What is the tension between Jason Clare and Tony Burke?

Dan Harris has given two keynotes at national education gatherings this year. This post is based on those keynotes and addresses a gap in education policy research the tension between arts and education.

Education in conflict with cultural portfolio?

There is an urgent tension playing out between two national government portfolios, one which is creating confusion and regressive decision-making in Australian education. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare’s response to emergency-level teacher shortages and an inability to retain the ones we have is characterised by what is known as the TEEP Report, “Strong Beginnings”, which advocates for direct instruction of literacy and numeracy in all teacher training and schools, and increasingly a turn away from embodied, experiential and 21st skills like collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Arts Minister Tony Burke’s National Cultural Policy, ‘Revive’, however, mentions education 37 times, linking arts and education as core to the recovery of a post-COVID vibrant cultural landscape.

National Education review

Last July, the Strong Beginnings: Report of the Teacher Education Expert Panel, otherwise known as (TEEP), set out 14 recommendations to revamp Initial Teacher Education in Australia’s universities. The recommendations were emphasised across four domains – a) strengthening ITE programs to deliver confident, effective beginning teachers; b) strengthening the link between performance and funding of ITE programs; c) improving the quality of practical experiences in teaching; d) and improving access to postgraduate ITE for mid-career entrants.  Creativity nor the arts are mentioned even ONE TIME in its entire 128 pages. Wellbeing is mentioned just once, and only in relation to students. Education experts pushed back: “The loss of agility and likelihood of sameness is thus concerning, cookie cutter education programs seem to be the antithesis of what we need to ensure we attract and graduate a diverse teacher workforce,” wrote Griffith University’s Professor Donna Pendergast. 

Despite an embedded ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ General Capability (CCT) in the Australian Curriculum, and participation in the global PISA Creative Thinking test, our government responds to burnout in the teaching workforce, declining teacher retention, and increasing student disengagement, by ignoring the evidence-based research and pushing a one-size fits all approach to teacher training. To suggest that spelling and adding up are the most important skills our students need for 21st century success is just playing short term politics.

One size doesn’t fit all

In January, The Guardian reported that

“Overwhelmingly, students want to learn anywhere, anytime, but they also want to learn in ways that suit their individual needs. Sixty percent of the students we surveyed are juggling work or family commitments, and increasingly students need to learn at times that suit them. What’s more, 17% of students report having a disability, which may require an adapted approach. For many reasons, the one-to-many traditional model of university teaching is not the best approach for every student.”

Not only COVID, but its acceleration of automated decision-making and predictive AI technology can be seen as an opportunity to re-think and re-do our cultural, creative and educational sectors, including the coming ‘higher education revolution’. 

Minister Clare acknowledged last year that teacher workforce challenges cannot be addressed by any one jurisdiction alone and called on researchers to develop and publish data about teacher wellbeing and career intentions as part of his National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. We now have a chance to respond to this call with a holistic approach to reinvigoration as interdependent sectors in a larger national cultural and creative ecology. 

National Cultural Policy ‘Revive’

REVIVE links arts education as core to a vibrant cultural landscape: “Access to arts and culture through education and training will also assist the capacity of the industry through the development of future audiences for arts and cultural experiences” (p. 52, ). In other words, we have to work together to move forward. REVIVE reminds us that the more than 3.2 million Australian young people (aged 15-24) deserve experiential pathways into cultural and creative jobs. Are they going to get those pathways through a return to direction instruction in schools and teacher education? In fact, it seems as though the two ministers are not even aware of each others’ policies. But given’s Australia’s short-term desire to raise literacy and numeracy scores, and the longterm goal of improving wellbeing, a vibrant cultural sector, and global workplace skills, a combination of direct instruction and creative skills and capacities is one possibility.

REVIVE claims that “Creativity and design thinking have been shown to be increasingly valuable to a range of different disciplines, including to train and upskill individuals across a range of industries” (2023, p. 48). So how is this addressed by the direct instruction injunction to all Initial Teacher Education programs by 2026? REVIVE itself calls for a rethinking of our education system (p. 13). This is government at its schizophrenic worst, with departments not talking to each other, seemingly not even knowing what the other is releasing to the public. 

UNESCO Sustainability Development Goals

Australia is of course a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals. Does a direct instruction approach align with SDG 3 ‘to ensure good health and wellbeing for all at all ages?’ Does an accelerated training program advanced by the Strong Beginnings report ensure that? Teachers need more training, and more support, just like artists and other precarious and overstretched sectors. Not less, like stop-gap “permission to teach” solutions. Just more short-term solutions to long-term challenges.

While REVIVE seems to respond to SDG 4’s call ‘to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (targets 4.3, 4.4, 4.5)’ by re-integrating arts-rich experiences all across compulsory education (not just the early years), the Strong Beginnings report refutes this. 

Lastly, do these contradictory policy and vision strategies enact our commitment to SDG 8’s call ‘to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’ (8.4, 8.5, 8.6) (UN 2020; Sachs 2015)? 

They do not. Teachers are leaving because it is, for many, no longer decent work. Surely sustainable futures – ecologically, economically and emotionally – depend upon longer term commitments than the ones currently on the table.

Daniel X. Harris is a professor at RMIT and a leading international scholar in creativity, diversity and social change. They were most recently an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, DECRA Fellow, RMIT Vice Chancellor’s Primary Research Fellow, and are currently research professor in the School of Education, RMIT University, and Director of Creative Agency research lab:

Why being a mentor is hard. Here’s how to help

In my PhD research, I set out to understand how mentoring works within Initial Teacher Education (ITE) for pre-service teachers (PST). I found that qualified teachers who were appointed as mentors for trainee teachers (PSTs) must adapt their skills to mentor adults. It’s a very different set of skills. We use the term pedagogy to discuss teaching children. We also use the term andragogy when teaching adults. My research analyses a collaborative initiative implemented by a small team of school teachers and me to support and enhance mentoring practices across a school-university partnership (TAPP).

The government recently reported through the National Teacher Education Expert Panel (TEEP) a need for high quality professional experiences under the guidance of experienced and expert teachers. 

Beyond five years

The report noted high quality experiences are essential to preparing, not only graduate teachers, but also teachers who will commit to the profession beyond the critical five year juncture. This report serves as a timely reminder to turn our attention to supporting and valuing mentor teachers’ practices, particularly as mentor teachers shoulder much responsibility for the professional experience component of ITE programs.

Without action, this report could potentially join the long list of Government funded expert reviews, reports and recommendations dating back to 1979, that share similar concerns about the quality of professional experience. Equally important, most reviews and reports acknowledge that the shared delivery of professional experience is both complex and resource intensive, requiring considerable effort and commitment from both schools and ITE providers. 

A pressing challenge

A particularly pressing challenge at this juncture is the need to provide mentor teachers with additional time, structures, and support appropriate to the task of mentoring pre-service teachers. Interesting, across NSW and Victoria Government funded initiatives are resulting in collaborative efforts that are reaping rewards, particularly those that are engaging educators to work in hybrid ways to integrate university and school expertise and knowledge.

What successful strategies or structures can be implemented to support mentor teachers’ practices?

Working within a Teaching Academy of Professional Practice (TAPP)  funded initiative, a small group of school teachers and I recently engaged in a participatory action research project to examine how we could support mentor teachers during the COVID-19 years. The study culminated with 119 mentor teachers leading the implementation of a systematic Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) instructional framework adapted from Pearson and Gallagher’s work. The mentors’ role was to gradually scaffold the pre-service teachers’ responsibility as they moved towards independent teaching. This occurred through a gradual progression from observation, to collaboration, to independence. 

Beyond “I do, you do, we do”

The gradual release of responsibility framework is often over-simplified as a process of “I do, you do, we do” but in this context this process was not linear.  It  existed as a recursive and ongoing interaction. This included shifting perspectives based on the PSTs skills, knowledge and prior experiences.

Progression through “I do, you do, we do” process was also determined by key factors including the learning focus, the timing of the introduction of new skills or strategies and the pre-service teachers’ motivation and readiness to learn in consideration of their previous experiences.    

While it was initially anticipated that mentor teachers would simply transfer the GRR framework from teaching children to teaching adult pre-service teachers, this was not the case. Instead, applying a GRR framework to mentoring adults required significant adaptations. 

Implementation worked best when coupled with dedicated time release early in the professional experience to discuss, map and plan for the pre-service teacher’s involvement in the mentor teacher’s program.

How do you apply a Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework for Mentoring Pre-Service Teachers?

Seven key adaptors emerged as critical to the successful implementation of a GRR framework for mentoring adult pre-service teachers. These are briefly outlined here:

1. Andragogy was central to accommodate and adapt to each adults’ diverse needs and experiences. Andragogy existed on a spectrum ranging from dependence to self-direction and therefore progression through the GRR was negotiated to align with pre-service teachers’ experiences and readiness to adopt responsibility. As a pedagogical practice the teacher consistently determines the progress but with adult pre-service teachers it was a shared reflective practice.

2. Agency includes ownership of learning and the pre-service teachers’ professional identity grew with decision making, professional interactions, and with the application of initiative throughout the GRR process. Mentors scaffolded the PSTs to adapt their practices based on evidence and reflection. Collective agency was enhanced through collaboration and networking to broaden knowledge and perspectives, and this was evidenced through pre-service teachers being invited into professional learning communities. 

3. Reciprocity included an active exchange of knowledge and support between two teachers, the mentor and the PST. Mutual beneficial knowledge exchanges involved mentors recognising the pre-service teachers’ developing insights, experiences, and perspectives. Mentors modelled metacognitive practices, shared expertise and skills and some saw potential for self growth and development as they navigated the complexities of mentoring.

4. Vertical alignment includes providing mentors with coherent content details including the how, what, and when of the professional experience. Providing these details allowed mentors to focus on teaching specific skills and content in a developmentally appropriate manner. Vertical alignment included both the sequence and scope of the professional experience. The sequence defined the focus of the professional experience and outlined specific skills and expectations. The scope, on the other hand, placed the learning sequence within the broader context of the pre-service teachers’ program. It included the identification of standards that pre-service teachers had previously covered and will address in subsequent professional experiences.

5. Feedback within the GRR framework is critical but challenging and recognising this challenge was an early action in the mentor and pre-service teacher relationship. The mentor led by example, demonstrating the purpose and relevance of self-reflection (as an “I do” action). Feedback was actionable, with the pre-service teacher planning their next steps through guided reflection, revisions, and repeated experiences to enhance their practices.

In this context a mentoring GRR approach addressed the contextual complexities inherent in the mentoring process and offered a generalisable approach to mentoring pre-service teachers following interdependent practices of participatory decision making, shared, and reflective practices. As such, the adapted mentoring GRR framework provided a researched informed approach to target mentoring practices through intentional guided interactions. 

Not a magic bullet

The GRR did not provide a magic bullet approach to mentoring but when applied in conjunction with mentor expertise it provided a way to accommodate the complexities inherent in the mentoring process. Therefore, the mentoring GRR framework could potentially afford a structured and supportive solution to mentoring pre-service and early career teachers in a range of contexts.

Those reports and reviews outlined earlier have been implemented in various ways through add-on approaches. Findings from the participatory action research reported here demonstrates the centrality of schools and universities working together in genuine and hybrid ways and sharing a research journey together. The funding from the TAPP initiative allowed the building of a collective ITE provider and school engagement in research to find solutions – which built on existing PST support structures and developed authentic and collaborative approaches to distribute the complex responsibility of mentoring pre-service teachers.

Allison Byth is a lecturer in the School of Education, RMIT. She works extensively in school-university partnerships for professional experience. Allison is in the final stages of completing her doctoral research investigating how hybrid educators impact mentor teachers’ practices. Her research interests are focused on bridging the school-university divide in initial teacher education to foster collaborative and effective practices.