Teacher Staffroom Episode 15: Insights from experts

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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.

Here at Teacher magazine, our content draws on the wealth of knowledge and expertise that exists within the education community. We accept contributions from teachers, school leaders, researchers, policymakers and representatives from peak education bodies and professional associations. This month, we've had the opportunity to speak with several experts in education on a range of different topics, and in today's podcast, I'm going to take you through some of the highlights. I'll also do a quick round-up of our coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and how schools and educators are adapting to the latest changes. And, of course, I'll be sharing some of the comments and suggestions to come from you, our readers and listeners. So, as always, if you'd like to get involved, please feel free to send over your story suggestions or simply leave a comment on any of the articles we publish. Let's get started.

The first piece I'd like to share is a podcast I recorded with Professor Pasi Sahlberg, a Professor of Education Policy at the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Sydney. He joined me to discuss the ongoing research project he's been working on, called Growing Up Digital Australia. It explores how the widespread use of media and digital technologies is impacting the wellbeing, health and learning of Australian children. In the episode, we delve deep into the findings to come from the study, and Pasi shares his insights into how digital technologies impact a child's readiness to learn in the classroom. Here's a short excerpt where Pasi is discussing teachers' concerns around digital distraction, and how difficult it can be to keep students engaged when they aren't using their digital devices.

You know, there was one teacher who talked about this by saying that the students who spend most of their home time engaging with digital technology find non-technology related tasks at school ‘irrelevant' or even, they said, ‘boring'. Many teachers talk about students' lack of interest in applying themselves to learning basic skills like handwriting or doing mathematical calculations or computations by hand. And many other teachers spoke about students' lack of focus on assigned work and even laziness at completing homework at times, that the data clearly show as well. So if the schoolwork is not on a student's device or computer or smartphone, it was a battle to engage students to do that. So those were some of the findings that we can read from the teachers' and principals' responses here.

The next piece I'd like to share is a really fascinating Q&A we did with Wendy Groot, President of Epilepsy Australia. Epilepsy Australia is the national coalition of state-based organisations providing services to people with epilepsy, their families and carers, across the country. The interview covers – What is epilepsy? How does the condition impact on students' learning? And, what do school leaders, teachers and anyone with a duty of care in K-12 settings need to know?

Here's a quote from Wendy from the article:

Most think of epilepsy as the more obvious tonic-clonic type of seizure where the person loses consciousness, their body stiffens and, if standing, they fall to the ground (tonic phase) followed by their limbs jerking in strong, symmetrical, rhythmic movements (clonic phase). However, seizures can present in more than 40 different ways and every person's experience with the condition is unique.

Here's something to think about: As a teacher, what adjustments can you make to your own practice to better meet the learning and wellbeing needs of students with epilepsy? As a school leader, how are you ensuring students with epilepsy are able to fully participate in school life?

Another really interesting Q&A was published on Teacher this month, this one on reading. Professor Linda Graham, Haley Tancredi and Professor Pamela Snow shared findings from their research paper titled: A longitudinal analysis of the alignment between children's early word‑level reading trajectories, teachers' reported concerns and supports provided. The study tracked the word-level reading trajectories of children in Grades 1, 2 and 3. Alongside this, their teacher's concerns and the supports provided to students was also explored.

When discussing the implications of this research for educators, the researchers had this to say:

Teachers are required to make fast-paced decisions, often on imperfect information. The findings of this study should remind teachers to problematise the information they have to hand and the assumptions they employ in their sense-making process. This study shows that it is especially important for teachers to resist common stereotypes about socioeconomic status, English language background and student behaviour, and to investigate all possible reasons for students' presenting characteristics, including difficulties with reading and phonemic decoding.

After reading the article and the research discussed, here is something you may like to consider.

Reflect on a time you recently offered support to a student. Was this based on their classroom behaviour? Did you investigate what could be driving this behaviour? How could you ensure you seek to do this more frequently with students?

A Teacher reader named Rosemary left a comment on the article that I'd like to share with you. She said:

Great study and I'm not surprised by the results. As the Principal of a Language Development Centre for over 25 years it was disappointing that children with language disorders were often identified because of behaviour issues rather than the behaviour being seen as the outcome of an inability to express themselves. It is unsurprising that a majority of prisoners suffer from some sort of learning disability. If only we were onto the diagnosis and intervention before it got to this! Keep up the great research!

Another expert featured on Teacher magazine this month was Amy Hume, a voice coach and Lecturer in Theatre (Voice) at the Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne. I sat down with Amy to talk about the reasons why teachers are more likely to experience vocal fatigue than many other professions. She also offered insights into how teachers can better care for their voices and some practical suggestions on how to set up their work environment to support their voice.

A Teacher reader named Chris read the piece and left this comment on the article. He said:

As a former actor and voice teacher now working in education, I've been trying to draw attention to this problem for many years. It is excellent to see it getting some airtime. It seems astonishing to me that teachers ­– who absolutely qualify as professional voice users - receive little to no formal training in the use and care of their voices; those few who do usually have to access and pay for the training themselves (in Australia anyway) and only do so after they have started working in schools and losing their voices. I have tried to raise this issue numerous times in the institutions I have studied and worked in, all to no avail so far. Hopefully articles like this one will help to elevate the issue to the level it needs to be at so that teachers don't spend their weekends in vocal recovery mode!

Here are some questions to consider.

As a teacher, how often do you experience vocal fatigue? Which techniques do you use to manage these issues? Has teaching in the online environment affected your voice in any way? Have you noticed any differences?

Moving on now, I'm not going to focus too much on our COVID-19 coverage because we have spoken at length about how teachers and school leaders have adapted their way of working in two earlier episodes of Teacher Staffroom. But we have covered quite a lot this month, so I'm going to whip through them here, just to remind you of what we've published related to the pandemic.

The first piece came from Susannah Schoeffel and Pauline Ho and it explored how school leaders can manage change effectively and efficiently, to support student learning in such unprecedented times.

Another piece explored which aspects of remote learning have resulted in positive outcomes for staff collaboration and student engagement at Ringwood Secondary College in Victoria.

In a reader submission, Dr Carl Leonard and Dr Gail Brown provided tips and suggestions for teachers and leaders to help manage the transition back to school for all students, and particularly those with additional needs. You can find that piece, and all the other articles I've mentioned, in the transcript for this podcast.

This next piece was a really interesting one. Ben Tiffen, a VCE English and VCAL teacher at Melba College, Victoria, shared how Emily St John Mandel's post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven is an opportunity for teachers to choose a study text drawing on students' recent experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic.

And finally, while many experienced teachers will have had to draw on their knowledge of good classroom practice to navigate the move to remote learning during the pandemic, for beginner teachers like Savannah Epskamp, starting a teaching career in the middle of the pandemic was a whole unique challenge in itself. I spoke to her about what it was like to accept her first teaching role at the beginning of May, at a time when most of her Year 5 students were learning remotely.

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 teachermagazine.com.au

You've been listening to a podcast from Teacher magazine, supported by Bank First. Bank First is a customer owned bank, committed to supporting the financial wellbeing of the education community since 1972. If you have been affected by COVID 19 visit bankfirst.com.au for financial support.