It is such a good feeling when reflecting on one's own leadership of a project, initiative, or during the execution of a strategic plan, to find that the approaches taken are endorsed and promoted by those whom I greatly admire.
Recently, I enjoyed Ollie Lovell's Education Reading Room's Podcast Episode #072, featuring Viviane Robinson. In it, Ollie asks Viviane what she believes to be the purpose of school-based education. Her response resonated to the point of goosebumps. I couldn't agree more with her response:
"Preparation for the life goals that students choose to pursue [my emphasis]." Robinson asserts that the capabilities and self-management competencies that enable students to achieve their own goals are central to gaining fulfilling employment. My input here is that this work begins in early childhood and not at the point of performance toward the end of a student's school-based education.
Robinson aligns her second purpose to Biesta's (2009) seminal work on the three functions of education, and in particular, the recognition of students' autonomy and self-regulation. She clarifies that it is so much more than offering choice, or a suite of presentation modes. It has a lot to do with understanding, and owning, the implications of choices. I was challenged by the notion that ideally, students need to develop the ability not to be controlled by the wishes of others, nor by their own "undisciplined urges." How do we educators develop and recognise this across school contexts?
Finally, Robinson's third function of school-based education was 'Socialisation' (again aligned with Biesta). Clearly, the term socialisation can no longer just relate to socialisation into a democratic society, nor any other particular dominant tradition (such as school). Schools and communities are even more heterogeneously diverse than in previous generations. We know that socialisation at home may nor necessarily support critical and creative thinking, nor civic participation. Robinson warns us that "Navigating the tension that may exist cross-culturally, may be problematic" for school leaders. She illustrates with an example which provided greater clarity: As mathematics teachers, we can be socialised into a mathematics community as a 'reasoner' and 'thinker', or socialised into a mathematics community where fluency and getting the right answer is key? We need to understand our prevailing school culture. Are we results driven, or are we developing complex competencies?
Carter (2019) applied Biesta's three functions to the Melbourne Declaration (2008) by way of restoring purpose to school-based education. Like most of us, Carter identified that meaningful purposes and functions of education had been eroded in the wake of standardised tests, Australia's position on league tables, questions about teacher quality, government funding and the quality of undergraduate teacher programs. His assertion is that the the three purposes for education provide an interpretive lens through which to design future curricula.
I note that the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration (2019) has two distinct but interconnected goals, which remain the same as the Melbourne Declaration:
Goal 1: The Australian education system promotes excellence and equity.
Goal 2: All young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community.
Therefore, school leaders have a strong foundation upon which to measure responses to the question, 'Are we doing the right work, the right way?' We know what the right work is. It is preparing students for a fulfilling future, developing autonomy and self-regulated learners, and of course, socialisation. But are we doing it the right way? Virtuously?
Often, when we work with teachers to support them to be doing the right work, the right way, we focus on individual theories of action ('TOA'). In the ERRR#072 podcast, Robinson contests this notion, explaining that a TOA has no evaluative connotation. It is simply a theory and, like all theories, can be good or bad.
Virtues, however, are grounded in character, and importantly, capture motivational aspects that TsOA don't. A virtuous leader can enable the right work in the right way, if they are motivated virtuously. We can then ask ourselves what does the science of teaching and learning tell us about how the above three purposes for school-based education can be achieved?
We are in the midst of curriculum reform and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority ('ACARA') has pared back content by 21%, whilst simultaneously prioritising the development of student capabilities. It is strikingly apparent that our curricula is much more ambitious than focusing on the learning of content for content's sake.
So, how might we, as virtuous leaders, foster metacognitive skills, collaboration, communication and deep learning so that content is embedded, purposeful, engaging and relevant? Where does conceptual schema fit in to our teachers' practice? Essentially, how do we teach our students so that they apprehend the three purposes for school-based education?
Robinson shared a framework for Complex Collaborative Problem Solving to assist leaders in this regard. I have used the framework (albeit under a similar title) in an attempt to support a shift in pedagogy that would provide the right conditions for students to experience the three purposes for school-based education. The framework worked in a variety of contexts across a K-12 College. The process of collaborating to identify a problem, propose solutions and accompanying success criteria was instrumental in fostering ownership of the shared goal which emanated from the process.
Harnessing the expertise from staff and tapping into their vast array of contexts drove the causal inquiry into some of the difficulties they have had in supporting students to develop agency, self-regulation, responsibility, and the capacity to collaborate, communicate, and think creatively and critically. The work continues with a reworked framework, designed by all staff, one that we hope to co-evaluate again after semester 1, 2023.
As we head into a new school year, we are reminded about virtuous leadership. What fuels our motivation? How and why are we providing feedback to our greatest resource, our teachers? Is the feedback aligned to deep learning? Is it aligned to meet the three purposes for school-based education?
Importantly, how virtuous are we? Are we collaborative? Highly transparent? Are we open to learning? Do we negotiate, and are we committed to support improvement - and for the right reasons?
Biesta, G. Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educ Asse Eval Acc21, 33–46 (2009).
Carter, D. Restoring purpose: applying Biesta’s three functions to the Melbourne Declaration. Curric Perspect39, 125–134 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41297-019-00086-0
Education Reading Room Podcast Episode #072: https://www.ollielovell.com/errr/vivianerobinson2/