Over the last few weeks I have been putting the finishing touches to the 2016 annual report. Something that a principal is required to do as part of the reporting requirements that falls within the scope of their role. While it’s not one of my favourite jobs, it does force me to reflect on the school’s progress over the course of a year. The report then becomes available via the Department’s ‘Schools Online’ portal.
Interestingly, a passage that I wrote in the report has forced me to challenge a recent article published by Scott Eacott in School Leadership & Management, 2017 titled ‘School leadership and the cult of the guru: the neo-Taylorism of Hattie (Source Link). On page 2 and 3 of my report I wrote
The staff at West Beechboro understand through professional reading, targetted professional development, matched with high levels of student achievement, that it is what we do in the classrooms that has the biggest impact on our students’ learning. We are investing thousands of dollars on ensuring that every teacher shares a common understanding around the delivery methods of the programs that we are using, are applying the same delivery techniques to each program and that they understand that it’s what we are doing with the strategies, the programs, or essentially the tools, that is having the biggest impact. In 2016, the school community formally acknowledged and endorsed the school’s instructional pedagogic framework. This became known as the Effective Teaching Model (ETM).
In acknowledging the importance of ensuring that everyone had a common understanding of what our ETM looked like in terms of lesson delivery, I drew our staff’s attention to the work done by John Hattie in ‘What Doesn’t Work in Education: The Politics of Distraction.’ This piece formed a part of the series ‘Open Ideas at Pearson’ that was intended to bring independent ideas and insights to a wider audience. Staff were already familiar with this work, as well as that carried out by Stephan Dinham and, while they understood the common messages of both researchers, as a school leader, I feel it is important that these messages become embedded within our culture of teaching and learning at West Beechboro.
Now if I was to accept what Eacott (2017, p. 2) is stating, then I have entered the ‘Cult of the Guru’ or more specifically the ‘Cult of Hattie’ potentially, I may even see him as “the saviours of Australian educational leadership’ (2017, p. 11). One problem with this stance is that it potentially assumes that I only look to Hattie for a solution. The reality however, and this is certainly the case for many within my leadership circle, is that Hattie is only one of many researchers that we consider in bringing about improvements within our schools.
Eacott (2017, p. 9) states, “The significant shift here is that while forms of evaluation are external to the teacher the current trends have shifted the burden of proof – for performance – onto the teacher. That is, teachers must be able to demonstrate their impact on student learning. Scaling that up, school leaders need to be able to show evidence that the actions they take, including the structures they put into place, have a demonstrable effect on student learning.” I would argue that I do not see any issue with this shift. Surely, as the school’s leader, the outcomes of decisions that I make should rest with me. Further to this, the actions of the teachers should rest with them. It would seem ludicrous to be doing something, with the intention of improving outcomes, and then not measure the outcome. Ultimately though, and this is why I work hard to put structures in place to ensure consistency, I am held to account so I will make sure that espoused theory and theory in use are aligned.
Interestingly, and possibly more of a concern to me anyway, is that while Eacott is critical of Hattie, ACEL and even to some extent Marzano in what they have to offer leadership, he offers no alternative to the quandary that he sees with the decline in Australian education. In fact, he has done what has plagued leadership circles for years. Eacott has said that we need to improve things, acknowledged that there is a problem, criticised what is being done, but offered no alternatives for leaders to follow. He has muddied the waters, and then left the pond.
If, as Eacott (2017, p. 11) espoused, “To subjectify oneself to a single figure is to elevate that individual to guru status,” then I will be sure not to take Eacott at his word for fear of adding to the ‘Cult of Eacott’. I fear that when Eacott (2017, p. 11) stated that “What the Australian school leadership community arguably needs is more rigorous and robust work and more significantly, dialogue and debate (to which Hattie is a part) not the blind adherence to a single guru.” that he may have overlooked the work of Louden, Dinham, O’Donoghue, Clarke, Fullan, Hargreaves, Masters and Caldwell, to name but a few.
Move forward, make a difference
Latest posts by Ray Boyd (see all)
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