Dr Graham Stoop has just taken up his new role as chief executive of the Education Council. He talks to School News about his plans for the council and aspirations for teachers in New Zealand.
What attracted you to the position of CEO at the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand – did you see it as a natural progression in your career in education and what do you hope to achieve there?
I’ve been involved in education all my life – first as a teacher and then a principal. Later in my career I worked as a chief executive in the tertiary sector and for the Education Review Office. Before taking up this role, I was in charge of student achievement at the Ministry of Education.
So it seems I’ve turned full circle by coming to work at the Education Council. And it’s a virtuous circle, as it turns out, for me. I’m starting over in a way, working with teachers again, not as one of them, but for them. Now I’m serving the profession directly – working to elevate the status of teachers and providing practical assistance to help with centre and classroom delivery, and assistance with leadership. So, in answer to your question, yes I saw this as a natural progression for me – a new and exciting challenge.
Notwithstanding the legislative obligations the council has, I want to see us put huge effort into increasing the public’s understanding of the important role teachers play in shaping young lives, because we’re all in this together.
I want to see us put effort into increasing the public’s understanding of the huge difference teachers make to children and young people, and to the wider society. Teachers make a difference. I want our profession to attract the brightest and the best to early childhood, primary and secondary education.
The council must demonstrate leadership by developing (in consultation with the sector) a leadership strategy which is system-wide, collaborative and evidence-based. We will focus on building capability and we are charged with an important role in initial teacher education – a very important area for us.
There’s a lot to be getting on with but I think we can build a very solid platform during my three year tenure. Having a three-year contract means I must prove my worth during that time. There’s a lot to do.
What do you see as the key issues facing teachers in New Zealand schools and how do you believe they can they be addressed in order to improve teacher competence and confidence?
Teaching is a profession that gains strength through collaboration. I don’t think teachers have, in the last couple of decades, been given as many opportunities to do this. We have great teachers and principals working discretely, and some collaboratively, but that hasn’t been system-wide because our schools are not designed for collaboration at that level. I think the review of the Education Act is timely from this perspective.
I’m very interested in the potential of Communities of Learning (CoL) to play a strong role in enabling more collaboration. CoL will help build a structure that facilitates the exchange of knowledge and learning from others. We benefit from being able to professionally critique each other, and, because this is what happens when the culture is set up to expect excellence, there will be a focus on improvement.
Technological change is also challenging, and because of this we must see ourselves as lifelong learners. New demands will be made on us about what, and how, we learn. As teachers we must rise to that challenge and ask ourselves what skills are needed, and what will learning look like in the future.
I read a report from the European Commission where teachers were asked for their views on the future of school education. The main comments were about an expectation there would be more active ways of learning, an emphasis on competencies and principles and values, and an expectation of new settings and contexts. I’d like to do something similar here, and in fact we will be surveying teachers in the New Year.
What are the strengths of the New Zealand education system and our teaching methods, and how can they be built on?
I believe one of our greatest strengths is what is often called ‘the front end of the curriculum’. We have a great statement of competencies and principles and values that the teachers surveyed in Europe regarded as so important. Early childhood education (ECE) is also embedded in the New Zealand system – we know high-quality ECE gives our youngsters a great start in their school life.
In my experience, New Zealand teachers are highly regarded around the world because we put an emphasis on effective teaching practice in our training. I believe this is something we could build on in initial teacher education.
Over recent years teachers have become more practised with self-review and critique of practice. There is still more work that can be done here.
Finally, I am heartened by an increased focus in recent years in boosting Māori and Pacific achievement. While there is still a way to go, we have made identifiable gains and we need to build on that.
What are the weaknesses and how can they be overcome?
We still have boundaries around formal and informal learning. We are lifelong learners and I think we need to get better at recognising informal learning plays a role in making us better teachers.
I think teachers reflect the general public in that there are gaps in our literacy around technology, science, finance, mathematics and civics. As a result we’re not linking these areas to pedagogy. Reading, writing and maths are incredibly important foundations, but society is complex and our role is to help form curious, competent, productive and participating citizens.
I think we could also be more culturally competent. While we live in a multicultural society, we are fundamentally bicultural and our practice must reflect that. However, we must also understand, and act on, our changing social/ethnic make-up. We are evolving rapidly and in the next 20 years society could look quite different as we see more and more non-New Zealand-born citizens living and raising families here.
Given both the increasing diversity of the student population in New Zealand schools, and the exponential growth of technology in our classrooms, do you see areas of teacher training that need to better reflect the changing environment?
This is a really big conversation – one I’d very much like to continue because there is a lot to consider. But, in a nutshell, yes I do. I think we need to be much more responsive to labour market needs and at matching supply to demand. Indeed, I think we also need to look ahead much more, predicting trends and developing strategies to ensure we meet current and future needs.
Information technology is moving at a very fast pace; we simply cannot be left behind. Determining where this is going to go is anyone’s guess, but ITEs need to have appropriately trained people who can work, and indeed thrive, in complexity, change and innovation. Exciting times…so watch this space.
For more information about the Education Council and Dr Graham Stoop visit educationcouncil.org.nz