The work we do

When Professor John Hattie visited our diocese last year, he mentioned something quite astounding and profound. When teachers are together in staff rooms, they only spend five minutes on average, talking about teaching.

We know that when teachers are in learning spaces they ‘do’ the business of teaching, but we also know that it is just as important to ‘talk’ to colleagues about what they do when they teach.

Bransford et al make this point powerfully in “How People Learn” when he talks about meta-cognition or put more simply learning about learning.

The work of teachers is more complex than rocket science (Elmore). It takes place against a background cluttered with noise – diverse views, fragmented policies, competing agendas and is mostly characterised by an environment of mistrust and suspicion.

How do we support, sustain, develop and drive the continuous shift needed to ensure a relevant 21st century schooling experience if we don’t reflect and talk about what good learning and teaching is in today’s world?

I think there is a very simple and obvious answer – look to the theory and the good practice that stems from the theory. Since the beginning of the 1990s, there has been a wealth of research linking theory to practice.

The work of Andy Hargreaves, Michael Fullan, Richard Elmore, Hedley Beare, Viviane Robinson and John Hattie demonstrates the link. The problem with our current educational approach is that it relies too heavily on what I call the ‘opt in/opt out’ model. That is, what a teacher thinks or feels about a learning strategy defines the implementation process.

It is the antithesis of evidence-based decision making. Elmore calls this a ‘theory of volunteerism in education’. That is, if I like it I may choose to participate, adopt or implement otherwise I will stay the current course – often to the detriment of the learner. If we accept responsibility for our own and students learning, then we cannot tolerate volunteerism.

Schools exist as places of learning for students as well as teachers. The work of the above authors shows how we can improve learning and teaching. While each comes at it from different perspectives, they share common themes. These are:

  • teachers make the difference
  • teachers get better at their work by doing the work
  • teacher collaboration is critical to influencing practice and sustaining change
  • leaders must support and participate in teacher learning
  • data and feedback must inform decision making
  • the implementation process needs to be localisedWe call our change imperative, the ‘theory of action’ and it is underpinned by two decades of theory and research into what makes the difference to student learning.Teachers drive change by changing what they do. School leaders sustain change by identifying what teachers need.

    This simple approach is powerful in practice.


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