Combat high-poverty schools with our best

Paul Mayne // Western NewsEducation professor Pam Bishop, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, has been awarded the 2017 Willower Award of Excellence from the Consortium for the Study of Leadership and Ethics in Education for her research and advocacy for social justice and leadership of secondary schools in disadvantaged communities.

For Education professor Pam Bishop, only the best teachers and administrators can deliver what millions of “beautiful kids” from high-poverty backgrounds need from their schools.

“Very few people choose to live in poverty; it’s not good experience. Having kids in schools where there are large numbers from a high-poverty background changes the nature of the school,” said Bishop, Associate Dean (Graduate Programs) for the Faculty of Education.

“At these schools, you need to have your best principal, your best teachers. But, oftentimes, you don’t, you have your most junior teachers. Those beautiful kids come from very complicated backgrounds. When they come through those school gates, there is a lot happening and they can smell blood with the teachers. An expert teacher will know when to go in, and when to back off, where a novice virtually does the opposite.”

Recently, Bishop was lauded for her work exploring secondary schools in disadvantaged communities with the distinguished 2017 Willower Award of Excellence, presented by the Consortium for the Study of Leadership and Ethics in Education (part of the University Council of Educational Administration).

This year’s selection committee described Bishop as “an acknowledged scholar and expert in the area of values and leadership, who is highly accomplished in her research and advocacy for social justice and leadership of secondary schools in disadvantaged communities.”

Bishop’s work often focuses on what makes effective, successful school leaders in high-poverty settings.

“Not all poverty schools are the same. You need to be very good in quickly summing up the situation,” said Bishop, who received her award earlier this month at the 22nd annual Values and Leadership conference in Los Angeles. “Your ability to analyze and join up information is crucial. You have to be a hard-working, honorable, open and trust-building person, someone with a lot of tolerance, somebody who understands youth and children.”

The problem is, she said, we don’t have enough principals or teachers equipped to teach in such schools, with the trend being to put the best educators in schools with little to no poverty. Teaching in high-poverty schools is, in some way, like working in an emergency ward where, “there are a lot of things happening at once and judgements need to be quick,” with teachers and principals making dozes of judgements and decisions every day.

All the more reason for stocking them with the best.

“In a high-poverty school, we have to be even better. Poverty is going to be with us for a long time and the consequences of starting your life out early in poverty are quite pronounced,” she said. “You can see some kids leaving school not being able to get a permanent job or solid footing into a community like we want them to.

“You’re wanting teachers and principals who are not going to disparage people who live in poverty. You want them to understand them. You want to empower them and give them the best chance they deserve through the best teaching. In theory they need to have more.”

A multi-award-winning teacher and principal for much of her career in public education in Australia, Bishop said it’s about making sure students feel supported by adults and know they have someone in front of them that genuinely cares for them.

“One way to help society, and one way to help the kids and produce the best opportunity for learning in high-poverty schools, is to have highly capable teachers and principals,” she said. “We want teachers and principals who will respond to these youth and respond effectively so they can prosper. The whole point of public education is for freedom for those children to learn, be able to make choices and engage in society – to lead a good life, a life of worth.”