Teacher Staffroom Episode 22: Lead the way into 2021

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.

Welcome back to a new school year. I know that for many of you, 2020 brought a whole host of unique challenges to the way you teach, collaborate with others, and undertake professional learning, amongst many other things. I hope you all enjoyed a well-deserved break and are ready to face whatever 2021 will bring. Over the past few weeks, here at Teacher we’ve been busy putting together content to help support you for the year ahead, and in today’s episode I’m going to take you through some of the highlights. I’ll be discussing school leadership, gifted education, setting up your classroom and resources for planning. Let’s jump straight in!

The first piece I’d like to share is a leadership article on sustaining a school culture of high expectations. Auburn Girls High School principal Anna Tsoutsa spoke to my colleague Dominique Russell about how students are supported to achieve the high expectations teachers hold for them. In the article, Anna says:

With regards to setting up the conditions to allow the girls to be the best version of themselves, we’re talking about their learning, there’s a focus on learning, there’s a focus on good discipline and expectations that the girls do follow the school’s values – which are respect, responsibility and personal excellence. From the students’ point of view, what we keep talking about is our expectation is that they are the best version of themselves and they give their personal best in all areas. We, the teachers and the staff, we set up the conditions to allow them to achieve that.

Staff at Auburn Girls worked collaboratively with the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation’s What works best toolkit. The toolkit encourages school staff to reflect on their current practice for each of its eight themes, and identify areas for improvement. The eight themes are: high expectations; explicit teaching; effective feedback; use of data to inform practice; assessment; classroom management; wellbeing; and, collaboration.

Here’s something to think about. As a school leader, consider the eight toolkit themes mentioned in the article.

Which are particular strengths in your school and where are the areas for improvement? Think about the last time you addressed each theme with staff. Do staff have a consistent understanding of what each theme means for your own school context?

Still on the topic of leadership, we published an article this month about research recently conducted with Middle Years students. Students were asked: What do you understand by the term ‘leadership’? Who do you consider to be a good leader and what are the attributes that make them so?

Associate Professors Anne Coffey and Shane Lavery, from the University of Notre Dame Australia, held focus group interviews with 72 students in Years 7-9, from 12 metropolitan schools in six states and territories. In their report, the authors argue that if we’re to develop effective leadership programs for students, rather than simply imposing our own ideas, there’s a need to understand the perspective of those most affected – the students themselves.

After reading the article on Teacher, consider this question:

What role does student voice play in the planning, implementation and development of student leadership programs in your school?

Moving on now, I’d like to share two pieces we ran earlier this month on creating effective classroom displays. I know this will be front-of-mind for many of you, as you will have only recently set up your new classrooms, or you’ll be preparing to do so over the coming weeks.

Over the two-part series, Dominique Russell spoke with Professor Peter Barrett about how to best utilise classroom displays to improve learning.

In the first article, Peter suggests teachers avoid overcrowding the space, whilst also ensuring spaces aren’t too bare. Here’s a quote from the article:

If all the walls are completely covered with lively displays it seems, from our empirical results, that the environment created is just too distracting. Equally though, if the walls are left bare it is under-stimulating. So somewhere in between is ideal. One way of saying this can be that covering up to 80 per cent of the wall area in “calm” displays, or limiting this to 50 per cent if the displays are “lively”, is about optimal for learning.

In the second article, Peter shares insights into how classroom displays can help students feel they belong in the classroom. He says:

Having aspects of the classroom that reflect the individual pupils is important – some of their work on the wall, names/pictures on trays and pegs, etc. Also something that maybe they have created together that makes the classroom instantly recognisable – not just a soulless box. This is all supported by good quality, child-centred furniture and equipment. Lots of teachers do these things, and our evidence shows that it really helps.

Here’s something to consider:

As you welcome students at the beginning of the year, how will you be using elements of classroom displays to create a sense of self-worth and belonging?

I’d like to tell you now about another two-part series we published this month, this one on gifted education.

In the first article, Gifted and Talented Coordinator Michelle Lucas discusses the high rate of underachievement among gifted students and the detrimental effect of teacher misconceptions and the myth that they will succeed regardless. She writes:

When I began as Gifted and Talented Coordinator, my first task was to pore through the profiles of identified gifted students. I had taught many of them in Mathematics or Science and my first impression of most was that they were successful learners – after all, they were almost all ‘A grade’ students. Equating this with successful learning is a common misconception among teachers.

In the second article, Michelle discusses research and interventions to address underachievement and meet the needs of gifted students. She stresses the importance of creating safe environments and a sense of belonging for these students. Michelle writes:

In order to create a supportive learning environment for gifted students it is important that teachers have some knowledge and experience of gifted students and that misconceptions are addressed. From my own experience, I can’t help thinking of a teacher’s response to an invisible underachiever – ‘he couldn’t possibly be gifted’ – and also wonder at their opinion of the identified underachievers.

Here’s something to think about:

How do you identify gifted students in your own school? What strategies do you use to identify their strengths and areas for development? Thinking about the high-achieving students at your school – are they underachieving on their potential? And, is there diversity in the group of students identified as gifted?

Moving on now, I’d like to tell you about an article we publish every year. It covers the significant themes and events taking place over the next 12 months which might help inspire some of your lessons. From Safer Internet Day, to NAIDOC Week, to the Tokyo Olympics, there are plenty of commemorations occurring this year that could fit in well with the units you’re teaching. You can find that article and all those I’ve mentioned today on the Teacher website at teachermagazine.com

And, just before I let you go, I’d like to remind you that late last year we launched our new wellbeing publication, Wellbeing by Teacher. Each Saturday morning we publish a new article, aimed at helping you to improve your overall sense of wellbeing while you’re not at work. Stay tuned for a piece on the benefits of yoga, the history of food as medicine, and how to get the most out of your sleep. They’ll all be featured on Wellbeing by Teacher in the coming weeks. You can make sure you don’t miss an article by subscribing to the bulletin, it’s free and you’ll find the sign up form on the Teacher magazine homepage.

That's all from me today, and you're all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. As I said, 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 Thanks for listening.