Professor Mary Kalantzis
1. Why, how and where did you enter the field of education?
I completed a double degree at Macquarie University in History and Linguistics, and along with that I did a Dip Ed. Being the daughter of immigrants, education beyond what was compulsory, wasn’t my family’s imagination. When I finally did get to university and recognised the things that happen to you once you get an education, I felt compelled to become involved in that process with and for other people. I believed that there were a lot of young people in the world like myself, who were in Australia as a consequence of immigration, or who were on the margins of society as the consequence of poverty or other factors, and who needed assistance to see the opportunities that education can open up. So, I suppose I felt a sense of moral obligation to open up to others the pathways that had been opened to me.
2. Was there anyone who influenced you? Why?
There were teachers. I remember a teacher of New Guinean background; she was a wonderful mass of black hair and beautiful brown skin, and she used to be very hard on me at high school. She would never accept from me anything that she didn’t think was up to the standard that she thought I could deliver! She used to make me cry and it distressed me because she was so insistent. She was a history teacher. I would have to rewrite many drafts before she found them acceptable. But she persevered with me, and in that perseverance, and in what sometimes looked like a very hard kind of relationship with her students, she in fact did get the best out of me. I then went on to make history one of my core disciplines. So, I admit that what she did actually inspired me. I think that teachers can have a huge impact on you when they believe in you. Sometimes that’s not an easy thing. If a student doesn’t have the skills, or the school isn’t a comfortable place for them, if they’re not performing in ways that makes the teacher’s life easy, then it’s very hard for a teacher to continue believing in them. They might then see the student as a problem and transfer them into another class. Or they just won’t put in any extra energy in order to get the best out of a student. But when a teacher does persevere, and when they mirror your own dreams and aspirations, then that becomes a very formative experience.
3. What were your original goals or aims?
To offer the same things to others that had been so helpful to me. I had this ideal that I didn’t want anyone to suffer. When I first went to school I ended up a hair’s breadth away from what they called a general activities (GA) class because I didn’t have English skills, and I didn’t fit in. I wore a horrible, second hand, uniform without a belt and my mother did funny things to my hair. It was such an awkward and painful experience for me that I just wondered if it would be possible to make a difference so that others were spared such experiences. To achieve that goal however I had to succeed not just as a teacher, but I also had to try to influence policy, research and understanding about what constituted performance in schools. But I suppose it was that gap between my aspirations, my sense of self, my family, and what public institutions delivered to people who didn’t quite fit into the mainstream, that drove me to want to understand the world and study history. I also studied linguistics because I knew literacy, language, communication and expression underpinned performance. My formal education experiences taught me that this was a key for entry into so many parts of the world of learning. So, these themes and issues were interrelated with my mission to make a difference and ameliorate, if I could, the pain that others might feel in the education system. And by doing so free up their creativity and potential.
4. Could you outline the milestones or highlights of your career path to date?
The first career highlight was as a new teacher, teaching ESL in a primary school in Parramatta. My class consisted of students who were least able to perform because they didn’t have English skills. But that wasn’t the important milestone for me because you just knew what you had to do to help these kids’ learning improve. What I used to do each year was plead to also have in my class a small group of students from immigrant backgrounds and kids from the homes who were operating at an average level – because a large number of kids in our school were either orphaned or in trouble in some way. What I wanted to demonstrate was that the kind of teaching that was happening in the ESL classroom was not only for those who were obviously struggling. But that the strategies of focused care, designing learning to meet individual needs, rigour and explicitness in learning were appropriate for a whole raft of children that were just sort of treading water and whose potential wasn’t being met. So every year a handful of such students joined my ESL class, even though they weren’t all kids who didn’t have English as a first language. They would then return to their classrooms performing at higher levels. I always thought that was a milestone because it was demonstrating to myself and to others that if one cared enough it made a difference. I was also experimenting with different pedagogical strategies to see what each student could do, particularly around communication and literacy in the primary school. Together, these approaches led to the idea that a stronger sense of identity helped the students achieve in a more sustained way. So I regard what I did there at Parramatta with those students (and subsequently in the general classroom co-teaching social science) as the first and most significant milestone.
After that, I would have to say the next milestone was the opportunity I got as a practitioner teacher to contribute to public policy on multiculturalism, literacy and social studies. That was really important.
The third career highlight would be leading teams and taking units, like a research centre or faculty, and achieving similar outcomes with whole groups of colleagues. That is, addressing the challenge of how you get a group of professionals to perform at their peak and be creative and make a contribution that is of mutual benefit, to them as teachers, researcher, scholars and administrators, as well as to the institution they are a part of. That sense of purpose I suppose was what led me into the Deanship. I had set up a number of research and training units, which were supposed to be commercially self-sustaining. From the beginning however, although we had to pursue money and we did that well, the driving force was doing really innovative work, building a sense of affinity and performing at very high levels with integrity and creativity. My argument has always been that if any manager focuses on financial outcomes above developing the conditions for creativity and passion they only produce, ultimately, a spiral of decline. That is the orientation that I’ve brought into all the management and leadership roles that I’ve had in education. If you can motivate and create conditions of excitement, belonging and opportunity, the money follows.
Finally I believe firmly that as educators we have to document and share our ideas as much as possible and to seek every opportunity to collaborate with others around the world. To that end, I have also been able, in collaboration with Bill Cope and others, to write about the work I have been involved in as a teacher, researcher and manager -literacy, multiliteracies, pedagogy, new learning, productive diversity organisational change and Australia history. Such publishing impacts not only on ideas and practices in Australia, but contributes to international forums that allow Australian ideas to be taken up by other parts of the world.
5. What are you most proud of having accomplished over your career so far?
You tend not to think in terms of pride because it’s an ongoing wave of lows and highs in this field. What I do, rightly or wrongly, is to enable others to perform; whether it’s learners or my colleagues. Whenever I create those conditions and I see it producing results, that’s the point at which I feel I’ve met my original goal in entering the education profession. For me it has never been about one’s own career heights. It has never been a case of thinking, ‘now I’m a powerful person and I have status’. Of course, those things are useful because they are levers. But power and status are not as satisfying as the excitement associated with what you’re trying to do or with the pleasure of creating the conditions for others to perform at their best. So I suppose it’s a string of those sorts of things that motivate me. That’s just been my orientation to my job. It hasn’t always worked very well though, because with most of the world on a careerist trajectory, it can be very hard. People tend to be confused by people who operate with alternative mindsets; they understand careerism and supporting each other around careerism, but while we speak the language of empowerment and solidarity and collaboration, we find it harder to enact it or even believe it is possible.
6. Did you ever see yourself as a future Dean of Education?
No, I didn’t. I’d actually only been involved in projects that I’d liked and wanted to do and in jobs that I’d been invited to take up. I’ve never seriously looked for jobs. The positions I’ve had to date came about as a consequence of invitations; somebody suggesting, ‘we like what you do that or we’d like you to come and join us’. That’s how the job as Dean at RMIT came about. I was encouraged by colleagues at RMIT to apply for it. I was not looking to move or change my job at the time. It took me many months to actually accept the role because I had to think carefully about what I could do in it and if it was possible to make a genuine contribution. In the end I decided, that given the kind of managerial and reform agenda that was happening in the university sector, it was worthwhile to find out if it were possible to be a Dean, a manager and a leader of a faculty – and to hold on to those things that mattered. To stem the tide of the counterproductive forces that were in effect undermining the very goals of the reform agenda. That is, if the goals were to improve performance and increase commercial income in the education sector then the nature and type of workers that were attracted to, and populated this sector, had to be properly understood and appropriately motivated. The language and the strategies that were being imported, unreflectively, from the private and public service sectors were not the appropriate ones to get results in the university. There were few books or grounded theories on the subject: where did you go to find out how to facilitate enhanced professional performance in the university sector? Ironically, because it has always regarded itself as universal, collegial and professional, the University sector has avoided projecting its own knowledge about how you achieve successful change within its own industry sector. Indeed, the very terms ‘industry’ and ‘worker’ are anathema to its traditions and mind set. So, it tends to just bring in consultants from the private or public sectors – BHP or Western Mining or the Department of Education, or some bureaucracy. The business language, values, plans; strategic thinking and performance management tools that these entities use do not generally speak effectively to the kind of creatures that we are the academy. So I thought ‘well, maybe it’s time to find out what might work, and if is possible to deliver both to Caesar and the multitudes. And to do so in a way that demonstrates or discovers what will work in a university to bring in the changes that are required, and yet maintain what is very unique and specific to educators – that is, that education is an ‘investment’ in the future not just a ‘cost’ to be contained. That is why I accepted the role of Executive Dean. However, even though you might go into the role with that kind of orientation, the external and internal pressures on you as a middle manger are not of your making or in your control. Often, you get drawn into things that you don’t want to be drawn into. As an executive, of course, you have an opportunity to influence university policy and its culture. But, more significantly, you are compelled to implement executive decisions, irrespective of their merit, as humanely and productively as possible and sometimes without the necessary infrastructure or resources. Thus leadership in this sector is increasingly fraught and challenging. Particularly so because senior management in the higher education sector is currently uncertain about what a University actually is, given the massive changes that are occurring locally and globally.
7. When did you start to see yourself as an educational leader?
In a funny way, from the moment I entered the sector as a naive, practising teacher I knew there was leadership involved in what I was doing. For example, when I went to my first school, multicultural policy was something, new, superficial and coming from above and I thought at the time that the way it was being implemented was going to be detrimental to its own aspirations. So I spoke up about it. In one of the PD forum about multicultural policy that I attended, where the speaker was suggesting teaching maths to children from Maltese backgrounds through market gardens because this was associated with their backgrounds, I found the courage to say, ‘look, this is nonsense – it isn’t going to work, you’re going to create division and you’re not going to achieve your goals’. When any teacher or practitioner stands up in any forum and says something like that, it’s a form of leadership. When you go back to your classroom you then have to try to offer something different that might work better, that too is leadership. I think I’ve always felt that there was an obligation to participate in that kind of leadership. From my training in the university I was prepared to be a critical thinker, an engaged citizen and to actively participate in the community. Management is maybe a little bit different than leadership because it involves the overseeing of people’s performance and the effective use of resources, which a lot of educators and leaders avoid! These tasks are often delegated to others or ignored. I had to realise that these responsibilities were themselves creative and that you couldn’t just view management in technical, mechanical or administrative terms. Rather, you also had to view management as a creative exercise of team building and cooperation, of the fostering of energy, the pooling of wisdom, of designing futures and risk taking adventures. Once you start seeing management like that, then you switch from thinking that these roles are associated with people who wield their power over others. Rather you start thinking of management as actually a very important and creative role that enables rather than blocks that can break or make morale and ways of working. I must admit I have learnt a lot in my role as Dean of a faculty. I’ve certainly learnt quite a lot about management and its relationship to, and difference from, leadership. I do have to admit also that managing a large faculty as the Executive Dean felt, for a lot of the time, like the condition of slavery. This is, because you have to respond all the time to a multitude of both important and trivial issues that come from above, outside and within the faculty. In particular to endless interpersonal agendas that need resolving at both staff and students levels. Naturally, this limits your capacity to be involved in a satisfying way in your ongoing research and scholarship. Other phenomena that seem to sap creative energy in the university sector at present involve, endless, expensive and politically motivated restructuring, constant ineffective procedural changes, frustrating gaps between planning and implementations, unresolved industrial issues that will loom even larger given the nature of the next round of reforms. Certainly hellish issues – all of which need to be factored into any understanding of the role of an executive Dean of education. To make matters somewhat more problematic, for leaders and mangers of units that prepare educators, is the trend towards large multidisciplinary administrative divisions. In Australia, there are now only about 14 Deans of Education left, as units that prepare teachers are embedded in larger structures, portfolios, colleges or divisions, and have heads of schools or departments with less budgetary authority as well as weaker leadership over their intellectual and academic discipline. Leading these sorts of units has been narrowed to more procedural and administrative issues as they get embedded in hierarchies that render them less powerful, cost effective or significant.
8. Looking back, do you think your understanding of the relationship of practice and research in education has changed over time?
There has been a struggle around what constitutes a researcher in universities. On the one hand we have been saying that ‘every academic has to be a researcher’ and nominal allocations of research time ( 20% ) have been included in work plans to be spent doing research. In order then for this to work, research, is defined broadly. On the other hand, there is a renewed fervour that encourages specialization and engagement in full time, in depth research, pure research or applied research with substantial grant money associated with it. I have witnessed attempts to enforce both types of regimes. My own view is that the issue cannot be viewed in a polarized way. The university sector requires a lot of good academic teachers who deploy the research of others effectively and keep their scholarship up to date. That is, academic teachers who stay abreast of local and international theories, policies and practices relevant to their professional roles. Practitioners who know what’s available and keep themselves informed and use new methods, test these methods and are scholarly in their engagement with knowledge in the world. This applies to all professionals in the academy. You can’t have academics who are not continually refreshing their professional expertise, knowing and accessing research that’s available in the world. I don’t think you can work effectively in the academy without that evidence base that comes from research. This is vital, I don’t think however that all academics have enough opportunity to engage in professional development, in exchange programmes, or in all those things that keeps them abreast of research. The relationship between those involved in full time research and those who deploy sound research findings in their teaching also needs to be conceived more fluidly then the current date.
The second point that needs to be made relates to the level of investment in research in Australia. which is so much dependent on government. We don’t have the big foundations like Ford, Spencer and Rockefellar and the level of investment that happen in other big first world countries that provide you with the resources to do very good research. You can’t do research without resources, particularly in-depth. Long term research so that means that the whole Australian research area is running on the smell of an oil rag. Particularly in education, where we have reducing access to funds to do research if we stay within Australia. Consequently we’re seeing an exodus of our top professors to countries that can support and fund research. In my own personal life, though, I didn’t think that I could maintain a respectable and credible role within the university either as a manager, leader, teacher or researcher unless I sustained a researcher’s life – so I did, through the whole time: from being a classroom teacher through to being a manager. I have always been keen and curious to know and understand the world and so I have always been involved in research and publishing. Mostly through participating in research teams because that’s the only way you can do it when you’re really busy. I did so because I believed that I needed to stay at the cutting edge of what I was doing. It is becoming harder to do research because funding policy is moving more narrowing towards funding ‘winners’. That is concentrating resources on those that are already high achievers and have the potential to collaborate with industry or commercialise their findings. This orientation favours the hard sciences and tends to squeezes out newcomers and those wanting to solve important challenges in the humanities.
9. How do you think the general education community views educational research?
The general community views education as vitally important and of national significance, but doesn’t actually understand or have a real regard for the people who do it. It’s a paradox really. In our own sector; those who prepare teachers, and who are in the science of education are at the bottom of the pecking order in terms of status, and in terms of understanding of what they do. The push we’re seeing now to put the education and preparation of teachers back into schools on an apprenticeship model is evidence of the low regard that the science of education has. Despite this tendency, we need to reconsider education and its value both to the individual and the nation, more than ever. Concepts like the ‘learning organization’, knowledge nation, ‘professional learning’ and life long learning’ are kind of out there spinning in the air. They are associated with the idea that anyone can teach, or that you can provide a consultant to deliver packages of content to anyone, anywhere, anytime. The idea that there might be a science to teaching and learning has receded. The tendency is to view learning as a consequence of personality, disposition, health or the behaviour management of a group. The problem of course is in part related to the previous one about research and its decline. If we don’t do in-depth research to provide the evidence for our theories, if we just do small bits of research that are essentially derivative and impressionistic our case for the science of education is dissipated. It is not possible to prove the link between performance and a particular intervention if the associated research is superficial and short term. You have to do in depth, longitudinal studies to demonstrate the efficacy of nay idea or method, Australian or brought in from overseas, and that’s what’s missing in education today. I think at the very moment when the world says it’s a knowledge economy and that learning and education is at the core of wellbeing and economic growth, this discipline called education is at its lowest point, in terms of resources, professionalism, infrastructure and designs of learning. We do have a tremendous challenge before us to alter that. The shape and form of education has not changed sufficiently to align with the way that society and individuals have changed and are changing, economically, culturally and technically.
10. What do you feel are the current issues facing Teacher Education?
We’re in a very difficult situation firstly because as a consequence of the policy to cap fees, the resources available to educate teachers are static. Secondly, we’re already in a crisis, so fewer resources only exacerbates the situation and diverts people’s attention away from re reconceptualizing how they might prepare the next generation of teachers. Now, that’s the real problem not money. And this is happening, unfortunately at a time when more people are wanting to come into education. We are now getting much higher quality applicants, and demand for the teacher qualification degree is growing because it’s regarded as a very portable thing; in fact it has been estimated that one in seven workers has an education degree. Because teachers have been skilled in ways that are useful to a whole range of other work places, they’re being snapped up. This is evidence that the learning and the skills that come with teacher preparation programmes are significant to the broader community. This is a good thing but the resources are increasingly less able to deliver on new workforce requirements. We have an ageing academic population; we have an exodus of our best professors and senior people out of Australia to places where there are more resources, we are finding it difficult to harness the new technology appropriately and on top of all that there is on-going carping spotlight being put on education saying ‘look, you’re not performing as well as you should, you’ve got to do more with maths and science, you’ve got to do more about Indigenous performance, you’ve got to do more about boys’. The focus thus becomes the non-performing or marginal and difficult end of education. But where is the focus on ideas and investment required to gear up and to upgrade what we do for a very different future? Where is the investment in making sure that we’re a part of the new knowledge economy? How many schools and departments of education have the ICT infrastructure to be a part of the new world? How many of them have the conditions with the unions and the schools and the employers that allow for the flexibility that is required to form the new partnerships between the schools and the teacher education sector? Every other workplace has changed quite dramatically except those places that prepare them for the workplace – schools. Institutions of education, because they are workplaces themselves, need to take on the innovation and flexibility that the rest of the world has – certainly in order to mirror what is required and serve the new generation of learners.
11. What do you think the future of Teacher Education in Australia holds?
We have historically – not withstanding the comments I made about the need to gear up – invested in a very good public education system and we’ve got a very highly educated population. Our educational services have been in demand from our region, with international students and others wanting to emulate what we do. Despite our limited investment in research, ideas that have come out of Australia have interested the rest of the world. So, there’s something that we’re doing which is smart. There is something that we’re doing which is focused and dedicated to enhancing our skill and our sensibilities through what education offers. So I think that is a strong legacy, but because the world has changed so dramatically, my sense is that that legacy is not enough, and it has been eroded over the last few decades and allowed to decline in almost every aspect. So now we not only need to do a patch-up job, but we also need a great big leap forward. This is not just about more money but also about a new vision about how learning, knowledge and the science of education is central to the new world of knowledge, the new world of globalisation, the world of the new information technologies, the new world of difference and complexity that we will have to negotiate. The new challenges are enormous – like how do we get on with our neighbours? Do we need multiple languages? Do we need different sensibilities to understand the diversity of the world? Do we need to rethink the disciplines that have been codified? And do we need to contribute to how science, maths, the humanities and languages and so on might change? And do we want to remain a first world, English speaking country, that can offer leadership to other parts of the world and work as equals with other nations in creating the expertise to continue producing a happy, skilled, knowledgeable workforce and citizenry. If so, then I think we have to make education much more central, or as equally important as the sciences in our country today. We have this idea that if we invest in maths, science and technology, then that’s how we’re going to make a difference – cure diseases, save the environment, produce food, reap profits, invent the unimaginable. But how are you going to motivate people in maths, science and technology? How are you going to deploy these disciplines and for what purposes? How are we going to facilitate the appropriate sensibilities and disposition for the new challenges if we don’t invest in this area called education, which is on about motivation and critical thinking and engagement with other people and all those things that the science of education produces. So, my view is that if we keep thinking of learning and education as a background enabler, or an apprenticeship, or as human attributes and human nature; then we’ll be resting on our laurels and maybe find ourselves not doing those things that are required to maintain our heritage as a very high performing, skilled and cohesive society that has the respect in the rest of the world and that is able to contribute to it.
12. What are your views on the current Australian Tertiary sector?
The tertiary sector in Australia has gone through a large number of reforms, and it’s going to go through another set now, particularly when the new industrial relations agenda starts to hit, and greater degrees of commercialisation are expected from the sector. We’re only 20 million people, we don’t have a huge taxation base, and we’re getting more and more people wanting to go into the higher education sector; who pays for it and how do we fund it appropriately remains a battleground, given that we don’t have contributing investments from huge multinationals or benefactors. Consequently it’s either the government or the students that pays for education. So, the higher education sector is in a very difficult situation. The other thing is that every university in the country replicates what everybody else does, and because of that, the resources are spread even thinner. We don’t have a culture where students leave their community and go and board at the university, as you do in other parts of the world so that you get concentrations of resources. We like to think that we can stay at home in our state and in our community and be able to access higher education, and that’s why we replicate everything. I think that’s a difficulty and I think we will need some concentration of educational resources, accommodation and financial support so that students are able to go to where the learning that they need is. Additionally, because we’re English speaking, the effect of the free trade policies that are emerging at the moment, will put Australian university services and offerings in direct competition with English language offerings that come from America, Canada, the UK or Hong Kong, or wherever. So if we don’t invest heavily now in cultural production and research in our country, then we’ll be buying MBAs, buying a science course or whatever from another English speaking part of the world that can deliver to our students in their own backyard. I think the whole globalisation and free trade agenda, and the new industrial relations agenda are all going to put enormous pressures on universities, and therefore the historic decline in investment in everything from preschool through to higher education is going to prove to be serious short-sightedness. It was a pity that in this last election, neither political party was able to imagine the bigger picture and the future; they were all mostly attempting to deal with problems of the past and solve those rather than reposition our higher education sector for the future. Any country, no matter where it is, must support a very, very strong higher education sector that comes from its own cultural roots, that is grounded in its own culture and serves the specific needs of the nation and its citizens.
13. What do you think the sector’s immediate challenges are?
Globalisation is a major issue. Our students will be buying courses overseas; our staff are going overseas, so we need to be able to cut better deals around those things, but at the same time, nurture a very robust Australian intellectual culture. It’s our culture, our spirit and our creativity that will allow us to contribute as equals on this global platform. That is why the role of managers and leaders in the higher education sector, including Deans, is both more difficult than ever and more important. The challenges they face are enormous. They have to deal with a disgruntled student body as the services get thinner, enormous national expectations, professional metamorphosis, curriculum reform and growing international competition. Australians are certainly ingenious in the way they approach challenges in the education sector and very well networked. They’ve got their antennas out seeking the best solutions and most inventive approaches but they need to be properly supported, from taxpayers’ money as well as private investment. So we do need increased public investment and for the broader public constituency to see how the education sector benefit them in general and not just individuals that access it directly. . At the moment we think that those that go to university benefits personally from it, and therefore why should that be funded from public dollars. But in fact the whole community benefits when they have good doctors and good engineers and good thinkers. We need to move away from thinking that it’s a personal benefit and start seeing education as an investment in the well being of broader community as well as making higher education increasingly available to a wider range of people at any time during their lives.
14. What do you think your faculty’s strengths are?
The faculty that I was the Dean of has been restructured and it’s not there anymore as such. It becomes part of a larger unit called a Portfolio with eleven dual sector schools. The group that formed the faculty had been restructured many times before during their own career span. In fact I was the foundation Dean after one such earlier restructure. Overall, and in retrospect this endless shifting of the deck chairs seems, wasteful and disruptive with little evidence of enduring improvements. Thus, I can only describe one race in a larger marathon because a faculty is the sum of its teachers administrators and learners and the experiences and programmes that they share. These go on.
One measure of strength of course is in the capacity of a group of professional to improve their performance. Certainly the faculty demonstrated that under appropriate conditions it could grow its research outputs from a negligible base to a very high performing one. As a consequence, a lot of other things improved as well. Research works a sort of magic like this – it improves morale, brings status, ricochets on teaching, attracts students and so on. It’s a key. In our faculty, administrators and Tafe teachers were also supported to pursue research and participate in enhanced learning pathways themselves. That is, the spirit of learning and creativity was made central to the nature of our work. Equal access to educational opportunities for all stakeholders, students, academics and demonstrator was encouraged. These changes however were not easy to achieve, particularly when higher qualified new staff are attracted to compliment existing talent and expertise. Although welcomed, this also can produce unease, as pecking orders and access to entitlements appear to be unsettled.
So, I think learning to build collaborative relationships between academics and managers, and accepting joint responsibilities for changes became significant core strength. Also, learning how to plan intelligently and collaboratively for our future rather than thinking the answers were all simply going to flow down from the top. That is, we worked on the culture of the workplace in a very explicit and staged way. Importantly, we also worked on improving what constituted good communication and effective participation in decision-making. None of this workplace change was easy or a natural part of what academics think is expected of them – they were particularly resistant even whilst insisting on participating in everything. But these strategies were important in order to spread the benefits of belonging as far as possible and to explain sensibly those matters that created pain to those who felt aggrieved. So, thinking about the culture of the workplace – I’ll put it that way – of the culture of the faculty as one of our strengths as well as our performance in terms of new courses, new programmes, research incomes, consultancies, positive student feedback and so on, was what made positive difference overall. That holistic and interrelated set of goals, was for me the biggest challenge and I think that in the end, it proved to be the most significant achievement in the face of constant, ambiguus and sometimes debilitating change as our university lurched from one financial and senior management crisis to the next in that particular period.
Surviving the tumultuous period we went through as a consequence of refocusing our priorities, energies and the way we worked, however, enabled us to learn how to deal with very difficult circumstances in a way that allowed us to move forward. We did not let the challenges that we faced distract our energies from the creative and collaborative goals that we had agreed to.
15. What do you consider to be the most important attribute of graduates from your faculty?
Well, I think it is to be, this is going to sound like a cliché, genuinely excited, interested and inquisitive about knowledge. That is, to recognise that knowing is not about your opinions or their expression but rather that it involves investigation and discovery. That knowing is linked to an ongoing engagement with issues and ideas. Many young people now enter their university studies with very strong opinions that come from the media or their community and they think that the expression of those opinions is sufficient. They do not feel the need to support their opinions with evidence, or demonstrate that their knowledge or their way of doing things is the best way for themselves or others. So, the first attribute for a graduate is the capacity and wisdom to understand the relationship between knowledge and action, and between knowledge and opinion, or knowledge and behaviour. If they have this orientation, then I think they’re prepared for a lifetime of learning and a lifetime of effective participation in the world. Secondly, and this is of particular significance for those preparing g to be teachers, they have to know how to enable others to learn. To do this they have to be able to communicate with the learner that they really empathise with their needs and desires. They have to develop the skills to motivate, support and transform other people in order that they can achieve their potential. This means that all the academic and human skills they have acquired are used to enable others to succeed. Clearly, this requires a very particular sort of selflessness and very high ideals. Teaching makes a difference not only in terms of individual learners, but it has the power to contribute to the well-being, expertise, prosperity and harmony of the community in general. That is why the qualification that a teacher education program provides is so portable. Excellent graduates are usually snapped up in all sorts of other jobs beyond teaching,
RMIT University, 21st October 2004