How do you change an education system to improve student outcomes in fifty-six schools?
This was the challenge for Catholic Education in Canberra and Goulburn, a system that serves schools and early learning centres in two education jurisdictions, who hired Knowledge Society to establish Studio Curious – an initiative that empowers leaders and teachers to design the changes and solutions that will affect their schools.
Catholic Education wanted to significantly improve measurable student outcomes in a similar manner to which Ontario, Canada, improved student learning in that province. ‘We know that for any school or system to improve its performance, they need to adapt the global evidence and create solutions that respect the unique context of their particular schools’, said Ross Fox, Director of Catholic Education Canberra-Goulburn. ‘The best people to co-design these solutions are the people who will be implementing them on the ground.’
In forward-thinking education systems, the days of ad-hoc initiatives, arbitrary top-down policies and solutions that don’t work on the ground are coming to an end. Catholic Education knew that ‘top-down’ programs aren’t the answer and that to change a system, you need the right drivers, including collaboration and capacity-building. And the best part: school leaders and teachers know what they need and have a wealth of experience and wisdom. Studio Curious was the vehicle for them to contribute to their system’s future.
Design informed by evidence
Studio Curious brought together more than eighty educators over three months. The team developed seven prototypes to improve student performance in three challenge domains: instructional leadership, teacher capacity and ‘making time for what matters’. Participants used Knowledge Society’s evidence-informed design process, supported by its Model for Improving Education Systems. The prototypes generated were based on the global evidence for ‘what works’ in improving education systems and they were strategic and robust – no zany apps or low-impact ideas here. Studio Curious teams were only interested in things that would best improve teaching and learning.
‘Starting with the evidence base is critical, otherwise design solutions miss the target.’
Seven projects to improve teaching and learning
Studio Curious focused on ways to improve the skills and pedagogical knowledge of teachers, including their classroom practice, which means knowing the best behaviours and pedagogical approaches to use and using them well in the classroom. This is the key to improving student outcomes. Effective instructional leadership – the role of the principal as the leader of learning – is also crucial. The teams designed ways to help teachers and principals develop their professional capacity, like helping them find time to collaborate and learn.
‘The opportunity to collaborate on projects that will make a difference to our work in class with principals and teachers from other schools – working with the evidence and learning how to create new solutions – has been amazing,’ said Melanie Stratford, a teacher at St Benedict’s Primary School, Narrabundah. ‘People don’t realise that it is not normal for teachers to collaborate – and it should be,’ she explained.
What’s next for Studio Curious? Catholic Education incorporated these projects into its strategic planning process and is preparing to pilot some of them in 2018 and 2019.
To learn more about this project and how to work with Knowledge Society, get in touch.