Cayman Islands public school teachers were told to expect better salaries, but also to work harder to impact the performance of their students, during an educators seminar Tuesday.
The regular teacher training day featured an introductory speech by Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and a keynote address by education consultant Kristin Anderson, who talked about some of the least and most effective elements in classroom teaching.
Ms. O’Connor-Connolly told the crowd of several hundred, which filled about half the floor of the new gymnasium at John Gray High School, that she is continuing to push for higher pay.
“As far as I’m concerned,” the minister said, “the minimum wage for teachers [should] be no less than $5,000 [per month].”
She said the minimum wage in the current two-year budget is $4,200 per month. She wants the next budget to contain her target figure, she said. That demand has shaken the system, she said, and her fellow politicians have taken note.
“My colleagues have become active participants,” she said, when it comes to education issues. “That in itself is an achievement, that they’re willing to put it in their political buckets. Everybody and their cousin is talking about education.”
Her biggest round of applause came when she called for reintroducing books into the classroom.
“I can only imagine what it must be like after a long day in the classroom to have to photocopy all those paqes,” she said, referring to the way many students receive materials and homework, since most classrooms do not have textbooks. “There may be sound reasons, but I want to know what those reasons are.”
Ms. Anderson, a senior director with Corwin publishing, spent more than an hour discussing the book “Visible Learning,” by John Hattie, which the companypublishes. The top-selling book is an analysis of hundreds of research studies on educational techniques and issues. It uses data to determine which methods are most effective.
Interestingly, she said, 95 percent of the methods looked at in more than 800 studies Mr. Hattie analyzed show at least some positive impact.
“The question isn’t, ‘Does it work?’” she said. “We need to learn what works best.”
The book challenges some long-held beliefs in education. Mr. Hattie found that such things as reducing class size, retaining underperforming students and homework (at least in the primary grades) have either very little impact or a negative impact on student performance.
One element that is also counterproductive is an open classroom design. Ms. Anderson’s mention of the format drew immediate response from the audience. Clifton Hunter High School is designed with open classrooms and they are not popular with many teachers and students. Ms. Anderson said the synergy that some envision coming with such a setup typically does not happen. Studies have shown production drops off in offices that employ the design.
“It was a major distraction,” Ms. Anderson said, placing herself in a hypothetical classroom in such an environment. “My kids are singing and rocking, getting the morning going. You’re looking at me with death glares because you can’t get your kids to focus.”
The good news, Ms. Anderson told the group, is most of what they need to help their students succeed is at their fingertips.
“Student advancement is not raised by something you can just purchase,” she said. “The only way that these [effective elements] are manifested is through incredibly hard work. But when you see the learning through the eyes of your learners, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
Ms. O’Connor-Connolly said she was impressed by the presentation. While she was reluctant to agree that student retention was not effective, she did concur with the idea that too much homework in primary grades is not beneficial.
“For a long time,” she said, “I thought we were giving too much homework in the primary level.”
Angela Johnson teaches Year 3 in Cayman Brac. She said she found the information fit with her experience.
“It reconfirmed how I do send home homework,” she said.
She and her fellow teacher Kristi Scott said just raising such issues creates a good atmosphere for discussions.
“I was sitting behind my principal and I could see her nodding her head,” Ms. Scott said. “And I thought, ‘We’re going to be having some conversations about this.’”
For Jessica Jackson, deputy principal at Sir John A. Cumber Primary, the session was both an affirmation and a motivation to do more.
Ms. Jackson said three years ago her school implemented a response to intervention program, a targeted approach to dealing with struggling students, and one of the things Ms. Anderson highlighted as effective.“We have seen a lot of growth in our Year 1 and Year 2 students,” Ms. Jackson said. “We’ve also extended the program to math for Year 3 as well.
“One thing we could definitely focus on is helping students to become their own assessors,” she added, touching on another element Ms. Anderson had said was effective. “That would be a great next step.” Ms. Jackson said Ms. Anderson had “kind of given us a blueprint based on data. It’s a great foundation for us as educators to make decisions.”