Teaching the teachers
Professor John Fischetti aims to produce teachers who are well equipped for a new era in education.
A great teacher can change the trajectory of a child's life. International researchers have demonstrated that teachers are the single most important factor determining the success of children - but, surprisingly, the same research is unclear as to the impact those great teachers' preparation programs had on their success.
Incoming Head of the School of Education Professor John Fischetti's research agenda focuses on finding what gives great teachers that magic touch – how to prepare them to help students really learn.
"We need to be better preparing teachers so that kids actually master content and skills rather than just filling in the time at school and taking tests," Professor Fischetti says.
"For many teachers there's this moment when they teach a concept so well that a child will master it and never forget it. But how did the teacher learn to do that? Was it through a preparatory program, by watching a mentor, did they learn it in a book?"
That we produce teachers with this ability is particularly important as the innovation age transforms teaching in Australia and round the world.
While most schools still operate within structures similar to those in place 50 years ago, students are distracted and stimulated more than ever by technology. This means today's teachers need the skillset to teach in more innovative and creative ways to ensure children are engaged and motivated to learn, Professor Fischetti says.
One way of doing this is to ensure structures are in place within schools and, more broadly, at a state and national level to support teachers with professional development that is both relevant to the classroom and research-based.
Studying how to do this most effectively forms the other plank of Professor Fischetti's research. He is best known for his work in the United States on the connections between teacher preparation and ongoing professional development.
During his time as Professor in the School of Education at the University of Louisville (Kentucky), he helped pioneer Professional Development Schools – where public schools and universities work in tandem, rather like teaching hospitals in which student teachers work like intern doctors.
He later specialised in secondary education reform while at the Watson School of Education, University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he led the team that developed the school's first educational doctorate.
More recently his focus has been on new demands facing education systems in the United States, South Africa, Europe and Australia, including new ways of teaching, information technology and encouraging extraordinary leadership in spite of tighter funding environments.
As parents desert public schools and education systems remain slow to adapt to more collaborative and innovative ways of teaching, Professor Fischetti believes teachers have an unprecedented opportunity to inform the preparation of the educators of the future.
Through an unwavering commitment to teaching excellence, he believes public schools can regain parents' confidence and provide more students with a diversity of opportunity, which he sees as a good thing for democracy and the future.
"We have an obligation in public education to produce the greatest teachers we can by using the best research available to promote equity and fairness in our society," he says.
As head of school, he aims to enable research that sets teachers on track to becoming great – to being the best teachers they can be and, ultimately, producing engaged, motivated students for whom teaching will have lifelong benefits.