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Dr Adrienne Huber small title












Reflections on the work of the Primary Teacher into the Twenty First Century: The case of literacy teaching and learning at one school.

I wrote the following paper on my work at a school in Canberra as part of a reflection process on my own practices and conceptual development as a teacher/learner. While a reflection of teaching practice, this paper is also a statement of my philosophy and goals as a teacher/learner. I strongly believe we need to equip ourselves and our students with the skills and means to be flexible, dynamic and responsive to our and their experiences as we prepare ourselves and our students for a world we do not and cannot really know. -AH


The Challenge.

Teaching into the coming century will change even more rapidly than it has in the past century as reflected in Barchan's (1980) and Keeve's (1990) accounts of Australian education between 1880 and 1901 (although the central issues may never change). At the onset of the Twenty First Century, futurologists predict radical changes in our ways of being, thinking, doing, living and working (e.g., Reich, 1993; Toffler, 1990 & Wurman, 1989). Together they present a picture which has far reaching implications for our understanding, teaching, learning and use of literacy well into the next century. As the world grows closer and information amasses and becomes more complex, they predict power will reside with those who are flexible, dynamic and able to meaningfully access, pattern and apply information as required and when required to meet highly specific demands. They argue that we will no longer be able to be hesitant about the connection between literacy and individual and cultural demands as these will form the basis for the construction of meanings in relationships, in schools and at work. Furthermore, they argue that symbolic-analytic skills will be essential for functioning in such a world. These skills require an individual to be highly flexible, able to conceptualise a problem, rapidly access relevant information pertaining to the problem, derive meaningful patterns from the relevant information for the resolution of the problem, promote the resolution to others and readily respond to consequences of that resolution (Ref.: also Pfeffer, 1992, re successful international organisations and the use of this modus operandi ). Schools and specifically, teachers, need to respond accordingly.
Being a teacher requires a complex multifaceted dynamic set of skills. Teachers need to be able to fit in with others such as their colleagues, the students and the parents (Holmes, 1993a; Turney, Eltis, Towler & Wright, 1986). They also need to be able to critically evaluate their ways of 'doing' their job as outside demands change the requirements of teachers (Lovat, 1991; Henry, Knight, Lingard & Taylor, 1988). Further they need to be able to educate the children in their care in a way which is liberating by providing a wide range of learning possibilities and options for all students (McRae, 1994; Munro, 1994; Lieberman & Miller, 1992; Connell, Ashenden, Kessler & Dowsett, 1982). At the same time, teachers need to able to negotiate with the different stakeholders in the school setting to bring clear direction and decision making to bear on those practices (Holmes, 1993b; AECCC, 1991; Keeves, 1990; Barcan, 1980). Frequently teachers have to be sufficiently flexible to and negotiate to 'do what it takes' to do their job because supports and resources are such that there seems no other options available.
Socialisation as a teacher helps a teacher understand the complexities and demands of the profession and the specific role of classroom teacher. The contradiction in the whole socialisation process is that while teachers need to "fit" the professional roling required to perform associated duties (e.g., communicate with parents), they also need to be critical of that roling process if they are to continue their development as professional educators who educate socially aware individuals (Turney, et al, 1986).
Teaching as emancipation, in particular, has received little practical support from the teaching profession with goals of schools, as a rule, rather than the exception, are vague and contradictory. For example, teachers are expected to be professionals yet are treated by the bureaucracy as incompetent fools who do not know how to do their job. Teachers are expected to justify everything they do in the name of education. There seems to be a circular argument here. Teachers expect children to justify their learning and educational bureaucracies expect teachers to justify their teaching, students' learning and their professional stance, educational bureaucracies are expected to justify their very existence by politicians and politicians claim they are accountable to the electorate which consists of the families of the teachers' students!!! From speaking with large numbers of teachers in schools across much of Australia last year and earlier this year it is clear that most fear for the future viability of teaching as a 'doable' job let alone a profession (see also McRae, 1994).
Reich (1993) claims that the needs of a 'global' world will be for a deeper understanding of individuals within their culture and in the culture of the "global village" in which nationalism will not have a place. He goes on to claim that international relations, the nature of work and communication needs are changing rapidly as the world becomes "one world", a 'global village'. It is this shift in emphasis that Toffler (1990) says is creating a "powershift".
Toffler (1990:17) defines a "powershift" as a deep-level change in the very nature of power which, he says, is already underway. Whereas muscle and money have meant power in the past, Toffler (1990) predicts real power will "reside in the mind" with information or knowledge (i.e., "knowledge capital") being the most versatile of all power. Specifically he suggests:
This new system for making wealth is totally dependent on the instant communication and dissemination of data, ideas, symbols, and symbolism. It is ... a super-symbolic economy ... This new system takes us a giant step beyond mass production toward increasing customization, beyond mass marketing and distribution toward niches and micro-marketing, ... to a new"cognitariat" (pp25-26).
The implications of this 'powershift' and the phenomenon of the global village has huge ramifications for teachers in the next decade and beyond. Teachers are expected to function competently (i.e., professionally) in the classroom, the school and the community (Turney, et al, 1986). However, what this means is not clear as demands and expectations are placed on teachers from a variety of sources including their employer, the profession, the school board, colleagues, parents, students and from themselves (Turney, et al, 1986). Teachers' experiences as professionals are almost as varied as each employment situation in which they find themselves.

Position Description and Selective Criteria for a Primary Teacher

Working in an independent parent-run school presents a peculiar set of problems for teachers. In such settings teachers may be vulnerable to parents' classroom interpretations of the school philosophy and practice which may or may not be congruent with those of the teacher. I assisted one such school to identify their specific needs for teaching staff following a series of issues arising from the hiring of staff who were unwilling or unable to meet the school's philosophical or broader curricula needs. Historically, the school was established by parents looking for something akin to John Holt's (1970, 1964) progressive philosophy of education which emphasised natural learning and a strong home-school continuum for their children. Children are in vertical groups with at least three Years in the one group. Groupings are negotiated with each child and their parents and are based on interests and friends. The curriculum (including the social and emotional aspects) is negotiated in a democratic context (see Connell, et al 1982) mostly at whole class meetings with specifics for individual children's personal curriculum being negotiated individually with the child and sometimes the parents. Whole class meetings can and are called at any time and conducted by any member of the school community. The resulting Position Description and Selection Criteria are presented in Tables 1 and 2 respectfully.

Table 1:  Position Description for the Primary Teacher - Years K-6 at The School

POSITION: Primary Teacher - Years K-6

  • A recognized teaching qualification with at least five years teaching experience preferably with K-6
  • Experience in teaching, planning, implementing, qualitatively assessing and evaluating integrated curricula for multiage groups and outdoor education is highly desirable


  • Teaching one of several multiage groups of children aged from 4 years to 12 years of age
  • Organizing a minimum of one (1) parent evening during each term, actively enabling parent education and involvement in the classroom (e.g., running class activities), on excursions, camps, and in parents undertaking teacher aide support (e.g., covering books, making class resources, etc.)
  • Organizing excursions, camps, etc. and actively enabling collaboration with the children and valuing their input at all levels of planning and activity for specific learning and curricula purposes
  • Providing student assessment and evaluation to parents twice yearly: one (1) mid year interview (including record o interview) with parents and students and one (1) end of year written qualitative report to parents and students
  • Enabling ongoing two-way communication between parents and teacher


  • Willingly and actively participate in ongoing peer assessment
  • Actively seek to provide an environment, both inside and outside the classroom, which promotes self-discipline and mutual respect i.e., respects the social, emotional and intellectual wellbeing of all concerned and their property and does not permit sarcasm, humiliation, or corporal punishment of any child) and allows children to participate in the affairs of the class and the school
  • Promote individual, communal and environmental rights, respect and support including actively enabling the development of self discipline in all situations
  • Provide a holistic child-centred learning environment which starts with the child's individual and personal interests and development in the context of shared experiences and democratic decision making at all stages from planning through evaluation. Learning is in the real world using real life skills
  • Ensure the rights and responsibilities of parents/family to participate in the classroom, in affairs o the class and the school
  • Actively enable appropriate parent/family involvement in the classroom, in affairs o the class and the school including democratic decision making, developing shared knowledge and meanings about the children, learning and school
  • Foster life-long love of learning through self initiated, individual and co-operative learning opportunities across a wide range of educational situations
  • Develop rapport with and value children as individuals and in groups
  • Constructive and consultative relations with parents, other staff and children of all ages
  • Communication of the school's philosophy and rationale for teaching and learning to parents and others
  • Supervision of and commitment to parents working in the classroom and organizing class related activities
  • Effective liaison with the wider community
  • Liaise with the Selection Committee who will regularly monitor progress in terms of the Selection Criteria, Position Description, responses to interview questions and contract
  • Probation may normally continue for up to fifty two (52) weeks or the duration of the appointment if less than fifty two (52) weeks¡ Constructive and consultative relations with parents, other staff and children of all ages
  • Communication of the school's philosophy and rationale for teaching and learning to parents and others
  • Supervision of and commitment to parents working in the classroom and organizing class related activities
  • Effective liaison with the wider community
  • Liaise with the Selection Committee who will regularly monitor progress in terms of the Selection Criteria, Position Description, responses to interview questions and contract
  • Probation may normally continue for up to fifty two (52) weeks or the duration of the appointment if less than fifty two (52) weeks


  • Integrated curricula development, planning, implementation, qualitative assessment and evaluation with and for individual children and for groups of children
  • Provide qualitative assessment and evaluation for each child as follows:
  • Arrange and conduct parent/student/teacher interviews toward the end of Term 2 or early Term 3
  • Provide written qualitative assessment and evaluations towards the end of Term 4 and offer parent/student/teacher interviews as required
  • Arrange parent/family information/education evenings and days (weekdays/weekends) including demonstrations/showings of children's self nominated individual and collaborative learning
  • Organize and attend school camps and excursions in collaboration with the children and parents
  • Participate in Professional Development sessions (in house and elsewhere)
  • Liaise with other staff, parents and the wider community
  • Participate in ongoing peer assessment


The aim of the Position Description was to make explicit as possible the school's expectations for the incoming teacher. The school has always viewed itself as responsive to the needs of its community and the wider community in a real sense for individual children, whole classes, the whole school and families and prided itself in putting into practice what it claimed in the school philosophy in its information package.
The Selection Criteria established the specific requirements relating to experience, qualifications, knowledge and skills, personal qualities and special considerations regarding philosophy, ethos and professional practice for the position at The School.
As the Position Description and Selection Criteria show, the teacher's work at the school is extremely varied and demanding. Outside the classroom thew teacher is expected to participate the running of the whole school including developing close social relationships with families, joining the School Council and running professional development seminars and workshops for parents, staff and interested others. Then there is playground duty, twice weekly staff meetings and professional debriefing and supervision. The teacher needs to be a 'jack of all trades' and very resourceful in knowing who to call upon for assistance (e.g., parents, extended family, friends, outdoor education, woodwork and metalwork specialists, etc.) and what to do as children's interests evolve and are developed by the teacher through appropriate learning opportunities.

Table 2: Selection Criteria for the Primary Teacher - Years K-6 at The School

All Highly Desirable

  • At least five year teaching experience
  • Experience in outdoor education teaching
  • Experience in planning, implementation, assessment and evaluation of integrated curricula for multiage groups
  • Experience multi-age groups from K-6
  • Teaching experience in an alternative education setting
  • Conducting in-house professional development sessions for teachers


  • A recognized teaching qualification or equivalent
  • Knowledge of alternative education practices including qualitative assessment and evaluation
  • Demonstrated effective educational leadership
  • Demonstrated administrative skills
  • Knowledge of trends and issues in Australian and international education
  • Outdoor education qualifications


  • Flexible approach to teaching and learning including being open to new ideas and practices
  • Commitment, ability and willingness to deliver and individualised learning programme
  • Demonstrated ability to exercise sound judgement and initiative with minimum direction
  • Demonstrated ability to work as an effective member of a team
  • Interest in and commitment to communicating ideas and sharing skills/knowledge with others through professional development programmes, parent evenings, etc.
  • Demonstrated creativity and resourcefulness in approaches to teaching and learning


  • Must be willing to work out of normal hours to cover events such as school camps, student interests, parent evenings, professional development, and to be an active member of the whole school community, etc.

Examples of Literacy Activities in the K-3 Classroom

It is through the connectedness of the classroom with the rest of daily living that the classroom teacher is expected to actively promote life-long learning and literacy practices in the children. How each child responds to learning opportunities to create their own personalised learning outcomes is an interesting process to both watch and to be involved in. With each child engaged in different activities or in small groups doing very different things, the classroom can seem rather chaotic very daunting for the untrained eye, even for the trained teacher, (see Cambourne & Turbill, 1979). The timetable and the teacher needs to be very flexible yet sufficiently structured to ensure time is spent as constructively as possible throughout the day, over the term and the entire year.

Table 3: Strategies the teacher would use to facilitate meaning making during the construction of literacy in the classroom


  • Providing shared experiences such as excursions and "Big Books".
  • Conferencing with the children about what they have written.
  • Always making reading and/or writing activities during Quiet Work Times.
  • Always having books available for children to look at and read in the Reading Corner and on her easel.
  • listen to children read as often as possible.
  • Modelling the reading process by reading to the children several times a day and talking about specific strategies and when and how to use them.
  • Demonstrating multiple uses for and means of constructing literacy.
  • Providing personal incentives to construct literacy such as reading children's books brought from home and the library and constructing personally relevant Big Books such as Read all about it! which contained news from class members.
  • Writing signs and other material (e.g., the birthday chart, the number of Bill Peet Books read, letter from another school, a class recount of a trip to an apple orchard) and displaying them around the classroom.
  • Demonstrating that she expects the children to read ... one day (Ref.: Authorized Document 3:14) by displaying and using textual material to explain things such as the weekly timetable, notices, constructing and reading from Big Books, writing information on the blackboard.
  • Scribing children's stories as they dictate. Accepting spelling approximations so children can write down their thoughts.
  • Exploring story patterning and sequencing.
  • Supporting self-correction by emphasizing that what is on the page is meant to make sense. Publishing children's story books.
  • Supporting literacy promoting processes in other activities such as persistence and co-operation in completing the collage; problem solving in deciding what to make the cubby into; and in presenting the puppet shows.

The teacher's work at The School is all consuming and 'never ending' but it is tempered, usually, by supportive open, democratic community which works in the 'best interests of the child' (Burdekin, 1997; United Nations, 1990). However, teachers new to the school consistently report the need for a huge adjustment to these demands especially in thinking and working in such a flexible hands on, integrated and democratic environment. Individual teachers are supported to work in a similar democratic environment to the one they provide for the children in their classes. They also report they really appreciate the professional freedom because they no longer have to 'do what it takes' to teach children because they have no other choice, they 'do what it takes' because of the inherent professional challenge and satisfaction in doing their best regardless of the pay rates!


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Toffler (1990:18) defines data as "more or less unconnected 'facts'"; information as "data that have been fitted into categories and classification schemes or other patterns" and knowledge as "information that has been further refined into more general statements"

'Serendipitous' is perhaps not the right word but teachers are expected to be sufficiently flexible that they are able to take the children on an excursion at a minute's notice if something highly interesting (not necessarily relevant to the current lesson) is happening. Such excursions often lead into new areas of learning for the children (and sometimes the teacher!).

This information is based on previous work at this school (see Huber, 1995).