What can systems do to empower teachers

What can systems do to empower teachers?

All parts of the education system interact

We need to remind policymakers of the importance of education, and the essential role of teachers in the lives of individuals, and ipso facto in the social, economic and political well-being of our countries. The Australian Government Productivity Commission (2017) report emphasised that point, noting that as the “system designer and primary funder and supplier of formal education, governments have to change what they do” (p. 88). Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2017) suggest that “[a] system framework recognizes that societies can support effective teaching in part by constructing attractive teaching careers, selecting talented individuals, ensuring they are well prepared, and developing career pathways that foster ongoing learning experiences for teachers” (p. 21).

All teachers are crucial advocates for the teaching profession; however, education systems also have an important responsibility. A systems view emphasises that all parts of the education system interact – no one part can effect change on its own. This view was also emphasised in an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1 May, by David Gonski, the author of the Through Growth to Achievement report on advancing Australian education systems, in his comment that “[s]chools and education authorities should provide high-quality and appropriate professional learning for their teachers”. Gonski further emphasised the need for systems to commit to supporting continuous improvement for teachers, especially in the beginning of their careers, in addition to ensuring clear career professional pathways within the teaching profession.

In taking a systems view, we need to ensure all systems (including initial teacher education providers, employing authorities, and individual schools) involved in developing a productive teaching workforce, identified as part of the national teaching reforms in the April blog, work together to this end. All systems need to empower teachers through demonstrating that they value their professional development at all phases of their career.  Talented and passionate individuals must form the basis of recruitment into the profession. These individuals need to undertake high quality initial teacher education programs which are accredited against rigorous guidelines, closely monitored and carefully moderated. Professional experience in schools needs to be undertaken under the supervision of experienced teachers who supervise preservice teachers completing the Graduate Teacher Performance Assessment (GTPA) to demonstrate their classroom readiness.   Early career teachers then need intensive induction, mentoring, and collaborative professional development opportunities in order to develop in the profession.

Throughout Australia, our system of employing teachers places these processes in danger. The QCT (2013) report noted that too many early career teachers were employed in short-term contract and casual positions, and therefore do not receive the adequate induction and mentoring so critical in the early years. Too often these are the teachers who leave the profession because of this lack of support. The Senate Inquiry into Teaching and Learning (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013) reported that it is talented teachers who leave the profession more than less talented teachers. In order to retain teachers and reduce attrition, the QCT report identified a number of system strategies, including:

  • structured induction
  • mentoring by trained mentors who have been given sufficient time to undertake this role
  • reduced workloads
  • not being placed in difficult locations, and/or allocated challenging classes and
  • a collegial supportive school environment.

As noted in previous blogs, the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers demonstrate a professional pathway for teachers and provide a framework for career enhancing professional development.

In closing this discussion, I note that a study reported in the New York Times on March 18 documented the impact on employee well-being and productivity through a demonstration of employee value in terms of providing stable and consistent hours of work. While in an unrelated sector, this study emphasised that treating people (teachers) as valuable members of the company (education system), instead of as interchangeable parts, can improve student outcomes. All employing systems need to take note.

Further reading

Commonwealth of Australia. (2013). Teaching and learning – maximising our investment in Australian schools. Author.

Darling-Hammond, L., Burns, D., Campbell, C., Goodwin, A. Lin, Hammerness, K., Low, E. L., McIntyre, A., Sato, M., & Zeichner, K. (2017). Empowered educators: How high-performing systems shape teaching quality around the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Productivity Commission. (2017). Shifting the Dial: 5 Year Productivity Review, Report No. 84. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Queensland College of Teachers. (2013). Attrition of recent Queensland graduate teachers. Author.


Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton Chair of QCT Board

Posted in Beginning Teaching, Continuing Professional Development, Systems, Teaching | 1 Comment

Influencing others to teach

Following my last blog, two opposing opinion pieces related to its theme have been published by the ABC:  Seven reasons people no longer want to be teachers (Bahr and Ferreira) and Teachers can earn more than dentists – and other reasons to enter the profession (Pendergast and Exley). Both pieces have been written by experienced educators who are committed to and passionate about the teaching profession, and from the perspective of recognising very real challenges in our field. I want to comment on each piece, and encourage you to read them and engage with your colleagues about the best ways to identify and address the challenges in our professional context.

The article giving seven reasons why people no longer want to be teachers begins with well-documented declines in the number of entrants into initial teacher education programs. The authors posit that these declines are due to fixations in teacher education with competency at the expense of the interpersonal dimension of quality teaching; ‘obsession’ with standardised testing and lack of autonomy in curriculum and pedagogy; work intensification including repeated ‘additions’ to the work of teachers of education that has formerly been done in the home; negative public reporting of teaching through to actual ‘teacher bashing’; and poor salaries. The authors conclude that we need to return to “appealing to the vocational drive of those who love leading others to achieve by raising the profile of these attributes in teacher education programs”.

I agree with the concerns raised by Bahr and Ferreira and applaud their conclusion. While there are very specific skills of teaching, personal attributes are also of vital importance in quality teaching. However, as I suggested in my April blog, I believe we need to focus on countering a problem-oriented discourse with examples of strong positive information emphasising improvements in our profession, especially over the last decade.

This is the strategy employed by the second opinion piece, which focuses on seven reasons to enter the profession, with the aim to “lift prospective teachers out of the quicksand of despair and toward a future of opportunity and fulfilment”. This is such an important aim as the repeated negative messages about teachers have a psychological and emotional impact on individual teachers, and collectively, on the profession. Pendergast and Exley focus on some of the positive changes to enhance the profession in relation to the rigour applied to both teacher selection and initial teacher education (refer to my April blog which outlines more of these changes). They also argue that it is possible for teachers to demonstrate creativity within the national curriculum. In line with my April blog, these authors draw from a Queensland College of Teachers commissioned report, ‘Why choose teaching?’, and emphasise that most teachers are motivated to choose teaching as a career for laudable reasons; that is they want to be teachers. Pendergast and Exley counter the claim of poor salary, noting the positive potential for career progression within the profession.

My previous blogs have emphasised the unique and complex nature of the teacher’s role. Both sets of authors of these opinion pieces acknowledge how our profession depends on quality teachers as much as quality teaching. They encourage teachers to continue to share positive examples of their practice, and of the outcomes for their students of this best practice. Let’s actively counter the negative messages with our own strong stories of success. Let’s choose to celebrate the uniqueness of teachers, and the unique contribution they make to individuals’ lives and thereby to the social and economic future of our country. As teachers, let’s join with Pendergast and Exley and influence others to teach.

The next blog in June will continue this discussion on promoting our profession, and focus on the role of systems in supporting the profession.


Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton Chair of QCT Board

Posted in Teaching | 2 Comments

Challenging the public discourse on the teaching profession


What can we do to challenge the public discourse about our profession? The Queensland College of Teachers is providing evidence to do just that.

Recent media reports have again challenged the quality of teaching in Australia. These reports are often ill-informed, with unsupported and spurious data sources.

There is evidence that the teaching profession is beset by decreasing numbers of people choosing to enter teacher education programs, increasing numbers of people leaving the profession within five years (although a Queensland College of Teachers report published in 2013 suggested that this attrition does not appear to be higher than in other professions), and increasing reports of stress of those in the profession. Studies indicate that these phenomena are occurring worldwide (Gallant & Riley, 2014; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).

These challenges within the teaching profession exist in the context of an ageing workforce and a projected influx of young people into the school system over the next few years. These reported demographic changes will intensify teacher shortages across Australia.

How do we challenge the media reports and address the impact on our profession? There are many areas within the complex systems of schools and teaching which are beyond our influence, but we can focus on what is in our control. We need to counter the prevailing misinformation and problem-oriented discourse with respect to the quality and preparation of the teaching profession, with what is a growing body of powerful information.  In this blog, I will focus on two specific sources which we can use to challenge this discourse – data on the unique nature of who chooses to be a teacher, and information on the significant improvements in quality assurance measures for the teaching profession which have been introduced over the last decade.

First, we need to remind the public about the unique characteristics of those who choose to be a teacher. Contrary to popular opinion, recent research prepared for the Queensland College of Teachers by the Learning Sciences Institute of Australia (Wyatt-Smith et al., 2017) reported that “The numbers of teachers viewing teaching as a temporary or fallback career were insignificant” (p. viii). Rather, the top five motivators for choosing teaching as a career are:

  • intrinsic career value
  • teaching ability
  • shaping the future of children/adolescents
  • subject interest
  • making a social contribution.

Second, contrary to repeated citing of ‘poor’ ATAR scores as the sole source of evidence about the quality of entrants to the profession, we need to acknowledge that the ATAR is only one source of data accessed, and then only for recent school leavers who represent a small proportion of entrants to the profession. It then needs to be acknowledged that students only graduate from their teaching course if strict standards have been met.  Finally, teachers are registered as provisional, and need to address additional standards to transition to full registration.

We need to be vocal about the recent initiatives within the profession which have enhanced quality teaching. With these initiatives, the public can have an increased confidence in the profession. These reforms include the introduction of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers in 2011. These seven nationally agreed standards detail the professional knowledge, practice and engagement required of teachers across four career stages – Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead.

In addition, the recent national review (TEMAG, 2014) into initial teacher education (ITE) identified rigorous accreditation processes for initial teacher education programs as part of 38 recommendations which aim to strengthen the development of well prepared graduate teachers. Specifically, the following demonstrates the current status of these reforms:

1. Selection • All annual entrants to ITE programs assessed for academic and non-academic abilities
• All ITE providers publish clear entry requirements
2. Quality Assurance · All ITE providers redesign programs to meet rigorous new standards
· All ITE programs regularly updated based on evidence
3. Robust assessment of graduates · Assessment tools to assess classroom readiness of graduates developed – in Queensland the Graduate Teacher Performance Assessment (GTPA) developed by a consortium of universities was the first Teacher Performance Assessment to attain national endorsement
4. Primary specialisation · All primary teachers from 2019 will have an area of specialisation to complement their general expertise
5. Professional experience · Higher quality university-school partnerships provide deeper professional experience for pre-service teachers
6. Beginning teacher induction · Induction guidelines developed for use in schools
7. National research and workforce planning · Impact and effectiveness of ITE and teaching are measured

We have an increasing body of evidence to stand up and share about the increasing strengths of our profession. This strategy is within our control. In the next blog, I will focus on strategies for systems to continue to support the development of our profession.


Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton Chair of QCT Board

Further reading

Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. (2011). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Melbourne: Author.

Darling-Hammond, L., Burns, D., Campbell, C., Goodwin, A. Lin, Hammerness, K., Low, E. L., McIntyre, A., Sato, M., & Zeichner, K. (2017). Empowered educators: How high-performing systems shape teaching quality around the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gallant, A., & Riley, P. (2014). Early career attrition: New thoughts on an intractable problem. Journal of Teacher Development, 18 (4), 562-580.

Queensland College of Teachers. (2013). Attrition of recent Queensland graduate teachers. Author.

Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG). (2014). Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education.

Wyatt-Smith, C., Du Plessis, A., Hand, K., Wang, J., Alexander, C., & Colbert, P. (2017). Why choose teaching? A matter of choice: Evidence from the field. A report prepared for the Queensland College of Teachers. Brisbane, Queensland: Learning Sciences Institute Australia.

Posted in Research, Teaching | 2 Comments



The final blog in the AI trilogy

As we move towards the future, one of the most important gifts we can give students is the confidence and ability to thrive in a novel and complex world transformed by artificial intelligence (AI). It is important to actively maintain our own professional development in this area, through activities such as reading professional magazines and attending relevant conferences.  For example, Education Review magazine contained articles on AI regularly during 2017. We need to think about equipping ourselves as teachers to participate in the changing workplace.

AI isn’t new. The term was first coined in 1956 by US computer scientist John McCarthy. We probably all use AI every day, for example in asking a question of iPhone’s Siri or in using satellite navigation systems and instant translation apps. AI algorithms already recognise our speech, provide internet search results, help sort our emails and recommend what we should buy, watch or read. AI will increasingly be all around us from our phone to our TV, car and home appliances. Its possibilities are far reaching – suggestions are being made that the human brain can be connected via a chip or like technology such that a mere thought will enable connection to enhanced cognitive ‘AI’ capacity.

We know that a range of providers are already producing technology-enhanced teaching materials with real-time assessment and feedback for learners. It is important that as teachers we actively embrace technology to enhance our work with students. Rapid progress will only continue and we must not underestimate its scale and impact. As we enter unfamiliar territory we retain the power to shape the opportunities and mitigate the pitfalls which will undoubtedly be part of its development and usage. In a report entitled Teaching in the Machine Age, published by the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation in 2016, teachers were urged: “Rather than seeing technological progress as a threat, teachers and education leaders should take advantage of the many ways technology can enhance their work.”

To stay ahead of AI, we as teachers must upgrade our human capabilities, that is build our own skills in non-technical areas where humans are still ahead of AI, in particular in activities which demand human-to-human interactions. These are the same skills that we discussed in Blog 2 in this series which are vital for us to include in our curriculum for students, the 21st century non-cognitive skills such as imagination, confidence and creativity.

The first blog in this series identified the six Ps of the ideal teacher. The sixth P is Progressive, and emphasises how important it is for teachers to stay abreast of technological developments. “It is not necessary for every teacher to be a digital native at ease in a world dominated by integrated technologies but they do need to be a digital immigrant who can venture into post-millennial territory and survive within it,” the principal of King’s School in Sydney wrote in 2012 in The Australian

The themes which have been embedded throughout this series on teachers and AI have emphasised the significance of embracing AI to enhance many areas of teachers’ work, in addition to ensuring that we are preparing our students, and ourselves, for the presence of AI in all areas of our lives. However, the enduring theme is that the relationship between children and their teacher, the commitment to student learning and the care for student well-being, the human recognition and acknowledgement of children’s efforts – that is something only humans can do.


Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton Chair of QCT Board

Additional reading

Arnett, T. (2016). Teaching in the Machine Age. Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment



No 2 in the AI series

Teachers have unique, sustainable qualities that make their careers less susceptible to disruption by artificial intelligence (AI) than others, as discussed in my previous blog, but we would be unwise to ignore AI given the opportunities it offers our students. “Human plus machine isn’t the future, it’s the present,” Garry Kasparov said in a recent TED talk. Kasparov focussed on the importance of working with AI, and not against it.

In a recent article in Education Review (September, 2017), lecturers in the Connected Intelligence Centre at the University of Technology Sydney made the distinction between using AI as an educational tool and using it as an educational replacement. They demonstrated examples where AI can free teachers from administration and assessment tasks, allowing them to focus on “meta-level skills”, those that are more difficult for computers to emulate. AI can replace routine cognitive processing. These authors suggested an additional example where AI can provide ongoing feedback to students through looking at their data and giving feedback to enable them to have a closer-to-real-time understanding of their strengths and challenges. This way students can adjust their learning more regularly, rather than at more spaced assessment points throughout the semester. These new forms of assessment that measure learning while it is taking place can shape the learning experience in real time. As such, assessment can become more diagnostic, as in medicine, to allow teachers to more easily identify and address individual student needs and provide appropriate supplemental guidance.

In addition to harnessing AI for pedagogy and assessment, the teacher’s role in changing the school curriculum and how the curriculum is taught is vital. Children beginning school today will face radically different workplaces once they finish. AI is not just changing routine manual work, it is also changing routine cognitive work. It is imperative that schools change what students are learning, and this needs to be more wide-ranging than limiting our response to focusing on a STEM agenda. Students need sophisticated cognitive skills and much deeper knowledge if they are going to be partners to increasingly intelligent agents and not be put out of work by them. In particular, they will need to be strong where the intelligent agents are, at least for the time being, relatively weak, i.e. in areas like creativity and imagination.

A number of writers emphasise the need for the curriculum to focus on what have been called ‘21st century’ skills such as active learning, critical thinking and complex problem solving, in addition to developing curiosity, creativity, and collaboration (e.g., Productivity Commission, 2017). In addition, the Foundation for Young Australians (fya.org.au) has prepared a series of reports on what was termed the New Work Order. These reports aim to support young people to navigate the new work order and ensure young Australians have the skills and experience for the jobs of the future.  They also aim to help young people thrive in the new work order by identifying “the new work smarts” which are identified as “Smart Learning, Smart Thinking and Smart Doing”. Similarly, Deloitte Access Economics (2017) recently documented what they termed “soft skills” for business success.  These include self-management, communication, teamwork, problem solving, digital literacy, critical thinking, innovation, emotional judgement, global citizenship, professional ethics, and enterprise skills.

The areas where AI and robotics will struggle to replace humans revolve around unique human-to-human interactions, such as knowing when not to speak, listening with empathy, exchanging a look or a smile or delivering a well-executed joke. These skills, in conjunction with those previously discussed, will be essential for humans to stay one step ahead of the machines that will be performing many of the jobs.

The opportunities and challenges afforded by AI can engender mixed responses, including excitement, uncertainty and fear. How are you and your colleagues currently building your own capacities in the changing digital world? I look forward to discussing this with you in my next blog.


Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton Chair of QCT Board

Additional reading

Deloitte Access Economics. (2017). Soft skills for business success. https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/soft-skills-business-success.html

Foundation for Young Australians. (2015). The new work order: Ensuring young Australians have skills and experience for the jobs of the future, not the past. https://www.fya.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/fya-future-of-work-report-final-lr.pdf

Foundation for Young Australians. (2017). The new work smarts: Thriving in the new work order. https://www.fya.org.au/report/the-new-work-smarts/

Productivity Commission. (2017). Shifting the Dial: 5 Year Productivity Review, Report No. 84. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments


Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton

Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton Chair of QCT Board

Welcome to 2018. I hope you’ve had a chance to relax, refresh and spend time with those you love during the Christmas and New Year break.

In an ever-changing professional landscape we are faced with many challenges, and I look forward to tackling some of them with you this year. One of the vexed topics currently dominating the literature in many professions is Artificial Intelligence (AI).

What will be the impact of AI on the work of teachers? Will robots with AI replace teachers? Some reports have suggested that 40-50% of jobs will be eliminated within the next 20-30 years – will teaching be one of them?

New research by both the McKinsey Global Institute and the OECD, which examines specific repetitive tasks rather than whole jobs, has challenged these drastic predictions. McKinsey’s work is based on a detailed analysis of 2,000-plus work activities for more than 800 occupations in the US and argues that focusing on whole occupations rather than single job-tasks might lead to an overestimation of job automatability.

The McKinsey report examines occupational sectors at high, medium and low risk of automation, concluding that the hardest activities to automate with currently available technologies are those that involve managing and developing people, and those that apply expertise to decision making, planning, or creative work. Further, the technical feasibility of automation is lowest in education (at least for now). While not underplaying the significant transformations being created by digital technology, the report acknowledges the essence of teaching is deep expertise and complex interactions with other people. The McKinsey authors assert that these two categories are the least automatable of the seven they identify.

Similarly, the OECD undertook an estimate of automatability of jobs for 21 OECD countries, also using a task-based approach. The report concludes that “on average across the 21 OECD countries, 9 % of jobs are automatable …The threat from technological advances thus seems much less pronounced compared to the occupation-based approach” (p. 8). Incorporating this perspective, a new report from the Foundation for Young Australians comments that by 2030, there will be a reduction in routine manual tasks in work, and an increase in the time workers are engaged in focusing on people, solving strategic problems, and thinking creatively.

Suggestions of teachers being replaced by robots have been criticised by strong advocates of the complex people work of teaching. Writing in the July 2016 Australian Teacher Magazine, the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel commented that nothing can replace a dedicated teacher, adding, No matter how technologically sophisticated our world, children work harder, see further and achieve more when there is an inspiring human being to spur them on”. Similarly, the principal of King’s School in Sydney wrote in The Australian in 2012 about the six Ps of the ideal teacher. He emphasised that five of these six Ps relate to specific interpersonal skills essential to the ideal teacher: Personable, Partner (in learning), Performer (in a performance based system), Parent, and Physician (the sixth was Progressive).

While many tasks of teaching are, and will continue to be, changed by digital technology, many facets of the role will not be. Paradoxically, humans are more important in an era of robots – in my view teachers will be even more crucial to guide and support students through these changes.

Future blogs will look at how teachers can use AI and how the curriculum needs to adapt. For now, our jobs are safe!

I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts throughout 2018.


Arntz, M., Gregory, T., & Zierahn, U. (2016). The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis. OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jlz9h56dvq7-en

Foundation for Young Australians. (2017). The new work smarts: Thriving in the new work order. https://www.fya.org.au/report/the-new-work-smarts/

Manyika, J., Chui, M., Maremadi, M., Bughin, J., George, J., Willmott, P., & Dewhurst, M. (2017). A future that works: Automation, employment and productivity. McKinsey Global Institute. http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/digital-disruption/harnessing-automation-for-a-future-that-works

Posted in AI, Teaching | 5 Comments

Introducing the Chair, Queensland College of Teachers Board

Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton

Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton
Chair of QCT Board

Forty years ago this month I completed my initial education degree at James Cook University. The value of education was instilled in me and my eight siblings by our parents, both of whom, due to circumstances of the time, did not attend secondary school. However, they recognised its importance in enhancing life opportunities and we were all encouraged to pursue our education goals. What has underpinned my whole career is a commitment both to expanding my own learning, and to facilitating learning to enhance life opportunities for others.

I was the first in my family to attain a university degree, and subsequent to that degree I worked in many roles in schools, and for almost thirty years in teacher education. My ongoing commitment to my own learning saw me engaged in further part-time university study for a decade, with an additional two years as a full-time student completing honours and doctoral studies.
What an honour it is then, at this stage of my career, to be able to contribute to the mission of the Queensland College of Teachers and its work in enhancing the professionalisation of teaching and raising the status of our profession. Research consistently affirms the key role of teachers in student learning outcomes.

It is hard to identify only one key challenge for the work of teachers into the future; however, the rapid nature of digital change and its impact on curriculum, the technology of teaching, and future work opportunities for our students would have to be top of mind. Humans have always had to adapt to technological change, but the speed required for adaptation is accelerating. Current technologies now change accepted ways of doing things within decades, not over decades. In 1962, as a Year 1 student, my technology was a tablet-sized piece of slate, and writing with a slate pencil was erased with a sponge; Year 1 students today are using a similar sized tablet but with far more advanced capability!

Similarly, when I began my doctoral studies in 1984, I was writing to a very unstable and very vulnerable (in Queensland summers) black floppy disk. We have progressed through a more stable and smaller-sized floppy disk, through to USB sticks with ever increasing storage capacity, and now to the “cloud” being used for data storage and transfer. Certainly this development would not have been envisaged by most of us only three decades ago.

Another related area which I believe is critical is the embedding of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers into teachers’ ways of being. The context of the standards is essentially the indisputable role of teachers in student outcomes. They provide a framework for both teacher accountability and teacher professional development, and will surely contribute to a greater public confidence in the profession.

As Chair of the Queensland College of Teachers Board I have committed to writing a regular blog for you, the teachers of Queensland. I will work to develop thoughtful pieces which will be brief, but will also provide a stimulus to you engaging in reflective and innovative practice which will not only enhance your own roles, but also facilitate fruitful outcomes for your students and the learning organisations in which you work. I welcome both feedback and suggestions for future blogs.


Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton


Queensland College of Teachers Board

Posted in QCT Board | 8 Comments