that we show more gratitude also for our teachers who dedicate their lives to helping the next generation realise their dreams and shape our future. When TALIS was carried out in 2018, only 26 per cent of teachers felt valued by society for the work they do. We can do better, and I hope today that number will be higher.

It's a powerful message to think about and if you want to read the full article, it's live now on teachermagazine.com.au

The next piece I'd like to share with you is one I wrote called An arts-based approach to resilience. To be honest with you, when I sat down to interview Professor Peter O'Connor from the University of Auckland, we were scheduled to talk specifically about his fantastic work in the wake of the bushfire crisis here in Australia. He had worked with colleagues from New Zealand and Australian universities to establish the Banksia Initiative, a collection of research-based, evidence-informed resources to support arts-based learning after a crisis.

But, when we hopped on the phone, the Covid-19 virus was at the forefront of our minds and we found ourselves shifting the discussion to how schools can support students during this time of uncertainty, or while they conduct lessons via online learning over the coming weeks and months, and also once they return to school once this is all over. Peter said that although the Banksia Initiative was initially set up to respond to the bushfires, it could certainly be used to support students to express their thoughts and feelings about the coronavirus. Here's a quote from Peter from the article:

As schools shut across Australia for a period of time, and when they reopen, it's important we all reconnect as humans together in classrooms — we'll need to play a bit, we'll need to have some fun, we'll need to laugh together, we'll need to just be with each other in a way that's going to be really important after being isolated from each other and how we do that, the role of teachers in doing that, will be enormous. We know that children will come back to school, we will have lost grandparents and parents and members of their community, and the community will have suffered in enormous ways, ways maybe that we don't even understand at this point. Schools are always places of learning but they're also places where communities heal.

In response to the article we received a really lovely comment on the Teacher magazine site, it came from a guidance officer based in Queensland. She said, ‘I really like that line, schools are always places of learning but they're also places where communities heal. As a guidance officer I am always looking at ways to support teaching staff, so thank you.'

I'd encourage you to read this piece, share it with your colleagues, or consider leaving your own comment on the article to let us know which parts you found most useful in your own setting.

Okay, the next piece is a contribution about online learning written by Professor Pauline Taylor-Guy and Dr Anne-Marie Chase from the ACER Institute. Their article provides practical, research-based suggestions on what schools can do as they rapidly move to online learning. The authors say that it will be important to make evidence-based choices, not just for the immediate situation but to ensure that our education system is resilient.

As a teacher, has your school moved to online learning in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic? How have you found the experience? What are some of the challenges you've faced? How are you working to ensure you're supporting students and their learning? But also, what about your own wellbeing? How are you remaining connected to colleagues and leadership and being supported during this transition? We'd love to hear your stories. Please email us at teachereditorial@acer.org and we'll be in touch.

Stepping away from the coronavirus now, here are some other pieces of content from the past month on Teacher that I'd like to share with you.

This month we published two pieces on school reports. One was an article featuring primary school principal Anthony Hockey who shared his school's experience transitioning to a new way of delivering reports. He consulted with parents, students, staff and the school board, as well as others from the community, to find out about what was working and what could be improved. Through this experience, he was most confronted to learn that parents said they would never show their child the school report as it was too negative. Here's a quote from Anthony:

That was really confronting for the teachers. You think you're writing this professional document and you're well versed in how to write reports, but then someone says “you can't even tell it to the student who it's for” – that's very confronting.

In a separate piece, I headed out to St Helena Secondary College in Victoria to sit down with Kate Williams to discuss her school's approach to student reports. We recorded a podcast episode that discussed how they went about improving the quality and accuracy of teacher judgements on their student reports and how they now better reflect the achievement and progress students are making. Here's a short excerpt where Kate discusses some of the issues they identified in the early stages of their journey.

Students are much more than the sum of just the percentage that they get for their assessment task, they're more than just the sum of their grades. So we really wanted to look at that progress during a unit, rather than just at the end of it. The other thing that we noticed, well, got feedback particularly from our parent body about, was the language that was used in some of these reports. Reports are interesting because they're sort of “one servant, two masters”. They have to inform parents about the progress of their child, but at the same time teachers are writing them as a record of the learning progression.

‘So unfortunately, sometimes in reports we get “teacher talk”, we get these really generic type comments that only come out at the end of a semester, so they don't have a function really in terms of helping students improve. And often, obviously, it's delivered too late because it's the end of the semester. Parents also wanted to know what the percentage score meant, they wanted to understand sort of, say if my child got 75 per cent, is that a good? Is that a very good? How does that rate or rank amongst the other students? So they wanted a little bit more descriptor about what those marks really meant.

That was Kate Williams there. Make sure you check out the full episode by visiting the Teacher site or searching ‘Teacher ACER' wherever you get your podcasts.

This month the Top 50 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize were announced – it's an annual prize that acknowledges exceptional teachers from around the globe and the overall winner is awarded US$1 million. One Australian educator made the coveted list for 2020 – Ashley Stewart from Newton Moore Senior High School in Bunbury, Western Australia. Make sure you stay tuned for our podcast episode with Ashley over the coming weeks.

We also launched a new series of articles this month, where we speak with educators about how they've used Teacher content in their own settings. The first piece was one from Epsom Primary School in Bendigo, Victoria where Prep and Art teacher, Gill Davey came across a Teacher magazine podcast that generated significant change. She listened to our interview with former Principal at Rosebery Primary School in the Northern Territory, Gail Smith. The podcast, Teaching methods: Co-teaching to improve student outcomes, discussed how co-teaching had improved outcomes for students at Rosebery and how trusting co-teacher relationships are maintained.

After listening to the podcast and sharing it with colleagues, Gill reached out to the then Principal and podcast interviewee, Gail Smith. Smith was able to offer a wide range of resources and advice which they've now taken on board and introduced their own co-teaching program. If you've used Teacher content in your classroom or to change your practice, we'd love to hear from you. Send us an email or reach out on social media and we'll be in touch.

That's all from me today, and you're all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. I'll place links to all the content and resources in the transcript of this episode, which you'll be able to find under the podcast tab at our website. And on behalf of the Teacher magazine team, we hope that you are able to keep well during this difficult period. We are here to support you so if there's anything in particular that you'd like to see covered on the website, or you think you'd find valuable to learn more about, please reach out.