Schools are workplaces as well as places of learning. All those who work in them have the right to feel safe. Clearly, not all teachers feel safe. The interim report of the Senate Education and Employment References Committee: The issue of increasing disruption in Australian school classroomsand the submissions to it provide evidence for this. The interim report refers to surveys conducted by the Australian Catholic University (ACU), Monash University and the Victorian Branch of the Australian Education Union, all documenting the unacceptably high levels of fear which some teachers operate under as a result of perceived and real threat. While the levels are disturbing, we want to stress that any level is too high.
In our view, the recommendations by this Committee to address such behaviours miss the mark.
Within the report there is yet again, and something that those working in teacher education are becoming very familiar with, a critique of initial teacher education. Inadequate ‘teacher training’ alongside a lack of classroom management skills is foregrounded as one of the major contributors to poor behaviour. Included are also the structures of classrooms, especially for students with disability, socioeconomic factors, bullying and family trauma. The recommendations thus focus on fast tracking reforms outlined in the TEEP Report.
Where’s the evidence?
The report makes frequent reference to the need for ‘evidence-based approaches’ as if ITE programs across the country are not already providing them. A scan of such programs will reveal plenty of courses that aim to explain the root causes of schooling disengagement that lie at the heart of ‘disruptive classrooms’; indeed, the report notes many examples provided in diverse submissions from many social and educational bodies – typically, low SES, disability, undiagnosed neurodiversity, childhood trauma and just the challenges posed by adolescence. Many approaches are suggested but the Senate Committee appears to favour suggestions that coincide with practices from the past that may have been suitable in a non-global industrial era rather than approaches that are responsive to the needs of young people today who come to school with vastly different attitudes and digital skills than, say, the “boomer” generation.
The report makes much of the need for “explicit instruction”, including explicit behavioural instruction; it favours “traditional” classrooms and “Positive Behaviour for Learning”. The Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) claims to have “the most rigorous and relevant research” and the Senate Committee appears not to question that despite many other contributing research organisations who present very different views that situate challenging student behaviours within broader socio-economic and social factors and the roles played by community and parents/caregivers. Reverting to what seems to translate into “training-for-good-behaviour” will not solve the problem and will stifle engagement even more.
What needs to be fixed first
Schooling engagement and associated behaviours have several dimensions – cognitive and emotional as well as “behavioural”. The first two factors have to be addressed before “better behaviour” will occur. Students have to be intellectually stimulated to engage cognitively; for teachers to do this they must be confident in their subject matter and enthusiastically creative in their delivery. Learning should be an enjoyable journey for students; it should be meaningful and provide them with opportunities to problem-solve and work in teams; these are the skills required for future economic and social structures for which “explicit instruction” will have no place.
Students need to feel respected and have a sense of belonging; to feel supported and safe at school. Whilst acknowledging the external impacts of poverty, the report does not address it. Young people who experience homelessness, hunger and family violence will remain “disruptive” regardless of what happens to ITE programs. This is a shameful problem that we share as a society: the fact that some young people are so neglected, sad and angry that often their response is to turn against their teachers cannot be solved by educators alone.
While we support Recommendation 3 that calls for investment in professional learning for teachers, we rigorously challenge the conclusion evident in Recommendation 4 with its sole focus on promoting ‘explicit instruction; formative assessment; mastery learning; and spacing and retrieval to manage ‘disruptive behaviour in classrooms and provides the best possible learning conditions, to be implemented’. We need rich forms of professional development that recognise, value and enhance the professionalism of teachers.
Within academic research and also evident in the submissions to the committee, is a clear need for a diversity of responses to student behaviour, depending on the reasons for the behaviour: there is no quick fix, no “one-size-fits-all”. Additionally, the conclusion evident in Recommendation 4 appears to ignore the complexities of the lives of adolescents living in the 21st century and the skills that they will need for future economies and their self-efficacy and well-being.
We support Recommendations 5 and 6 that call for greater support for young people and teachers in managing neurodiverse students. Whilst we agree that a national approach to classroom management might lead to the sharing of useful research, we are alarmed by Recommendation 9 seeking to ‘fast-track the implementation of the National Unique Student Identifier for school students’.
This proposal is Orwellian in its intent to “track” students who may have experienced challenges at school. Wherever they go to school in Australia, their past will follow them and label them as “trouble-makers”. How can young people start with a clean slate at a new school and prove themselves. The suggestion of a National Unique Student Identifier is an egregious assault on their human rights. Historically, young people have been labelled as “good” vs “bad” but we argue that such simplistic generalisations have no place in 21st century education systems.
The silences in the report also raise alarm bells. There are references to violence without any mention of gender. There is no consideration here about who the students are who are threatening violence against teachers. We know that there is a strong relationship between dominant forms of masculinity and violence. The threats posed to teachers, and others, as a consequence of toxic forms of masculinity performed by some boys need to be challenged. This violence can also contain a sexual element to it. We know that female teachers can be sexually harassed by male students and made to feel uncomfortable and threated by innuendo and verbal abuse.
Much of the report often implies that it is schools located in lower socioeconomic areas where teachers are likely to be most threatened. However, we know that gender-based violence towards female teachers can be present in some of the ‘best of schools’. Similar silences exist in the report about other forms of discrimination and the ways in which teachers can, for example, be the subject of racial vilification or transphobic abuse from students. Addressing these issues will require, alongside broader societal approaches, school programs and curricula that address consent, valuing difference, human rights and social justice. There is nothing in this report that encourages such approaches.
Unfortunately, the Senate Committee’s recommendations are largely based upon one view which disempowers teachers and students and is backward looking rather than aspiring towards the future worlds in which our young people will live. Many submissions pointed to relational and pastoral approaches of working with young people within contexts of support and early intervention. It is our view that this is confirmed by a breadth and depth of peer-reviewed educational research.
Glenda McGregor is associate professor and deputy head of the School of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University. Martin Mills is a research professor in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership, QUT. He was awarded an honorary life membership of AARE in 2023 for services to educational research and the Association.
On 30 November, 2023, the Australian federal government released its Australian Framework for Generative AI in Schools. This is an important step forward. It provides much-needed advice for schools following the November 2022 release of ChatGPT, a technological product capable of creating human-like text and other content. This Framework has undergone several rounds of consultation across the education sector. The Framework does important work in acknowledging opportunities while also foregrounding the importance of human wellbeing, privacy, security and safety.
Out of date already?
However, in this fast-moving space, the policy may already be out of date. Following early enthusiasm (despite a ban in many schools), the hype around generative AI in education is shifting. As experts in generative AI in education,researching it for some years now, we have moved to a much more cautious stance. A recent UNESCO article stated that “AI must be kept in check in schools”. The challenges in using generative AI safely and ethically, for human flourishing, are increasingly becoming apparent.
Some questions and suggestions
In this article, we suggest some of the ways that the policy already needs to be updated and improved to better reflect emerging understandings of generative AI’s threats and limitations. With a 12-month review cycle, teachers may find the Framework provides less policy support than hoped. We also wonder to what extent the educational technology industry’s influence has affected the tone of this policy work.
What is the Framework?
The Framework addresses six “core principles” of generative AI in education: Teaching and Learning; Human and Social Wellbeing; Transparency; Fairness, Accountability; and Privacy, Security and Safety. It provides guiding statements under each concept. However, some of these concepts are much less straightforward than the Framework suggests.
Problems with generative AI
Over time, users have become increasingly aware that generative AI does not provide reliable information. It is inherently biased, through the biased material it has “read” in its training. It is prone to data leaks and malfunctions. Its workings cannot be readily perceived or understood by its own makers and vendors; it is therefore not transparent. It is the subject of global claims of copyright infringement in its development and use. It is vulnerable to power and broadband outages, suggesting the dangers of developing reliance on it for composing content.
The Framework may therefore have expectations of schools and teachers that are impossible to fulfil. It suggests schools and teachers can use tools that are inherently flawed, biased, mysterious and insecure, in ways that are sound, un-biased, transparent and ethical. If teachers feel their heads are spinning on reading the Framework, it is not surprising! Creators of the Framework need to interrogate their own assumptions, for example that “safe” and “high quality” generative AI exists, and who these assumptions serve.
As a policy document, the Framework also puts an extraordinary onus on schools and teachers to do high-stakes work for which they may not be qualified (such as conducting risk assessments of algorithms), or that they do not have time or funding to complete. The latter include designing appropriate learning experiences, revising assessments, consulting with communities, learning about and applying intellectual property rights and copyright law and becoming expert in the use of generative AI. It is not clear how this can possibly be achieved within existing workloads, and when the nature and ethics of generative AI are complex and contested.
What needs to change in the next iteration?
A better definition: At the outset, the definition of generative AI needs to acknowledge that it is, in most cases, a proprietary tool that may involve the extraction of school and student data.
A more honest stance on generative AI: As a tool, generative AI is deeply flawed. As computer scientist Deborah Raji says, experts need to stop talking about it “as if it works”. The Framework misunderstands that generative AI is always biased, in that it is trained on limited datasets and with motivated “guardrails” created largely by white, male and United States-based developers. For example, a current version of ChatGPT does not speak in or use Australian First Nations words, for valid reasons related to the integrity of cultural knowledges. However, this indicates the whiteness of its “voice” and the problems inherent in requiring students to use or rely on this “voice”. The “potential” bias mentioned in the Framework would be better framed as “inevitable”. Policy also needs to acknowledge that generative AI is already creating profound harms, for example to children, to students, and to climate through its unsustainable environmental impacts.
A more honest stance on edtech and the digital divide: A recent UNESCO report has confirmed there is little evidence of any improvement to learning from the use of digital technology in classrooms over decades. The use of technology does not automatically improve teaching and learning. This honest stance also needs to acknowledge that there is an existing digital divide related to basic technological access (to hardware, software and connectivity) that means that students will not have equitable experiences of generative AI from the outset.
Evidence: Education is meant to be evidence-informed. Given there is little research that demonstrates the benefits of generative AI use in education, but research does show the harms of algorithms, policymakers and educators should proceed with caution. Schools need support to develop processes and procedures to monitor and evaluate the use of generative AI by both staff and students. This should not be a form of surveillance, but rather take the form of teacher-led action research, to provide future high-quality and deeply contextual evidence.
Locating policy in existing research: This policy has missed an opportunity to connect to extensive policy, theory, research and practice around digital literacies since the 1990s, especially in English and literacy education, so that all disciplines could benefit from this. The policy has similarly missed an opportunity to foreground how digital AI-literacies need to be embedded across the curriculum, supported by relevant existing Frameworks, such as the Literacy in 3D model (developed for cross curricular work), with its focus on operational, cultural and critical dimensions of any technological literacy. Another key concept from digital literacies is the need to learn “with” and “about” generative AI. Education policy needs to reference educational concepts, principles and issues, also including automated essay scoring, learning styles, personalised learning, machine instruction and so on, with a glossary of terms.
Acknowledging the known dangers of bots: It would also be useful for policy to be framed by long-standing research that demonstrates the dangers of chatbots, and their compelling capacity to shut down human creativity and criticality and suggest ways to mitigate these effects from the outset. This is particularly important given the threats to democracy posed by misinformation and disinformation generated at scale by humans using generative AI.
Teacher transparency: All use of generative AI in schools needs to be disclosed. The use of generative AI by staff in the preparation of teaching materials and the planning of lessons needs to be disclosed to management, peers, students and families. The Framework seems to focus on students and their activities, whereas “academic integrity” needs to be modelled first by teachers and school leaders. Trust and investment in meaningful communication depend on readers knowing the sources of content, or cynicism may result. This disclosure is also necessary to monitor and manage the threat to teacher professionalism through the replacement of teacher intellectual labour by generative AI.
Stronger acknowledgement of teacher expertise: Teachers are experts in more than just subject matter. They are expert in the pedagogical content knowledge of their disciplines, or how to teach those disciplines. They are also expert in their contexts, and in their students’ needs. Policy needs to support education in countering the rhetoric of edtech that teachers need to be removed or replaced by generative AI and remain only in support roles. The complex profession of teaching, based in relationality and community, needs to be elevated, not relegated to “knowing stuff about content”.
Leadership around ethical assessment: OpenAI made a clear statement in 2023 that generative AI should not be used for summative assessment, and that this should be done by humans. It is unfortunate the Australian government did not reinforce this advice at a national policy level, to uphold the rights of students and protect the intellectual labour of teachers.
More detail: While acknowledging this is a high-level policy document and Framework, we call for more detail to assist the implementation of policy in schools. Given the aim of “defining what safe, ethical and responsible use of generative AI should look like” the document would benefit from more detail; a related education document from the US runs to 67 pages.
A radical policy imagination
At the 2023 Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) conference, Jane Kenway encouraged participants to develop radical research imaginations. The extraordinary impacts of generative AI require a radical policy imagination, rather than timid or bland statements balancing opportunities and threats. It is increasingly clear that the threats cannot readily be dealt with by schools. The recent thoughts of UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education on generative AI are sobering.
A significant part of this policy imagination needs to find the financial and other resources to support slow and safe implementation. It also needs to acknowledge, at the highest possible level, that if you identify as female, if you are a First Nations Australian, indeed, if you are anything other than white, male, affluent, able-bodied, heterosexual and compliant with multiple other norms of “mainstream” society, it is highly likely that generative AI does not speak for you. Policy must define a role for schools in developing students who can shape a more just future generative AI, not just use existing tools effectively.
Who is in charge . . . and who benefits?
Policy needs to enable and elevate the work of teachers and education researchers around generative AI, and the work of the education discipline overall, to contribute to raising the status of teachers. We look forward to some of the above suggestions being taken up in future iterations of the Framework. We also hope that all future work in this area will be led by teachers, not merely involve consultation with them. This includes the forthcoming work by Education Services Australia on evaluating generative AI tools. We trust that no staff or consultants on that project will have any links whatsoever to the edtech, or broader technology industries. This is the kind of detail that may help the general public decide exactly who educational policy serves.
Generative AI was not used at any stage in the writing of this article.
The header image was definitely produced using Generative AI.
Lucinda McKnight is an Australian Research Council Senior Research Fellow in the Research for Educational Impact Centre at Deakin University, undertaking a national study into the teaching of writing with generative AI. Leon Furze is a PhD Candidate at Deakin University studying the implications of Generative Artificial Intelligence in education, particularly for teachers of writing. Leon blogs about Generative AI, reading and writing.
At an event at Parliament House earlier this year I heard that 2024 is going to be the year of education. That is excellent news given that we haven’t heard much about education from the Albanese government but, to be honest, that has been somewhat of a blessed reprieve given the hyperventilation of the previous Morrison LNP government.
I have mixed feelings about what might be coming but wouldn’t if education policy was informed by evidence rather than politics. It isn’t. The impact of that politicisation is never openly acknowledged and the policy decisions that are made (or not made) by governments are never the focus of inquiries or reviews. Instead, the “problem” is always framed by alleged deficiencies in students, parents, teachers, and/or universities.
Disagreement among panel members
Take, for example, the Senate Inquiry into the issue of increasing disruption in Australian classrooms. The interim report has just landed, and, like the final report of the Disability Royal Commission, there was disagreement among panel members. Labor and Greens senators have made additional comments that acknowledge the complexity of behaviour in schools and the Greens have only one recommendation: to fully fund public schools at the beginning of the next National School Reform Agreement in 2025.
I was called to give evidence at the senate inquiry. At the time, I expressed concern that the Inquiry based its case for ‘increasing disruption’ on PISA data, noting first, that there are cultural and other differences between countries and second, that there are problems with the rankings. I will have more to say about the report and its recommendations in time but for now I want to take readers through points I made in the new first chapter of Inclusive Education for the 21st Century, which extend my comments from the evidence I gave to the inquiry.
Since that hearing, I have looked more closely at the data on which these claims are based and I’m frankly astonished that the Inquiry team did not do this themselves. Even a cursory glance should have been enough to signal to the Senate that these rankings were not a rigorous enough premise on which to base an Inquiry.
Let us wade through this numerical sewage together
The claim for ‘increasing disruption in Australian classrooms’ is based on the difference in results from two surveys of 15-year-olds who participated in the OECD’s Program of International Student Assessment (PISA).
The first survey occurred in 2009 and the second in 2018. The disciplinary climate data is based on five survey items:
1. Students don’t listen to what the teacher says.
2. There is noise and disorder.
3. The teacher has to wait a long time for students to quiet down.
4. Students cannot work well.
5. Students don’t start working for a long time after the lesson begins.
Here’s where things get interesting! Here are relevant findings from the two reports.
Participating countries were ranked on the percentage of 15-year-old students who selected ‘never or hardly ever’ and ‘in some lessons’ for Item 1 ‘Students don’t listen to what the teacher says’, and Item 3 ‘The teacher has to wait a long time for students to quiet down’.
79 countries participated and 76 were ranked, however, this time the OECD developed a disciplinary climate index that encompasses all five items with some minor changes in wording.
Australia was ranked 28th for the first item and 25th for the second.
Countries were ranked using their respective Index scores.
Differences between PISA 200 and PISA 2009 were calculated.
Australia was ranked 69th
Australia deemed to have an average disciplinary climate that had not significantly changed between the two timepoints.
Differences between PISA 2009 and PISA 2018 were calculated
There was a significant difference between timepoints in the responses of Australian students for onlytwo of the five items: Item 3 ‘The teacher has to wait a long time for students to quiet down’, and Item 4 ‘Students cannot work well’.
Item (5) also declined (-1.8%) but not significantly, while Items (1) and (2) improved (both +0.8%), but again not significantly.
What does all this mean?
First, Australia has not fallen from 28th or 25th in the ranking to 69th. Rather, the number of participating countries has changed over time and so therefore have the rankings. To be clear, the number of participating countries has grown from 43 (2000) to 65 (2009) to 79 (2018). And, because comparisons can only be made between countries that participated in each assessment, the number of countries in the rankings has changed from 38 in 2009 to 76 in 2018. This is not to dispute that Australia is ranked lower than anyone would like but there are problems with the rankings which render them meaningless.
1) The types of countries participating in PISA 2009 and PISA 2018 substantively changed due to the entrance of Asian countries. Unlike Australia, these jurisdictions/systems are grounded in Confucian culture, which has a profound effect on teacher-student relationships, classroom interactions, and climate.
2) There was a significant difference between timepoints in the responses of Australian students for only two of the five items. The case for increasing disruption in Australian classrooms therefore rests on a 3.7% decrease in the number of students saying their teacher ‘never or hardly ever’ has to wait a long time for students to quiet down, and a 2.8% decrease in the number saying students cannot work well ‘never or hardly ever’. Given that there was no difference in students’ responses between PISA 2000 and 2009, that suggests that there has been no change in more than 20 years for at least two of the five items.
3) Countries with almost identical disciplinary index scores are ranked above and below each other. For example, Australia and Belgium received Index scores of 0.20 and 0.21, respectively yet Australia is ranked 69th and Belgium 70th. There is a snowball’s chance in hell that these scores are statistically different to each other, so why is one being ranked above the other? Doing this simply expands the number of places in the ranking which makes the distance between countries look larger than it really is.
4) No tests of significance between countries or ranks were conducted, so we do not know whether there is a statistically significant difference in Australian students’ responses to the OECD average or how much of a difference there is between Australia and the countries at the top of the ranking. Similar points have been made numerous times over the years in relation to the rankings for student achievement in reading, mathematics, and science, but at least in those cases, countries with statistically indistinguishable performances are grouped together and given the same rank.
5) Recent research by Sally Larsen from the University of New England has indicated no decline in TIMMS, PIRLS or NAPLAN results of Australian students. Any observed correlations between declines in PISA’s disciplinary climate survey and student academic outcomes should not be causally interpreted.
If politicians are going to look at rankings, then look at them all. Let’s consider, for example, that:
1. Australia is sitting at the top of ranked countries in terms of the hours that teachers spend in face-to-face teaching.
2. Australian teachers spend more hours teaching than the OECD average (838.28 hours/year vs 800.45 hours respectively)
3. Korea is ranked first in classroom disciplinary climate and Australia is ranked 69th. However, Australian teachers spend 323.30 more hours per year in face-to-face teaching than their Korean counterparts, who teach just 516.98 hours/year.
4. In disciplinary climate, the difference between advantaged students and disadvantaged students in Australia (0.34) is double that of Korea (0.17).
These are just some of the gaps and anomalies that arise when the PISA data is subjected to close reading, which is the absolute minimum amount of analysis that should have been conducted (if not, prior, then at least) during an Inquiry that used these data for its rationale.
The questions education ministers must ask
Readers of the Interim Report, especially Education Ministers, should regard it very critically and start asking serious questions:
Who stands to benefit from such simple representations of these data?
Might there be financial benefits for non-university providers from the ‘deregulation’ of initial teacher education?
Are there other data that have been ignored and, if so, what does their omission suggest about rigour and bias?
Might Australian students tell a different story if asked by expert researchers using both open and close-ended questions?
Are we brave enough to ask them?
Linda Graham is professor and director of The Centre for Inclusive Education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). She has led multiple externally funded research projects and has published more than 100 books, chapters and articles. Her international bestseller, Inclusive Education for the 21st Century: Theory, Policy and Practice, is now in its second edition. In 2020, Linda chaired the Inquiry into Suspension, Exclusion and Expulsion processes in South Australian government schools. She also gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability on the use of exclusionary school discipline and its effects.
That was a huge week at the AARE conference hosted and we had so many excellent contributions. Many thanks to all of you who contributed during the conference, making time despite a huge and very busy conference.
All the blogs are here, in reverse chronological order, from the pre conference through to the wrap the morning after. Find them all here.
First, let’s start with republishing the 2023 AARE Blog of the Year, announced on Wednesday during the conference, Teachers now: Why I left and where I’ve gone by Robyn Brandenburg, Ellen Larsen, Richard Sallis and Alyson Simpson.
At the conclusion of AARE 2023, the esteemed editor of this blog 😉 has asked me for my thoughts on two things. First to give a bit of context for the paper that was awarded the Early Career Researcher Award; second to make some links to the position of early career researchers at this critical juncture for education research.
I would like to reiterate how honoured I was to receive the Early Career Researcher Conference Paper Award for 2023. Like many early career researchers, I am still finding my place in the education research community in Australia and it is reassuring to know that the research I am doing resonates with people. Thank you again to the committee.
The title of the paper poses a question: Are Australian students’ academic skills declining? (you can read the preprint of the paper here – currently under review). I became interested in exploring this question during my PhD and working with NAPLAN data. I knew that average NAPLAN results did not necessarily show downward trends. Nonetheless, everywhere we turn we see stories of crisis and decline.
For the paper I compiled publicly available data from the four major standardised assessments undertaken by Australian students. These assessments included the Program for International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and of course, the ubiquitous NAPLAN.
Looking at average score trends across all these assessments from the inception of each up to the present shows that average scores in most assessments have improved or remained stable. The only assessment to show persistent declines is PISA, which assesses the reading, mathematics and scientific literacy of 15-year-old students every 3 years. When I explain these results to people both outside of universities and in other faculties the common reaction is one of surprise. The narrative about declining standards, students’ achievement going backwards, and universities not teaching preservice teachers ‘correctly’ is relentless.
In his keynote on day 3 of the conference, Professor Neil Selwyn noted that expert opinion on education is increasingly being sought from voices outside the academy. And we can see this in the proliferation of public-facing commentary and opinion pieces about standardised test results from think-tanks and experts outside the field of education research. But its very easy to cherry pick the data that supports your prior opinions. To me this selective reporting is a flag that quantitative methods are being misapplied or misunderstood.
It’s probably an apocryphal anecdote, but Mark Twain is supposed to have coined the phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Whether or not he said this, I think this phrase encapsulates what is going on with the interpretation of educational data in the public domain. It doesn’t seem to matter what the truth is, the statistics are used to support a preconceived position.
But what do we do about poor interpretation of educational data? My contention is that if we want to take back the narrative about education in Australia we have to play at the same game. After all, governments do love numbers, and despite their limitations and potential harms, standardised testing is here to stay. As a field I think it’s time for us to increase the amount of work we do with assessment data. We can train research students to use existing assessment data in principled ways to answer pressing research questions; we can a bring methodological rigour to this work that non-academic research struggles to do; and we can show where the public narrative has got it wrong.
Obviously, this strategy may not work. After all, if academic researchers have already been positioned as those without the necessary expertise, opinion will always be sought from others.
Early career researchers will play a pivotal role in this work into the future. It is challenging to do so, but for ECRs who are passionate about their field, and feel their research should be shared widely, the only way to help shift the narrative about education in Australia is through promotion. Newspaper journalists love expert commentary for their stories. But they’ll never find you if you don’t promote the work that you do. I would encourage ECRs if they have a positive story to tell from their research, to find ways to tell it in the public domain.
Kevin Lowe, in his acceptance speech for the AER Best Paper Award 2023 spoke about how kids can internalise deficit discourses about their potential and ability. This extends to teachers too, and their perceptions of the capability of kids in their classrooms. Pushing back against the relentless disaster stories about education in a variety of ways is important, and could have wider reaching effects than simply putting the record straight.
Until next year 😊
USQ’s Ellen Larsen on the conference
“Wrapping up” the highlights of a conference such as this is an almost impossible task as there were just so many incredibly powerful and significant moments throughout the week. Such efforts to capture the totality of such an event are further complicated by the fact that we all take away our own very personal ‘moments of magnitude’- meeting ‘that’ researcher for whom you have overwhelming respect, connecting with colleagues you have only seen through a screen over the past 12 months, learning something that will change the way you think or go about your work or knowing that you got through your first ever AARE presentation and others were really interested in what you had to say and share!
Following a busy and productive preconference and a celebratory evening of welcome at the Science Centre, the conference commenced with a palpable air of excitement as everyone arrived, with umbrellas in hand, at Melbourne University. But not even the rain could dampen the mood of anticipation. In a hushed room, the passing of the Coolamon at the opening plenary by Melitta Hogarth on behalf of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Special Interest Group into the care of the AARE for this event encapsulated the energy that pervaded each day of the Conference- -one in which solid and enduring relationships were nurtured through care, respect, and acknowledgment of voice, truth, and place.
At each and every turn, conference delegates were challenged to examine their own ontological and epistemological beliefs about the world and their work in ways that were concurrently unsettling and reassuring. Our 2023 Radford lecture presenter, Mary Lou Rasmussen, asked us to consider how we, as researchers, might shape conflicting public pedagogies for educating about gender, sex, and sexualities, drawing our attention to the ‘Matilda phenomenon’. Later in the week, the 2022 Radford Lecture presenter, Susan Danby, foregrounded the agentic language use of children and asked us to consider the new possibilities for research with children that leverage disciplinary junctures.
Keynote presenter Marcia Langton challenged us to consider Indigenous knowledge, ontologies, and curriculum and find ways to unsettle ‘what is’ by thinking about ‘what could and should be’. Neil Selwyn continued in his keynote to dare us to get uncomfortable in our research and to ask ourselves how we might reassess what we think and believe in ways that may assist us to better connect to broader global issues rather than tinkering at the edges. Our thoughts were swimming from the privilege of hearing from these generous academics who have the ability to make us question, productively doubt, and connect ideas; while at the same time making sure that our hearts are full from the enviable experience of being inspired.
Presentations, symposiums, and featured symposiums throughout the week continued to underscore the depth and breadth of education research in Australia and beyond, making it impossible to identify specific presentations or presenters that should be mentioned over others. Every presentation, every presenter across all days, sessions, and Special Interest Groups contributed to what could only be described as a rich tapestry of knowledge, as Jess Holloway described it on Sunday, knowing, and knowing in becoming. In other words, we have left the conference changed, different, enriched by our experiences and interactions.
Congratulations to the AARE award winners! Hearing about their work was both inspiring and exciting. The awarding of Martin Mills and Fazil Rizvi as honorary life members was enthusiastically celebrated. Our early career and post-graduate researchers showed an impressive address of both local and global issues in education. As a group, the postgraduates and early career researchers showed throughout the conference that they were the educational leaders of tomorrow with ideas and ways of researching that are innovative, transformative, and driven by a passion to make a difference.
Putting a conference together for over 1000 researchers is no mean feat- and it is without a doubt that many of us would shrink from such a formidable task. So, it is with absolute gratitude that we thank all of those concerned, including Julie McLeod (President AARE) and Catherine Smith (AARE Conference Chair) for leading the way. Thank you to the AARE executive, Conference Committee, and all academics, professional staff, and volunteers from the University of Melbourne who gave their time and energy to make this conference the amazing success it has been. And so, this morning, the Coolamon was passed back into the care of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research SIG through Tracey Bunda, as the conference drew to a close.
Thank you for your attendance and see you at the University of Sydney in 2024.
And that’s a wrap for the 2023 AARE Conference in Melbourne!
Susan Danbydelivered the postponed 2022 Radford Lecture. Here is an extract.
Why that now? The ‘everyday’ for children being seen and heard in a digital world
I grew up in a time when children were seen and not heard. As a novice researcher I started investigating how children use language to organise their everyday activities and each other as they navigated their social worlds with peers and adults. Shifting paradigms across research and human rights made possible new ways to see children as agentic members of society.
(Image, left, by Jess Harris)
More recently we are witnessing children’s lives being profoundly changed with the ubiquitous experiences of interacting with new digital worlds unknown by previous generations. I draw on a collection of my research to examine how children attend to their agency as language users across social, educational, and digital contexts.
Focusing on critical junctures of disciplinary paradigms and changing childhood contexts makes possible new research encounters within disciplinary areas and understandings of the complexity of children’s everyday lives.
It is a rare opportunity to be invited to reflect on one’s research. I have approached this presentation today in a way that I hope shows the excitement and curiosity of research and discovering something unknown. I hope that this will inspire us all to be curious, to ask the ethnomethodological question, “why that now”.
I’ll start with three instances of inquiry into young children.
This first is an ad I saw for Kids Helpline. In 1999, I was on a plane to Darwin, when I discovered my new research focus. I just finished my PhD and I had the luxery of flipping through a magazine when I saw this advertisement.
I thought about what my grandfather used to say to me, that “children should be seen and not heard”. I reflected on this when I saw this ad. I became curious about what the children talked about with the counsellors. And how they responded.
This curiosity produced almost a decade of research with Kids Helpline, along with colleagues Carolyn D. Baker, Michael Emmision, and others.
KHL is an organisation dedicated to listening to children and young people. Their mission is “we care, we listen’. It is not to provide help. The way that KHL counsellors open their calls shows a preference to recognising that children and young people have the competence to find their own ways into the call – to disclose their reason for the call.
The second instance involved placing a preservice teacher in a practicum experience. It involves a school, a principal and a classroom. This was when academics visited preservice teachers during their practicum. I was placing a pre service teacher into a repeat practicum – she had experienced a difficult time at her previous school and I wanted her to have a good experience this time at a different school. I had previously visited a classroom where I knew there would be a good fit with the teacher. I contacted the principal to request this student be placed with this teacher. The principal had a different perspective. He would rather the preservice teacher be in a different classroom as the classroom I had suggested was too noisy. He recommended a classroom with a better discipline approach.
In most schooling, children’s voices are presented at the request of, the control of, and the direction, of teachers. Even in the playground. Anything that might be described as noise can signal a lack of proper teacher control, and both children and teacher can be viewed as outside the norms of proper school behaviour.
The third instance involves an 8 year old saying to me, as I picked her up from school: “Being a child is like being a grain of sand on the beach. No-one sees you”
These three accounts -Kids Helpline, the classrooms, the child as an unseen grain of sand – provide mental models of childhoods. Each mental model produces a social construction of a child and, alongside that, a set of assumptions of how to engage with that child. These mental models are deeply held, and thus deeply intractable.
These mental models of children, constructions of childhood, highlight how voice can be legitimised – or not – in and out of school.
Giving voice can be legitimised in various ways. In some schools it’s the sports fields, or in the student club where students have a say about what’s happening in their school. From the very earliest years of early childhood education services through to university graduate programs, voices are legitimised.
As an education discipline, the work of educators has been focused on finding ways to mediate the students’ voices, of mediating their ways of being in the world.
And now we have the digital child. Who is the digital child? Depends on who you ask. From the flight attendant on my flight to Melbourne who realised that her child felt truly confident and social when he was playing games online with his friends, to the grandmother who blamed technology for destroying her relationship with her grandson. To researchers who bring a range of perspectives to understand the lives of digital children, both opportunities and risks. While there is much research being done differently, in regard to respectful engagement with children, there is clearly much work still to be done with our youngest digital citizens.
To conclude, Radford reminds us of some principled ways forward.
The first is that the human dimension can never be diminished or lost.
The second is Radford’s recognition of the value of early childhood. I’m very pleased to have had this opportunity to show how his vision for educational research in early childhood is now being realised.
My wish for AARE is that it continues in the generous spirit that I have found among its members, from my earliest days as a novice researcher to now. It is that spirit that will ensure the success of the Association into the future.
The following post is by Peta White, Deakin University
From the Black Summer comes a new understanding
The Climate Change Education Network (CCEN) has engaged in climate change education (CCE) since the Black Summer bushfires in early 2020. As a group of academics we are committed to CCE, we meet regularly to discuss what is interesting and actionable in our worlds, we share stories and ideas, and work in solidarity building community.
So to build on that, we presented a showcase symposium exploring regenerative leadership, pedagogy adapting to audiences, and prioritising indigenous knowledges and practices. With three presentations and discussant Professor Tracey Bunda, we learned in community.
This symposium enabled us to reflect and collaborate around three initiatives/presentations core to climate change education and to the work of CCEN.
1: Regenerative Leadership reminds us that to lead in this field means we need to guide and collaborate and to practice this regeneratively we must pay attention to our ethical, responsible, ways of being, knowing and doing. This can be especially challenging in neoliberal universities.
2: Pedagogy adapts with our audiences and depending on our underlying philosophies about education. In this presentation we considered the decisions made when we focus on teachers, students, and community. We highlighted pedagogical practices which have successfully engaged learners in climate change education.
3: Prioritising Indigenous knowledges and practices enables us to work together. Relational interactions and collaborations with Indigenous colleagues may not always be possible or easy butwe should encourage collaboration and solidarity in creating our shared future.
Some key enablers to move forward in this practice include learning with Indigenous wisdom through academic literature
Finally, discussant Professor Tracey Bunda reflected with us and then lead a whole group conversation and asked us to consider the concept of kin in Indigenous Australian ontologies: ways to embrace human and non-human beings and the recent and ongoing ravages of colonisation. She taught us by showing us and grouping us in the room what kin means. She gave an example, using colleague Joseph Ferguson from Deakin, and suggested an example totem – the wombat and grey ash.
We work and learn alongside our Indigenous academic colleagues prioritising their contributions while choosing (hoping) to not add to their overwhelming cultural load. We value learning and living in place practising caring with, and for, Country.
The following post is by Naomi Barnes, QUT
Funding: how do we think it should change?
In a wonderfully provocative policy and politics session presenters Tim Delaney, Naomi Barnes (with Anna Hogan), Glenn Savage and Matthew P. Sinclair challenged the audience to think differently about school funding.
First up, Delaney discussed how he has been working to decolonize the literature review when discussing the foundational document for contemporary school funding settlement and sedimentation, The 1973 Karmel Report. The Report, released under the Whitlam government, set the stage for school funding, opening the door to economically rational logics of the Hawke and Keating years. Drawing on work by scholars who have challenged the Western-centric logic of the literature review, such as Lauren Tynan and Michelle Bishop, Delaney first thought about how to lay the foundations for his policy analysis of school funding through reviewing literature that asks how public education can be imagined differently and as an alternative to the racial capitalism embedded in the current structures.
Barnes and Hogan challenged the ‘school choice’ discourses that take up room, both the discourses that support and challenge the funding mechanism in Australia, but specifically Queensland semi-selective public schools. Their research focused on the people making the decisions — middle class women. Barnes argued that it is absurd to only make arguments that consider the logic of data when discussing school choice because people make decisions with their emotions, not just their heads. To separate the head from the body is to walk the very problematic pathway of categorising the school chooser as irrational. This is a well worn categorisation of women that we see in work around hysteria at the turn of the 20th century, and as feminist scholars we need to question how work associated with school choice categorises the mothers making the choices.
Finally Savage and Sinclair suggested the the solution to equitable school funding was to establish a national funding regulation and quality control organisation. Positioned as a radical idea, the discussion it (intentionally) animated was that it did not go far enough. Such a body would not shift the current inequalities in Australian education funding so would probably be very well received by all schooling sectors, with the Catholic and Independent schooling systems being left unchallenged. The challenge to federalism, Savage argued, would be to sweeten the deal with more funding. What do you think?
The following post is by Steven Kolber, University of Melbourne
Teacher identity: on knowing, being, doing
Empowering teachers is a process formed out of deep identity work where teachers come to know themselves and their peers.
Theoretically, social network theory, Neo-Capital Theories, alongside Social Capital as a trio of theories to explore teachers’ resources for teaching. Social capital comes out of relationships and these connections are formed mostly around similarity between teachers and their location and role within the school.
Some have proposed that social capital can and should be a focus for teachers’ professional learning. This idea was explored through the lens of Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR) which are professional learning communities (PLC) that focus on teacher peer observations (active control) or the PD ‘as usual’ (waitlist control).
Pre and post interviews of the nature of the relationships between teachers in PLC groups were the focus of this PhD study. The findings, with caveats around them being not statistically significant, and small sample size were an increase in a rise in the four elements of social capital studied. These small shifts might mean an increase in only contacting one person about professional advice before the study, and heading towards two afterwards.
The process of engaging with QTR as a form of ‘forced’ or ‘required’ collaboration had a small positive outcome on teachers’ development of social capital through relational closeness.
Shifting to the online space, Twitter was explored as a site where teachers can come to become agentic and empowered.
The nature of professional learning quality of delivery being hodge podge as it is, exploring Communities of Practice (CoP) both online and within schools seems like an important gap filling activity. Social Learning Spaces by Wenger are different to CoPs where learners may drop in and drop out of the learning spaces. The engagement with these spaces caused participants’ edge of learning to be pushed.
The role of the leader to organise Twitter (now X) was noted as unpaid and requiring significant investment for those organising and running these groups, which function rather like loosely formed SIGs.
‘PD in the palm of your hand’ saw teachers finding meaning and usefulness for accessing these social media services. Mentoring, relationality and sharing of resources and support from other teachers are part of the process and practice that proved important.
The #edureading academic reading group was showcased as a space where teachers are engaged with research. This was mentioned alongside the Monash Q project which is, and has, explored the research use of teachers in a similar space to this group.
Discussion following the session raised the question of the nature of professional learning not catching up to the innovative and exciting use of learning occurring online. The key regulatory bodies need to catch up to the realities on the ground (or in the air) around what the modern face of professional learning. Teacher education similarly could consider (not that it doesn’t already) more broadly the inclusion of additive learning tools through social learning spaces.
Moving from online and relational identities, Nashid provided the lens of feeling “othered” or “privileged” based on factors like language, race, culture, gender, or intersections. Employment experiences of English language teachers, from a migrant and second-language background.
These teachers experienced hiring discrimination alongside imposters syndrome, fear and other negative feelings. This is problematic and challenging considering we exist within a National teacher shortage, where respondents note ‘no one would give me the job as an English teacher’, as a result of accented or ‘Non-standard’ English. The necessity of having a qualification from a prestigious Australian university to even be considered for an interview was noted, and the suggestion to develop a pseudonym or false name on resumes to avoid discriminatory and exclusionary practices.
Teachers being required to complete The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) tests to prove their language proficiency after completing two post-graduate degrees was a clear anecdotal example of institutional racism being enacted through faceless policies.
Despite these negative examples, reflexivity and agency were possible to emerge from the participating teachers. Noting that clear speech regardless of accent was what was required by their students. The ‘Non-native English Speaking Teachers’ (NNESTs) presented showed a wealth of experience and insights as teachers which was largely ignored due to brief ‘othering’ and the practice of institutionally racist policies and structures.
Teacher identity development and empowerment were a clear focus throughout the sessions, moving from knowledge developed within the field and how this can be used to inform policy, professional learning and the awareness of identities within the space.
Capitalising on collegiality: Exploring the capacity of Quality
Teaching Rounds to build teachers’ social capital Brooke Rosser, University of Newcastle
Finding your voice in an online Twitter place: professional learning, networks and support for teachers at all career stages
Bernadette Mercieca, Our Lady of Mercy College Heidelberg;
Jacquie McDonald, USQ
“No one would give me that job in Australia”:
When professional identities intersect with how teachers look, speak and where they come from
Nashid Nigar, Monash University
The following post is by Kalervo Gulson of the University of Sydney.
Resetting the education research agenda
Why do we do educational research? What would it mean to reset research agendas? And what is meaningful education research?
(left, Neil Selwyn delivering the keynote)
In a keynote address for AARE, Monash University’s Professor Neil Selwyn, proposed that these questions could, and indeed, should guide our field to retain a relevance in creating and shaping the knowledge that will matter: the knowledge to deal with the climate crisis, the knowledge to manage post- and future pandemic life, the knowledge to handle the challenges of artificial intelligence.
Selwyn proposed that the question of what works and why is the question that animates much of the field of educational research.
But he said it is the wrong question for education research – the most impactful research is being done outside of the academy, where our governments listen to new kinds of authoritative voices, from the OECD to global consultancies.
What then remains for education research? For Selwyn, the key offering, the ‘unique selling point’ should be to provide responses to contextually complex questions that provide insights that are different from these other external voices. And that all education researchers should embrace their own fields, but also find ways of speaking to what he called polycrises of the present and future. Selwyn proposed that , ‘our job is to say why things are complicated, and how these complicated things can be navigated’.
Selwyn illustrated this by highlighting the different ways in which artificial intelligence in education could be investigated. While the normal way is to look at the opportunities and harms of AI in teaching and learning, Selwyn pointed out that there are larger and more pressing questions that could also be asked. These include questions about the social sustainability of using technologies in education that have been demonstrated in other fields to be discriminatory; and questions about the climate cost of using automated technologies.
How would we go about undertaking Selwyn’s resetting of the research agenda?
The proposal has four areas.
First, to embrace the vulnerabilities of not knowing, an embracing of discomfort and uncertainty as a precondition for scholarship.
Second, to be open to the difficulties of navigating the necessary interdisciplinarity that is attached to addressing polycrises. That we need multiple voices in these conversations.
Third, to reassess the redemptive project of formal education, and to cast a keen eye on whether formal education as currently constituted can address the problems of the future.
Fourth – and maybe most importantly – not to lose hope.
These four areas are by no means straightforward to address or enact. But Selwyn made a compelling point that education research is in a unique position to be relevant. And more forcefully, the polycrises in front of us really provide little option but to begin to not just think but act on resetting our research agenda.
Australia is currently grappling with a teacher shortage crisis, and the implications are reverberating through the education system. The symposium titled “Understanding Teacher Retention: How are policies and practices contributing towards the teacher shortage, and what is the impact of this for Australian schools?” sheds light on the complexities of this crisis. Collectively, the presentations highlighted and emphasised the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to address the high rates of teacher attrition.
The Current Landscape of Teacher Shortages:
The symposium brought attention to the multifaceted nature of the teacher shortage crisis in Australia. Rising student numbers, challenging workplace conditions, an ageing workforce, and declining enrolments in teacher education programs collectively contribute to the strain on schools and teachers. The impact is particularly acute in schools within geographically or socio-economically marginalised communities. The symposium underscored the critical need for attracting and retaining quality teachers, while highlighting the disproportionate impact on the educational opportunities of students in hard-to-staff schools.
Insights from Leading Research Projects:
The symposium showcased three Australian Research Council (ARC) funded projects, each delving into specific aspects of teacher retention.
1. Induction and the Teacher Workforce: Problems and Confusion (Anna Sullivan – University of South Australia):
Sullivan’s research focuses on induction support for teachers employed casually or on short-term contracts. It is based on a critical policy study that examines the “Graduate to Proficient: Australian guidelines for teacher induction into the profession” (2016). The findings reveal a significant gap in the current induction process for casually employed early career teachers. With 60% of new teachers on casual or short-term contracts, the existing guidelines primarily cater to those with job security, which makes the issue primarily an equity one. The paper emphasises the need for a more comprehensive, system-wide approach to teacher induction, addressing the unique challenges faced by all new teachers, including those who are employed on a casual basis and who constitute a significant portion of the workforce.
2. Career Change Teachers: Assessing Teacher Shortages in Australia (Teresa Bourke – QUT):
Bourke’s research focuses on midcareer Initial Teacher Education (ITE) entrants, often referred to as “career change teachers.” Despite being increasingly positioned as a solution to teacher shortages, this cohort is 25% more likely to leave the profession within the first five years. The research presentation is based on data collected from a cohort of career change teachers from the state of Queensland. The research shows the heterogeneous nature of this cohort. Notably, career change teachers bring valuable life skills, yet they often face challenges such as being unprepared for the classroom, experiencing financial stress, and grappling with work-life balance concerns. This research reminds us of the need for a deeper understanding of how ITE programs accommodate the unique needs of career change teachers. The findings also underscore the importance of supporting this diverse group through tailored approaches that consider personal, structural, and cultural conditions.
3. Education Workforce for the Future (Jo Lampert – Monash University):
Lampert’s research challenges traditional definitions of “hard-to-staff” schools’ acknowledging the plethora of alternative descriptors such as understaffed schools, disadvantaged schools, challenging schools, regional or rural schools, demanding schools, high-poverty schools, and underserved schools. It questions the blanket application of the term ‘hard to staff’ in the current landscape of teacher shortages, recognising that not all schools face identical issues of workforce shortages. The presentation underscores the importance of fine-tuning the definition to better capture the complexities of teacher shortages in diverse school settings. The focus needs to be on refining the term to include schools that have not only experienced teacher loss but also struggled to replace departing teachers. It calls for a more nuanced approach in defining schools facing teacher shortages, acknowledging the varied impacts on teachers in different settings.
Looking Forward: Towards Solutions and Systemic Change
In conclusion, the symposium acts as a call for urgent action. It highlights the need for comprehensive policies and practices that address the root causes of teacher shortages. By redefining and refining existing approaches to teacher induction, supporting career change teachers, and acknowledging the diverse and multi-faceted challenges faced by the existing teaching workforce, Australia can pave the way for a sustainable and robust education system. The ultimate goal is to empower teachers, foster a sense of ownership, and ensure the continuity of quality education for all students across the country.
The following post is by Jane Polley, University of Tasmania
Politics, education, the arts: A critical discourse analysis of the 2022 PISA creative expression results
The AARE conference provides such a wonderful opportunity to present during my PhD journey to an interested and knowledgeable audience.
Today as part of the Politics and Policy in Education SIG strand, I presented my paper- An intersection of politics, education, and the arts in curriculum: a critical discourse analysis of the 2022 PISA creative expression results.
I was able to present on the way that transnational testing regimes, like PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), are high-stakes, high-visibility, influential drivers of education policy. I showed how the media and think tanks produce articles and reports that invoke PISA results to push certain agendas.
We are at a critical juncture because a week from today the results for PISA 2022 will be released. As well as Reading, Science and Mathematics being assessed, creative thinking has also, ostensibly, been evaluated for the first time.
As an arts educator I’m fascinated to see whether narratives around creativity and creative thinking have any impact on the profile and discourse of the arts in education.
What was so gratifying about today was to be in a room with engaged and active listeners who asked such informed and interesting questions and provoked me to think in new directions. Thank you to AARE, my fellow session presenters, and our fabulous audience, I go into my data gathering phase with renewed zeal and zest.
The following post is by Katie Burke, University of Southern Queensland on the presentation of her PhD student Natalie Gonzalez
School education challenges for Australia’s military-connected students
Tuesday afternoon’s presentation by PhD Candidate, Natalie Gonzalez gave an interesting angle on this year’s theme of “Truth, Voice, Place” by exploring the lived educational experiences of military-connected children in Australia.
These children can be required to move intrastate, interstate, or even overseas due to regular postings which can occur as often as every two years.
The existing research in this space predominantly comes from the United States and indicates that mobility has a negative impact and is a source of inequality for school students. Australian perspectives are thus very much in need.
The numbers of military connected children in Australia are not small. Census data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that approximately 40 000 ADF personnel have at least one dependent child or student.
The Australian educational landscape compounds challenges to families who experience repeated mobility. Each of the six states and two territories implement curriculum differently, and this is compounded when considering differences across state and private schools.
Natalie has heard the experiences of 12 former military connected students, ages 18-23 through semi-structured interviews. Her analysis of the resulting data is still underway, however initial insights present a compelling picture related predominantly to aspects pertaining to preparing to move, friendships and curriculum.
In the presentation, we gained a more personal insight these themes and their impacts on individuals through the characters of Charlie and Taylor.
Charlie attended 6 schools across five states in his schooling years. Taylor attended seven schools in five locations across three states. Their significant mobility and attendant disruptions to education was consistent for most of Natalie’s participants.
While Charlie and Taylor told different stories, what was consistent was mentions of disruptions to routine, fractured friendships and navigating inconsistent application of curriculum. However, they also told of resilience and determination.
Natalie’s emerging findings demonstrate the very real need for specific support structures for Australia’s military connected kids and other who experience regularly mobility, which appears well timed.
Research from Natalie’s project will provide vital, Australia-specific insights that should underscore future recommendations and support.
The following post is by Seamus Delaney of Deakin University, based on his presentation today.
Chemistry: Equipping students (and their teachers) to cope in a changing world
Education systems have a critical role in generating a self-sense of teacher and student agency towards addressing critical challenges facing society today. Easy to say, hard to implement. Science/Chemistry teachers regularly use authentic real-world contexts, such as microplastics, ocean acidification or rising anthropogenic emissions, to engage students meaningfully in their learning. However, new curriculum content incorporating green and sustainable chemistry (renewable feedstocks, designing safer chemicals, prevention of waste) being implemented globally in the science classroom tends to gloss over some of the thornier issues, or at least the socio-political factors.
For example, science teachers might feel comfortable to discuss with their students the chemical properties of novel batteries used in electric cars, but how about the politics of electric cars, or the ethics of electric cars? How would they feel overseeing a classroom discussion of how resources and labour in the global south are being exploited to implement the green energy transition, primarily to benefit the global north?
This session presented on an ongoing international initiative supporting teachers to teach chemistry more holistically in high schools, by incorporating human level factors. Professional learning workshops ran in New Zealand and Australia across 2021-2023 challenged teachers to ask themselves (and so later their students) for whom has our material world been designed. In ‘systems thinking’ speak, we ask for whose benefit have the boundaries of a system been defined. Is it multi-species? Is it decolonised? Classroom ready examples included systems-oriented maps constructed by students and teachers provide opportunities for students to explore and express concepts and connections related to chemical or manufacturing processes.
Students reported being challenged (in a good way) to delve deeper chemical processes, with real-world connections more apparent to them. Teachers reported that the systems thinking skills embedded in the mapping exercise ensured students didn’t miss these real-world connections, particularly the unintended consequences/outcomes of materials. Future research is exploring a greater breadth of contexts and further teacher support material, being made available on a project website.
The following post was written by Susan Page, Western Sydney University.
Reclaiming our Indigenous birthright
Professor Marcia Langton’s keynote speech addressed two key but intertwined ideas: that education about Indigenous cultures and histories is critical to be taught in our schools, for Indigenous Australian children and for all Australian children. Drawing on her own history, Professor Langton reminded the largely non-Indigenous audience of our She argued that the Australian education system meets neither the broader commitments of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People nor the national obligations outlined by AITSL and the Indigenous cross-curriculum priorities.
She pointed to the successive failures of the school education system to meet the Indigenous cross-curriculum priority, indicating that of the three cross-curriculum priorities, (sustainability and Asia) that the Indigenous priority is the only one considered optional and that this represents an existential threat to Indigenous survival.
Making the connection between the failure of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum and societal ignorance of Indigenous matters, Professor Langton offered the provocative proposition that the education system continues to contribute to genocide by omitting the teaching of Indigenous languages and cultures.
“Education in our schools almost completely ignores Indigenous history,” she said.
She argues that Indigenous education is vital for Indigenous children who should be able to learn and their history and culture, in the same way the education system schools children in western culture and history. Just as important though is Indigenous education for all Australian children to remedy to ignorance that has been so evident during the Voice referendum campaign.
Professor Langton also made some comments about her own experiences during the referendum. She said she had been accused of benefiting from British colonisation because she is articulate and educated – yet this glosses over her childhood of poverty on the margins and denies her intellect and agency. Her father was an indentured labourer.
She was in her thirties before she realised she had grown up in the shadow of the destruction of a complex knowledge system and she began to think about the genocide of Indigenous people, a history made real through her own family story.
“All Australian children deserve to know about 65,000 years of Indigenous cultures and histories,” she said.
“We want our children to get a proper education – and to be educated in their own languages and cultures.”
The University of Melbourne is conducting the Ngarrngga, creating high-quality, innovative curriculum resources for educators, and designed to overcome educator hesitancy and fear. There will be a series of research trials to see if this works.
The lecture was interrupted by a proPalestine protestor playing a song about Palestine. That person was ushered out by security. There was a proPalestine protest outside.
Professor Langton said there was no excuse for either antisemitism or Islamophobia and handled the interruption calmly.
The following post is by Haley Tancredi, PhD candidate, QUT’s Centre for Inclusive Education and was from her poster presentation on Tuesday.
Professional conversations: supporting teachers to enact inclusive education
Professional conversations are structured, classroom pedagogy-focused discussions between professionals. In the Accessible Assessment ARC Linkage study, 21 secondary school English teachers participated in fortnightly professional conversations, and these discussions formed an integral component of the Accessible Pedagogies Program of Learning.
So how can professional conversations support teachers to refine their pedagogical practices for inclusive education, particularly for students with language and/or attentional difficulties? And how are professional conversations different from regular coaching conversations?
Genuine inclusive education, at the chalkface
Genuine inclusive education is everyone’s business and requires systemic reform across policy and governance, leadership, and in the classroom. This united approach is heralded in General Comment No. 4 on Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which defines inclusive education as:
“…a process of systemic reform embodying changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures and strategies in education to overcome barriers”.
However, students’ experiences of inclusion will be largely shaped by their classroom experiences. This is because the pedagogical practices used by teachers can substantially contribute to the “changes and modifications” that students require to be included, rather than integrated.
Therefore, regular classroom teachers are at the chalkface of implementing inclusive education.
Teachers often report that they are supportive of inclusive education. However, there are practical realities, such as a lack of professional support, resources, planning time, and access to specialist support, that can reduce teachers’ confidence to uphold the aims of inclusive education.
The recent Disability Royal Commission Final Report – Volume 7 (Inclusive education, employment and housing) also identified that existing teacher professional development opportunities “do not fully support teachers to gain capabilities to better support students with disability”. This is concerning, because we must invest in teachers to support them to build the skills and confidence required to provide accessible, high quality, whole class instruction.
Lecture-style professional development also fail to take local teaching contexts into account and neglect teacher practitioner knowledge, skill, and expertise. While approaches like this often include nice catering and comfortable venues, they are expensive, and beyond offering a nice day out, do not represent quality investment in our teacher workforce.
Teaching is complex, intellectual work and so it follows that teacher professional development needs to offer technical support to teachers to refine their practices.
Therefore, modern approaches to high-quality and effective professional learning must be intensive, sustained, and provide active learning opportunities. Professional development that is structured in this way can support teachers to reflect on and refine specific pedagogical skills that can be readily embedded in the classroom.
In the US, examples of multiple touchpoint and sustained teacher professional development already exist. For example, MyTeachingPartner is an evidence-based approach to teacher professional development, focused on practice refinements to enhance student-teacher relationships. One element of this approach is regular, individual coaching sessions.
We have drawn on these international examples and have developed an approach to professional conversations that aim to support teachers to enact inclusive education in their unique classroom contexts.
Professional conversations are highly structured, action-focused, individual coaching sessions that take place to support teachers to refine their practice. In the Accessible Assessment ARC Linkage project, we used professional conversations as one element of the program of learning in Accessible Pedagogies, alongside an online learning platform and a group professional learning community.
We knew that professional conversations would require an investment from both teachers and the research team, but we also knew that it would be time and energy well spent.
Twenty-one secondary English teachers were invited to participate in four, fortnightly professional conversations across one school term in 2022. With the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, illness, and other school commitments, 80 professional conversations took place in total.
Each conversation followed a consistent structure, where the teacher and researcher discussed professional learning materials, shared co-constructed feedback on teaching practice, and discussed and planned pedagogical practice refinements.
Before each conversation, we also invited teacher participants to watch a short video segment of themselves teaching. This gave us some common ground from which we could engage in iterative feedback cycles, focused on the Accessible Pedagogies Domains (linguistic, procedural, and visual accessibility).
Figure 1.Overview of the Accessible Pedagogies Program of Learning
Here are some of the teacher’s reflections on the value and impact of professional conversations:
“It was really good. It’s been an interesting process. Sometimes I felt a little bit overwhelmed and stretched, but no, it’s been great.” (Teacher C2)
“It’s my seventh year of teaching, um, or coming up to being my seventh. And I think it’s so important to do things that make you look at the way you do things” (Teacher A2)
“I guess we started looking at our own practices. For me, it’s been really enjoyable to be learning something again and to kind of be forced to reflect. You know, we walk out and look and then we just kind of carry on with our day, whereas now I’m putting in a bit more. Not necessarily more time, but more effort and thinking more about the lessons and really trying to break up the lessons. That first one you filmed, there was just a lot of teacher talk when there would have been a lot of opportunity for the kids to do an activity, like today’s lesson. I really tried to reflect on that and get the kids to do stuff, and I have easily kept collecting answers on the board, and I was like, ‘No, you do it’.” (Teacher C4)
“It’s just been really interesting to be able to be very reflective. I guess I reflect on my practice sometimes, but I guess to reflect on it more explicitly and be aligned with certain categories, you know, like with the visual, linguistic and procedural rather than just thinking of a lesson as a whole. I guess it’s pretty easy for us to over complicate things sometimes. But, you know, lessons don’t always have to be, you know, extravagant. Things that take forever to put together. It’s more about, you know, making sure that the right pieces are there for kids to be able to access what you’re trying to teach them, because you can come up with a lesson and PowerPoint. But if the kids can’t decipher what’s on it, you’ve wasted your time doing it.” (Teacher B5)
The professional conversations in our research offered teachers the opportunity to build professional trust, reciprocity, and engage in deep professional practice discussions. These opportunities were critical to supporting teachers to feel confident to interrogate their typical practice and make practice refinements.
This study provides early data on the impact and value of professional conversations to support regular, secondary school teachers to enact inclusive education. These findings have the potential to inform high-impact principles for future teacher professional learning in Australia and beyond.
At the 2023 AARE Conference, in Melbourne, I presented this work at a poster presentation (view the poster here). It was wonderful to share the value and impact of professional conversations with academics from across Australia, including academics from early childhood, initial teacher education, and English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) education. The people I spoke to shared that they could see how targeted professional conversations could apply in their fields of study and work with educators.
We thank the 21 teachers who participated in the Accessible Pedagogies program of learning for being open, willing, and brave to deeply reflect on and refine their practices in this way.
The following post is by Steven Kolber on Schools and education systems
What’s the difference? Listening or holding hands
The ever inflamed ‘evidence-based’ framing of education has brought a continuing hum of activity to this area of research. Alongside the ever present perceived gap between teachers and researchers, schools and the academy.
The Monash Q project focussed on how teachers talk about quality research use, focussing on outlining general principles of research use rather than simply hot-spotting the examples of excellence that exist.
Individually, research engagement came from curiosity, taken from the page to the classroom or vice versa. As a way to zoom out from the day-to-day work and finding outside help. Some teachers spoke about pedagogical and learning models adopted and used within the classroom being applied and used to plot a process of research engagement.
As a shared collaborative practice, the action of including research use into school practices and processes. This work was relational, collaborative – and just became an accepted part of school culture, and thus invisible.
The final, most oblique framing is as an invested practice, meaning research was viewed as an investment that must bear fruit. Tying into purposefulness and the implicit capitalist neoliberal framing of this concept, teachers view this through a cost-benefit-analysis (CBA) approach.
In closing these implications were provided, and serve as useful provocations for those not within the session.
Overcoming the research/practice juncture? Investigating research use as an educational practice.
Blake Cutler, Monash University; Mark Rickinson, Monash University; Joanne Gleeson, Monash University; Lucas Walsh, Monash University; Genevieve Hall, Monash University
Shifting research use, we moved to leaders applying and implementing research for impact. The Australian Education Research Organisation (known colloquially as the initialism AERO) sits as an organisation aiming to support teachers to make use of research through evidence-based practices. The implementation science that is far too often absent from schools, alongside evaluation of effectiveness.
This support is provided directly to schools and ECECs and also via the system structures. The learning partner project has focused on direct instruction, through coaching, PL and planning support and is working with 14 schools across Australian states and looking to scale up best practice approaches.
These small scale works on schools would ideally be followed up with further, and more generalisable research into these spaces, at a later date. The messy work of implementation was approached through a staged approach. Working alongside schools as something of a ‘critical friend’ or ‘critical outsider’ can provide a challenging lens to ensure schools are teaching a clear vision for the stages of implementation. A research approach was adopted to gaining a clearer understating of barriers and enablers through a qualtrics survey accessed via smart phones.
The core differences between the two sessions was the stance of listening to teachers, contrasted to holding hands and supporting leadership teams to implement research, both practices will produce different insights that will serve to improve research use within schools. As an area of research keeping the focus on research as praxis and practice rather than an empty zombie noun is a must – and each of these sessions provided this.
Supporting schools with deliberate, structured approaches to implementing evidence-based teaching practices Belinda Parker, Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO); Stephanie Murphy, Australian Education Research Organisation
Header image of audience, courtesy of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre.
The following post is by Lizzie Mann, doctoral student, Flinders University
Teachers are storytellers. We should listen
The grey gloom couldn’t dampen the energy and excitement at the AARE Conference. It was an absolute pleasure to present my forthcoming doctoral research with passionate peers in Rural Education and Teachers’ Work and Lives.
My presentation shared the stories of early career teachers and the factors that influenced their work and life in rural, regional, and remote Australia.
Teachers are storytellers. To hear their voices, see through their eyes, and tell their stories, I crafted research portraits from my interview data. Each “portrait” of each early career teachers “painted” with their words the compelling, rich rural work and life experiences.
To share the themes that influenced early career teachers’ rural work and life, I crafted research poems. Each themed poem was crafted with all early career teachers’ words, their different perspectives and experiences woven into a narrative flow.
With much attention focused on the teacher shortages gripping our nation, teacher voice is critical.
Teachers, early career and experienced, rural and metropolitan, should tell their stories. The media, governments, and universities are not the only storytellers. Stakeholders must value and listen to teachers’ voice, perspectives, and experiences of their work and life in the profession.
Engage in conversation. Change the narrative. Support our teachers.
The following post is by Jess Harris, University of Newcastle.
Schools in a state of arrhythmia
The evolving challenges in the principals’ role in Australia and England:
Anyone who has worked within or with schools is aware that the role of the principalship is relentless. Principals hold responsibility for the social, emotional and physical wellbeing of teachers and students, in addition to needing to lead teaching and learning, address policy issues and plan for ongoing improvement. These papers in this symposium each highlighted that responsibilities can weigh heavily on school leaders and have been exacerbated by the disruptions caused by COVID.
In her paper, Pat Thomson drew on Lefebvre’s thought of rhythmanalysis to illustrate the standard rhythms within schools. School closures, shifting policy landscapes, and ever changing regulations disrupted these rhythms, leaving schools in a state of arrhythmia.
This period has added substantially to the workload of principals, with many reporting that they felt that they had no time off and their concerns that the constant overload was having negative impacts on their mental and physical health.
These concerns were echoed by the team from Australian Catholic University, who showed that the wellbeing of principals is at crisis point. Their survey identified that the status of principals’ mental health and workload was worse in 2022 than it was during 2020. One potential explanation for this, raised in Pat’s session, is that schools and school leaders are often asked to take on greater responsibility but work is rarely, if ever, taken away.
The team from Monash, led by Jane Wilkinson, highlighted that the diversity and complexity of this role requires educational leaders to be strategic leaders, effective managers and show care and compassion for those in their school community. Their emotional labour means that they often prioritise teacher and student wellbeing before their own.
While this symposium identified so many evolving challenges for school leaders, there were some glimmers of hope. First, the Monash team reported that clear policies and procedures can provide principals with a sense of ontological safety. These provide something of a map to support school leaders to respond to critical incidents strategically, meaning that they can set their emotions aside – at least while dealing with crises. Furthermore, the chaos and complexity of COVID lockdowns made visible much of the work, including the emotional labour, that school leaders do. While this doesn’t help principals in the short term, hopefully the growing public recognition of their care for teachers and students, often at the expense of their own mental and physical health, will prompt some much-needed action from school systems.
This following blog post is by Naomi Barnes, QUT.
Staying with trouble
Generative discussion about the challenges to education of the COVID 19 pandemic was the topic of a symposium led by Susanne Gannon from Western Sydney University. The educational inequalities and (post)pandemic legacies in Australia, Denmark and Brazil symposium probably brought up more questions than solutions, each paper demonstrated the multifaceted challenges of schools and their communities without even scratching the surface of the complexities. But this is a good thing. It’s generative because we can’t just all agree on a way to move forward.
The pandemic has made visible many tensions that education researchers need to fully consider. Rather than accepting the binary of ‘good and bad’, the desire for what education is and what it can be, lived side by side throughout the pandemic, and by sharing our stories and research around the world we can begin to develop a global conversation about what the point of education is. Tensions exist between parents delegitimising the purpose of school as opposed to those who needed it to do what it has always done. Australian parents deciding how much of the provided school work to do was juxtaposed with children in Brazil doing any of the homework they can on a mobile phone and the very real impact of two years of disrupted education on learning. Some parents spoke of how inclusive schooling from home was for their children with learning needs because they could adjust for each child, was placed in tension with the huge inequalities that exist between those parents that could help their children and those that could not because they were essential workers.
Ultimately, the pandemic has shown us that education is in an uncomfortable place. But the advantage of being uncomfortable is that it demands we work, and continue to work, on ourselves, our theoretical frameworks, our analyses, our support of the teaching profession and the communities that are entangled with the education system. We can’t just pick and choose which research outcomes we will apply to match our pre-pandemic agendas because it is just so starkly unethical it is to pick a one-size-fits-all solution.
There was a huge cast of academics and educators trying to come to terms with the meaning of education before/during the pandemic and the one that is still continuing today. Sharing experiences and listening to other points of view, the team was ‘staying with the trouble’.
Paper 1: ‘Reworldings’: exploring perspectives on the future from Danish and Australian youth during COVID-19
Paper 2: Parental educational agency during COVID-19
Paper 3: Educational inequalities at the pandemic context: diagnosis and propositions for Brazilian public policies
This following blog post is by Steven Kolber, University of Melbourne
Weaving Indigenous knowledges
These three sessions on Indigenous knowledges dovetailed wonderfully with the overarching metaphor of weaving. Weaving strength-based and culturally responsive leadership; weaving reflective and relational approaches through storying pedagogy: and weaving stories of strength from across Australia, Aotearoa, Canada, and the United States.
Throughout all three sessions, respect, representation and developing a pipeline of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholarship and excellence were present.
The ever-present deficit framing of ‘Closing the gap’ and other policy documents was challenged, through the role of leaders roles within creating spaces where excellence is the norm to counter this framing. The importance of leaders holding a clear understanding of race as a social construct as well as their core role to establish conditions for quality teaching and learning.
Indigenising the academy through storying as a means to allow students to consider their own biases and expectations was outlined with exciting student writing examples presented. The pedagogical and conceptual framing of this approach was also outlined. The five core Storying principles were explored as follows:
Principle 1: storying nourishes thought, body and soul
Principle 2: storying claims voice in the silenced margins
Principle 3: storying is embodied relational meaning making
Principle 4: storying intersects the past and present as living oral archive
Principle 5: storying enacts collective ownership and authorship
Closing out the trio of sessions, an overview of First Nations and Indigenous knowledge inclusion within the systems of Australia, Aotoroea, Canada and the United States. Then stories of Indigenous experts were presented alongside their framing of best practice work within their relevant contexts.
A very clear message of weaving strength based narratives throughout work in this field was developed alongside the lack of listening to expertise from Indigenous people within Australia and elsewhere. The need to listen, value and respect First Nation voices was reified through a range of possible actions and interventions.
The presentations were:
Weaving the strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices into school leadership in Australia Antoinette Cole, University of Queensland
Weaving a knowledge basket through storying: Enhancing student engagement in tertiary Indigenous Studies through a reflective and relational approach to teaching and learning Tracey Bunda, The University of Queensland; Katelyn Barney, The University of Queensland; Lisa Oliver, The University of Queensland
Weaving Stories of Strength: Utilising a framework towards Indigenising the Classroom Tasha Riley, Griffith University, Griffith Institute of Educational Research; Troy Meston, Griffith University; Chesley Cutler, Griffith University; Samantha Low-Choy, Griffith University | Griffith Institute of Educational Research | Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security; Brittany McCormack, Griffith University, Griffith Institute of Educational Research; Eun-Ji Amy Kim, Griffith University; Sonal Nakar, Griffith University; Daniela Vasco, Griffith University; Eunjae Park, Griffith University; Emily Wright, Griffith University
Mary Lou Rasmussen delivered the 2023 Redford Lecture this morning. What follows is an extract. #AARE2023
We love the Matildas – so what do we think about men’s football?
In part two of this lecture, I introduce my understanding of everyday public pedagogies of gender/sex/sexualities. These public pedagogies are familiar, they feed habits of thinking and feeling about gender/sex/sexualities. In order to imagine what’s possible, it’s valuable to examine what these public pedagogies can do, what they do to us, how they make us feel and what “we” can learn about ourselves by attending to the above.
Things worthy of the national embrace?
Things that give us pause?
She/her – He/Him
Ru Paul’s Drag Race
Drag Queen Story Time
Sex Education – on Netflix
Sex Education – in schools
Same Sex Marriage
Voice to Parliament
Gender inclusive bathrooms
When I think about public pedagogies of gender, sex and sexualities in “so-called Australia” in 2023 these are just some of the things I have in mind. That “we” love the Matildas, but “we” recognise that men’s football has quite a way to go until it is seen as inclusive as the women’s game. That some pronouns are more equal than others. I learned that Drag Queens have their place, it’s just not in the library, with “our children”. That while “we” continue to agonize over the content of school-based sexuality education, Netflix’ Sex Education series 4, was the most popular series streamed in Australia for two weeks. That while the same-sex marriage survey felt right- a form of inclusion whose time had come, the “Voice to Parliament” referendum, not so much, “we” were not there yet. That accessible bathrooms that don’t specify a gender are okay. However, bathrooms that don’t specify a gender are potentially confusing, if they are for people who are able-bodied.
Beyond the list, public pedagogies are enacted in the ways “we” count gender and sexualities in our research surveys. It’s the way “we” talk about males and females, when most likely “we” might be focused on women and men but “we” often fail to understand the difference between sex and gender in the research that “we” do. It’s the way “we” design homes with particular sorts of families in mind. Or school/work/sports uniforms with particular sorts of bodies in mind. It’s in the ways that “we” talk about “working families” – that backbone of Australian society – predictably evoked at every election cycle like “we” all know and understand just what a “working family” is. It’s public votes on who should be included in our polity and/or our constitution.
When public pedagogies of gender, sex and sexualities are seen in the broad, then “recognition politics” will be insufficient to apprehend and respond to the complexities they surface. A focus on inclusion of LGBTQ subjects in education, health and housing is valuable, but it is also insufficient. A focus on recognition and inclusion can obscure ways in which gender/sex/sexualities are entwined and embodied.
Affects teach us. What can “we” learn when “we” pay attention to pleasure, disgust, discomfort and joy in relation to gender/sex/sexualities? In his critique of public pedagogies Glenn Savage asks us to reconceptualize “what pedagogy means in contemporary times [and] that informal sites of learning need to be re-imagined as spaces of resistive and regulatory potential: as dynamic, dialectical, and political spaces through which new visions can and will be forged” (2010:104). Public pedagogies of gender, sex and sexualities are, at least as I imagine them, at once, dynamic/regulatory/resistive. These public pedagogies, I hope you’ll agree, are directed towards us all, though maybe, sometimes, it feels like they are more for some, than others, do you know what I mean? Today, at least, I am not interested in what young people feel, what teachers feel, or parents or administrators. I am focused on this community of researchers in education and how together “we” can contemplate the affective and habitual discontinuities and continuities that adhere to the flows of gender, sex and sexualities in these public pedagogies.
As an academic who has been working in the space for over 20 years, I want to admit to being unsure about just how I should think or feel about gender/sex/sexualities and the ways that they are entwined with racism, settler-colonialism, religion, secularism, late capitalism, non/reproduction and ableism. This is especially the case when, each year, I engage with undergraduates and doctoral students who I feel are living with these shifting terrains in ways that I am just not; as a they/them, she/her, settler, monogamous, gen x, queer professor.
Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen has undertaken research in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Her research focuses on building transdisciplinary understanding of sexuality and gender across diverse lifeworlds, taking account of issues related to sexual citizenship, cultural and religious difference and technologies of sexuality, education and health. She is co-editor, with Louisa Allen, of the Handbook of Sexuality Education (Palgrave).
Please write, comment, participate about our AARE2023 blog on social media using this hashtag #AARE2023.
Voices from the panel
Three amazing academics shared insights and experiences from the journeys they have travelled as early career researchers. Dr. Simon Knight (University of Technology Sydney), Dr. Eve Mayes (Deakin University), and Dr. Victoria Rawlings (University of Sydney) joined our panel to talk about those critical junctures they encountered that led them to where they are now in their research careers.
Voice, truth, and place, as the AARE 2023 conference theme, resonated for each with the importance of amplifying voice, speaking to issues of social justice, and the challenge of addressing injustices that pervade education and society as key to their work. As Eve stated, we need to open ourselves up to “unlearning ourselves”, and Victoria went on to ask the audience to think about:
“Who’s voices are important in your research? Who is silenced? How can we amplify their voices?”
Even further, how do we research in places that make global links without, as Eve suggests, “flattening local peculiarities.”
Each of these academics was cognisant of understanding their purpose of research and being a researcher.
Victoria spoke about the fact that “schools [as places] need to be bold” to make changes that will make a difference, and we, as researchers, have an important role and one in which we are given considerable trust and responsibility to support them to navigate this work.
The panel discussed the meaning of being a researcher, and Victoria talked about the many different responsibilities that researchers have to their communities and everyone they work with, including emerging researchers. Simon raised the fact that education suffers as a marginalised discipline globally, and yet, it is such a rich and broad space.
“It’s why I work in education… education research points to thorny and difficult dilemmas and that’s the stuff that I enjoy”.
Eve furthered this by adding a provocation about the privileging of particular actors’ research, providing a wonderful anecdote as to how deeply students themselves will theorise about schooling and education.
“As researchers, we need to think about how we can be responsive to the questions and needs of our schools, and in helping communities to answer these questions, we all benefit”.
When asked what message they would like to leave the postgraduates and ECRs with:
“Work out why you are doing it” (Eve)
“Work out what are the things you care about and look at the opportunities that come to see what will help you….and there is no unswerving path to your research career, and speaking with others will help you”
Victoria likened academia to a football game in the rain- it might be scrappy and muddy, and there are very few perfect goals and just try and get some possessions along the way- it will build up partnerships and small grants, and if all else fails get a cat”.
Blog three! Ellen Larsen reports from the Lightning Talks!
The future of education research is in good hands
The buzz was tangible and the excitement obvious as we headed into the break-out rooms for the Lightning Talks. A highly anticipated part of the Preconference Day is the Lightning Talk session. These talks are an opportunity for postgraduate and early career researcher participants on the day to deliver a lightning-fast two- to three-minute snapshot of their research, with a chance to respond to questions and receive invaluable peer feedback from their conference colleagues. Over the hour we heard a total of 21 Lightning Talks! We were both inspired and excited by the breadth and depth of the education research undertaken by these emerging researchers. Their research has challenged us to think differently about curriculum and pedagogy, issues of social justice, and contemporary challenges facing education both in Australia and internationally. These Talks have highlighted the considerable theoretical and methodological expertise among these AARE members, and the quality of these presentations was reflected by the enthusiastic participation of the audience and the discussion generated. Congratulations to all contributing researchers in this session.
Clearly, the future of education research is in good hands. Feedback from the session reflects the collegial ways of working of this next wave if researchers the field: “I couldn’t even imagine that I would see connections between my research topic and some of the others I had the privilege of listening to, but I did. We really are working together to progress education!” “What an opportunity to be immersed in such a wide range of ideas and thinking about education. A brilliant session and I am excited to keep learning about these projects over time.”
Our second contribution is from Jessica Holloway. Read Kevin Lowe’s post below.
How to be generous as a researcher – our collective tapestry
In the landscape of educational research, I find myself contemplating the collaborative nature of knowledge creation. Like the threads of a rug converging, our diverse backgrounds and expertise intertwine to create a collective tapestry of understanding. While this metaphor may sound overly romantic, it encapsulates the essence of how I see our scholarly pursuit. I shared my thoughts on educational research with those attending the AARE pre-conference. What follows are some of the ideas I discussed earlier today.
The theme was: “Truth, Voice, Place: Critical Junctures for Educational Research” so I explored the intricate interplay between expertise, knowledge creation, and the shared responsibilities within academia.
Within the intricate tapestry, questions about individual and collective expertise come to mind. The act of citation, particularly the principle of making labour visible, plays a crucial role. Citation goes beyond mere acknowledgment; it is a deliberate choice that shapes discourse and determines whose voices and traditions are recognized in our collective knowledge creation.
At the same time, expertise is not a solitary possession; it is a mosaic formed by weaving together various ideas, traditions, and experiences. Navigating an academic landscape that oftentimes amplifies specific voices over others requires a critical examination of citation practices, recognizing their material consequences within a power-laden dynamic.
Furthermore, accepting that we each play many roles within the knowledge creation process (e.g., researcher, author, editor, supervisor) can help us not only fortify resilience in the face of rejection, but also foster a sense of unity within the academic community. I hope for a steadfast commitment to ethical research practices and a perspective that views individual contributions as integral components of a broader intellectual pursuit. In other words, the work is bigger than each of us individually.
Bearing this in mind, expertise also requires a degree of intellectual humility and curiosity. The loss of my dad to COVID-19 entirely reshaped my own perspective on matters of truth and knowledge. It forced me to accept the limitations of analytical tools in capturing the complexity of human existence. It also made me realise that not having the answers can create a valuable space for curiosity and the emergence of new insights.
Finally, I want to raise generosity as an often-overlooked aspect of academic endeavours. Fostering connections, building relationships, and creating space for others can help assuage the potential isolation in our profession. This collective effort can sustain us through the challenges and joys of our scholarly journey, and it will ultimately lead to better knowledge creation.
As we look forward, it’s crucial to recognize that the ideas and traditions shared today will contribute to the ongoing construction of the academic fabric. Each stitch, informed by our collective efforts, adds to the rich tapestry of knowledge. Grateful to be part of this academic community, I anticipate the remarkable contributions that each of you will make.
Our first contribution is from UNSW’s Kevin Lowe, who gave the AARE Pre-Conference Keynote
The role of educational research is one of immense responsibility, both in the conceptualisation and execution of studies that aim to bring deeper understanding to the range of issues that seem to impact the life trajectories of many students in schools.
This keynote presentation showcased the foundational principles and research practices that have been underpinned by the Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project. The target audience is higher-degree research students and early career researchers.
This presentation focuses on three interrelated ideas and the projects that ensure from them, with the hope that they provide valuable insights and propose effective strategies for the education of First Nations students in schools throughout Australia.
The presentation focussed on:
Building a research platform for consequential action: A four-year project. The initial focus looks to the question of deepening our understanding of the field such that we can push back on education systems assertions on ‘research-informed’ policy and practice change. I will focus for a moment on why I and others spent three years to undertake a comprehensive review of recent Australian research on the education of First Nations students. I will discuss the purpose of this work, and then orientate my comments to the impact of this landmark project on the future development of a critically informed educational program.
Secondly, the presentation explained how these systematic reviews were used to develop the Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project. The initial iteration of this project has been implemented in eight schools across New South Wales as a practice/research initiative between 8 researchers, 5 staff and 8 schools. Its aim is to promote a whole-school approach, where schools are seen to work with First Nations families and communities to shift schooling practices. I will briefly describe how the project works with teachers to deepen their understanding of the histories and cultures of local communities, and how this consequently impacts on their beliefs and teaching and learning practices. It also examines curriculum theories in relation to teachers and indigenous knowledge. Lastly, it provides support to teachers in developing a relational pedagogy that aligns with discipline-oriented practices.
Finally, the presentation delved into an investigation of how deeply entrenched epistemic constructs regarding Indigenous peoples, knowledge, and culture are ingrained in the fundamental constructs of educational policy. This discussion aims to uncover how these assumptions are embedded in ways that are considered normal and foundational, and therefore, persist over time to the detriment of educational opportunities for First Nations students.
Our goal is to create sophisticated programs that can tackle intricate problems effectively. We conduct research with the aim of making a tangible impact in the world.
Kevin Lowe (firstname.lastname@example.org)is a Gubbi Gubbi man from southeast Queensland. He is a Scientia Indigenous Fellow at UNSW, working on a community and school focused research project on developing a model of sustainable improvement in Aboriginal education. Kevin has had experience in education as a teacher, administrator and lecturer. He has expertise in working with Aboriginal community organisations on establishing Aboriginal language policy and school curriculum implementation. Recently Kevin has worked with colleagues to review research across key areas of schooling and established the Aboriginal Voices a broad-base, holistic project which is developing a new pedagogic framework for teachers.
These are crucial challenges creating chaos in the sector as educators head for the door in droves since before the pandemic. This alone is impacting families and the ability of Australian parents to work.
Neglect and abuse
After successive government neglect (poor pay and status) and abuse (overwork, underpay and unpaid hours) of educators over the years, suddenly the sector is getting attention. However, as this report shows, the Commission’s attention is on the wellbeing of the children and families.
While families need attention and are very deserving, there still seems to be a reluctance to talk about educator wellbeing. When educators are mentioned, it is about how to attract more, rather than real solutions on how to nurture and retain those who have had enough.
An early childhood sector in chaos
The Commission does report on the vacancy rate which is over 5000 (over 4.5%), but this does not show the number of services that have given up advertising. Many have simply closed down or reduced the number of rooms they have open.
Many are operating under waivers, meaning they are being staffed by those who are currently studying to meet the mandated requirements of the service. Studying can be difficult when an educator’s service is short staffed.
The report does explain that in ‘childcare desert’ areas, that is, where the need for early learning is greatest, children and families are spending years on waiting lists to access any care they can find.
The Parenthood’s ‘Choiceless’ report about effect of a lack of early learning in regional, rural and remote (RRR) communities shows, this is impacting the: * mental health and wellbeing of parents * access to screening services for children * economic stability of households * safety of children as they are taken to work with parents, * viability of rural businesses and communities, and * viability of families living in RRR communities. In these communities, educators’ role in providing a link to services and supporting parents in their role is vital because access to other services is severely limited. Educators in these areas need more support, because they are often providing more than early learning. They often undertake family support and mental health support roles with the families.
Supporting early childhood educator wellbeing
Educators need an investment in their wellbeing. They need access to funded wellbeing programs, peer support and/or counselling programs. These should be conducted during work hours, otherwise it is only increasing their unpaid hours.
The draft skims over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector, which fared poorly compared to the school sector. The services were: told to stay open, roll out wave after wave of new health care policies, enforce new rules about attendance, required to do additional cleaning with no extra funds or hours. It was as though educators were on a ghost train ride to ‘burnout central’.
Additionally, they were labelled as essential workers, but were not given priority for vaccinations, nor given any recognition. The educational leaders showed great innovation in implementing a range of new ways of working, many which have remained in a post-COVID era.
The report also highlights the benefits of investing in the sector to free up parents to work and increase the access children have to early learning. The report also highlights the overwhelming amount of data available on the sector. They fail to mention how this is collected, often by overworked educators who are trying to collect government data whilst educating and caring for children.
This has led to a ‘datification’ of the sector. It is a constant source of complaints as educators want to work with the children and families. Ironically, the report says there are gaps in the data! Many educators give up trying to complete data collection done while they are on the floor and do the work for free when they are at home. This is appalling given they are the 13 th lowest paid workers in Australia. So, in other industries where no qualifications are needed, workers can earn far more (e.g. in shops, manufacturing, farming and construction).
What the report gets right
The draft report outlines the dire need to remove unpaid practicums for educators because this leads to higher levels of attrition and poverty among educators. Many state governments are offering scholarships to remove university fees, which is encouraging. The report also discusses a range of improvements to assist families to access childcare three days per week, by removing the activity test.
Too little! Too late!
Whilst the politicians are quick to report on their moves in the right direction, the flowers, chocolates and promises have come far too late for many educators who cannot afford to stay in the industry any longer. Many educators can only afford to do the job they love if their partner earns far more, or their parents provide support. In the era of the #MeToo movement, the feminised workforce has had enough of neglect, poverty, being ignored, undervalued, demoralised and abused. They are saying ‘too little, too late’!
Dr Marg Rogers is a Senior Lecturer in the Early Childhood Education. Marg researches marginalised voices within families and education especially in regional, rural and remote communities. Specifically, she researches ways to support the wellbeing of military, first responder and remote worker families and early childhood educators. Marg is a Postdoctoral Fellow within the Commonwealth Funded Manna Institute.
Margaret Sims is a Professor in Early Childhood Education and Care and has worked in the areas of family support and disabilities for many years. She researches in the areas of professionalism in early childhood and higher education, families, disabilities, social justice and families from CaLD backgrounds. She is an Honorary Professor at Macquarie University.