To get better students everybody is accountable

*from the National Indigenous Times

A headline in The Australian newspaper recently claimed: “To get better students you need better teachers.”

The article investigates how we grade our teachers with a new report arguing that the current system is done purely to meet administrative requirements and a more meaningful system of appraisal and feedback for teachers will increase their effectiveness by up to 30 per cent.

For change to be lasting it says “schools should be in charge of teacher appraisal and feedback. They should define what is effective teaching and learning in their school, and set objectives based on their definition.”

At the Stronger Smarter Institute and those that join us we don’t carry the headline that to get better students you need better teachers.

We argue to get better students you need a school and community committed to cultural change, to change the tide of low expectations in Indigenous Education.
We expect nothing less than the best from our Indigenous students, we instil that “success is culturally appropriate”. Principals, teachers, aides, students, parents, elders and the community ALL must raise the bar on expectations and not collude in negative attitudes.

This means everybody is accountable.

Strong leadership in the school; trust in the classroom; support for students to expect and achieve goals and respectful and inclusive relationships with parents, elders and the local community.

Sure statistics tell us alot about the ‘success of students and teachers’. They measure outcomes and performance and give us clear indicators that what we are doing and how we are doing it is working. Indeed are own story in this edition begins by highlighting the achievements of Tullawong State High School.

But statistics can only tell us so much. Why or more importantly how these results are achieved is the core element to lifting the bar on Indigenous education outcomes and keeping everybody involved accountable.

How did Tullawong increase its attendance rate of Indigenous students and lift their NAPLAN results? How did Toronto High featured in the last edition of NIT, go from having a constant police presence to a friendly, tidy and positive learning environment?

These schools and many more who are committing to the Stronger, Smarter principles are partnering with their local communities and neighbouring schools to aim high and expect the best from our Indigenous students.

The Australian article goes on to say that at the moment, “assessment and feedback are largely tick-a-box exercises that are not linked to better classroom teaching, teacher development or improved student results. It proposes a system of continual feedback on effective learning in classrooms to improve teaching, student performance and assessments.”

This is a basic but essential element in the Stronger Smarter approach, not just to ensure its success, but its sustainability and in time expansion to create Stronger Smarter Learning Communities.

The challenges, environments and goals for each school and their community is different and will mean different solutions.

At Tullawong State High School, they introduced community meetings for Indigenous community members to build capacity around decision making. It allowed the Indigenous community to ask the hard questions.

Why are our kids not achieving? What are you doing about your curriculum to improve Indigenous outcomes?

But the process is a two-way street. It meant a commitment from the community to share their expertise, understanding and provide direct input into matters.
A trip to the Northern Territory recently showed me how the Shepherdson College Learning Community is taking up the challenge and finding solutions. Led by Bryan Hughes, the group of school leaders identified the key issues they wanted to address in their respective schools where they then supported, developed and challenged each other to improve.

They chartered a plane to visit each of their schools to observe classroom pedagogy and school operations. Over three days, open and honest feedback was provided with shared learning’s and professional conversations throughout their travels. They felt the insights and reflections of their colleagues was the best professional development they had ever experienced. It created an opportunity for deeper reflections and learning.

Bryan said, “There is no place to hide during these conversations and the best thing is … none of us wants to!” He said there were many personal transformations in the team making them stronger and smarter. Stronger in their ability to listen and accept challenging feedback. Smarter in their capacity to learn through shared thinking and constant challenging of their leadership.

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