Category Archives: On Education…

‘The blogosphere recapitulates the teacher’s career’

Earlier on today I came across a blog post from Michael Pershan collating a whole heap of golden posts from 2016 (from other bloggers), as well as a few interesting reflections. My interest was piqued when Michael wrote:

When I started reading and writing about teaching back in 2010-2011, it seemed to me that the vast majority of math teachers were blogging about the activities they made or used. Most people were embedding slides or worksheets, or describing progressions of questions they had used.

Michael then shared what he’s most been enjoying most from the year just past…

I think of many of my favorite posts from 2016 — like Lisa and Grace’s above — and they focus on relationships and culture. But how do you talk about relationships and culture? This is hard stuff! It’s what, perhaps, teachers will be blogging about more in years to come, but it’s not easy to figure out how to talk about. The language isn’t always there for us in the way it is about designing a great task.

I was struck by these ideas off the back of a conversation I had with another early career teacher today in the maths staffroom. My mate Ben and I were talking about our responsibility to our current Y12 students, and how our No. 1 goal is to prepare them for their end of year exams; ‘we can’t let them down’. As our brief chat ended and Ben swivelled back around to his desk, I was left thinking. I was struck by the gap between my main focus at the time of lesson planning, giving my students the skills required to have success in the exam, and the more grandiose teaching values I’ve espoused over time; develop questioning and critical thinkers, independent learners, considerate democratic citizens, (etc).

Rather than becoming depressed at this apparent gap between ideals and reality I was somewhat liberated by my inchoate understanding of the difference between novices and experts, and simultaneously somewhat tickled by a phrase that came to mind somewhere out of the recesses of my long term memory. That phrase was, ‘Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny‘*, or as I took it to mean, ‘The developmental stages of the individual’s life mirror the evolutionary stages of their phylum’.

I realised that a parallel could be drawn between the above phrase and Michael’s observations regarding the development of the maths blogosphere. Maybe the blogosphere, in a way, mirrors the development that I currently feel myself going through. The equivalent phrase could be something like, ‘The blogosphere recapitulates the teachers’ career‘.

I’m at a time in my novice development where I’m really focussing on the ‘what’ of classroom instruction. As I develop and bed down the basics of good instruction, space will open up in my working memory (I hope) whilst I’m in the classroom by enough to enable me to ask more complex questions, instruct and guide the lesson more spontaneously, and think more about classroom culture and the other ‘hard stuff’.

Perhaps the we’ve just seen the development of the first cohort of maths bloggers move from novice to expert, with the content and focus of their posts naturally progressing from the concrete to the abstract. If it is fair to say that I’m part of a second generation then I’m just glad there’s now a (sometimes slightly overwhelming) repository of content spanning the entirety of the developmental progression that I can now sink my teeth into!

*It’s a nice quote, but it isn’t necessary true!



If students can’t be little scientists, can PSTs be little teachers?

When I read the above tweet I made a connection. A lot of people have been writing recently (and not-so-recently too) about the fact that trying to teach students science by the scientific method doesn’t work because novices approach problems in different ways to experts. Novices don’t have the same background knowledge as their expert counterparts, meaning that they don’t have sufficient info in their long-term memory to evaluate complex problems and are essentially rendered ineffective in complex situations due to overloaded working memory.

But have we applied this to our teacher training too? Is it reasonable to expect a pre-service teacher to comprehend and apply the science of learning in a complex classroom that requires them to simultaneously apply content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, then pedagogical content knowledge.

I’m thinking about what load reduction instruction look like for pre-service teachers. Surely we’d need to “Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step” as Rosenshine tells us.

A good lesson is made up of a balanced confluence of clear instruction and searching questions, teacher direction and independent work time (etc,), with key transition points existing at the junction between each of these facets of the lesson. Maybe micro-teaching is the gateway for novice teachers to master these skills, with an expert teacher guiding and holding the other elements of the class as the novice focusses on one at a time.

Food for thought, and something I’ll be keeping in mind when I take on my first pre-service teacher later this year.

What would it take to fix education in Australia? Notes from a Symposium

What would it take to fix education in Australia?
This was the title question of a recent symposium that I attended at the Melbourne Graduation School of Education. Moderated by Tom Bentley with a panel comprised of Professor Geoff Masters (AO, CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research),
Associate Professor Larissa McLean Davies, Dr Glenn Savage, and Dr Jessica Gerrard (all three from MGSE), the discussion was held in conjunction with the launch of a new book entitled Educating Australia: Challenges for the Decade Ahead. Here’s wot-I-got from the discussion.

Glen Savage spoke first, introducing some of the themes from the book. Containing 22 chapters Glen suggested the content was diverse, but broadly in line with four themes. The first is the Evolving the purposes of schooling. This section of the book suggests the reframing and considering afresh of some of the purposes of education. The second section ‘New Pathways to Student Achievement’ focusses on the knowledge, skills, and capabilities that young people need, and the ways that these are changing. Section three ‘The role and impact of teachers’, explores advancements in teacher training and teacher education, with a focus on work that’s been done with respect to the clinical model espoused at MGSE. Section four is on the challenges of system reform. This section goes into battle with some of the long standing challenges in education.

Glenn suggested three implications from the book. He suggested that one of the main findings was that growing inequality and inequity poses great challenges to education in Australia in the decades to come. In some cases, policies designed to break down some barriers have actually exacerbating challenges. For example, achieving fair funding is undermined by decades of entrenched unfair funding policies. The second take away was in regards to the vital role that public policy plays in achieving positive change in schools, however, policy is never sufficient in achieving such positive change. Somewhat contrary to this, in the book it was often highlighted how politics often get in the way of good policy.

Glenn closed his introduction by highlighting the encouraging number of chapters on ideas and approaches that promise to bring positive change in education, from new collaboration platforms to technologies that will allow people to learn online.

Jessica spoke next. She suggested that in order to answer the question ‘What would it take to fix education in Australia?’ we need to first ask ‘What’s broken?’. She expanded suggesting that any answer to such a question depends on who you ask. She spoke of four key elements that she herself feels are key to consider. 1. Constantly decrying the failure of education can lead dangerously to fast tracked and piecemeal solutions to eduction. 2. We need to create a space to debate the purpose and role of schooling. How do and can schools and school systems reflect and shape Australian society? 3. We need to take as a starting point the rapidly changing conditions and social relations in Australia. We live in uncertain times. From our settler history and the unresolved challenges that remain, to the current challenges relating to asylum seeker policies. In understanding public schools and their roles we must also understand our diverse and changing populace. 4. The future of public schooling relies on understanding that the state is not a stand in for the public. The state and state funding does play a role in public education, but fundamentally ‘public’ education is a place where communities come together and take control of their own education. Governments can and do take a moral and political position that seeks to undermine the safety of certain groups in Australian society, so we can’t just leave it to them. In summary, we face a challenge challenge of coming to a collective focus for education whilst acknowledging and embracing the diversity of Australian society.

Geoff Masters, looked at school improvement also, but from the viewpoint of Assessment. He suggested that the current approaches, terms, concepts, and distinctions of assessment are reflective of the way that we think about schooling itself, and that this traditional way that we think about schooling is what you’d hear from anyone on the street. This idea starts with the curriculum, what teachers are expected to teach in a year of teaching. The role of teachers in the traditional model is to deliver this curriculum, and the role of students is to learn what these teachers teach. Finally, the role of assessment is to determine how well students have mastered the body of content that was ascribed to their school level. Geoff then argued that this only really makes sense if all students start at the same starting line at the start of the year. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Why are we then judging all students by the same finishing line? In such a system, the outcome is predictable, those who start further back end up further back, and those who start ahead generally tend to stay there. This means that for some students, who get Ds year on year, they could justifiably be forgiven for concluding that they’re not making any progress at all, even if this may not be the case. A challenge exists for those who start and end at the front in that they aren’t being stretched? Thus, Geoff concludes that the traditional view of schooling isn’t supporting this diverse community. So what’s the alternative? Geoff suggests that we could think of the curriculum instead as a map of long term progress against which teachers can monitor the progress of students. Assessment is then the process of establishing where students are on this progression at a particular point in time, and using that to help direct the next step for them and the support of their learning.

Finally, Larissa McLean Davies spoke. Larissa focussed on clinical teaching and took a strength based approach, ‘what is working already?’, to her chapter. Drawing quite heavily on the Master of Teaching from the MGSE as a case study, she then broadedned this to the discussion of teacher education more broadly. Larissa interestingly opened by acknowledging and naming the co-orthers of the chapter that she contributed to, and talked about how she did this as an acknowledgement of the importance of a communication and cohesion between the different levels of teacher education, from the pre-service phase right through and into schools themselves. Larissa argued for a fundamentally different conceptualisation of ‘teacher education’ beyond the walls of teacher education institutions. We won’t solve the challenges that we face without bridging the gap between policy and practice.

In question and answer time the discussion moved into Geoff Masters making the oft heard assertion that the inevitable destination for schooling is to move away from students being divided by year levels. He cited the role of technology in this and how technology would facilitate better tracking of students along his aforementioned curriculum progressions. I’m still not sold on this one, I haven’t as yet seen a successful model of this working. Would love for someone to point me to one!

Jessica made an interesting point in question time about how we operate on an assumption that equality and equity are goals for education but once we leave school and head into work and life we assume that there’s going to be inequality everywhere. Is such a schism in expectations justified and, if it is the case, what does that mean for what we expect of education? Glenn added: are we placing too much pressure on schools to fix society’s problems?

The four speakers then closed…

Glenn: There’s a misalignment between the locus of policy making and the locus of accountability in Australia. We’ve increasingly got federal bodies making decisions that have implications for education right across the country (locus of policy making), whereas the accountability to the impacts of these decisions actually falls not at the federal level but at the state levels. Fundamentally this is a broken feedback loop (my terminology) that undermines improvements and accountability right throughout the system. .

Larissa made an interesting point on the role of literacy. Following up on a question from Maxine McKew on the inclusion of Australian literature in Australian schools, she suggested that the literature studied in schools must represent the diversity of our Australian society. If we don’t do this then we’re effectively saying to vast swathes of our society ‘You do not have a place here’.

In closing, Geoff spoke about the importance of clarifying what highly effective teaching looks like, and how do we evaluate whether teachers are implementing these processes? What is it that teachers who stay in the classroom and are supposed to be getting better, supposed to be getting better at. Again here I’m not totally sold. I think we know a whole heap about what makes good teaching (see ‘The Science of Learning‘, Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction‘, and ‘Why Students Don’t Like School‘ for just three starting points). The challenge is for us teachers to become better informed about the basis of good teaching, and then to apply it.

Larissa closed by suggesting that if she could pull one lever it would be to establish sustainable funding for teacher professional development for the entirety of their career.

In her closing address, Jessica responded to a question from the audience about the way in which the structure of ‘the academy’ undermines some of the suggestions that were made throughout the evening around having a diversity of contributors to education and involving communities more broadly. She then mentioned how the definition of what ‘public’ is has changed from the times of Gough Whitlam to today, where we now believe that a system can still be public whilst at the same time accepting private funds. Jessica purposely resisted, and spoke about resisting, the pull to answer the question ‘Which one lever would you pull’, and did so in order to acknowledge that education is not a sectioned off system, but actually a complex part of a complex society, no one lever will ever do the trick.

Glenn closed with an analogy. ‘As a gardener, monocultures are a bad thing’. He asserted that we should be wary of top down solution proposals, and consider the strength and power that comes from diversity more broadly.

All questions at the end came thick and fast, and the facilitator Tom took about 10 questions in a row prior to giving each of the panel members 3 or so minutes to sum up. The question that iI asked was ‘If we ever do manage to ever agree on what the purpose of education is, what do we need to do as teachers, academics, members of the public, or educational change makers to get there?’, none of the panellists addressed this question directly, but I think it was somewhat addressed by Tom, the facilitator, in his closing. Tom spoke about the role and importance of us building community. He spoke about how, at whatever level of education we engage in, it is communities that underpin communication and collaboration. By building such communities we can amplify the good work of any single individual, as well as support each other throughout the whole process*.

Several times whilst I was listening to this very high level discussion on education a quote came to mind that I heard a couple of years ago,  ‘If you change what happens in your classroom, you are changing the education system.’ So now I guess it’s time to stop blogging and turn my head to lesson plans for tomorrow.

*For a little on an initiative that I’ve started to try to build the community around education research here in Melbourne, check out my page on the Education Research Reading Room here



Footballers doing Ballet?: The Search for Sources of Innovation in Education

What follows is the speech I gave at the recent Australian College of Educators (ACE) national media awards. For the awards I was invited to present anessay that I recently submitted for ACE’s ‘Writing the Future’ competition, and for which I was awarded runner up. A big thanks to Seb Henry-Jones who provided the impetus for this essay format through introducing me to ‘Art Project 2023’, Thomas Firth for his incredibly helpful feedback on my first draft of the essay, and Bianca Li-Rosi for her final edits prior to this blog post. I hope you enjoy it : ) 


I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land on which we stand, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I’d like to pay my respects to elders past and present as well as any First Nations’ peoples here today. More personally, I acknowledge that I have been, and continue to be, the beneficiary of various privileges in my life. These privileges have enabled me to gain a high quality education, and learn to read, write and communicate with sufficient proficiency to enter such competitions as the ACE Writing the Future Award. These privileges are built, in no small part, upon the land dispossession of the Australian Aboriginals. Land that was later farmed by my British ancestors, and mined for Tin by the Chinese side of my family. I think it is important to recognise this as the context in which I am, today, able to share with you the following essay.

The brief for this essay was very… brief. Australian Pre-service teachers were invited to submit a paper under 1000 words, including references, that engaged with this year’s ACE National Conference theme: “Educators on the edge: Big ideas for change and innovation”. After much umming, arring, and mulling ideas about, I sat down on the Sydney to Canberra train in early July and managed to distill the ideas that came to be the following essay. I’ll now read the essay in its original form and follow it with a few brief comments on how my thinking has evolved since that train ride five or so months ago.

Footballers doing Ballet?: The Search for Sources of Innovation in Education

Where do ideas come from? In his 2003 book, James Young wrote: ‘an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements’ (Young, 2003, pg. 15). As we look to the future of education asking questions like such as ‘What could schools look like in the future?’ and ‘How could what it means to be a ‘student’ change throughout the 21st Century?’, it is my belief that the greatest sources of big ideas for change and innovation will come from honouring these words of James Young and looking outside what we have traditionally thought of as the discipline of education. It is by recognising the parallels that exist between educational contexts and other areas of endeavour that we can creatively combine ideas and solutions from further afield to help advance teaching and learning. This essay explores this assertion by considering two fields outside the traditional educational paradigm, public art and healthcare, to investigate how the roles and responsibilities of educational institutions and participants could change this century.

What could schools look like in the future, and what do museums have to do with it?

The internet-smartphone dyad has made the world’s masterpieces omnipresent to such an extent that museums are being forced to re-consider their historical monopoly on meaning-making in the public arena of art. If the public can see it on a screen in the comfort of their own home, is there even a need for museums anymore?

Does this query sound familiar to educators? In the same way that art is now accessible worldwide, so is the information necessary for individuals to learn the content taught in all schools.

A recent piece entitled ‘Art Project 2023’ goes some way to addressing this question for museums. It depicts a hypothetical future in which a Museum is transmogrified from a physical to a digital repository of art, facilitating a revolution in the museumgoers’ experience. Attendees move from being art spectators, to art users, and are enabled to browse collections from around the world and curate their own exhibitions in a supportive and interactive environment.

In Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills, authors Patrick Griffin, Esther Care and Barry McGaw (2012) write of how, as we move from deficit to developmental approaches to teaching, ‘the teacher has to reorganise the classroom and manipulate the learning environment to meet the needs of individual students’ (Griffin et al. 2012, p.9). Parallels in challenges breed parallels in solutions. Art Project 2023’s imaginings could inspire future classrooms where students curate their own curriculum in flexible learning environments, more adaptable to teacher and learners’ changing needs. Just as museumgoers change from art spectators to users, so could the tools and techniques of museums map to teaching to help students take charge of learning.

How could what it means to be a ‘student’ change throughout the 21st Century? Let’s look at healthcare

Fitbits, Misfits and Jawbones. The emerging jargon of a new and flourishing sector of the healthcare industry: fitness tracking. But why is this industry rising so quickly? Because fitness trackers are helping to address the oft lacking prerequisite to exercise, motivation. By supporting individuals to set goals, and providing instant feedback and actionable metrics, these devices are gamifying fitness to the point that TV sofas worldwide are now experiencing welcome respite from seemingly perpetual occupation.

What these fitness-tracking devices are essentially doing is ‘making fitness visible’. They are helping exercisers to plan, monitor, and adjust their own fitness trajectories in a way that empowers them to take charge and stay motivated. The link to making learning visible is clear. As educators it should be our goal to make teaching and learning visible to our students ‘such that they learn to become their own teachers, which is the core attribute of lifelong learning or self-regulation, and of the love of learning’ (Hattie, 2012, loc 168).

What if we could take the motivational benefits of fitness trackers and apply them to learning? Rather than a Fitbit, what would a ‘Learnbit’ or a ‘Knowledgebit’ look like? Helping students to become evaluators of their own learning is obviously an area where educators are already focussing energy, but what could be gained by taking a more detailed look at the way the fitness-based metrics are made actionable to users? How are reminders sent? How are accomplished goals celebrated and rewarded? How are communities of exercisers (or learners) scaffolded to support each other to maintain motivation and focus? Drawing from this emerging healthcare sector could facilitate more creative ways of encouraging students to become their own teachers.

In opening

The goal of this piece is not to explicate how education should turn to museums or the commercial health industry for advice, but rather to provide examples of how casting our eyes further afield can clear the way for more and bolder ideas for innovation in education.

The questions we ask are the frames into which our answers fall (Seelig, 2013), and perhaps asking questions like ‘how do our best teachers teach?’ or ‘how do our highest achieving students learn?’ leaves latent innovation potential untapped.

If macho footballers are willing to do ballet in the search for greater footwork, balance, and agility (Cooke, 2008), what fields are we as teachers and educators willing to explore in the quest for innovation as we teach into the 21st century?


As I mentioned in my preamble I wrote this essay about five months ago and, as one would hope, I have read and encountered some ideas since then that I thought worth sharing as a follow up to the essay.

I felt quite validated recently when, during his Dean’s lecture, Anthony Bryk talked about asking the question ‘what might we learn from how others have improved?’ and more specifically said, ‘What can we learn from healthcare?’. But what most sparked my interest was Steve Dinham’s closing comment about the importance being judicious about which innovations, from which sectors, we choose to bring into the realm of education. He mentioned in passing his paper entitled “The Worst of Both Worlds: How the US and UK are Influencing Education in Australia” (Dinham, 2015). I was interested to read in Steve’s paper about how, to his mind, various so called ‘innovations’ in the commercial sector, such as vertical integration, deregulation, and reforms related to autonomy are having, in many cases, negative effects when applied to schools and the education sector more generally.

This is obviously an area where there is much debate and it’s an area that I look forward to continuing to explore more in the future. But I think that Norman McCulla really hit the nail on the head with respect to this, when he wrote, ‘schools and school systems are not businesses but delicate social ecosystems’ (McCulla, 2014).

As I said in my essay, ‘Parallels in challenges breed parallels in solutions’. As we do look to other fields for sources of innovation and inspiration, we musn’t lose sight of the context in which we as educators operate, and how serving our students and generating value from them, does and does not differ from the ways in which the commercial sector seeks to satisfy its customers and shareholders.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you today. It’s a real honour to be able to speak at an event held by the Australian College of Educators and I hope to have more opportunities to learn from this great organization and its members in future.


Cooke, M. (2008). American footballers do ballet!. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Jul. 2015].

Dinham, S. (2015). The Worst of Both Worlds: How the US and UK are Influencing Education in Australia , 23(49), 1–20.

Enxuto, J. & Love, E. (2014), Art Project 2023, [online] Available at: (Accessed 1 Jul. 2015]

Griffin, P. E., McGaw, B., & Care, E. (2012). Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills. [electronic resource]. Dordrecht ; New York : Springer, c2012.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from

McCulla, N. (2014). The Activist Teacher. Professional Educator, 13(3), 4–6.

Seelig, T. (2013). How Reframing A Problem Unlocks Innovation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jul. 2015].

Young, J. (2003). A technique for producing ideas (p. 15). New York: McGraw-Hill