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Spending time to make time is probably the most lucrative investment in education.

Teachers are leaving the profession in droves. And whilst there has been great discussion about the possible, perceived and very real causes, there is not a lot changing at the coal face and honestly, no one knows how and when lasting change will evolve.

Currently, our education system is not led, nor informed by the education profession (Kidson, et al, 2023). Whilst most educators are flummoxed by this, they carry on, regardless. For one, they don’t have time to advocate for themselves and their students. Hence, out of exhaustion, frustration, and bewilderment, or a combination of all three and more, they leave the profession in search of something more fulfilling. And let’s face it, our skills are transferable into a myriad of other professions.

Most schools in my district are blessed with technology, resources, state of the art physical environment, but more importantly, they are brimming with dedicated, yet overworked and jaded teachers. Things need to change and this change starts with us. Things are tough because we are still educating our students in an educational paradigm that expired last century.

The purpose for school based education changed with the new millennium but we didn’t change with it. It seems so obvious to me but I’m yet to find this in the educational research literature. We are the square pegs trying to fit into a round hole. Our predominately teacher-directed approach to education is not meeting the needs of our contemporary students. I acknowledge that this is a provocative statement but allow me to share my lucid thinking.

In a recent Financial Review article, Glen Fahey (Centre for Independent Studies) warned that poor student behaviour “ now about the most important education issues for teachers and schools…The OECD’s index of disciplinary climate is a measure of classroom disorder and disruption that’s consistently been worsening in Australia, making it among the worst in the developed world.”

I can’t help wondering where, how and why this worsening phenomenon originated. Contemporary educators will acknowledge that behaviour is a manifestation of an underlying factor that may or may not be visible at home or at school. And I reiterate, I am an educator, not a psychologist, counsellor, nor psychiatrist. However, if students are connected to their learning, see the relevance in their learning, and are motivated and engaged by their learning, then wouldn’t a significant and dynamic aspect of student behaviour be addressed?

Some of the factors impacting engagement are beyond our control, but we can ameliorate these with a concerted effort to support student agency and bolster their human capabilities in order to develop their all-important epistemic beliefs. This is central to students’ wellbeing and has been the focus of a burgeoning research phase focusing on 21st Century skills, or complex competencies, amidst our greatest curriculum reform in some 30 years.

Indeed, Tan et al (2017), as cited in Weldon et al (2019) concur that educators can effectively teach, scaffold and assess these competencies whilst acknowledging the “pedagogical complexities” and still promote educational innovation (p.10). However, what is standing in their way is the “long-established conventions of mainstream schooling that tend to privilege the acquisition of canonical disciplinary knowledge and academic achievement.” (p.10)

Moreover, Fullan and Edwards (2022) outline various studies which have “found mounting disengagement as students go through the grades, as well as increased anxiety across socioeconomic status groups” (p. 4) and this gets back to my previous point about valuing learning that is relevant. Students themselves describe five attributes that they need in order to flourish in the unique cultural context of their learning communities:

  • Strong connections and interpersonal relationships

  • To have personal assets and strengths valued

  • Have their identities valued

  • Opportunities to contribute meaningfully to the world

  • Opportunities to engage in meaningful and purposeful work

(Mehta & Datnow, 2020, as cited in Fullan and Edwards, 2022, p. 5)

We are all certainly aware of what it is that both students and our societies or various economies need but we’re just not delivering on it and it is having dire consequences manifesting in poor behaviour and in a serious skills shortage (globally). We need a paradigm shift and we need it now and thankfully, it is underway. However, a call for change only occurs, according to Fullan and Edwards (2022), when two conditions are prevailing:

  1. The current model is simply no longer working; and

  2. Risk takers who recognise the need for change and push boundaries in the development of new examples which are then noticed by subsequent change agents.

There has been a plethora of articles penned regarding the antiquated ATAR but Adrian Piccoli summarises it nicely when he asserts that “It also excludes all of the other skill sets we know are required across virtually all university courses and the jobs of today. These include skills around communication, collaboration, reasoning, creativity and interpersonal ability. But the ATAR entry approach results in the exclusion of a lot of people who would otherwise be successful at university. This means there is a fundamental issue about equity.”

So, we know categorically that Point 1 above is confirmed. So, on to Point 2, and this is where Kuhn (1962) as cited in Fullan & Edwards (2022) warns us that “unequivocal failure is not sufficient to unseat the existing model.” (p. 8). However, successful examples of new ambitions for teaching and learning are enough to create a groundswell and once these positive examples topple the outdated, traditional approaches to ‘school-based education’, then we will see a significant shift in the downward spiralling trends of student and teacher wellbeing.

As we are currently in the midst of the largest, nation-wide curriculum reform that we have seen in over 30 years, we are therefore, ideally placed to shake up how we approach teaching and learning. In addition, we are also on the cusp of technological change by way of AI permeating and impacting on how we now live and work. Indeed many commentators have expressed concerns that “If human cognitive capacity is a landscape, AI has indeed increasingly taken over large swaths of this territory.”

It makes sense then that with increasing technical interconnectivity, surging complexities accompanying the changes in skills required for working and living, that the focus in education needs to shift squarely onto the broader set of generic competencies that future proof our learners and indeed, our teachers. We are all acutely aware of the terms, ‘21st Century skills’, ‘General Capabilities’ and ‘Complex Competencies’, albeit conflated; however, as Weldon et al (2019) found that breaking these transferable skills down into teachable and assessable elements poses a great challenge for our educators.

Markauskaite et al (2022) identify the nexus where learning is predicted to occur in our 21st Century classrooms but requires “Both teachers’ developing competencies to use digital tools, and their institution’s ability to support this work.” If we scan the extant literature on general capabilities or 21st Century skills, and so on, there is no dispute that developing these human skills, alongside content knowledge is absolutely crucial. We simply cannot claim to make our aspirational mission statements that adorn our schools’ websites if we don’t attend to this, authentically.

However, as the Brookings Institute (2017) found, that there are three core challenges to this work:

  • Definitional

  • Logistical

  • Systemic

Whilst we, at the coalface, are not in a position to shift systemic factors characterised by a 20th Century educational paradigm which has focused on a discipline approach to curriculum, on standardisation of the learning experience, league tables and inequity, we can journey together towards “...professional transformation: That moment when a teacher realises the benefits of a shift in practice and will never go back.” (Watanabe-Crockett, 2019, p.3).

There is literature that exposes the instructional strategies that support the development of these competencies but it is not as prolific as it could or should be. As ‘Collaboration’ sits at the core of modern teaching and learning, next week’s blog will focus on both instructional and assessment design in order to authentically bring this construct to the fore. The journey begins here and it's easier than you think. You just need to spend the time in order to save time.


Care, E., Kim, H, Scoular, C. (2017). 21st Century skills in 20th century classrooms. Brookings Institute:

Causes of Disengagement: University of Melbourne: Graduate School of Education

Fullan, M. & Edwards, M. (2022). Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration. Corwin Press: California.

Hare, J. (2023). Bad behaviour in Australian classrooms among the worst in OECD: Financial Review

Markauskaite, L & Ors (2022). Rethinking the entwinement between artificial intelligence and human learning: What capabilities do learners need for a world with AI?. Computers and Education: Artificial Intelligence, Vol 3. 2022.

Piccoli, A. (2019). ATAR has failed students, universities and business, so let's replace it by 2025. Sydney Morning Herald

Wattanabne-Crockett, L. (2019). Future-focused learning. 10 essential shifts of everyday practice. Hawker Brownlow: Victoria, Australia

Weldon, P. (2019). Changing priorities? The role of general capabilities in the curriculum. ACER

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