October 2014 Interview with Edgar Bliss
Senior Education Adviser at Catholic Education South Australia
Interviewers: Lindsay Holmes and Adrian Glamorgan
Edgar, What are your first thoughts about the ClassTeaching Professional Learning eJournal?
For me this tool provides an environment that places the teacher themselves in charge and in possession of their own professional growth. It leaves them responsible for their own professional learning and it provides a form of accountability that is highly personalised, is collaborative, is interactive, encourages professional conversation, encourages reflection and it encourages professional energy and the individual taking control and taking responsibility for their professional career.
What was the first thing that struck you about it?
I always look for usability and friendly operation; so I found it quite intuitive. I found that it had a logical structure to it that I could easily learn and predict. I also found that it was based not just on simple numerical or formulaic approaches, but genuine approach to quality and qualitative data and data about people, for people and of people.
What difference do you think it will make to school leadership?
For school leaders I think, if I was a principal, the first thing I would be doing is looking for a way to make this a whole school focus, to look at professional practices that quickly got this into the daily practice of teachers and not an ‘add on’ or extra or a once-a-term activity, but something that becomes part and parcel of their daily professional work and life. I think then the conversations we would have as professionals would be evidence based, would be able to draw on the evidence easily and quickly without having to spend time constructing it or searching for it.
I think that it provides both a formative and a summative approach to professional conversations and to line management and principal’s responsibilities. I think, over a period of years it would provide a rich picture of a teacher’s progress and professional experience. So for me it also tells a story over time, and that’s a story worth knowing.
You talked about conversations, where do you see this assisting the peer learning approaches that are now recognised as being very effective?
That’s an interesting question, because I think we are still in the early stages of seeking and finding answers to that, but I can see multiple approaches. The tool clearly stands alone and provides a useful resource and source for peer learning, but combined with emerging practices, such as learning teams, coaching, professional observations in classrooms – then there’s a suite of tools and sweet of resources that teachers can draw on, engage with, share, use to stimulate and even provoke their own professional understandings and their professional practices …. because all of those things can be learned and owned by teachers. Then peer collaboration and peer professional learning becomes an agency for the teachers, not only individually, but as a collective, as a whole staff, as learning teams, to grow together.
So, if it’s about learning teams and whole of staff, do you think there are issues there for schools to address about what they do in their culture in their school, rather than just leaving the tool with an individual teacher, or teachers individually?
Absolutely, it would be a good thing and well worth pursuing for individual teachers to take this on as a tool and a personal aid, but it would be a much richer and much more fruitful thing for there to be whole school approaches where the school gives consideration to their professional learning culture, to the kinds of structures and processes that they use to facilitate, enable and support what professional learning and, in the end, the ongoing growth and improvement of the culture within the school.
Is there a ‘Wow factor’– one thing that will make the difference, compared with the old way of doing things?
I think that the ‘wow’ is that the eJournal is designed with the teacher in mind and it’s designed with a notion of the teacher as a professional, who is willing and ready to take responsibility for their own growth and for their own accountability. That’s the wow for me, not bells and whistles.
But the fact that it is different from a ‘top down’ model which might be a national tool that is designed for principals to enforce and use with staff that simply collects and crunches numbers. It might be attached to something as simple as NAPLAN which misses all the richness of what happens in the school and what happens in the life of the kids. NAPLAN misses too many outcomes, it misses too many learning processes.
For me the wow factor is that ‘heart and soul’ of this is for the teacher and always with the teacher in mind, and I know there has been a lot of consultation with teachers to help with the design, help with the content. So that’s the wow for me!