Direct Instruction Staff Conference, Darwin

Good to Great Schools Australia

2017 January, 30

Direct Instruction Staff Conference, Darwin

Thank you everyone for joining us in our third year of the Literacy in Remote Schools program. It’s a very important thing that we've been doing over these last three years.

I want to share some thoughts about our thinking about education over the years with Good to Great Schools. I want us to reflect on this third and last year of our program and where we've got to with our schools and the distance that remains before us, if we're going to make the work that we've done over the last three years amount to something sustainable that lasts into the future.

We've got to adopt a mentality of no excuses. We’ve got to set the highest bar possible. Because we will never prevail against the challenges we have if we don't have that mindset of no excuses. It's a battle. It’s a hill we have to overcome. And we can’t overcome that hill if we allow ourselves to indulge in excuses. A student has not learned, a teacher has not taught. And it puts the whole accountability for our school in our hands. If our kids are not learning it’s because we are not teaching.

And I find Siegfried’s operating principle with direct instruction obviously very bracing. More bracing for you, than for me, as teachers. Because if we are not succeeding with the learning, then we are not succeeding with the teaching. And I think that the nostrum of direct instruction must be kept fair and square at the front of our minds. It must be the banner of the school. Being serious about making education a life transforming change.

We’ve got to stop allowing predestination to be the future of our remote children. We've got to allow education to be the one opportunity to transform destiny and to make new destinies. It's the one chance the child will have. School is the only place where we can change destiny.

I really reject the idea that schools should just be a class replication sausage machine. School should be the place where class doesn't matter. Schools should be the place that says there is no room for class discrimination. We've got to have the same expectations of the poorest kids as we do of the advantaged kids. And we've got to strive to get outcomes for the disadvantaged kids that we would expect to be normal for advantaged ones. And school is the one place where we can change destinies and we can change prospects.

This is an idea that only became clear in my own mind in the last six months. It is this idea that we need student ready schools, not just school ready students. We need schools that can cater for our kids. That are going to have high expectations of our kids. That are going to give high outcomes for our kids. But they're going to take our kids as they are. Not make an excuse of the fact that that kid doesn't have books at home. It's the teaching in the school that should be the issue.

And so, in our reform thinking, I think we were not quite clear about this. We need to shape schools that cater for disadvantaged kids. Shape schools that cater to disadvantaged kids. The whole language approach to learning reading caters for middle-class kids. For kids that have been immersed in books and literacy all of their lives since they were little babies. And schools that just give whole language to kids, they're not catering to our kids. They’re catering to the middle class, and it's failing a lot of them as well. We need schools that cater to our children. We want student-ready schools, not just school-ready students.

One of the lessons we've learned very clearly, and it’s a universal lesson well known by everybody, but very clear from John Hattie's advice to us in relation to the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy, we have to close the gap in pre-prep and prep.

Our schools in Cape York have been going at a very fast rate. 1.5 times in literacy the average Australian rate. We have had great teachers and students who have worked very hard. But the problem is that if your kid is 300 meters back in the race compared to other kids in the country, they've got too far to go to catch up. And John Hattie said to us; ‘well, you’ve either got to increase the acceleration’. Well, we're already going one and a half times faster. ‘Or, you’ve got to start earlier’. And in these last couple of years in the academy we really made a concerted effort to stop stuffing around with whether creche and kindergarten or some other organisation is going to let us at the pre-prep’s.

To my shame I allowed five years to go on before I had that fight. These people want to play games with the kids all day. Play based learning. And we're begging them at the door for a bit of explicit instruction. Let's use a K-level program for the pre-preps and the preps. And once we started doing it - last Easter all of our preps that were attending our three campuses were on track to read in grade one. Because for the first time we were working with them in pre-prep and prep.

I have a fundamental debate going on with Dr Chris Sarra in relation to this whole question of high expectations. I'm in vigorous agreement about the idea of high expectations, which is an old idea. My problem with Dr Sarra is that we can talk all day about having high expectations of the case. It is incontrovertible that that is the right idea. The problem is, you can't just have high expectations of Johnny. You’ve got to give Johnny the means to meet those expectations. And that is my criticism. Having high expectations is one thing. The other thing is to give the child the means to meet those expectations, otherwise we're just holding out cruel expectations of students without giving them the means to meet those expectations. And of course, my argument in relation to giving the child the means to meet those expectations is to give them effective instruction. That is how you enable the child to meet their expectations you say you have of them.

And of course, my critique of Chris Sarra is that he’s good at banging the drum on high expectations but as to furnishing the child with the means to meet those expectations, well I don't see the effective instruction. I just so fervently believe in the importance of education for our remote schools and our remote children.

I can't understand why indigenous leaders don’t understand enough that this is as important as land rights. There are four important things. It’s like building a building; foundation is land rights. Well, we've got our land rights. The pillar we have to construct is education for our children. And the other pillar we have to construct is good health for our children. And then we build the architecture of a sustainable economy for our people. Those four things are my agenda. On the foundation of our land rights. And in Cape York Peninsula we are at some point going to earn ninety-eight percent of the Cape under Native Title. We're going to win the land rights fight following on from land rights in the Northern Territory. So, we will have the foundation of the land rights under our feet. But the pillar that we have to build on top of that land rights is education for the children. Otherwise, we'll have land rights and no future.

And that's why I regard this work that has been done in these past two years and this third year that lies in front of us are so crucially important. Because education is one of the four things that we are trying to build in order to put the structure together. The foundation of land rights. The pillar of education. The pillar of good health. And the structure of our future economy.

I see this school reform exercises, it's going to take us 10 years. It's going to take us 10 years to turn our schools to great and for our communities to have a viable future because the one thing that is working, that is like a beacon in our remote communities, is the school. And we’re just only into our third year of that crusade and every community that can say “we have got a school that is a beacon for the future of our people” is a community that will live long on the earth.

And so I wish you all the very best this year. I thank you in advance for all of the hard work that you will do, and that you have already done. But we've got to redouble our conviction and redouble our energies because it is a sacred mission. It is a sacred mission. It is nothing less than the survival of a people that is at stake here. It is nothing less than the survival of a people that is at stake.

Thank you.