If we know what works, then why aren’t we doing it?


Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to attend a book launch to celebrate the latest release from author and family friend Maxine McKew.

Maxine is best known as the feisty politician who became only the second Australian politician ever to oust a sitting prime minister (John Howard) from his seat as an MP.

Following a successful career in national politics, she has since joined “the good fight” for quality education and now spends her days as a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Education.

Maxine is the tenacious type and, to use a sporting analogy, the kind of player you definitely want to be on your team.

I am not writing specifically to push Max’s book, but while I’m on the subject, “Class Act” should definitely be on your school holiday reading list. Get a copy here.

Another of the highlights of the book launch was my chance meeting with educational research royalty, Professor John Hattie. I’m sure Prof Hattie requires no introduction to those reading the pages of this here blog, but if you need to know more about the great man, read it here.


This chance meeting was serendipitous in some ways as our brief exchange collided with my current immersion challenges related to “Moonshot Thinking” for my upcoming experience at Google Teacher Academy (see previous blog post for more on that).

As I reflected on Hattie’s years, and years, and years of research, I was transported not exactly to the moon, but crashing back to earth.

With a thump.

The gap between what we know and what we do in education is astounding.

Of course this is a generalisation and there are hundreds of innovative, research based, successful teachers and learning programs happening all over the place, some of which are eloquently case studied in Class Act.

I consider myself very fortunate to be part of a school community that puts student learning (and thus teacher learning) at the top of the pile of priorities. We have numerous weekly encounters in which to share ideas, review student work, challenge, observe, critique, support and to simply share what’s working and what’s not.

We are genuinely encouraged to ‘Know Thy Impact’ (Hattie 2012) and to prove it.

As a result of my school situation and my presence as a connected educator on social media, I have been guilty of existing in what my GTA pal Claire Amos has referred to as an ‘echo-chamber’ of so-called good practice. Claire used this term in reference to our global interactions as teachers on social media, explaining that a constant affirmation of everyone thinking and acting in the same way (albeit effective and innovative) does NOT necessarily provide for progress or cut-through on a large scale.

I agree.

In simple terms, it’s like the world’s richest people teaching each other how to make more money.

So my question is; (and perhaps I have arrived back at some Moonshot Thinking)

If we know what works, why aren’t we doing it?

My reference to WE includes all of us, teachers, students, parents, school leaders, and even architects who design and build the places in which we learn. The whole school community has a responsibility.

You will notice I left out politicians. This was deliberate. With all due respect, I’m not sure they are actually capable of making any substantial (moonshot) improvement, on the scale of what’s required, which I concede sounds strange, given that’s kind of what they exist to do.

I do meant this with all due respect, I think some pollies may be personally capable, I just think that the way politics works actually prevents major and innovative reform when it comes to education.

If teachers and school leaders are to be the brave, heart surgeons of education, then the politicians will likely continue to be the plastic surgeons, taking care of the physical looks, the things that happen around the edges, while in honesty changing little. The sort of things Hattie referred to as “The politics of distraction.”

As I move ever closer to my moonshot project at GTASyd2014 I am committed, not only to thinking big and bold, but also to think about what such change, innovation, improvement on scale of 10 times might actually look like in the classrooms, playgrounds, gyms and playing fields of our school community.

I hope to get stuck into the following kind of thinking;

“I think this will really work, now how can we do it?”


2 thoughts on “If we know what works, then why aren’t we doing it?

  1. Hi Ross,
    This is a frustration that early adopters face. They “get” that things may need to change because they are in charge of their own learning, are willing to take risks, embrace new ideas, yada yada yada. But the rubber always hits the road when it come time to convince others to take the same risk. No reflection on the early adopter – sometimes it’s the “before it’s time” factor but I think it’s something a bit more fundamental. The hidden curriculum is incredibly strong, and is often the antithesis of new ideas. Exam results, marks, grades and the work ethic that is often associated with them is seen to be at odds to many interesting and leading edge ideas and practices. As we hear ad infinitum “there was a lot of resistance to the pen from from the slate advocates”. Moving from an Industrial Age education system based on conformity, remembering knowledge and their associated status is obviously a hard culture to shake. Perhaps be satisfied that the fruits of your labour make not be realised until the next generation of teachers and students flow through and the practice you advocate is more common and natural.

  2. Jonesy,

    Thank you for the contribution, which is thoughtful and articulate as always. I know this may be a frustration you face in your role also. The slate/pen analysis is an old one but a good one. A lot of the discussion around radical reform leads back to assessment “that’s why we do it this way” and that’s fair enough i suppose, with accountability being what it is.

    However, I wonder how far away we are from saying, stuff the assessment, here’s a school that’s assessing “readiness for life” and when they graduate the worlds their oyster.

    Would you want to work in that school?

    After all this kid got into MIT and the local government didn’t recognise his learning as legit for “assessment.”


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