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Trevor Mallard - Focusing on quality teaching

Hon Trevor Mallard
6 July 2004 Speech Notes

Focusing on quality teaching

Biennial conference for Teacher Education Forum for Aotearoa New Zealand (TEFANZ), Auckland College of Education, Epsom Ave, Auckland

Thank you for the invitation to join you here today.

At your last conference I stressed the importance of high quality teacher education and outlined some of the ways I hoped we would start to put a greater focus on teacher education provision and the quality of graduates.

As you know, I instituted the teacher education moratorium in 2000 and I’ve extended it to the end of 2005.

You’ll probably be aware that in the last six months I’ve granted a number of exemptions to the moratorium. I haven’t done this lightly.

I have granted exemptions particularly for new early childhood provision, especially for programmes that cater for Pasifika and Maori educators.

I’m determined to get more assurance of the quality of graduates. I’m impatient to see more effective quality assurance systems and greater responsiveness on the part of providers to what we know about quality teaching.

A number of government agencies have been working in the last year to develop a strategic framework to ensure teacher education graduates are equipped to teach diverse learners effectively. You will be consulted about this framework soon.

The Ministry of Education is keeping me informed of the research programme that is operating this year so that we can get a comprehensive and accurate picture of policy and practice in initial teacher education, including induction. I am eagerly looking forward to the information produced.

Many of you will be involved in this, as researchers, as reference group members and as participants.

I want to turn now to an area of work that I am particularly enthusiastic about because I believe it lies at the heart of our government's commitment and determination to lift education standards for all our students, regardless of their background, regardless of how rich or poor their families are, and regardless of their ethnicity.

What I am talking about is the importance of quality teaching and quality education.

From the "best evidence" research we have a lot more information about what makes successful professional learning for teachers. This series of research is a key knowledge base and important resource for educators, giving important information about what works for children on the ground.

Between individual schools and government, about $120 million is spent each year on professional development and advisory services, and the best evidence research is now informing that work.

Te Kotahitanga, the Numeracy Project and the SEMO Project have all shown what works for teacher learning.

This research shows the importance of teachers taking the trouble to understand students’ backgrounds: their family and cultural influences. Not to make excuses for what students may not be learning, but to identify characteristics they can capitalise on to help the students learn better.

This ‘relationship of care’ turns out to be most critical when the teacher does not share the same culture as the students.

The Kotahitanga research by Professor Russell Bishop showed that ‘deficit thinking’ is a cause of low expectations and correspondingly poor outcomes for Maori students.

Professor Bishop has shown what a huge difference can be made for Maori students, when teachers reject the notion that culturally different students have deficits that prevent their achieving. By helping teachers confront their deficit thinking and make a serious attempt to understand and relate to students as Maori, and plan programmes accordingly, Professor Bishop has helped teachers make extraordinary differences to students’ outcomes.

Difference is not an excuse for low expectations.

Strong professional relationships are also essential for quality education. It's important for teachers to belong to and cultivate professional communities where they discuss and debate their teaching - where they share and debate their approaches to topics; the way they should respond to assessment data; and the particular needs and strengths of their students.

To deliver quality education, teachers have to know how to teach very well.

Technically, they have to understand the pedagogy of their subject - and how the subject is best taught. Quality teachers have a range of instructional strategies. They know that there is not one right way to teach X or Y, but many ways. They know how to relate to students’ experiences and prior knowledge and to pick from their range of strategies to help students build understanding of their subject.

They use assessment information to determine what students already know and understand and can adjust their teaching for individual students accordingly.

Quality teachers like these are sometimes called ‘reflective practitioners’ - they think carefully and deeply about what assessment information is telling them about student understandings, but more particularly about their own teaching. What should they do differently? What can they do better?

They use their knowledge of their field, their knowledge of a range of strategies, and evidence about their students’ current knowledge and understandings to connect to and adapt to the thinking of each student.

We know that the professional development facilitator plays a critical role in professional learning. We know a lot about how to help teachers and teacher educators become successful facilitators.

We will rely heavily on teacher educators to work across New Zealand providing professional learning opportunities to teachers.

I want to see a quality system. Teachers deserve the best education they can get and we owe it to the next generation to ensure they have access to it.

One of the strengths of our teacher education is in the cohesive programmes that meld practice and theory, where links are made continuously for student teachers between pedagogy and curriculum.

This underscores the importance of embedding a strong research culture in our teacher education institutions. I know that the recent Performance Based Research Funding results have focused attention on the development of research capability, and I think that's a great thing.

Bearing this in mind, I know that there are issues around the funding especially for secondary teacher education programmes, and I'd like to reassure you that we're looking at how those can be addressed.

I celebrate that we are good, but I want us to be able to celebrate soon that we have become a whole lot better. We know how to achieve quality teaching, we need to get on and do it.


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