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Following the evidence to transform teacher education

David Lynch with students


Michael Jacobson
20 November 2023

Southern Cross University is leading the way in reshaping teacher education to better equip both new and experienced teachers for the evolving demands of the modern and future classroom.

David Lynch smiling at camera

Following the evidence to transform teacher education

The imperative for evidence-based transformative change in Australia's education system is more pressing than ever, says Professor David Lynch, Research Director at Southern Cross University's TeachLab education research group.

In a period marked by critical issues such as teacher shortages, burnout, declining student teacher enrolments and waning respect for the profession, Professor Lynch offers a compelling perspective on the necessary course of action.

“In a rapidly changing world in which the classroom is becoming ever more complex, Australian teachers have never had less agency in their own profession or less respect outside it,” he says.

“That is no small irony for a profession which plays such a part in the future of generations of Australians.”

A former teacher and school principal, Professor Lynch's extensive experience is informing TeachLab's central mission: to deliver research that enables the education sector to undertake evidence-based change on how teachers are prepared, how they can best teach, and how improvement is undertaken.

TeachLab’s work is happening at a time when the magnitude of the current teaching crisis cannot be overstated. In October 2023, an investigation by The Australian newspaper revealed a nationwide surge in teacher resignations, with numbers doubling in NSW, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Queensland saw a 34 per cent increase in resignations in 2022 alone.

Simultaneously, the influx of new teachers entering and remaining in the system has declined significantly.

Further revelations in the Sunday Mail newspaper that almost 200 Australian schools are trialling Artificial Intelligence tutors in the classroom are also significant, especially for what this means for teachers and their authority going forward. The AI concerned is a version of Mathspace, complete with a cartoon dog named Milo as the educator.

“Teachers must know more than what to teach. They must know how to teach. Simply throwing assets at teacher education is not a solution.”

David Lynch

While the Federal Government-appointed Teacher Education Expert Panel has identified several priorities and initiatives, including the need for stronger teacher education programs and improved practical teaching experience, Professor Lynch hopes the response to the Panel’s recommendations is commensurate with the crisis it is addressing.

“For example, combining university studies with increased practical experience in schools can pay enormous dividends in preparing teachers for their careers,” he says.

“But of even greater importance when it comes to curricula, teachers must know more than what to teach. They must know how to teach. Simply throwing assets at teacher education is not a solution.

“We need first to ask ourselves what we are preparing the teacher for, because currently the classroom teacher is being asked to be all things to all students. Teachers are being swamped with extraneous requirements and the results are there to see.”

Professor Lynch also emphasises the need to rethink support structures within schools, proposing a stratified teaching workforce model akin to nursing, which involves different levels of practice. He says such a model, when applied to teaching, could revolutionise teacher education by offering diverse training regimes.

Crucially, Professor Lynch asserts that teacher education reform must be grounded in evidence.

TeachLab is leading that charge in ways that align strongly with the long-standing ethos of Southern Cross University’s education faculty, including existing research which has been generated but largely ignored in successive waves of education reform produced at the top and handed down in slabs to those in the classroom.

“For too long, teachers, school leaders and especially students have not been involved in the shaping of reform,” says Professor Lynch. “We believe we need to disrupt this paradigm and I am happy to say that this is now happening.

“Based on the University’s willingness to partner and co-design with schools and teachers – in ways which put students at the centre of reform – exciting research agreements are being struck.”

In August 2023, Southern Cross University announced a three-year, $1.2 million agreement with the Diocese of Lismore Catholic Schools, spanning school communities from Tweed Heads at the NSW-Queensland border to Laurieton on the mid-north coast of NSW and west to Dorrigo on the Northern Tablelands.

Pre-service teachers will combine learning and practice in the teaching school classrooms from day one of their studies. It is anticipated that by spending more time at the “classroom coalface” before they graduate, many will be more likely to remain as teachers in the region after graduation.  

The Director of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Lismore, Mr Adam Spencer, said the partnership will harness the collective strength of the schools and Southern Cross University, fostering an optimal learning environment for teachers and students.

school student at SCU
St Andrews Lutheran College students

A second project, announced in November 2023, is a $500,000, three-year agreement with St Andrews Lutheran College, at Tallebudgera on the Gold Coast, to examine how to better prepare in-service teachers for the demands of the future.

Both projects are led by TeachLab and will benefit from evidence-based change and co-design principles, bolstered by the University's presence in regional settings. They also pave the way for innovation such as micro-credentials – focused and concise course units designed to accelerate proficiency in teacher education – and, of course, AI.

Furthermore, the projects will contribute to the development of a Southern Cross University model of teacher education, one that prioritises evidence-backed strategies to improve student outcomes, support teacher development, and create highly individualised school environments.

Southern Cross University’s Dean of Education, Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, has affirmed that TeachLab’s research will not occur in isolation to the broader national conversation around teaching. Rather, it will draw the research into the way these partnerships are working to create models that lead the country in supporting teachers and students in extraordinary classroom environments.

“For too long our teachers have been taken for granted, blithely expected to fulfil so many extraneous duties that remove them from what they were actually trained to do,” concludes Professor Lynch.

“This is placing teachers under enormous stress and pressure and it must change. I believe that the projects and research we are undertaking at Southern Cross University in the name of teacher education will help to shape that change for the better. 

“Let our teachers teach, within an education sector informed and reformed by evidence that prepares teachers comprehensively for their careers, restores respect and agency, and reduces the reasons for leaving the profession, or for never entering it in the first place.”