"The future is here. It's just unevenly distributed."
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools was under a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
The session between the lunch and afternoon tea breaks was designated for the roundtable and breakout sessions which I have been critical of in the past vis-a-vis their structure. I was curious as to what impact the new venue would have on the way that they were structured and whether they were better organised. They unfortunately were not. The issues with the reverberant nature of the previous venue was gone this year as there were carpet tiles down on the floor, however, the issue of the roundtables being vastly over subscribed was still present. Chatting with one delegate, they were on the opposite side of the table to the presenter and struggled to hear them. In the second session, they had to stand due to the number of people present, and were actually butting up against someone sitting at a different roundtable. Once again, many people gave up after the first or second round table session and headed to the expo floor.
This is a real shame as the roundtable sessions have the potential to generate some real peer to peer engagement around a common interest or theme which can foster practical ideas for application in the classroom. it is also odd, because the space being used was the Classtech conference area and there was easily space to spread the tables out far more to reduce the crowding. The people I was chatting with during the afternoon break indicated they would be giving some very honest feedback if there was a feedback form or email offered that would enable them to do so.
I unfortunately missed the start of the final session. I had in my head that Marita Cheng started at 5pm, unfortunately I was wrong and by the time I got my seat in the plenary session, Lisa Rodgers was on stage and telling the audience that when she went to print the Australian Curriculum, she made a very important discovery which she was glad she found before she clicked on print. It is, all told, over 2500 pages long.
Teaching as a profession is a mess, Lisa continued. Why can a teacher who registers in NSW not move to any other state in Australia and immediately begin teaching? Why are our qualifications not more easily transferable across state borders? Damien Taylor asked on Twitter if a genuine national registration could be drive by teachers rather than politics. A friend of mine completed her initial teacher education in Queensland and had to complete a horrendous amount of paperwork to be allowed to teach when she moved to NSW; the paperwork and registration process taking about three months, during which she was unable to teach and therefore earn a living.
Linda extolled the belief that a new curriculum is not needed. That more support for teachers to enable them to better implement it is what is required. She did not specify what the support would look like, however, at the very least, more professional development seems to be a safe assumption. We have more students than ever before entering tertiary education, yet Lisa commented that there is a significant lack of diversification in the courses they are entering. The question was then asked if there should be a national curriculum and if so then what should the measuring stick be of what should be included and how it should be measured.
Lisa observed that we allow students to opt out of subjects that only a few decades ago were mandatory (maths, science) and that the lack of confidence which is often a driver for these choices infiltrates teachers. She commented that, particularly in secondary education, that many maths teachers often shy away from topics they are not confident with and give them only cursory attention in their teaching. I do not know how widespread this is, or on what data that comment was made as we were given no indication.
Linda quickly shifted gears, and began talking about the way in which Maori students represented a small percentage of graduating students for a long time, but that when the Maori culture began to be embedded and valued in education that there was an immediate impact on Maori learning and thus the graduation rates. In contrast to that, Aboriginal culture is often taught as history, or not taught at all. The recent TeachMeet Central Coast event was focused on Aboriginality in education and we were fortunate enough to have a local Elder speak (the recording of the video will be uploaded into the TMCoast archives shortly. I learned more about Aboriginal culture, religion and beliefs in that session than I think I learned in my own schooling.
Maori students felt connected to their first nation according to Lisa, can we say the same of Aboriginal students? I suspect that for some, we possibly could. Like so many areas of education, there are pockets of excellence around the country, the excellence is unevenly distributed.
There was some excellent back and forth of ideas on Twitter during Lisa's presentation, with some counter-ideas and positions taken up which made for great reading and which I believe challenged people to listen critically to what was being said.
I enjoyed Lisa's presentation, it was engaging, interesting and had some interesting insights, however, as with some presentations over the course of FutureSchools, there was no practical takeaway that could be applied or possible solutions, merely a, as Damien Taylor put it, a creative reiteration of the problem. I enjoy a good engaging talk, however, I would like to see more presentations that have a practical takeaway for the audience.
"Debates focusing on the achievement gap, where in 2014 only 59% of Indigenous students complete Year 12 or equivalent compared with 85% of their non-Indigenous counterparts, tend to place an emphasis on contextual factors such as the role of poverty or socioeconomic status as an explanation of lower educational achievement.
In the wider public, this can spiral quickly into blaming students and families, or gives schools and teachers permission to find some comfort in the status quo.
Focusing on the opportunity to learn gap removes the emphasis from locating “the problem” in the person (or family or culture), and turns our attention to the accumulated differences in access to key educational resources."
- McKinley, E. (1994), The Conversation, "Stop focusing on 'the problem' in Indigenous education, and start looking at learning opportunities." Retrieved from tinyurl.com/jstlp9kp on 27 February 2017
TeachMeet events in Australia are popular, which a significant number occurring each term across the country. The Central Coast branch, TMCoast, organise two events each year, typically in Term One and Term Three. The next #TMCoast event is being held on Thursday, 16th March 2017 (Week Eight of Term One) in the Aboriginal Resource Room at Henry Kendall High School beginning at 5pm. A networking dinner (#TMEat) will be held afterwards, at Central Coast Leagues Club.
This event will be slightly different to a normal TeachMeet event. In respect to the local Aboriginal community and the Cooinda Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG), whose meeting place we are fortunate enough to be able to utilise for this event, we will be entering the room after being welcomed to the site by a member of the local Indigenous community through a smoking ceremony. The evening will then move to the Heritage Listed room, recognised as being of cultural significance by the NSW Department of Education and will include a Welcome to Country and a talk from a local Elder. As part of traditional cultural practices and protocols, rather than a series of short talks, we will be engaging in a yarn; sharing practices that celebrate and highlight Aboriginality in education, culture, that have provided benefit to the learning of Aboriginal students. We welcome anyone to attend who can share their own stories of or those who want to listen and learn and ask questions.
It is an event that I excited to be able to attend as it is an opportunity to engage more authentically with Indigenous culture. If you have ever been curious about Indigenous culture or about Aboriginality in education, then I would encourage you to come along. The image above is a link to the registration page. It is a free event, and will be followed by a meal at Central Coast Leagues Club for those interested.