University of Newcastle research program, Teachers and Teaching, proves collaboration is the key to success in teaching and research.

Teachers and teaching

15 May 2014

University of Newcastle research program, Teachers and Teaching, proves collaboration is the key to success in teaching and research.

Kathryn Holmes, Jenny Gore and Max Smith

The success of a sustained body of research on pedagogical reform for schools – the work of Education academics in the Faculty of Education and Arts – has led to the establishment of the Teachers and Teaching Research Program. The new Program represents both recognition of achievements past and investment and impetus for the future.

"Teachers and Teaching will expand the capacity, scope and impact of our work and give it more visibility in research and education sectors nationally and internationally," explains Professor Jenny Gore, who has led the research to date and now leads the new Program.

"We also expect it to consolidate research in the area by attracting academics working in related fields but previously unaware of what we're doing or how they can contribute. Discipline specialists, for example, can work with our education specialists to improve the intellectual rigour with which school teachers engage with their subjects.

"This is already happening with mathematics. Maths educators, Kath Holmes and Elena Prieto, have just teamed up with academics from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences to form the University of Newcastle node in a national $2.2m government-funded project called Inspiring mathematics and science in teacher education."

At its core Teachers and Teaching will build on 15 years of research (largely ARC-funded) that uses a systematic approach first developed by Jenny with James Ladwigand subsequently contributed to by other researchers in the School  – the Quality Teaching model – to improve the quality of teaching, and therefore learning, in schools. This approach has implications for undergraduate education, teachers-in-training and professional development activities for teachers in the field.

The model is highly regarded, yet effective implementation in education systems has proved challenging. Another academic, Julie Bowe, helped develop an alternative. The result was Quality Teaching Rounds.

"Professional learning for teachers typically amounts to an expert coming in for a day, giving some grand presentation and then breezing out, or asking teachers to figure it out for themselves in professional learning communities. In contrast, Quality Teaching Rounds is carefully structured around local collaboration. It brings teachers together to observe and discuss teaching – through the lens of the Quality Teaching model – at a local level, knowing their schools, communities, kids, syllabuses. It's improvement through collaboration. And they've really taken to it."

The group, now including Nicole Mockler and Max Smith, is planning to test the effectiveness of Quality Teaching Rounds using a randomised controlled trial (RCT). RCTs are de rigueur in medicine – the gold standard – but rare in education, so a new collaboration was required. Enter David Lubans from the Faculty of Education and Arts' Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, who has brought to the party his considerable experience in RCTs. 

It's been a story of gradual accretion – of people and skills. But the creation of the new Program will dramatically accelerate this process, Jenny believes.

"We're already engaging  with researchers in Physical Activity and Nutrition in projects on teacher development, with researchers in Wollotuka to address quality teaching for Aboriginal students, and with Kath Holmes and others to connect our Quality Teaching agenda with their articulations of  '21st century' teaching and learning. And the Master of Teaching, recently selected as a flagship program, has Quality Teaching and Quality Teaching Rounds at its core.

'"There's a pleasing, if ironic, symmetry about all this. Many teachers find being on your own in those four walls with the classroom door shut is a lonely enterprise. For years our research has been opening classrooms up, bringing teachers together, building community, demonstrating the value of teamwork. The results speak for themselves: improved teaching quality, improved student performance, improved teacher satisfaction, improved commitment to learning, and improved collegiality. Which essentially mirrors what this new Program is going to do for us."