The unique and compelling adventure of a Scots education has, from the very beginning, called for staff to be on a quest for excellence, striving for expertise. The Right Reverend James Smith White, in the inaugural address in 1893, proudly said that the College’s teachers would be men (and, subsequently, women) who had ‘won the highest honours in the University of Sydney, have had long experience at teaching Australians, and to whom teaching is a work of faith, a labour of love and a patience of hope.’
One of the critical challenges for education in Australia is the development and concentration of genuine expertise. A persistent focus on the acquisition of skills abstracted from depth of subject knowledge, the ubiquity of instant information in a digital world, and, most recently and alarmingly, a disdain for traditional sources of authoritative comment (think ‘fake news’) — all such shifts challenge the place of the teacher in the classroom and in wider society. While there is a vast wealth of tacit knowledge in the teaching profession, and there are incredible examples every day of genuine and transformative learning taking place, much in education that is described as ‘expert’ or ‘best practice’ is, in reality, just ‘what seems to work in this particular setting, or so we claim’.
For teachers, schools and whole educational systems to really know that their considerable energies of time and talent and creativity are resulting in real growth for their students, we need to recover the meaning of true expertise. We do not need more educational gurus hawking the latest ideas, techniques and programs. Far from it! Developing expertise means cultivating a culture of research, where staff (and boys) are constantly asking reflective questions about what we do, exploring possible answers based on the best literature from the academy, designing and piloting interventions that fit the particular challenges of their setting, reviewing how well they work, trying again, and taking successful ideas rapidly to scale. A cycle of diagnosis, intervention, and evaluation is the key to moving from success by accident to success by design. At Scots we call this our Patribus Knowledge Model, moving towards a more rigorous approach to understanding how knowledge is created and passed on, how it is applied in ‘real-world’ settings, and how it forms the lives of young men.
In this vein, this week’s Principal’s Assembly boys were introduced to staff in the College who hold PhDs, encouraging them to seek curiosity and pursue ‘higher learning for the common weal’. Such staff include:
- Dr Caitlin Munday, who is also a research fellow in the Scots research department, and a teacher of Studies of Religion. She conducted her PhD in education and teaching.
- Dr John Montgomery is the Head of Curriculum here at Scots, and completed his PhD in the field of drama education.
- Dr Sara Zitner is a visual arts teacher and the director of the Artist-in-Residence Program. Her PhD was in visual arts.
- Dr Arun Mehta is a high-level mathematics teacher. He completed his PhD in material science and engineering in Australia after leaving India.
- Dr Tom Cerni is the Head of Counselling Services at Scots. He completed his PhD in the field of applied psychology, specifically looking at transformational leadership.
- Dr Ian PM Lambert is the Principal and completed his PhD at Cambridge in education.
- Dr Hugh Chilton is Director of Research and Professional Learning and completed his PhD in intellectual and religious history.
A number of other staff are working towards their own higher degrees through our cohort model with the University of Newcastle, as well as other PhD tracks. We look forward to developing our expertise within the College, transforming the experience of boys and staff, and sharing our knowledge with others. In so doing we aim to fulfil the calling of our founders to promote ‘higher learning for the common weal’.
Dr Hugh Chilton
Director of Research and Professional Learning