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.
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:
This simple approach is powerful in practice.