01 SES 16 C, Leadership For Learning: Tensions and approaches
Education today has been dominated by discussions about the significant achievement gap between the highest and lowest performing students. The Gonski report (Review of Funding of Schooling, 2011) in Australia recommended a funding model that was tied to achieving the biggest impact for students with the greatest needs and encouraging high performing teachers to work in disadvantaged schools. It was in this Australian policy context that Western Sydney University (NSW), joined the National Exceptional Teaching for Disadvantaged Schools Program (NETDS), developed at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), in 2008. The program seeks to prepare high achieving pre-service teachers to teach in low SES schools. However, working in low SES contexts is challenging and involves an understanding of the specific skills required to teach in these contexts. A pilot study was conducted with twenty secondary school leaders about skills they deemed were necessary for pre-service teachers to acquire while completing placements in low SES schools. School leaders were selected because they impact school climate and graduate teacher experience. The research objective was to understand the complexities of working in poverty and low SES communities and highlight school leaders’ perspectives about exemplary teachers by making their views more visible. Hence the key research questions focussed on qualities and skills of an exemplary teacher in a low SES school and preparation of pre-service teachers for disadvantaged schools’ context. It was expected that the views expressed by school leaders on the way teachers and teaching should match the needs of low SES communities will provide us with insights which could be used to develop and enhance the NETDS secondary program at Western Sydney University, build new models of collaborative professional learning and guide secondary schools in mentoring new graduates for a longer-term commitment to disadvantaged school community contexts. It would also contribute to the preparation of secondary preservice teachers and provide a more effective model of collaborative professional learning, leading to a shared sustained commitment to disadvantaged school communities.
The theoretical framework for this study was based on Bourdieu’s theory with the equation: “[(habitus) (capital)] + field = practice” (Bourdieu, 1989, p. 101). In their discussion of school climate, Glover & Coleman (2005) applied the concept of ‘habitus’ to their account of the way school leaders bring a set of dispositions to the way they act, think and feel in the task of school leadership. When pre-service teachers enter disadvantaged schools, they recognize the valued capital and then configure the capital appreciated by the new field. The theoretical concepts of habitus, capital and field inform this study as they interrogate the social practice of those involved in the NETDS program. ‘Structuring’ refers to habitus as a product of social conditionings, which is endlessly transformed in response to new experiences (Bourdieu, 2000). It contributes to shaping one’s present and future as the exterior social structures and conditions combine with the individual’s interior dispositions, inclinations, and preferences. When agents enter another social context, their responses, values, and actions can acquire a new layer built upon the previous layers of habitus (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 133). For pre-service teachers, university experience could be viewed as the final layer of habitus prior to their entry into low ses schools. Acquisitions from childhood and social position, according to Bourdieu's theory of capital and habitus, influence career aspirations and future educational trajectories. However, geographic origin and socio-economic status embedded in the habitus might also influence pre-service teachers' NETDS program participation experience.Responses of new teachers to the new field with its various practices during the transition from other fields generates their new “evolving habitus” (Reay, Crozier, & Clayton, 2009).
The data that was analysed was drawn from interviews with twenty secondary school principals and other school leaders (including deputy principals and leading teachers) in low SES schools in Western Sydney region, Australia. The identity and names of the participants were anonymised. Approval for this study and the consent procedures was granted by the Human Research Ethics Committee Western Sydney University. Participants were interviewed once, with interviews lasting between 30 to 40 minutes each. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The research employed a qualitative approach (Strauss & Corbin, 2014), using semi structured interview questions as a reference guide for the interviewer, while following the natural flow of participants’ responses. The interviewer employed as a research assistant in this project was an ex- head teacher and practicum co-ordinator from a NETDS school. Her experience as a school leader was invaluable for building the relationships with the project participants and supporting the validity and quality of the conversations that were recorded. Interview questions focussed on: the qualities of an ‘exemplary’ teacher in a low SES school; successful student engagement; challenges for teachers in low SES schools and preparation of preservice teachers for placements in low SES schools. Thematic analysis methods were utilised in this study in order to elicit the reality ‘submerged’ in the data, with a specific focus on ‘how people experience the world and make sense of it’ (Somekh & Lewin, 2005, p. 293). This involved a cyclical process of collecting and analysing data throughout the study (Stake, 2005). As transcription is perceived as an interpretive act rather than merely a technical task (Riessman, 2008), the taped interviews were transcribed in full by professional transcribers. In the analysis of the interview transcripts there was continuous interpretation and re-interpretation of all data, thus enabling an identification of emerging themes as well as the description of commonalities and differences across the data set (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Computer assisted qualitative data analysis software was used specifically to assist with coding and text interpretation.
The school leaders regarded the ability to build relationships with students as a critical factor in being a successful educator in low SES schools. Due to high school segregation and negative media representation of low SES communities, the respondents in this study felt that teachers may believe that students in low SES schools cannot be taught effectively, lack adequate academic and cognitive abilities to be successful learners and come from home environments that do not support their education. Exemplary teachers, however, challenge students in low SES contexts to use their funds of knowledge in unique and innovative ways. This includes the building of strong teacher-student relationships, patience, perseverance and resilience. Almost all school leaders that were interviewed for this study discussed school strategies from both student and staff perspectives. For students, personalised learning was a key focus, together with welfare and effective learning spaces. For staff, wellbeing was a very important issue for the school leadership team. While there has been significant media and policy interest and direction in graduate training in Australia, school leaders insisted that within low SES contexts, pre-service teacher training must include a greater understanding of the complexities of vulnerable communities and families. School leaders maintained that curriculum and pedagogy are context specific and that having an understanding of students’ contexts, helping them to set appropriate goals, and having high expectations from them, are paramount. Finally, this study confirmed that school leaders had a deep understanding of their school’s socio-cultural and socio-economic context (Longaretti & Toe 2017) and applied their leadership experience in ways that addressed and catered for the explicit requirements of students in challenging demographics.
Bourdieu, P. (2000). Pascalian meditations (R.Nice, Trans.). Cambridge: Polity Press. Bourdieu, P. (1989). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of the taste. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Darling-Hammond, L. (2003). Keeping good teachers: Why it matters, what leaders can do.Educational Leadership, 60, (8), 6–13. Darling-Hammond, L. (2012). Powerful teacher education: Lessons from exemplary programs. John Wiley & Sons. Darling-Hammond, L. (2015). Want to Close the Achievement Gap? Close the Teaching Gap. American Educator, 38(4), 14-18. Darling-Hammond, L., Amrein-Beardsley, A., Haertel, E., & Rothstein, J. (2012). Evaluating teacher evaluation. The Phi Delta Kappan, 93(6), 8-15. Department of Education and Training. (2015). Action now: Classroom ready teachers report. Canberra, ACT: Department of Education and Training. Retrieved May 2015 from https:// docs.education.gov.au/documents/action-now-classroom-ready-teachersreport Glover, D., & Coleman, M. (2005). School culture, climate and ethos: interchangeable or distinctive concepts? Journal of In-service Education, 31(2), 251-272. Gonski, D., (Chair). (2011). Review of funding of schooling. Final Report. Canberra: Australian Government, www.schoolfunding.gov.au Hayes, D. (2016). Teachers’ work in high-poverty contexts: Curating repertoires of pedagogical practice. In J. Lampert and B. Burnett (Eds.), Teacher Education for High Poverty Schools (pp. 211-222). Cham Springer International Publishing of Educational Research, 79, 491-525. Lampert, J. & Burnett, B. (2015). Teacher education for high poverty schools. Education, Equity, Economy, 2. Springer International Publishing, New York & London. Longaretti, L and Toe, D. (2017), ‘School leaders’ perspectives on educating teachers to work in vulnerable communities: New insights from the coal face’, Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 42 (4), 1-18. Sawyer W., Callow J., Munns G., Zammit K., (2013). What exemplary teachers do. In G. Munns, W. Sawyer W and B. Cole (Eds.), Exemplary teachers of students in poverty (pp 90-108). London, U.K.: Routledge. Reay, D., Crozier, G., & Clayton, J. (2009). ‘Strangers in paradise’? Working-class students in elite universities. Sociology, 43(6), 1103-1121. Riessman, C. J. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Somekh, B., & Lewin, C. (2005). Research methods in the social sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Stake, R. E. (2005). Qualitative case studies. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 443-466). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Strauss, A & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedure and techniques. Newbury Park, London: Sage.
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