One of the models that many would be familiar with is the PBL framework in the High Tech High School system within the USA. It is interesting to read the huge and intense professional learning model for teachers built into this very successful high school learning framework described in the AITSL report.
The Integrated Model of Learning
In High Tech High in San Diego, California, USA, project–based learning (PBL) is a radical and highly disciplined pedagogy practised by all teachers across all subjects and age groups. Teachers in High Tech High engage in sustained and formal professional learning, including:
• half a day every fortnight spent in workshops delivered by specialists from a field, often outside education;
• participation in a study group of their choice, which meets every two weeks and is required to deliver output of use to the whole staff;
• the annual summer school – called the Odyssey – that inducts new teachers and refreshes existing ones.
There is also a state accredited teacher education and leadership academy attached to the school.
Performance and development are characterised in High Tech High by close analysis and critique of student work and outcomes data, both in peer groups and one to one with a mentor. Similarly plans for new projects are scrutinised and critiqued, a quality assurance process incentivised and moderated by the simple fact of all teacher developed resources being made available online, on an open source basis.
This accumulation of consistent, high visibility, high value engagement makes professional learning and performance and development ubiquitous in High Tech High. As one teacher told us “every day is a development day.”
Raising the performance stakes considerably is the one year contract on which High Tech High engages teachers. Each May, based on progress made by their students and feedback from their peers and mentor, teachers learn whether or not they will be employed for another year at the school.
High Tech High receives hundreds of applications and has not had to advertise for teachers for years
There appears to be a very strong and disciplined pedagogical approach that is consistently applied across the whole school by all teachers working within this model. The PD framework certainly adds plenty of meat on the bones to support teachers in the implementation of this model to students.
I have been keenly following Parramatta Marist, a Catholic Marist high school within the Diocese of Parramatta, here in Sydney Australia that has been implementing PBL school wide across the past 6 or 7 years in their school. The school has achieved great success with their PBL model that I believe is heavily based on the High Tech High model. Many of the ingredients for success I read, hear about and see in schools like New Tech and Parramatta Marist in this case study appears to be built upon:
- Strong and Effective Pedagogical leadership that provides the mechanism to allow consistency of approach and methodology across all subjects within the school;
- Reframing of traditional assessment of learning to include greater focus on real world integration of learning projects to enable all students to easily link the “outside or real” world to the classroom;
- Strong use of student feedback and inclusion in this learning and teaching model to empower and enable the learner (student) to take greater responsibility for their own learning in the process;
- Restructuring of learning environments and timetables to allow greater focus on all students working collaboratively in groups producing new knowledge;
- And arguably one of the most important ingredients is the amount professional learning time that is allocated, but also built in to teachers daily work to prepare and plan for the PBL model to be successfully implemented in the school.
The message is change takes time to implement in any school but within the High Tech High PBL model there is great expectation but also great investment in the teacher. School leaders at Parramatta Marist have obviously absorbed learnt this from many visits to San Diego as well as the Hattie visible learning research about the effect size of the role the teacher makes and their successful model reveals to the education community that proper investment in teachers will bring a huge return for students. There is also very strongly held accountabilities of the teacher performance in these schools. The American model is an interesting one with annual contracts in the High Tech High system. I think this would be similar to many top tier private schools in Australia that have teachers on 2-3 year contract and renewal process.
We are wrestling with some of these issues in my school as we debate the many competing interests for time in the school day and how we allocate appropriate time to enable teachers to grow in their jobs and become the excellent, continuously improving leaders of learning that our students today demand.
What is certainly clear is that AITSL is doing a great job of providing worlds best practice to Australian school leaders evidence like the horizon report that show many schools are pushing beyond the boundaries of what we have defined as “typical” in schools for too long. I will be taking my learning gained here from reading this report across a holiday weekend and share it with my colleagues about the imperative for continuous “relearning”.
Those famous words of futurist Alvin Toffler spring to my mind.