Monday, December 27, 2021

'Merit based' in DOE, permanency and retirement

As an employee, I rarely criticise my employer.  This comes from my corporate roots, if you are in conflict with your employer, find another job or risk being demoted or fired.  

I'm also known for considering the teachers union an anachronistic parasite, similar to the entire union movement.  I'm not an activist and I don't represent (or seek to represent) anyone. I just seek to find ways to improve things and this so far has kept my little blog out of harms way. 

DOE has a highly skilled workforce, with the majority of staff university educated.  The Department is run as a hierarchy, with Principals at the top in schools and the Director General above Principals.  In schools, a teacher can aspire to be a Principal, a Principal can aspire to be the Director General with steps in between.

As with any pyramid hierarchy there are fewer positions available the higher you get.  Those aspiring are well known and mentored by those above them.  Although there is no seniority per se, it is built into the system.  The idea of merit has created a "seniority based" approach as mentors are required to successfully apply for higher positions - it is not about demonstrating good practices at current level, it is about demonstrating the skills and capability required for positions above level that you are not doing, or are doing in relief capacities, and being able to apply for promotional roles in the form required (answer selection criteria, use SAOs, etc).  An incumbent has a significant advantage as they know the position and can more easily meet merit based requirements. Without help from a mentor you will not create a competitive application to get an interview.  Schools do not want disruption or introduction of a person that could break a fragile culture and restricting access to promotional positions is one method to achieve this.

This can lead to a disatisfied workforce where staff are unable to attract mentors as they lack connections to the leadership team they are attached to.  In these instances promotion is seen as favouritism - which is true to a degree, the system requires staff to bend to the needs of the organisation and show that they can do the tasks required before being given the position.  There is a lack of understanding that the process is not about the job you are doing.

The protection of school culture is a safety net though, as the wrong person at the wrong time can negatively disrupt a culture, especially if they view the current culture as flawed.  The culture is set by the Principal and although a Principal can be influenced to change their position directly, they cannot be undermined by school leaders whiteanting a position.

Permanency causes a problem. In the corporate world the person would be encouraged to move on or be counselled to change their views if they were in direct conflict with management.  An underperforming staff member in DOE is tolerated as long as they do not cause headaches with parents and are isolated from causing harm.  

Mental health is a common concern. Teaching is a highly stressful activity at times, when combined with family trauma, children growing up, constantly dealing with adoloscence, caring for elderly parents, sickness, dips in performance can occur.  Staff can also be reaching retirement age and lose some of the drive found earlier in the profession.

Underperforming within the protection of permanency is not necessarily bad.  The 'Merit system' with promotion the positive objective, has taken the "teaching college" and tried to force it into something it is not.  To avoid the disgruntled workforce, we need to change how we think of teaching and not see promotion as a career objective.  Permanency is the correct strategy but does not need to be tied to a Merit approach.  Culture is instead the key. 

1. We do it because we love teaching
2. The outcomes are not promotion but delivery of the next generation of students and teachers to their aspirations
3. We have a responsibility to protect the college by mentoring younger teachers through the early crisis years
4. We have a responsibility to assist those at risk and guide them back to being productive students and teachers
5. Those with reduced capacity heading towards retirement have significantly contributed, need to be valued, recognised, cared for and given productive work
6. Recognition that most staff roles have a management requirement, unusual in any other industry
7. Recognition of success and failure through an evidence based approach
8. Acknowledgement that our working conditions are better than most other industries
9. Recognition that promotional positions do not have remuneration commensurate with the increase in responsibility. 

If you haven't asked yourself, "why do I teach?" now is always a good time to do so :-)   There are those suited to promotional positions, but they are not for everyone and should be given to those in the correct frame to do the job well.  The real return and fulfilment is in teaching children, not money, not promotion.

What our profession does not need:
1. Tokenistic care through 'here's a card, call them' without follow up.
2. Use and abuse workforce
3. Cliques
4. Promotion to incompetence (misuse of the Merit approach)
5. Faddish application of research (explicit teaching of "all" I am looking at you!)
6. Being risk averse: poorly managing innovation/risk taking/workload
7. Undervaluing management under the guise of a "Leadership" focus
8. Leaders without proper guidance and accountability
9. Poorly defined roles
10. Political interference

All the elements of a great system are there but it needs a new lens to consider how to take the best of the system and provide members with a feeling of contentment and worth through student performance, rather than through promotion.  Without this, we risk losing the heart of teaching and will not garner the respect earned in countries where education is a key part of the national culture.  As our industry moves from dig it/sell it mining base to a service based economy, education is the biggest element to providing export dollars from students working internationally or in manufacturing with high levels of automation which will subsequently protect our high standard of living. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Boardgame update 2022

Each year I go through the successes in my boardgame collection with students at school.  This will support the majority of students in a high school and most classes that I have introduced them to.  If you were looking to set up a boardgame collection for a library or department, you wouldn't go far wrong.

None have a huge ruleset and can be self taught by most groups (other than the adult ones at the bottom).

Dexterity Games

* Rhino Hero
* Tumbling Dice
* Looping Louie

Puzzle Games

* Blockus
Turing Tumble


* Santorini
For Sale


* Anomia
Murder in Hong Kong
* Spot it / Dobble
** Crappy birthday
* Uno


* 5 Minute Marvel

Traditional Board/Card Games

Ticket to ride

Games most played with adults in 2022

Warhammer Killteam
Imperial Assault
Space Hulk

Staff often ask me how I hear about games and where I get them from.  Stand up and sit down on youtube is a great channel for board game information, as is the hottest list on  Student favourites are marked with a *. The favourite by far marked with **.

Most games can be bought locally in Perth from Tactics or Gamesworld at a premium.  Harder to find games can be found from in Melbourne, Amazon online or sometimes

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Changes in 2022 and beyond in Upper School Mathematics

Five emerging themes in 2022 are of some concern in Mathematics and the severity will depend on the implementation by SCSA.  These are not new to 2022 but may be a surprise if you are not familiar with them.

- The requirement to embed design requirements (general capabilities) in classroom programmes
- The reduction in assesments per course to 8-10 assessments per year
- The requirement to follow the Mathematical Teaching Process, Statistical investigations or Theoretical investigations in ATAR
- Grading in Essential and ATAR courses
- Intended purpose of Applications and Methods

They are listed in order of prediction of impact from lowest to highest

General Capabilities  
<rant>General capabilities assist with the design aspects of a course.  A well designed syllabus has the general capabilities written in such that they flow naturally through the programmes of teachers.  If we are having a discussion (again) that general capabilities are not being implemented by teachers and displayed by students then the design of the course is the problem, not the application by teachers </rant over>.

Likely Impact: Minimal as teachers will ignore instructions about general capabilities as they can't be measured and have little/no positive impact on the course results.

Reduction in assessments per course to 8-10 in 2023
Statistically creating fewer data points, will reduce the reliability of results in mathematics.  This has the potential to reduce the correlation of class and external exam marks from the enviable position of Mathematics compared to other courses to among the same lines.  

Given the requirement of two of each type required

Year 11 (Four terms)
Investigation: 2 items
Response: 4-6 items
Exam: 2 items

Year 12 (Three terms)
Investigation: 2 items
Response: 4 items
Exam: 2 items

This is 1-2 response task per term.

The is not significantly different to current programmes albeit I prefer to have an additional investigation as the marks are more variable than response tasks and skew the distribution.

Suggestions made by SCSA to not assess dot points (which has always been done to some degree) or include assessment of content in investigations (I'm not even sure how assessment of content can work within an investigation as that is not the aim of an investigation) were put forward as good alternatives to response tasks.

Teachers are already talking about ways around the new requirements, specifically to combine recording of assesssments (one assessment with parts held two weeks apart).

The rationale for this by SCSA was to decrease the anxiety of students (using Physics as the example of 17 assessments) but I am not sure that creating more high stakes testing (as weighting is much higher with fewer assessments, likely to increase anxiety) will achieve this especially as encouragement was made to increase ungraded formative assessment through EPW style investigative learning practices.

The stated goal of reducing dot points in Unit 1 of Methods 11 is more likely to reduce student anxiety.

Likely impact: Reduction in reliability of Mathematical correlation between class and exam marks to level of other courses.  Reduction in number of investigative tasks given.  Lower SD in class marks in during investigative tasks to minimise impact (likely based on work ethic rather than capability). 

Mathematical Teaching Process
The ongoing faddish discussion about embedded critical thinking through Mathematical thinking processes continues with the encroachment of MTP in ATAR courses since 2018.  Until now the definition was fairly wishy washy and could be worked around.

Investigations have now been informally categorised as Statistical investigations, Practical Applications and Theoretical investigations each following a similar process to the old Mathematics in Practice (MIPS) approach.  Whilst I am a big supporter of the MIPS approach in a MIPS type course, imposing the time requirements of this approach on a student and the subsequent reduction in mathematical application during an investigation that it imposes is detrimental to an ATAR course.

Likely Impact: The watering down of theoretical style investigations continues in Methods.

Grading changes
The statement made by SCSA presenters was that in ATAR and General courses, the difference in an A, B and C style question is not content related but is related purely on how the question is asked and the amount of scaffolding given.

This makes a mockery of the differential in Mathematical ability required to complete each course particularly evident in the difference between Applications and Methods.

The rationale given was that scaling would compensate for this - but it doesn't if the gap between courses increases beyond the 5% mean + 5% of course total scaling given - Methods students are penalised for doing harder work (rather than rewarded).  

Given an A, B or C in Methods is significantly harder to achieve (due to content continuing to be learned at a faster pace than Applications requiring a more difficult sequence of learning), it is hard to fathom how the way a question is asked and subsequently answered, fairly and adequately assesses the level of a student.  To reduce it to this does not replicate the alignment currently required by ATAR assessment via understanding displayed in the external exam and the assessment completed to achieve similar class marks.

Likely Impact: This will need to be rethought.  It is not a good idea and will not be replicable under exam conditions without a blowout in Methods marks.  Students in 50-57 Methods range (exam and class) in Year 11 are achieving 80% (65% after scaling) in Applications - and this is being told to students by course counsellors, reducing retention in Methods courses.

Rationale of Methods and Applications
Universities have knobbled interest in Specialist courses (there is little desire during mining slumps) by reducing pre-requisites outside of engineering (or even in engineering in some cases) and now are doing similar to Methods courses.  Students are discouraged from attempting ATAR Methods by counsellors as it is not required for their courses and complete the easier ATAR Applications instead.

Intended level of difficulty (increasing to left)

Foundations            Essentials                    Applications/Methods                   Specialist

In a discussion with SCSA staff post meeting it was stated (and themed throughout the presentation) that Applications and Methods are aimed to be delivered at the same level (and the grade related descriptors show this) but for different purposes (eg Applications for biological sciences/humanities students, Methods for Physical Sciences, Specialist for Engineering students).

If this is the case Methods and Applications require a significant re-write (and I don't believe this is the intent as this was stated in the presentation) as they do not meet this purpose.  Whether Methods needs to come to the level of Applications or the Applications course requires a complete rethink (this is my belief) is not clear.

Likely impact: This will need to be rethought.  Scaling will negatively impact students whilst this is poorly understood and implemented as per 2020.  Return to a hierarchy of Foundation -> Essentials -> Applications -> Methods -> Specialist in a future iteration of courses is likely.