Speech: Professor Stephen Dinham book launch

Professor Stephen Dinham, Associate Dean (Strategic Partnerships) and Professor of Instructional Leadership

Address delivered at the launch of Professor Dinham’s new book, Leading Learning and Teaching.

4 August 2016

Thank you all for coming, especially those who have come long distances. Let me begin by offering thanks to a number of people. I’ll be mentioning others later.

Thanks firstly to Deputy Premier and Minister for Education James Merlino. I really appreciate your presence here this evening and your kind words about the book. It is refreshing to have a Minister for Education who is prepared to work with the profession through initiatives like your expert panel on schools. Congratulations on your obvious commitment to education.

Thanks also to Ben Dawe, General Manager ACER Press for the kind words of introduction. I would like to thank ACER for supporting this work and for the efforts to promote Leading Learning and Teaching. This is the third book I have published with ACER Press and be warned, there are two others in the pipeline. In particular, I would like to thank Patrick O’Duffy – no longer with ACER – for his strong support for the project in its early stages. I would also like to thank Carolyn Glascodine who was my editor and also edited my previous book How to Get Your School Moving and Improving. Caroline made the process almost painless. I would also like to thank Holly Proctor who took over after Patrick left and Kelly Van Os who has been in charge of promotion for the book. All have been great to work with and very enthusiastic about the book. I would also like to thank Julie King who compiled the index.

I would like to thank Professor Field Rickards, Dean of the MGSE, for providing the venue and for MC’ing and hosting this launch.

Background

I was a secondary school teacher for 14 years and towards the end of that time I completed the venerable Master of Educational Administration degree at the University of New England, the first of such courses to be offered in Australia. It was a great course, but I was to realise later that it was essentially about administration and management and had nothing to do with teaching and learning. Later I was involved in devising and teaching educational leadership degrees at a number of universities. At this time my research was mainly about leadership and effective or successful teaching. At the time the management paradigm was dominant in education, with the self-managing school, school marketing and corporate approaches common in in-service programs for school leaders.

I came to the realisation that there was a major disconnect between leadership and teaching, and between teaching and learning. I realised I needed to know more about learning, how teaching facilitates this, and how teaching can be supported by leaders, whose main function shouldn’t be management.

At this time Catherine Scott and I were involved in an international study of teacher and school executive satisfaction, motivation and mental health and one of the key findings was how important the core business of teaching was to teacher and executive satisfaction and how this had been impacted by a range of dissatisfiers such as societal criticism, lower teacher status, imposed systemic change, and increased social expectations on schools.

Two other significant projects were a study of successful HSC teaching conducted with Wayne Sawyer and Paul Ayres and a follow up ARC funded study of schools achieving outstanding educational outcomes in Years 7-10 conducted with John Pegg at UNE, the late Paul Brock from the NSW Department of Education and other colleagues. From 2000 to 2007 I also led the NSW Minister for Education and ACE Quality Teaching Awards, designed to research and recognise exemplary teaching in all sectors and levels of education.

In 2007 I moved to ACER as Research Director of the Teaching, Learning and Leadership program. This was also important in strengthening my understanding of these areas and how they are connected. An important influence at ACER was the late Ken Rowe who passed on much of his passion, knowledge and beliefs about learning. Tragically, Ken was killed in the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009. Another important influence at ACER was Lawrence Ingvarson and his passion and expertise for professional teaching standards. Together with colleagues we did a lot of work in this area, including the early versions of the national teaching and school leadership standards, now the APST and APSP.

In an attempt to bring together understanding of student learning, effective teaching, leadership to support teaching and learning, professional learning and change management in schools, I wrote How to Get Your School Moving and Improving: An Evidence-based Approach, published in late 2008. How to Get Your School Moving and Improving received a great deal of acceptance and has been incorporated in many inservice and formal leadership programs. I’d like to think this book was influential in questioning the dominant management paradigm of the time.

In 2011 I moved to MGSE as Professor of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching. I now had the opportunity to create a new degree, the Master of Instructional Leadership. My observation of the existing educational leadership degrees across the globe was that most could be characterised as doughnuts, with the missing central portion being learning and teaching, i.e., essentially educational management degrees.

The vision was for a course that would be strongly evidence-based and would target the needs of aspiring and practising educational leaders from across Australia and further afield.

John Hattie had arrived at MGSE at the same time as myself and together with colleagues such as Patrick Griffin, Lea Waters, Helen Stokes, Laurie Drysdale and David Gurr, the course was developed, approved, and introduced in 2013. An important aspect was the offering of two core subjects – John’s subject Evidence for Learning and Teaching and my subject Leading Learning and Teaching – as a Professional Certificate qualification. Both the masters and professional certificate have proven to be very popular with individuals, schools and sponsored cohorts. This year we have some 175 educators enrolled in the first subjects with another group completing their studies this year. The feedback we have received is very positive about the impact our graduates are having in schools and systems.

One of the premises and approaches to the MIL and other initiatives we are involved with such as courses for the Bastow Institute, the University of Melbourne Network of Schools and other work with sectors and systems is that of action learning. As much as possible we set assignments within the candidate’s context and assist them to plan, implement and evaluate school-based interventions, measure the impact of these and modify accordingly to increase the likelihood of sustainability. This is a powerful and real method of learning where theory, research and practice come together and change occurs.

I have conducted a range other related work with a variety of bodies across Australia and I have become increasingly involved with educational policy, including becoming concerned with non-evidence based solutions to the so-called problems of education imported from places such as the UK and USA. Some of this is ideological and is a matter of financial opportunism. The biggest publishers in the world today are educational publishers and every day someone is knocking on a minister’s or director general/ secretary’s door offering a quick fix, but very expensive, solution to the supposed problems of education.

A problem is that governments, policymakers and apartments of education have largely stopped listening to educators. Partly this is our fault because we have not been able to provide evidence to support some of our claims, strategies and approaches. There are still too many low impact, untested or even disproved strategies being employed in schools. There is also too much educational research which has little impact.

Some time ago I formulated my ‘three R’s’ for educational research. I believe that if research is going to have an impact it needs to meet three criteria:

  1. Relevance
  2. Rigour
  3. Readability

Too much of educational research unfortunately fails to meet these essential criteria, in my view.

Leading Learning and Teaching

The stimulus for Leading Learning and Teaching was to build upon this earlier work and my current thinking to write a more comprehensive, all-encompassing text of what we need to know about the research evidence on teaching for learning, the importance and impact of educational leadership, the role of professional learning in education, school improvement and educational change, and leadership preparation and development.

There are a number of important principles underpinning this book.

Firstly I believe that a quality teacher in every classroom is the biggest equity issue in Australian education and unfortunately, the equity gap is widening. Choice, competition and the free market are not always the best solution is in the provision of social service.  I have spent a lot of time in Germany, and German education has been able to improve its performance on all International measures of student achievement at a time when Australia’s are in decline. Germany has done this through a strongly regulated system that places a premium on high standards for education and training. It has strongly resisted the key elements of the what Pasi Sahlberg has termed the Global Education Reform Movement, or GERM.

Australian education on the other hand is becoming increasingly deregulated. We are seeing for example government schools engaging in social selection to ensure they attract and accept students of higher educational potential. We need some form of equalisation in education, not to bring everyone down to the same level but to ensure there is a minimal acceptable standard of resourcing, qualified and effective teaching and authoritative instructional leadership across all our schools. This is not however, a matter of how much we spend – or more accurately invest – in education but that we focus spending on what adds most value and has most impact on student learning and development.

We need to recognise that we have wonderful teachers and wonderful schools in Australia but the big worry for me is increasing variation. Variation in the quality of teachers and teaching, variation in school performance, variation in school resourcing, variation caused by inequity. Variation is driving the whole educational system down.

It has never been more true that education is the best means we have opening the doors of opportunity for young people and of overcoming the effects of disadvantage. We know that every year we engage people in education and training pays off in terms of health, wealth, social cohesion and national prosperity. There are states in the USA who use as their best predictor for the number of prison beds they are going to need, the high school dropout rate and the unemployment rate.

I am however essentially positive. We can reverse the some of the negative trends we have been experiencing through evidence based strategies and investing in the professional development of our teachers and other leaders. We know what best practice looks like but we have to make best practice common practice.

We have seen first hand through initiatives such as the University of Melbourne Network of Schools and other work involving professional learning and renewal that it is possible to turn schools around and lift performance but this needs to be nurtured rather than mandated. A concern I’ve discussed with Minister’s Merlino’s expert panel for schools and with Minister Piccoli in NSW is how to address the issue of schools that consistently under-perform. How can we best balance autonomy with accountability? At what point does the system intervene in such schools, and what forms should this intervention take?

I hope this book makes some contribution to the professional learning of educators, one of our biggest levers for educational change and improvement, but I will leave that judgement to others.

Acknowledgements

One point I have been at pains to stress within the book has been to acknowledge the work of others in shaping my knowledge, understanding and thinking. Many of the projects cited in the book have been completed with colleagues.

In addition, I would like to thank Viviane Robinson for agreeing to write the foreword. I would also like to thank Patricia Collarbone, Alma Harris, John Hattie, David Hopkins and Ken Leithwood for reading the draft of this book and providing such positive support for what I have tried to achieve. I have cited the important work of each of these eminent educators, researchers and writers at various points in the text.

I would also like to thank my colleagues at the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education, with whom I have worked in the development and implementation of the Master of Instructional Leadership degree and other related professional development programs for educational leaders. In particular, I would like to thank and acknowledge the contributions of Helen Stokes, Warren Marks, Sue Lazenby and Kerry Elliott to my MIL (Master of Instructional Leadership) subject, Leading Learning and Teaching.

I would also like to thank Professor Diane Mayer, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney and President-Elect of the Australian College of Educators for being here and agreeing to give the vote of thanks. I would also like to acknowledge the presence of the current national president of ACE, Bronwyn Pike. I’m past president of ACE and believe it has an important role to play in current and future education developments in Australia and I wish Diane and Bronwyn well and welcome their contribution to the College and to the profession more broadly.

Above all I would like to thank my wife and research partner on many projects, Catherine Scott, who has had a great deal of influence on my work, including the work on teacher executive satisfaction mentioned previously, work on effective teaching and authoritative leadership and for her, our, and my work debunking many of the harmful myths of learning and teaching that still plague us. The dedication reads:

This book is dedicated to my wife Dr Catherine Scott, a true scholar and great teacher.

Thanks also to our daughter Olivia who is here tonight.

Once again I appreciate the support that all of you have offered through your attendance this evening.

Thank you.

Minister James Merlino, Professor Stephen Dinham and Dean of Education Professor Field Rickards
(L-R) Minister James Merlino, Professor Stephen Dinham and Dean of Education Professor Field Rickards at the launch of Leading, Learning and Teaching