Curriculum Success Relies Upon Teaching Excellence - Margery Evans, Chief Executive Officer of AITSL, 14 January 2014.
Overlooking the little fishing town of Whitby in Yorkshire, England is a statue of Captain Cook, Whitby's most famous son and a major figure in the history of Australia. This monument has a plaque attached, given as a gift to the town of Whitby by the people of Australia. The plaque commemorates 'the bicentenary of the discovery of the east coast of Australia.' The wording on the plaque continues: 'From this discovery emerged a nation'.
The wording of this tribute, in a land far distant from, but inextricably linked to Australia, captures the essence of the debate currently being had over the Australian curriculum – a debate that is a perennial part of our country's broader discussion on education. Some would see the contents of the plaque as a statement of fact and an appropriate memorial to a man who was instrumental in the establishment of our nation. Others would argue that Cook neither discovered the east coast of Australia, nor that his discovery led to the emergence of a nation. Our understanding of the Indigenous history of Australia shows that Australia was occupied long before the arrival of European explorers.
Undoubtedly Captain Cook is an important part of Australia's history and his explorations should be part of the history curriculum in Australian schools. What is more open to contention, however, is how this period of Australia's history should be viewed and interpreted. About this there is, and should be, ongoing debate.
Likewise, there should be ongoing debate about the Australian curriculum more broadly. Constant reflection on the knowledge and skills students need along with the content of the curriculum, and how this is interpreted in schools, is vital.
While we can agree the curriculum is essential, also self-evident is that without good teachers and teaching, our aspirations for our students and the future of our country would be dashed. Without an excellent teacher to facilitate debate and reflection, students might be able to discover Whitby's monument to Captain Cook and the contents of the plaque gifted to Whitby by the citizens of Australia, however, I contend that, without a teacher's support and guidance, the ability of many students to interpret, contextualise and value this portion of Australia's history would be limited.
What is enduringly important is the quality of teaching.
Consider these comments by 3 students at the Student Voice website
"My favourite teacher...knows me on a personal level, she takes interest in my life, she takes interest in how you're feeling and who you are, as much as being a good teacher in the classroom, adapting to everybody."
"She (my teacher) focused on developing me in a way that I'd never experienced before. It didn't matter what score I got as much as whether...the work I was producing was as good as I could possibly do, and she was preparing me for where I wanted to go in life. She really cared about me on a personal level and knew what it would take to get me to where I wanted to be."
These student reflections get right to the heart what constitutes good teaching. At the core of great teaching is an ability to know the students and the content of the curriculum and to be able to bring this content to life in ways that make sense to each individual student and that show empathy for each student's background, experiences and aspirations.
This is why teaching is such a complex and rewarding profession. It is also why, in the context of the debate on the content of the curriculum, the quality of teaching can legitimately be viewed as an essential consideration. Research shows us that teachers are the key in-school source of variation in student learning outcomes, and hence the number one source of improvement in student outcomes.
Without excellent teachers, any curriculum, no matter how it is framed, no matter what it contains, will remain aspirational and is likely to be consigned to history without its potential ever having been properly realised.
As always, I welcome your comments and perspectives.
Photo via Flickr