What do we actually do here, anyway?
15 Aug 17 by Nick Carter, Director of Teaching and Learning
Imagine an umbrella factory.
There’s a point to this, I promise.
I reckon that it would be pretty easy to measure productivity in an umbrella factory. If you’re making twenty umbrellas a week in April, and then you somehow produce twenty-five a week in May, your productivity has increased. Your job is to make umbrellas, and if you’re making more of them – assuming their quality hasn’t degraded or your staff are falling asleep at their machines – then you’re unequivocally doing better.
An Economist will probably find some loophole in my analogy – there are no doubt subtleties to the umbrella industry that elude me - but my point is this:
In lots of industries, it’s not too difficult to ‘take the temperature’ of your business.
It’s a cliché of our business, though, that the terms of measurement are much tougher to articulate. At Cranbrook, for instance, how might we measure the efficiency of our ‘factory floor’? Especially when, instead of producing umbrellas, we’re trying to inspire and guide and mentor and challenge young men? We could point to HSC results, of course, and that’s usually fairly flattering. But we only see those once a year, and only when the kids in question have left the school.
So how do we get a concrete sense of what the young brains we’re supposed to be inspiring are actually doing on a given day? How do we move beyond generalities and anecdotes (‘Year 8 were unsettled in Period 6) or subject-specific test results (‘Jordan’s class received an average mark of 72% in their Studies of Religion quiz’)?
Here are four options:
On Monday of last week, we tried something a bit different. A team of special staff operatives spent a whole day sneaking into classrooms across the school and recording the same stuff in each one. As well as noting down the time, year group and class activity, we asked as many kids as we could the same two questions, which – if you’re into your pedagogical theory – are pretty elemental questions to ask of any young man’s learning:
The results were really interesting. We got around to nearly 140 classes over the course of the day, so our sample size wasn’t too bad. I discovered Cranbrook has a lot of stairs.
Some of the stuff the data revealed isn’t particularly profound. For instance, most students seemed to spend the start of their lessons listening to instructions from their teacher, then putting the instructions into practice in the second half of the period. I can’t imagine Reverend Perkins’ ghost spinning in wonder at that one. Similarly, the senior kids were more comfortable articulating why they were studying a given topic and what their success criteria was than the junior kids (who sometimes said things like “I’m doing it because my teacher told me to”).
However, there were some numbers that made us sit up and take notice.
We noticed some fascinating things that don’t fit so easily onto an Excel spreadsheet, too.
This last one reminded me of an article Mr Scott Davis showed me last week, detailing what a team of researchers from Melbourne University, Boston College and the University of Toronto had discovered about teaching and learning. Their most important finding? The research so ground-breaking that a national newspaper saw fit to publish it? Prepare yourself:
Teachers can have a huge impact on their students.
Mr Davis has learnt more than a few things about educating young people in his career, so we can excuse him for raising his eyebrow ironically at this one. Seriously – does anyone in our community doubt this? Are we in some way special because we acknowledge the magical dynamic that can exist between a really good teacher and a bunch of students?
The research is more complex and revealing than this, of course, and it’s easy to poke fun at the idea of ivory-towered academics who have forgotten what it’s like to try and inspire Year 9 in Period 6 on a 40 degree day. Nevertheless, we should be proud of the fact that we take this stuff for granted at Cranbrook. Perhaps we need to start proclaiming it more audibly, though; if the general public aren’t aware of the importance of good teaching, we need to let them know.