The University of Newcastle, Australia

The qualities of quality: Understanding excellence in schooling

From marines to Masters' students, principals to preservice teachers, Dr Scott Imig is helping educators on both sides of the Pacific to engage in reflective practice and conversations about growth.

Scott Imig Dr Scott Imig is putting an unconventional but interesting spin on the term 'eco-conscious.' He's helping schools to go green, in the traditional sense, and he's getting them to go bigger and better – meaningfully and purposefully creating "environments" where children are excited to learn and their teachers are enthused to teach. 

"I conduct both qualitative and quantitative studies and attempt to make the findings actionable for school heads and teachers," the passionate academic shares.

I'm seeking to improve the quality of individual classrooms and whole institutions by making them places where students want to be.

Though not considering himself a generalist, Scott admits he's tapped into "a large number" of research areas over the years. Cautious to specify just one, the senior lecturer acknowledges his work is as interdisciplinary and integrated as most pedagogical strategies, spanning educational policy, professional development, and leadership.

"I also do a lot of work in coaching and supervision," he reveals.

"With the right support, school staff can be constantly self-evaluating and collaborating and growing."

"It's very pleasing to see."

Resolutely pursuing "the best and most translatable" practices around the world, Scott is similarly steadfast in his commitment to evidence-based teaching and learning.

"The gold standard for Principals is that kids are safe, happy, engaged and learning," he avows.

"These are attributes of effective classrooms."

Inform, perform, transform

Scott's research career began in 2000, when he undertook a PhD with the University of Virginia's Educational Leadership and Foundations Department. His thesis focused on teachers' decision making in the classroom. His probe sought to explore and evaluate nuanced, direct and indirect interactions between students and primary school personnel.

"I was working on the proviso that good classroom instructors make choices, unconsciously or consciously, very quickly," he asserts.

"With a glance or hand gesture or single word, teachers can stop a behavioural issue over here and get something moving over there, all while adapting a lesson plan in their heads."

"Teachers are phenomenal multi-taskers – almost like conductors of an orchestra."

"People who study education and do this type of training develop the ability to a greater extent than people who elect other career paths."

Scott designed and implemented an online interactive simulator to test his bold, multipronged hypothesis, duly considering the possibility that "seasoned professionals" are even further along in their decision making.

"Participants were asked to sit in front of a computer and watch a series of schoolroom scenarios while fielding real-time questions," he explains.

"Student teachers completely outperformed those not in the education arena in terms of identifying and rectifying problems."

Achieving added value

The enthusiastic scholar stayed at the University of Virginia after receiving his award in 2003, employed to conduct a number of linked studies over the next three and a half years. Leading the research efforts on the $5 million grant from the renowned Carnegie Corporation to do so, Scott endeavoured to demonstrate the Virginia campus' equally renowned status as providers of quality teachers.

"They are highly regarded for the quality of their teacher preparation programs," he reveals.

"It was my task to research and identify the ways the University of Virginia and its teacher education programs add value."

Wanting to change scenery and change lives, Scott relocated to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2006. In North Carolina, Scott taught courses in supervision, coaching, curriculum and evaluation and supervised more than 30 masters level and doctoral students on their research. Taking on a convening role within the Curriculum and Instruction Program, the ambitious scholar aspired to further his expertise in professional development and leadership.

"Several years later I became the Associate Dean for Outreach," he discloses.

"It was a wonderful position that allowed me to help lead the School of Education's 136 school partnerships, and to help develop, educate and honour teachers throughout the many stages of their careers."

"I really enjoyed my time in that role."

A master at multitasking, Scott also worked with the marines at Camp Lejuene during his nine years in North Carolina. Though conceding the corps operates in a "very different" way to schools and is "necessarily hierarchical," he affirms military life similarly offers opportunities for personal reflection and individual goal setting.

"It's important to build individuals in all fields who are self-reflective, who can figure out what they want and how to earn it," he attests.

Across the ocean

Scott moved to Australia with his young family in July 2015, seeking to "see education through multiple lenses" and open himself up to "a much broader world." Impressed by the University of Newcastle's reputation for being "internationally focused and very connected," the creative collaborator quickly signed on to redesign its Masters in Leadership Management Program with Associate Professor Jim Ladwig.

"We're hoping to craft a principal preparation program like no other," he divulges.

"It has to be forward-thinking and focused on developing and leading schools that truly matter for children in an increasingly global society."

"Unfortunately, many schools in the United States and United Kingdom have become so test-driven that they've almost forgotten what the power of schooling is all about."

"We want to excite kids and give them a strong foundation. Engaged students, curious students want to be in school and learn."

Not slowing down anytime soon, Scott is continuing his green schools research and is in the process of planning a learning transfer project too.

"Sitting at any university is a tremendous amount of knowledge in all kinds of fields," he believes.

"Principals could and should take advantage of this collective knowledge."