Stories in philanthropy

Shaking things up to give our kids the best chance of success

Disruption might be the word de jure, but it takes on a little more meaning within Teach For Australia (TFA) headquarters. TFA has spent the past 10 years pursuing its goal of finding ways to solve inequities so that where children live is no determinant of their future success.

To achieve that by working within a structured education system, takes some disruptive thinking to change some thinking. The practical demonstration of that is bringing teaching recruits who have come from outside the traditional educational pathways in to the schools’ system. As part of that, TFA offers a specialised leadership training that seeks to provide a transformative dimension to the school and the classroom. “It’s not the usual way of talking about students and the education system,’’ TFA founder and CEO Melodie Potts Rosevear says. “I think we’re doing it from the inside and the outside.’’

Established a decade ago by the Federal government, TFA works on providing new teachers from diverse employment backgrounds in to communities where there’s a need for added teaching resources. There have been 831 teacher placements since the program started and an estimated 230,000 students impacted.

TFA is part of the Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit on 18-19 September in Canberra and is preparing a message for philanthropists about the need to think differently and shake things up.

“I think philanthropy is incredibly aware [of the opportunity],’’ Melodie says. “They see so many people coming through the gates asking for support and I guess the question is where do you want to play, what kind of leverage do you want to have, and from where I stand, the leverage that would attract me is that one that helps to be disruptive in how it operates and focuses talent on the issue, because we know change is necessary to drive more equitable educational outcomes for our kids, and change is not easy to pull off.’’

For all the changes and shifts of thinking, Melodie admits that the basic goals of the education system haven’t changed in the past decade. The big picture of achievement remains in place, but important discussions are now occurring about the additional capabilities students need for an uncertain future, and whether those capabilities can be taught and adequately captured within ATAR scores and NAPLAN testing.

The way ahead, according to Melodie, is not just about providing a pipeline of talent but new and varied models of leadership across a range of activities that feed in to the education system.

“For all students to attain an excellent education that truly prepares them for the future, we are going to have to shift stuff around.  That’s system redesign, and that doesn’t happen overnight,’’ she explains. “It takes a level of consciousness, and empathy and porousness across actors and boundaries. Right now our education system struggles to achieve excellence for those who need is most. We don’t yet know how to make our system do this routinely, and well.

“And yet, I don’t know how else to eat that elephant than bringing more people in who see it for what it is and who are on fire to take it one spoon at a time.’’

Teach for Australia is not offering a template for what the education system should look like. “I suspect it would look different in a remote community to what it would in the western suburbs of Melbourne or in East Gippsland,’’ Melodie says. “That recognition that there isn’t a one size fits all solution creates that extra level of complexity in our thinking but it’s also what makes it rich and exciting and meaty.’’

Fundamental to making progress is raising awareness about the confronting statistic that 20 per cent of Australian children live in poverty. “To me, that’s unacceptable but it also ought to be solvable because we have a lot of resources to draw upon. We are an advantaged country, we should be full of optimism for all children’’ Melodie says.

Teach For Australia is Philanthropy Australia’s Networking Partner for Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, 18-19 September, Canberra - register to be a part of it here.

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