“When I look back now, my career in professional learning started on my first day in the classroom.”
In 2012 Brad Kelly’s principal asked him to improve the writing of the students in his school. In that first year, he did just about everything wrong. Seven years on, this is what he has learned.
Brad Kelly (MEd., BA, Grad Dip Ed) is a consultant teacher mentor and writing coach at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea College in Wollongong and most weeks he is astonished by the talent he observes in the classroom. But there is one thing that sparks his curiosity.
“Some of the most remarkable teachers I work with have one thing in common; they all thought they needed to improve,” he says. “They are driven by a sense of obligation to their students to strengthen an aspect of their teaching.”
After 15 years as a classroom teacher and executive member at schools in Australia and England, Brad understands that the day to day demands of teaching. He now works full time as a professional writer and conducts writing seminars for teachers. Brad also leads school tours to Germany, Italy and Russia with Academy Travel and has written senior history textbooks for Cengage Nelson.
Brad thinks he is proof that there is a fundamental flaw in the old adage of ‘those that can’t do teach’ and he is fascinated by how teachers teach and students learn.
“I start with a basic distinction. There is a big difference between writing and writing instruction. The latter is much more difficult,” he says. “The work I do as a writer is significantly easier than teaching students to write.”
He says that those who dismiss the work of teachers are not looking hard enough at what teaching involves.
“Responding to student writing means holding a lot of information in your head about the qualities of writing you are looking for, understanding the degree to which they are achieved and then being able to clearly communicate strategies for improvement on the spot,” he says. “… at the same time as motivating the student to want to improve!”
Brad’s improvement journey began with reading the research out of the University of Auckland and the University of Melbourne. Those insights gave him an a-ha! moment; to improve student writing, you need to improve writing instruction. That light-bulb began a long journey of reading, observation and reflection. He broke up the teaching and learning cycle into thin slices and began investigating every aspect of student writing from comprehension to assessment.
Out of that journey, Brad has developed a suite of courses that are cross curricular, classroom ready and intensely practical. He says that “teachers are not looking for a revolution. They are looking for more effective ways to work and have an impact on their students.”
Brad says that working with teachers has exposed another popular myth – the idea that teachers need to be ‘fixed.’
“Since I started my involvement in teacher learning I realised two things; firstly, that many teachers work in such isolation that they have no idea how they are tracking so they tend to underestimate their value. Secondly, many teachers just need to make small, smart changes to make a big difference to their impact and their workload.”
Brad says that smart moves such as shifting the focus to outcomes over content, being more explicit about how the verb directive reshapes responses or setting narrowly defined writing goals can make big differences to the teacher’s impact.
He is wary of any new professional learning program that makes the claim to silver-bullet solutions, makes teachers feel like they have to ditch their previous efforts or attempts to re-language their work. Brad knows that new learning needs time to be nourished and supported to show up in new classroom habits.
It is these smart changes that motivated Brad to establish Cornerstone Teacher Learning to support teachers in their quest for improvement. Cornerstone’s workshops are intensely practical and provide classroom ready resources. The list of presenters is growing, each chosen for their commitment to Cornerstone’s values.