Melbourne Graduate School of Education - Theses
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Practices and characteristics of principals in low educational advantage, improving Victorian secondary schools; contextually aware leadership
This study investigated the leadership of two secondary schools of low educational advantage on an improvement journey located in Victoria, Australia. This study provides further understanding of the ways school principals interact with specific contextual factors in order to support their school improvement journey. In both cases, the principals overcame their school’s challenging circumstances, defined by low performance and low advantage, by employing research based initiatives to drive improvement. Informed by a multiple perspective case study methodology, including interviews with the principal and other school leaders, teachers, parents, students and members of the school council, evidence found principals with a strong moral purpose and change leadership enabled long term, albeit slow improvement. This improvement was enabled by the principal’s navigation of a range of contextual factors that influenced, and were influenced by, the characteristics and practices of the school leader. Along with a strong moral purpose, the school principals had a relentless drive for change that enabled them to overcome great adversity within their school contexts. Employing practices such as increased accountability for teachers around their teaching and learning, implementing collaborative practices across many levels of the school and instilling hope through a strong vision, enabled transformation of these schools into a more desirable destination for students, teachers and the wider community.
Building partnerships with families using Web 2.0 technologies: A case study of using new technologies to build partnerships with families.
Social media is a rapidly emerging phenomenon, shaping the ways people communicate and collaborate. This research sought to gain insight into the new opportunities that social media may afford to collaborate with families in the early years. Engaging with a Third Space Theory theoretical framework, this research took an inclusionary rather than exclusionary approach, where existing practices were valued with new practices not superseding, or preferencing existing ways of collaborating. The research design employed a case study methodology to gain greater insights about current practices of collaborating with families through the use of three individual cases, each exploring the potential of different social media platforms. Principal findings indicate that social media does offer new opportunities for collaborative practices in early childhood. Educators and families alike noted that the benefits of social media were ease of use, immediacy, and ease of access. However, the use of social media by educators appeared to be dominated by evidence around compliance issues and attaining quality in very specific, and perhaps narrow, ways. The findings suggest a culture of compliance that is dominated by outcomes, standards, and assessments and that this has changed the dynamics by which educators engage with families.
Participation and cultural and linguistic diversity: An in-depth qualitative inquiry of an Australian primary classroom
Educating for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) learners emerged as a policy ‘problem’ that gained attention from the 1970s to the 1990s through Australian multicultural education discourse, but since then has been marked by policy decline and instability (Harris, 1995; Jakubowicz & Ho, 2014). Researching this anew, this study explored how the problem of participation can be understood in the context of CALD learners. Participation remains an eminent yet ambiguous ‘buzzword’ in the field of education (Black, 2011; Thomas, Whybrow, & Scharber, 2012). This study contributes to the discussion of participation by offering a conceptual framework to understand the practice of participation in the context of CALD learners. In deploying this conceptual framework, this research engages with Bourdieusian conceptual tools: field, capital, and habitus—as heuristic devices to critically explore participation as a social phenomenon occurring in a CALD learning context. This study asks: How is participation understood, practiced, and experienced in the context of a CALD primary classroom? To critically explore the practice of participation in the context of CALD learners, this study undertook an in-depth qualitative inquiry of an Australian primary classroom. The class, referred to as Class 5/6k, was a highly diverse student cohort, culturally and linguistically, located in a major metropolitan city. The study found that many of the teachers’ taken-for-granted assumptions and practices about teaching CALD learners were constraining the students’ participation. This study also found that building social relationships was inherently challenging in a CALD classroom context. In foregrounding the subjective experiences of CALD learners, a key finding of this study has been the diverse and complex interests, needs, and capabilities of a highly diverse student cohort. The primary contribution of this study is the articulation of a conceptual framework for understanding participation in the context of CALD learners. This is referred to as ‘the teaching triad of participation’ consisting of ‘positionality,’ ‘resourcing,’ and ‘sociality’. As illuminated through the empirical research, these constructs in the teaching triad function in a relational and dynamic manner. Thus, the study encourages continued exploration of teaching practices that can work towards empowering increasingly diverse learners in the classroom through a holistic approach that considers the three constructs in the teaching triad. Finally, this study also encourages reflecting on possibilities for future research including further exploration of the affective dimension of participation and an examination of how issues of race and gender intersect with cultural and linguistic diversity.
Teacher perceptions of new principals in Melbourne, Victoria
This thesis explores the impact of new principals through the eyes and experiences of teachers in three schools in Metropolitan Melbourne, Australia. A multi-perspective case study methodology involving semi-structured interviews, non-participant observations and the study of documents is employed to answer three research questions: (1) how do teachers perceive their new principal, (2) how does this perception impact on teachers’ work environment, and (3) how can teachers be supported during a change of principal? The findings suggest that teachers’ perceptions of their new principal are a function of the new principal’s personal and leadership qualities and practices which, in turn, are informed by three contextual factors: school leadership history, the origin and background of the new principal, and teacher expectations. These factors not only influence teachers’ perceptions independently, but they also have the capacity to influence each other. These perceptions appear to impact on a number of domains within teachers’ work environment, such as teacher well-being, teacher professional development and, to a lesser extent, teaching practice and professional relationships. Teacher well-being, in particular, revealed itself to be the most diverse among and within schools. An overwhelming positive impact on teacher professional development also emerges yet, paradoxically, it does not result in any perceived changes on their teaching practice. Professional relationships among teachers, and between teachers and students, does not appear to be affected significantly by the arrival of a new principal. Teachers expressed a desire to be included in the pre-appointment consultation process. Finally, new principals who are committed to building relationships with staff and who display an awareness of how the nature, pace and implementation of change initiatives impact on teachers’ work environment appear to be pivotal in supporting teachers during principal succession. The findings have enabled the development of a conceptual framework for understanding how teachers’ perceptions of a new principal impact on teachers’ work environment
What effect does the coaching model of professional development have on the building of teacher capacity?
The purpose of this study is to examine the influence of the GROW coaching model of professional development on the capacity building of teachers in an educational context. Teachers have a significant impact on student outcomes and it is crucial to build their capacity to maximise their influence in the classroom. The provision of professional development is seen as a fundamental component of supporting teachers in building their capacity as educators, to implement strategies in the classroom, and to maximise their influence on students. Schools, government and the educational community at large have long made concerted efforts to build teacher capacity, aiming to reduce the large variance between teachers’ effects on student outcomes. The provision of coaching in various forms has been found to support the implementation of strategies in the classroom. This study aims to examine the influence of the GROW coaching model to develop teachers’ skills, knowledge and dispositions to build their capacity as educators. The study examines the implementation against the elements set out in Guskey’s Five Critical Levels of Professional Development Evaluation Model to understand the factors and conditions that foster implementation. The study utilised a criterion purposive sampling approach (Patton, 1990) and involved 24 coaches and coachees total. Participation in the study was voluntary and no incentives or reimbursements were offered for participation. A range of data was gathered and examined; the research design incorporated a mixed-methods approach that applied three complementary data collection tools including survey, interview and observation. The analysis of the data was conducted to inform the findings. The data collected through the open-ended online questionnaire and interview research instruments provided opportunities to explore, in closer detail, the responses of participants to key questions. These questions centre on identified coaching variables of teacher learning and how these are manifested in their practice both in and outside of the classroom. These responses provide an important insight into what changes may occur in teacher pedagogy and teacher disposition, evidenced through changes in the classroom environment and the teachers’ thinking processes. A thematic analysis based on Braun and Clarke’s (2006) 6-step framework was undertaken to systematically analyse the data. The codes were set according to elements highlighted by the Guskey model (2000), targeted on both teacher practice and student behaviours, changes in teacher professional practice outside the classroom showed changes in their dispositions as a teacher and reflections on their practice. The findings revealed that the GROW coaching model supported the professional development of educators to build their capacity as teachers across the areas of skills, knowledge and dispositions. The GROW coaching model supported teachers to implement various strategies in their classrooms. Factors that affected the program included: (a) the time set aside for teachers and coaches; (b) the relationship and level of trust between the coach and coachee; (c) the program and content knowledge of the coach; (d) the culture of the school; and (e) the allocation of coaches and how they were selected. The relationship between coach and coachee emerged as a key factor in the success of the program, and together with the allocation of coaches impacted on participants, especially when challenging their dispositions through “professional conversations”. The GROW model’s process and “sequence of questioning” raised awareness of teaching practices and provided a way for teachers to receive feedback on the implementation of strategies in the classroom. Further attention to the impact of the GROW coaching model for teacher capacity building and its effect on student outcomes is needed to better understand the relationship between “professional conversations”, coaching and impact on student outcomes. In the future, equal attention should be afforded to understanding the behaviour of teachers as they implement strategies in the classroom, and how professional development programs can best support their capacity building.
Examining Multiple Dimensions of Teacher Quality: Attributes, Beliefs, Behaviours, and Students' Perceptions of Effectiveness
This thesis focuses on the structure and relatedness of multiple dimensions of teacher quality. Specifically, two studies are presented as to how critical teachers’ beliefs are as a dimension of teacher quality in relation to teachers’ non-academic competencies, their observed practices in the classroom, and their students’ perceptions of effectiveness. The first study aimed to determine how various types of teachers’ beliefs empirically linked to quality teaching and learning relate to teach other, and whether these beliefs could be reduced into a set of higher-order teacher beliefs, utilising confirmatory and exploratory factory analysis. Primary and high school teachers in Victorian government schools (n = 663) completed an extensive teacher beliefs questionnaire that examined pedagogical beliefs, motivational beliefs, and beliefs about students. The second study aimed to explore the relationships between teachers’ non-academic capabilities their beliefs and measures of quality teaching. Participants and alumni from the Teach For Australia program, all current high school teachers (n = 68), completed a revised form of the teacher beliefs questionnaire from the first study and had their selection data for Teach for Australia accessed. They also utilised the Visible Classroom tool to audio-record multiple teaching episodes and administered the Tripod student perception survey anonymously to their students. Data from these four measures were examined through a combination of quantitative methods, including factor analysis, structural equation modelling, and hierarchical cluster analysis. Three higher order beliefs were identified: social/deep beliefs focusing on education for the purpose of improving society and/or addressing the needs, relationships, and support of individual students; surface/fixed beliefs, which combined the characteristics of fixed mindset in tandem with surface views of teaching and learning; and personal utility purposes for choosing to teach. Many types of teachers’ beliefs failed to predict their use of quality teaching practices or students’ perceptions of teaching, although self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation, beliefs about assessment, and surface/fixed beliefs were important exceptions. Teachers’ non-academic competencies assessed prior to becoming a teacher generally failed to predict their quality of teaching, even within the first 1-2 years of commencement of teaching. More frequent use of empirically supported instructional practices related to delivery of instruction predicted better student perceptions of teaching, while at the same time more frequent use of empirically supported instructional practices related to directing students and correcting both academic work and student behaviour predicted poorer student perceptions of teaching. Student perceptions of teaching primarily clustered into two categories, perceptions of the quality of student behaviour in the classroom, and of their teachers’ general instructional capability, at odds with prior research arguing that student perception surveys measure an array of key aspects of quality teaching. A profile of teacher quality emerged, which involved active, teacher-led instruction with a high ratio of explicit instructional practices to directing and corrective practices, with high levels of student satisfaction of quality of teaching, underpinned by pro-assessment beliefs and the strong rejection of surface/fixed beliefs. The research confirms what previous conceptualisations of teacher quality include a combination of inputs (such as beliefs), processes (quality teaching practices) and products (student outcomes, student perceptions, etc.) and that the process of teacher quality is not only multi-faceted, but multi-staged. The research also illustrates the benefits of utilising multiple measures or sources of feedback in efforts to improve teacher quality. There is an opportunity to improve teacher quality in policy, teacher education and teacher professional learning that emphases active teaching and a core set of high leverage practices that such teachers regularly employ, underpinned by a small but critical set of beliefs that support best practice. Attending to particular types of teacher beliefs may be essential to catalysing teacher change. The results of the dissertation call for further research drawing together teacher quality and teacher beliefs, with particular emphasis on multidimensional models, an effort that will ultimately serve to paint a fuller picture of what is meant by quality teaching, which in turn will fuel efforts to continuously improve it.
Negotiating spaces for young students as informed and active citizenry: Discourses on schooling and individual’s aspirations in contemporary Cambodia
Young people in Cambodia are faced with multiple uncertainties including how to exercise their rights as active citizens in a self-acclaimed democratic state. They are living in unfavourable socio-political contexts for civic participation (that is, active participation negatively connotes politics synonymously as arrests, risks and death) as well as a discouraging cultural backdrop (for instance, age and knowledge hierarchy). In addition, any discussions of politics-related issues as well as on government’s policy and performance are often viewed too political and are rarely expressed in public and on school campus. This study is set to contribute both to the practices of active citizenship in Cambodia in particular and to the current state of practices of active citizenship in the field of youth and citizenship in general. To put it in crude terms, this study aims to understand the practice of citizenship in an ‘authoritarian society’. Built upon the foci and questions of our time, this thesis aims to provide a thorough understanding of active citizenship spaces in schools for young Cambodians through civics education (Moral-Civics Education in Cambodia), which has a great implication for citizenship practices in a wider social context. Empirical data were collected through the mixed-methods design, including student questionnaire, semi-structured interviews with teachers who were currently teaching Citizenship Education in grades 10, 11 and 12, and the students in these grades at the time of data collection. The data were processed via Statistical Packages for Social Sciences and NVivo software, then analysed and discussed through Bourdieu’s theoretical lenses of shadow capital, institutional habitus, illusio and doxa. Understandably, young Cambodian students have been shaped significantly by the socio-cultural limitations on their citizenship aspirations, given the introduction of citizenship education, the facade of content delivery, the limited citizenship spaces on school campus. These are understood as the imposed limitation on the accumulation of different of capitals. However, there is an enlightened aspect of education, in which a unique form of Cambodian citizenship practices emerges despite various forms of restraints. As the above-mentioned, this study has implicated the important roles of citizenship education, albeit in its weak form, and historical, socio-cultural imperatives in shaping young people’s citizenship aspirations.
Sì, tanti ma non bilingui: Using Q methodology to examine Italian language teaching in primary schools
Languages are a key learning area but not all students are offered the same learning opportunities. In Victoria, Italian is one of the six most studied languages. Its implementation has generated high numbers of second languages programs but only one bilingual program. This research uses Q methodology to identify Viewpoints about languages education held by principals, teachers and parents, and considers the impact these Viewpoints may have on the choice of languages and types of programs delivered in primary schools.
An investigation of the implementation of a problem-solving intervention in two primary classrooms
Problem-solving in mathematics is an important component of curricula around the world and it has been identified as essential that students develop this capacity in order to achieve success in mathematics. Studies have found that more teachers need to teach their students strategies to problem-solve in mathematics. The aim of this case study was to investigate the implementation of a problem-solving intervention by two primary school teachers over two lessons each. It focussed on their perceptions of the effectiveness of the intervention and how it might improve their teaching of problem-solving in mathematics in the future. It also focussed on how they implemented the intervention and how their students responded to the intervention. The problem-solving intervention was designed based on features identified in problem-solving literature and in discussion with the two teachers. Particular features that were incorporated into the intervention included: enabling and extending prompts; the provision of periods of time in which students were left to ‘struggle’ with trying to solve the problems themselves; and the provision of periods in which students shared problem-solving strategies with peers. The teachers were interviewed separately before and after teaching the lessons. The researcher observed all four lessons and collected student work samples from each lesson. Data was analysed using a content analysis strategy. The results suggest that the two teachers perceived that the intervention had both positive and negative impacts on their students’ problem-solving abilities. They found that the enabling prompts supported and extended their students’ thinking in the lessons and commented that their students enjoyed being challenged in the lessons. The two teachers perceived that it was often not beneficial for some of their students to struggle with problems in the lessons due to perceived resilience and confidence issues. Both teachers deviated from the intervention in the lessons in order to reduce the amount of struggle their students experienced. However, where students were given time to struggle in the lessons, they were able to formulate and record a greater range of problem-solving strategies. There appeared to be a tension for the teachers between providing time for their students to struggle with problems and preserving some of their students’ confidence. One of the teachers facilitated student share time in the middle of one of her lessons which allowed students to experience both struggle and success. This approach could serve as a compromise between these two tensions. The two teachers perceived that the intervention had a positive impact on their teaching practice. One teacher commented that she intended to implement problem-solving lessons based on the intervention in the future and the other suggested that she would incorporate more manipulatives in her problem-solving lessons.
Pre-service education of the Australian Visual Communication Design teacher: Perceptions and practices of teacher educators
Each year in the Australian state of Victoria, approximately 12,000 senior secondary school students enrol in the subject of Visual Communication Design, its curriculum unique to Victorian schools and liberating design from its popular pairings with Visual Arts or Technology studies. However, as a learning area offered under the umbrella of The Arts, Visual Communication Design is predominantly delivered by Visual Arts specialists, who may or may not have been exposed to understandings of design in their previous studies or teacher training. In fact, only one Victorian tertiary institution specifically prepares teachers of Visual Communication Design, with all others embedding design pedagogical training alongside Visual Arts in pre-service teacher education programs. Of interest then, is the nature and extent of Victorian design teacher training when merged with art teacher education, and most significantly, the role of the teacher educator in shaping conceptions of best practice design pedagogy. This thesis, therefore, investigates how teacher educators’ perceptions of design, design pedagogy and the subject of Visual Communication Design have shaped Visual Arts and Design teacher education programs, and the extent to which teacher candidates are prepared for the enactment of Visual Communication Design curriculum. As a qualitative, cross-case analysis, it examines the lived experiences and personal ideologies of three teacher educators working in Victorian institutions, their insights gathered during hour-long semi-structured interviews, and illuminating the teacher educator’s significant influence on the nature of pre-service design teacher training. Despite sharing an appreciation for design as a distinct formal language, each of the teacher educators interviewed for this study reject the notion of explicitly cultivating design pedagogical content knowledge amongst teacher candidates, choosing instead to facilitate student-led inquiry into perceived areas of need, and nurture general teaching attributes of benefit across Arts domains. Their stories also reveal multifarious understandings of design and Visual Communication Design curriculum, problematic assumptions of subject content knowledge pre-existing amongst student cohorts, and a tendency to downplay rather than deconstruct art and design’s distinct methodologies. In response, I argue that limited exposure to design pedagogical content knowledge in Visual Arts and Design teacher education compromises teacher candidates’ capacity to evolve ‘classroom ready’ understandings of Visual Communication Design pedagogy and curriculum. I also call for recognition in teacher education of art and design’s discrete methodologies, for debate about both their fusion and division in secondary education, and for teacher educators to model informed notions of design and design pedagogy whilst building a culture of practice for future teachers of Visual Communication Design. This study draws from ideas of effective design instruction in higher education, cognitive apprenticeship theory, Shulman’s concepts of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) and signature pedagogies, Dewey’s laboratory model of teacher training and Schon’s theory of reflective practice. The adoption of complexity theory as its framework acknowledges not only the dynamic conditions that govern how and what teacher educators teach, but also the complexity characterising design’s exchange with art both in and beyond Victorian teacher education.
The Impact of Governmentality and Performativity on Teachers’ Work in Singapore from 1983 to 2011
While the successes and achievements of Singapore and its education system have been widely acknowledged and recognized in the world, predominantly via the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS; TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Centre, n.d.) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], n.d.), the daily struggles and sacrifices of its teachers do not feature prominently in the accounts. As a former teacher and retired teacher–educator, I have undertaken a deeply meaningful autoethnographic study, drawing on my experiences of interactions and conversations with colleagues who are either retired or serving teachers. My experiences reveal circumstances lived by what I believe to be a silent majority of teachers whose daily toils and identities have been sacrificed on the altar of nation-building and economic development in Singapore over more than 50 years. In recalling the ups and downs of lives spent in teaching through the decades since Singapore’s independence, my study is thus a reflection of the wider social and national trends occurring in the nation that remains in the grasp of rapid economic and national development (Marechal, 2000; Reed-Danahay, 1997; Schwandt, 2007). In my study, I explored the various discursive practices adopted by the Singapore government to subjectivize its teachers to produce what Foucault (1979) called “docile bodies” (p. 136) to serve its social, economic, and political objectives. I aim to open up more spaces and create new perspectives from which to look at the education system and schools in Singapore, with a view to interrogating the often rigid, and sometimes restrictive, regime operating in Singapore schools. To this end, the Foucauldian analytical approach is most suitable for explicating these issues, enabling deeper insight into the power relations operating in Singapore in general and the schools in particular. It also helps comprehension of the reasons behind the evolution of the policies that have led to the system of schools in Singapore today. In particular, it illuminates the ways power is exercised to support the culture of performativity in Singapore schools. To complement my Foucauldian analysis, I adopted Ball’s (2003) conceptual framework to explicate and examine the various policies and practices expressed through the culture of performativity in Singapore schools.
Teaching together, working together, and being together: Teacher collaboration in Innovative Learning Environments
For New Zealand primary school teachers, the spatial transition from traditional to Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) also contains an underlying assumption that increased pedagogical and professional collaboration will be commensurate. However, for many teachers, collaboration has previously constituted a ‘visited activity’, conducted away from the interface with students and the act of teaching, providing little experience upon which to draw. Working through theoretical perspectives on both teacher collaboration and educational space, and within the case study context of early-adopter primary schools, this thesis contributes to educational research by investigating and analysing the theoretical background, conceptual underpinnings, and enacted experiences, of teachers collaborating in ILEs. The study uses data collected from qualitative semi-structured interviews with individuals and groups, practice observations, and documentation to produce four major findings. Firstly, insights into the nature of teacher collaboration in ILEs, according to how they have been envisioned, rationalised and realised. Secondly, insights into enacted approaches to teaching and learning in ILEs, highlighting four factors: pedagogical intention, collaborative practices, joint teaching strategies, and structural components e.g. shared language. Thirdly, demonstrated links between teacher collaboration and space, found to be a profoundly spatial phenomenon that is experienced via multiple proximities, relationalities, and visibilities. Fourth and finally, a model through which to support the theorisation of teacher collaboration in ILEs: Terrains of teacher collaboration in primary school ILEs. This model theorises that teacher activities are the product of working together, teaching together, and being together. It highlights the nature of the terrain between rhetoric, rationale, and implications, and the everyday realities of enactment. Here the imperative is one of explication – and the need to make explicit the implicit. The study provides important implications for educational theory and practice. Practically, the findings assist school leaders and teachers to recognise, reflect on, and respond to aspects of teacher collaboration in ILEs. The study provides language and a model through which to assist this professional learning. Theoretically it draws attention to the centrality of space and spatiality in teacher collaboration and forms a starting point from which to begin further theoretical work.