In the shoes of learners

The role of a principal is challenging, relentless and rewarding.  You have to be committed to improving the lives of young people and passionate about learning not just students but teacher learning as well as your own.

I admire principals (and their team) who go into bat every day for their students when many teachers don’t or won’t.

I had a conversation this week with a secondary principal who spoke honestly about the challenges of changing cultural beliefs and teacher practice.

What impressed me was the way in which he was addressing the issues to improve quality learning and teaching by working collaboratively with his team, being honest about the challenges, relying on data and student voice to inform strategies and accepting accountability.

What I liked most about their approach was that teachers received data/feedback without any judgment.  The onus is on each individual teacher to ask their own questions about the data/feedback and to reflect critically on their practice.  

We shouldn’t be afraid of the data/feedback because it is a useful tool for identifying where we are and where we need to be. 

One of the great insights this principal revealed was that too often we assume we understand learning from students’ perspective.  We assume they’ve understood fundamental concepts in Year 7 or that transcribing notes from the whiteboard is relevant or engaging. 

We cannot assume anything about our learners or the quality of our teaching without relying on good data and feedback, which includes student voice.

Children disengage from learning when it doesn’t, as Sir Ken Robinson says ‘feed their spirit’.   So the question we must ask ourselves is how are we feeding the imagination and spirit of learners and how do we know?

Many may not want to walk in the shoes of principals  but we should at least walk in the shoes of our learners.


3 thoughts on “In the shoes of learners

  1. My shoes might not be worth walking in, usually my fat feet have stretched them sideways. It is very interesting what children learn as compared to what teachers think they have learnt/taught. An amazing piece of research from the late Dr Graeme Nuthall is worth reading. Thousands of kids were microphoned and videoed, 40,000 hours of recording. Google for a transcript of an interview with Nuthall and Kim Hill

  2. As you know Greg I have a tremendous faith in teachers’ ability to reflect and learn about their own practice but too often we expect them to do this in a vacuum. Student voice data allows teachers to “triangulate”, that is consider their own perceptions, with the academic performance of their students and the “student voice” data. We don’t really need to be pushed out of our comfort zones, we can begin to feel “uncomfortable” sometimes with what we learn and so take steps to improve ourselves. That is why we are ‘professionals’. There is no pushing (not too hard anyway) – we have an innate desire to do better – we just need the important information and time to reflect on what it really means – for us and our students. This is not possible, in my view, without “student voice”. We can’t really be student centred until we hear them.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with these sentiments. We’ve seen students as passive in the learning process and yet they have much to tell us about how and what we can do to improve our practice, thereby helping them to achieve their goals.

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