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Teacher Professionalism, Australian Professional Standards for Teachers

Teacher professionalism is of paramount importance in the daily workings of schools, as this

is what aids positive outcomes and equitable practice in complex and diverse classrooms. As

per the Professional Standards Council (PSC), contemporary professionals are disciplined

individuals who: follow ethical standards, have knowledge and skills achieved through

high-level education, and utilise skills in the interests of others(PSC, 2015). Teachers are

indeed disciplined individuals, with high-level education, as seen through the shift of teacher

training at Teachers Colleges to specialised studies at universities (Connell, 2013, p.266).

Moreover, by critiquing the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) in line with

the PSC definition, teacher professionalism and its importance in the educational outcomes of

students becomes fundamentally clear. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School

Leadership (AITSL) established the APST with the interest of creating a clear framework for

quality teaching and professionalism (Bourke, Lidstone & Ryan, 2013, p.3). Standard one

outlines the need for teachers to know students and how they learn(AITSL, 2011). With this,

teachers must consistently develop pedagogical approaches that support all students

including those from diverse or disadvantaged backgrounds. This adheres to the PSC notion of

professionals fostering ethical standards in their practices, as teachers rightfully adhere to the

needs of students, regardless of diversity. Moreover, standard two of the APST stresses

teachers know the content and how to teach it(AITSL, 2011). This adheres to the PSC

definition of professionals possessing a large body of knowledge and skills and utilising it in

the interest of others. In this case, teachers knowledge of content and their skills in pedagogy

support learning for the students benefit. Hence, teacher professionalism is real and is of

paramount importance, as this is what aids equitable practices in complex and daily workings

of classrooms.

Curriculum, incl. Australian National Curriculum

Curriculum relates to the how and what of teaching; that is, the way in which students should

be taught, and what content this should be (Clarke & Pittaway, 2014, p.89). The distinctiveness

in the how and the what of curriculum is important to the daily work of teachers, as this is what

leads to understanding individual needs of students. By teachers considering how differences

in linguistics, culture, and socioeconomic statuses affect students, this directly impacts what

should be taught (Egan, 1978, p.70). Its important for teachers to remember that classrooms

are complex places, and that differentiating curriculum can meet the complexity of individual

learning needs. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

developed the Australian National Curriculum to create a transparent framework that

promotes quality and equitable educational outcomes (ACARA, n.d.). In this case, the

what is quality content, and the how is through equitable modes. Positively, it seeks to develop

all students into successful learners and active, informed citizens(Clarke & Pittaway, 2014,

p.82; ACARA, 2011). Yet, despite claiming quality content there has also been criticisms of

the what of the curriculum. That is, the emphasis on a content-heavy national curriculum has

been condemned for the potential to lead to overcrowding(Atweh & Singh, 2011,p.193).

Students in turn, may be taught shallow-knowledge such as facts as opposed to deeper

conceptual understandings such as modes of enquiry (Lingard & McGregor, 2014,p.105).

This in turn, emphasises the potential inadequateness of the curriculum in meeting the

intellectual needs of students. Finally, there is also a concern that the curriculum is designed

on political rather than educational agendas(Atweh & Singh, 2011,p.190). In other words,

the national curriculum can be viewed as a political text as it reflects power, privilege and

ideological hegemony(Harris-Hart, 2010,p.299). This in turn, highlights the way in which the

Australian National Curriculum is distorting the goal of curriculum in education rather than

meeting student needs, it has become a way to further political agenda.

Pedagogy incl. NSW Quality Teaching Model

Pedagogy is the technique and practice by which teachers teach (Clarke & Pittaway,

2014,p.181). Pedagogy is important to the daily work of teachers, as it can aid their attempts

to address complexities in delivering curriculum content in the classroom. For instance,

differentiating pedagogical instructions for curriculum content can foster student success, as

different students have different learning needs. A form of effective pedagogy is

constructivist, which allows teachers to adopt practices that support students in constructing

their own meaning rather than students robotically absorbing facts (Killen, 2005,p.7). As will

be uncovered, the NSW Quality Teaching Model can be understood as a constructivist

approach to pedagogy. The model was created to aid teachers self-reflection in pedagogical

approaches (Liberante, 2012,p.2), and assist them in the daily task of fostering a safe,

intellectual learning environment for all students regardless of diversity. Intellectual

Quality addresses the need for teachers to implement practices that encourage students to

develop a deep understanding of curriculum content (Department of Education and Training

[DET], 2003). Quality Learning Environment supports student-learning through high-

expectations and social support. Significance functions to help students draw connections

between their prior knowledge, cultural identities and perspectives relevant to the material

(DET, 2003). These pedagogies are constructivist, as teachers create learning environments

that encourage students to actively engage and shape knowledge in the learning process. By

fostering these three pedagogies simultaneously, teachers have the capacity to create a

curriculum that promotes deeper understanding and has significant meaning to specific students

in turn, functioning to adhere to diversity. Hence, the NSW Quality Teaching Model

effectively seeks to help teachers in approaching the complexities of classrooms, by fostering

safe, intellectual learning environments for all students.

Assessment, The National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

Assessment in education is an important and effective way for teachers to monitor students

understanding of the curriculum content being delivered (Clarke & Pittaway, 2014,p.408).

Moreover, it allows teachers to gage how their daily pedagogical strategies are functioning

whether it be in student success or failure. In this way, assessment is meant to function to

uncover, develop and improve educational outcomes, and promote the ongoing learning of both

students and teachers. Yet, high-stakes assessments such NAPLAN distort this goal in

education. NAPLAN is a standardised examination of students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across

Australia, in which students results are made public. The publication of schools test scores

on the MySchool website has led to great competitive pressures on schools as the results

impact government funding, resources, and encourage parents to choose between schools

(Connell, 2012,p.265). The effect of this has truly significant consequences on Australias

educational landscape with the increase in pressure to achieve greater results, teachers are

now teaching to the test to maximise test scores (Thompson & Harbaugh, 2013; Comber,

2012). This in turn, promotes teacher-centred pedagogies that encourage superficial learning,

rather than higher-order thinking (Thompson & Harbaugh, 2011,p.310). Furthermore, the small

snapshot that NAPLAN provides often dismisses equitable considerations within schools

such as socioeconomically disadvantaged students or those from non-English speaking

backgrounds. Clearly, NAPLAN in practice does not endeavour to uncover, develop and

improve educational outcomes for students as assessments should. Instead, the assessment

seeks to maximise competitive pressures on schools, and dismisses fundamental equity


Application: Indigenous Students

Classrooms are complex environments that contain different students with different learning

needs. Indigenous students in particular, have diverse needs that require differentiated support

by teachers within education. Such needs include more Aboriginal centred-education, better

teacher understanding, and an overall more inclusive learning environment. To uncover the

importance of meeting such needs, this will be identified alongside their negative impacts.

More often than not, neglecting Indigenous students learning needs results in lower academic

achievement, disengagement and absence from school. Despite classrooms being complex

environments for teachers of Indigenous students, it is in their professional duty to effectively

meet those complexities through differentiated instruction. This is clear in creating integrated

support through curriculum, pedagogy and assessment to address student disadvantages and

needs. In the end, all students should have the opportunity and support from educators to be

active, successful and confident learners regardless of their cultural background.

Indigenous students have diverse learning needs when it comes to achieving educational

success. One important learning need is the recognition of their culture, language and values

as accepted within the classroom. This is because most curriculums and assessments within

schools reflect dominant white cultural values and practices in turn, making students with

diverse cultural behaviours and understandings feel confused and displaced (Rahman,

2013,p.660). When this feeling of displacement is not addressed, many Indigenous students

achieve lower grades as they have trouble relating to the material provided or respond by

withdrawing from education altogether (Rahman, 2013, p.661). For example, this lack of

cultural recognition is apparent through the large disparity between Indigenous and non-

Indigenous students NAPLAN results. Across all Australian States, Territories and year levels,

Indigenous students literacy and numeracy results are considerably below the National

Minimum Standard in comparison to non-Indigenous students (Ford, 2013, p.94). One reason

for this is that NAPLAN is culturally inappropriate, as it does not factor in Indigenous students

languages or diversities. As Ford (2013) argues, lower-academic achievement within

NAPLAN results is clearly related to the neglect of bi-cultural and bilingual education

within schools (p.95). Hence, the recognition of Indigenous culture, language and values as

accepted within the classroom is a significant learning need.

It is important therefore, to evaluate the professional role teachers should take in designing

curriculum, pedagogy and assessment tasks to address such need of greater Aboriginal centred-

education. Standard one of the APST stresses for teachers to know the students and how they

learn (AITSL, 2011). In terms of pedagogy, a particularly effective framework for this is the

NSW Quality Teaching Model, where Significance recognises the importance of background

and cultural knowledge in differentiating tasks for students. Through this pedagogy, teachers

in this scenario can effectively design and partake in instruction with a greater focus on

Aboriginal culture. In order to produce such curriculum, however, teachers will need to truly

know their key learning areas, and rework their curriculums to fit with the cultural experiences

and needs of Indigenous students without losing the contents Intellectual Quality(Burgess,

2015,p.7). This in turn, would also adhere to standard two of the APST, as teachers effectively

know the content and how to deliver this to their students (AITSL, 2011). In engaging with

more inclusive pedagogies and curriculum approaches, teachers can help students feel more

interested and connected to the content and to school in general. Assessment also plays a

fundamental part in this and the teachers role. Teachers must structure assessments to be fair

and culturally appropriate to Indigenous students unlike the NAPLAN example in order to

promote an inclusive education system. Moreover, assessment can be utilised to monitor

students outcomes after changed curriculum and pedagogical approaches. This in turn, allows

teachers to continuously monitor and know students and how they learn best; creating an

equitable cycle of meeting learning needs.

This relates to the next learning need, and that is teacher understanding. Teachers

understanding of Indigenous culture is fundamental to fostering appropriate, inclusive and

connected learning environments (Burgess, 2015). If this learning need is not met, cultural

differences and values may be misinterpreted, and may cause unnecessary conflict between

teachers and Indigenous students which can result in student displacement. For example, in

Indigenous communities, children are encouraged to determine their own boundaries, make

their own decisions, and rely less on adult intervention (Rahman, 2013,p.663). This in turn,

generally brings about strong autonomy and independence within Indigenous students

features that may be misunderstood by non-Indigenous teachers as disrespectful and

disobedient(Santoro et al., 2011, p.71; Rahman, 2013,p.663). Without prior knowledge of this

cultural value, teachers may conduct in defensive teaching and impose more controlling

pedagogies onto Indigenous students, which in turn, only aids their disconnect and

displacement at school (Burgess, 2015,p.3; Partington, 2003,p.41). Hence, teachers

understanding is a fundamental learning need for Indigenous students.

It is therefore essential to evaluate the professional role teachers should take in designing

curriculum, pedagogy and assessment tasks to address the need of greater student-teacher

understanding. Standard four of the APST stresses for teachers to create and maintain

supportive and safe learning environments(AITSL, 2011). In this way, teachers need to begin

to distinguish and understand the cultural knowledge, values and beliefs that Indigenous

students rely upon, and support students by adopting culturally-receptive pedagogies. This in

turn, will open up the curriculum and assessment practice, and permit for diverse knowledge

and behaviour within the classroom (Santoro et al., 2011,p.68). Cultural understanding and its

implementation within curriculum, pedagogy and assessments is fundamental to building trust

and respect between Indigenous students and their teachers and can potentially create a sense

of belonging for Indigenous students at school (Burgess, 2015, p.7). This in turn, can allow

students to feel more confident in their educational pursuits. By taking the time to adjust

curriculums, pedagogies and assessments to include Indigenous needs, this holistic approach

to education also showcases the third APST: plan for and implement effective teaching and

learning(AITSL, 2011). In planning to meet the complexities of classrooms, teachers will be

able to teach students effectively, and engage them within the learning process. Hence, the

professional role of the teacher, in designing curriculums, pedagogies and assessments can aid

student-teacher understanding, and foster a more inclusive learning environment.

To conclude, Indigenous students have diverse learning needs that require differentiated

support by teachers. Such needs include more Aboriginal centred-education, better teacher

understanding, and an overall more inclusive learning environment. The importance of meeting

such needs has been identified alongside their negative impacts that is, lower academic

achievement, disengagement and absence from school. Despite classrooms being complex

environments for teachers of Indigenous students, it is their professional duty to effectively

meet those complexities through differentiated instruction. This is clear in creating integrated

support through curriculum, pedagogy and assessment to address disadvantages. Hence,

regardless of cultural background, all students should have the opportunity and support from

educators to be successful learners.


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