Sunday, 10 January 2016

What went on at ICSEI?

This week I had the great privilege of attending the ICSEI conference, (International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement) in Glasgow. From their website;
“ICSEI is an energetic global community bringing together policy makers, researchers and practitioners from over 80 countries in the ICSEI community to share cutting edge knowledge and powerful practice with a view to enabling education systems and schools to become learning organizations for the sake of better education for all.” 
Day 1
The opening keynote on Wednesday was given by First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon to launch the new National Improvement Framework (NIF). The First Minister spoke of the NIF being focussed on excellence and equity, to ‘close the attainment gap’. She went on to discuss how attainment and achievement will be recognised to support pupils as they transition through their educational career and into the world of work. The final point the First Minister made was around the implementation of standardised assessments which will provide data alongside teacher judgement to determine student progress.
“Faith in the expertise and judgement of teachers is at the heart of CfE and NIF”

Next, Prof. Graham Donaldson delivered a keynote entitled “The improvement trap (so what?): keeping the focus on improvement for children”. In this presentation, Donaldson discussed how living in a time of rapid change and globalisation, education becomes increasingly important and educators have to not be drawn into the ‘vortex of diminished ambition’, which is metrics driven and has a reductionist view of education. To escape the ‘the vortex’ teachers need to be empowered, trusted and research informed (laudable sentiments!). According to Donaldson, teachers should take the opportunity to become agents of change by working collaboratively and accepting accountability. Also through a rich broad curriculum, which has inspiring values and purpose, including rich assessments teachers can escape ‘vortex of diminished ambition’.

The final keynote was delivered by Dr Rowena Arshad who discussed how pupil’s attainment and achievement are linked to feelings of security and confidence, which allows all students to commit their energies to learning. In order to be secure, students have to feel included and this can only be discussed openly when we have the difficult discussions about how students are excluded. In this it is most important to listen to the ‘voices of the young people’ to allow them to speak up about ‘casual discrimination’ that ‘forces’ students to conform and leads to assimilationist behaviours.
‘Harmony is no indicator of justice’

Tony Finn, chaired and delivered the first paper in the symposium about ‘enhanced teacher professionalism’. Finn examined how standards of professionalism can help support capacity building of teachers and help teachers become more research informed.
The next paper was delivered by Ken Muir, CEO GTCS who discussed how teacher agency through professional standards, professional update, MyGTCS and practitioner enquiry supports teachers to lead the change in Scottish education by being research informed and interogating their own practice.
The final paper of the symposium was delivered by Tomas O’Ruairc, who described how at the heart of teacher professionalism in Ireland is time and space for teachers to share their learning through reflective practice. O’Ruairc outlined Ireland’s journey to aspriational excellence, based on integration, innovation and improvement.

Day 2
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Life-long Learning, or ‘Minister for Weans’ as  she put it, delivered the opening keynote. In her keynote address, the Cabinet Secretary spoke about the twin aims for Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) being excellence and equity and how these are being addressed through the key drivers of ‘raising attainment for all’ and ‘closing the gap’ initiatives. The Cabinet Secretary went on to contend that the National Improvement Framework (NIF) will generate data to provide transparency of progress at every level and inform policy making at local and national level. She also highlighted recommendations from the recent OECD report with teacher judgement being a key element in assessing student progress. The final announcement by the Cabinet Secretary was the establishment of a new group to embed the new SQA qualifications. The group will be charged with providing recommendations by March to support further implementation of the Senior Phase. In response to the Cabinet Secretary’s address Andy Hargreaves said Scotland had to ‘continue to be bold and specific’ in improvement.

The second keynote address was given by Prof. Allan Walker. Walker shared his experience of the Chinese education system and the paradoxes and mysteries of what makes it work. He discussed how high performing schools are commissioned to help poorer performing schools in a highly stratified system. He went on to talk about how leaders spend lots of time observing and discussing learning and teaching, and see themselves as connectors – cultural, structural and relational. The final point was around how leaders promote teacher-led school based research and nurture harmonious school environment through valuing relationships.
“Lead teachers are called backbone teachers”

In the GTCS symposium chaired by Ken Muir (@GTCSKen) that followed the keynote we discussed ‘The Teacher Learning Journey in Scotland’. Tom Hamilton (@GTCS_Tom) started the session discussing the complexity of being a teacher in Scotland and how standards can help to support professional learning journeys. Norrie McKay (@GTCS_Norrie) and I, continued the presentation giving a critical analysis of the support and challenges of the early career teachers’ journey. The session was finished by Ellen Docherty (@GTCSEllen) and Jacqueline Morley (@GTCSJac) discussing the impact of professional learning and enquiry.

The next symposium was based on using enquiry to support teacher learning. The first paper from University of Glasgow, discussed the current key issues in professional learning as;
·         Teacher agency
·         Influencers and leaders of learning
·         Critically engaging with practice
·         Leading professional learning
·         Building in-school professional learning communities
·         Use of technology in professional learning
·         Evaluation and impact of student attainment

The main thrust of the next paper was how Taiwan teachers have mobilised themselves and have developed ‘learning navigators’ who work together and support others to improve pedagogy.
My paper was next and I discussed practitioner enquiry as the ‘itch’ in your practice and how to undertake enquiry using @fkelly’s model and referencing the GTCS resources of Education Source – EBSCO, which offers access to 17,000 articles and journals, our e-book collection. I also discussed how we support practitioners to share enquiry through the Education Hub.
The final paper was delivered by Men Muir (@GTCS_Ken) explaining how successful professional update needs teacher ownership, leaders in schools and local authority that foster a culture and value Professional Update and finally acceptance /recognition that professional learning is central to improvement

Day 3
This keynote was amazing. It was delivered by Marinieves Alba who discussed a cradle to college approach to education. Alba shared the work being done in poor neighbourhoods in New York which provide wrap around care for families so that the students can focus on learning, this is awe inspiring. The schools are the hub of the community which builds educational capital through love and support. The school system supports families by catering for the basic needs, so that the students are ready to learn and develop self-efficacy and self-sufficiency.
“Strong instructional leaders, accountability and the view of the whole child and their families”

The next symposium I attended was “Policy translation and mistranslation“. It opened with Paul Campbell (@PCampbell91) discussing his Master’s thesis around ‘Teacher Agency in Education Policy Development’ and asking questions such as “How does policy development work in Scotland?” Does ' we ask' 'you say' ' we do' promote teacher agency? The main findings were that teachers tend to have policy done to them rather than being involved in policy creation, but this is balance by some who would say ‘it’s not my job to make policy’.
This was followed by a very interesting paper from the University of Stirling about ‘Translation of policy, from CPD to Professional Learning’. The most interesting slide in the presentation was charting the change in language from CPD to Professional Learning as below,
‘McCrone Report’ (2000)
            CPD 25            : professional learning 0
Teaching Scotland’s future (Donaldson 2010)
            CPD 199          : professional learning 25
National Partnership Group, response to Donaldson (2011)
            CPD 75            : professional learning 125
GTCS standard Career-long Professional Learning (2012)
CPD 0             : professional learning 43
The change in the language has been accompanied by a change in perception of the purpose of CPD/PL. CPD was considered by teachers to be ‘going out of school’ whereas PL is ‘built into school community’ and I like the last quote given by the University of Stirling which was;
“CPD was done to you, PL you do yourself”
The final paper of the symposium was delivered by Prof. Stephen McKinney who discussed sectarianism and Scotland, and the contention that denominational schools can be considered sectarian in and of themselves and that suitable resources should be made available to schools to be able to discuss sectarianism.

Day 4 – Practitioner’s day

Pasi Sahlberg opened his keynote with a tribute to Lemmy for Motorhead (most unexpected!) before going on the discuss school improvement in a very informative and entertaining way. Setting the context of school improvement which Sahlberg called “complex”, he urged leaders to ”break away from the crowd” and stop and think! Using PISA data, Sahlberg showed that the top performing education system was Finland from 2000 on and he went on to examine what makes a good educational system? and why do some education systems not improve?

He argued that there needs to be a merging of the ideas so that parameter of what makes a good education system and why do some not improve are complementary.
Sahlberg went on to discuss the global phenomenon of policy migration and the impact of ‘GERM’ (global education reform movement). The key points being;
Competition- unhealthy practice prevents improvement
Human capital – cannot bring about improvement without social and professional capital
Fear of failure – there is a need for more experimentation
Digitalisation- technology as a tool to support learning but you need to have a good pedagogical reason to use it otherwise it’s just fluff

In the final symposium for ICSEI 2016, the first paper was delivered by Louise Stoll who discussed the idea of evidence based education but she said she preferred the term ‘evidence enriched’, which I like. Stoll discussed the work she is involved in, which promotes knowledge exchange through networks. The most interesting aspect for me around how to engage practitioners in research which she called “helping practitioner encounter research in manageable chunks and varied formats”, definitely something for GTCS to think about, but at the same time Stoll acknowledges that it is about developing relationships and it takes time!
The next paper from Jarl Inga Waerness discussed a project around supporting leaders in school improvement. Their findings were very interesting and resonate with the direction of travel in Scotland;
“the municipality was inquiring into our professional learning activities, instead of just evaluating our results”
“using the process led to better prepared teachers that discuss teaching quality instead of data quality”
The third paper from Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert discussed the Spiral of Inquiry: for equity and quality, as a model of teacher learning and knowledge exchange.

For this to be an effective professional learning experience there needs to be a clear focus and purpose to the inquiry. There also needs to be structures and rhythms within the enquiry and there needs to be a third space to allow practitioners to step beyond themselves and be creative.
“All learners should leave more curious that they arrived!”
This was the paper for me that shifted my axis, I have read a little about this but now am going to explore more around the Spiral of Inquiry and Third Spaces.

ICSEI Glasgow 2016 was great experience where the sharing of ideas and thoughts about improving education systems, schools and teachers can be used to support all young people to be the best they can be. Bring on Ottawa 2017!

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