Wednesday, 15 May 2019

A Book Review with Bias.

Book Review: Flip the System Australia: What matters in education (2019), edited by Netolicky, Andrews & Paterson

With a clear intention of sparking discussion, generating curiosity and enticing a stronger movement towards ‘Flipping the System’, Netolicky, Andrews and Paterson collated and edited contributions from numerous practitioners and academics from Australia and around the globe. Advocating for professionals to have more voice in the policy discourse, this text was sectioned into five themes. I acknowledge my bias, as I elected to review the chapters that relate to my interest of creating a culture that builds teacher capacity and supports teacher wellbeing. Additionally, being connected with many of the authors on Twitter and reading their books, articles or blogposts, I already had insight into most of the topics and views. But for those who aren't familiar with the authors' work or connected with them on Twitter, the arguments and viewpoints in this book may be new, innovative and/or unorthodox.

1.     Teacher identify, voice and autonomy turning the system inside out.
While the various authors provided well-written and interesting arguments, Gert Biesta’s chapter that focuses on reclaiming education as a public concern invoked reflection of my current beliefs, my contextual experiences and generated questions regarding the future of education. Biesta notes that teachers’ professional judgement and agency are being diminished due to the micro-management of their practice. However, Biesta does not commit to the notion that teachers should be exclusively responsible for ‘Flipping the System’ but collectively, parents, students and teachers need to commit to education as a public concern.

Biesta also highlighted that objectives began to go awry with the introduction of ‘outcomes’, which were developed to judge the quality of education. One may also argue that this pertains to the teaching standards, as we inform teachers which particular descriptors need observing, and so they ‘perform’ accordingly. For the sake of measurement, authenticity is lost. Biesta’s thought provoking chapter has generated further interest in his work and his references, such as Ball’s article, “The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity” (2003) will be reviewed.

2.     Collaborative expertise: professionalising the system
I believe it is imperative for every preservice teacher to read Thompson, Rutkowksi and Sellar’s chapter on ‘Flipping large-scale assessments: bringing teacher expertise to the table’. This chapter provides clear, concise information regarding PISA, and a solid explanation of validity. The authors argue for teachers to provide a voice in interpreting results and implore them, as domain experts, to be involved with the technical experts to create more balance in testing. Throughout Campbell’s chapter, ‘Developing teacher leadership', she highlights the importance of moving from vertical hierarchies of power and authority to ecosystems that are professionally led to value, engage and empower teachers. An advocate for valuing all teachers’ expertise, experiences and professional judgement, she warns of the danger that can occur when reforms dismiss all voices.

It was refreshing to read ‘Teacher’s wellbeing in crisis’ by Hargreaves, Washington and O’Connor, as sustainable solutions are suggested. Teacher wellbeing is a constant point of discussion and one of the six threats to teacher wellbeing that really resonated was regarding the many initiatives that others impose on teachers. Consequently, teachers are not given the opportunity to instigate their own initiatives. This is reflected in Gonski’s (2018) recommendation for ‘active collaboration’, such as peer observation and feedback, coaching, and joint research projects. These strategies promote professional learning that is contextual, teacher-driven and collaborative. This chapter also suggests that teachers feel like they’re losing control over their professional decisions, which is reflected in other chapters in this book. Although, it is suggested that teachers should be valued and paid more, the media suggests that in New South Wales, teachers are seeking fewer working hours.

3.     Social Justice: democratising the system
Again, the chapters under this theme are interesting and thought-provoking; however, to ascertain a broad overview of equitable education in Australia, Sahlberg’s chapter is concise and perspicuous. In this chapter, teachers are provided with a strong overview of his research and its pertinence to Australia. Sahlberg’s concludes with three essential questions, however, he invokes the bigger question of what is the purpose of education? This should always be at the forefront whenever a decision about the education of students is required.

4.     Professional learning for a flipped system
Close to my interest, passion and research is the chapter by Andrews and Munro, ‘Coaching for agency the power of professionally respectful dialogue’. Chapter after chapter, a constant premise emerges that teachers need to feel valued, trusted and respected. Browning reinforces the importance of trust and support rather than accountabilities in a following chapter. Andrews and Munro convincingly argue that coaching builds agency that promotes a sense of value, respect and trust. Taking this concept further, it is my experience that the benefits of coaching are only truly revealed and hence valued, when embedded within the school day,

5.     Leadership for a flipped system
Familiar with the work of Eacott & Browning, my level of agreement was high, but I found Cody’s chapter perplexing. While Cody argues that ‘flipping the education system does not mean rejecting testing, academic rigour, measurement and accountability” (p. 202), I question why trust, professional judgement and teacher agency are not emphasised in this chapter. In comparison, Sahlberg’s earlier chapter questioned the minimal level of data necessary, while still maintaining confidence and trust in the education system (p. 158). Without a national consensus, various states and territories have differing accountability measures, as do various schools and sectors. Are we expected to assume that the accountability measures in place, result in rigorous academic achievement for all?

It is puzzling why testing, measurement and accountability, which are typically imposed on teachers, are characterised with academic rigour. Without teachers and their professional knowledge, judgement and expertise, there is no rigour and consequently, I argue teachers need to be in the driver’s seat, not straddling two horses. Principals are in the unenviable position of having to accept and support the authority, policies, and principles of various Australia education systems.
While probably more anticipated from a principal’s perspective, stating that ‘accountability is not harming Australian schools’ (p. 202) is a huge call to make. This leads me to suggest that perhaps we should be asking the teachers about the levels of accountability, as they are the ones riding the two horses of holistic education and rigorous academic achievement.

Reviewing this book reaffirmed my passion and commitment to providing teachers with a stronger voice and agency in the education arena.


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