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More than just good teaching

I was recently invited back to a school that I have been working with over the past couple of years to conduct a Learning Review and see what the impact of their work on Building Learning Power had been since my last visit in September. Whilst there were many signs of students’ learning having been enhanced, it was clear that more could be achieved if certain stumbling blocks could be removed.

Whilst many teachers across the school had modified the ways in which they teach in order to enable students to take more responsibility for their learning and build curricular understanding for themselves, such approaches were not universally secure across the school largely because certain members of staff were disregarding these approaches and choosing not to adapt their teaching with learning in mind. For these teachers, there seemed to be a view that Building Learning Power is no more than good teaching and something I’ve always done. I suggested that teachers needed to be disabused of this view by senior leaders who – without adopting a draconian approach, which would be counter-cultural and counter-productive – should present a united commitment to these approaches and their underlying purpose. As I have always found, if the leadership team fails to present a united front, any initiative will flounder and these valuable benefits be wasted.

The reasons why Building Learning Power should be seen as not just good teaching are as follows:

  • The adoption of a common language for learning is long overdue in our educational culture – without it, there is no clear and unifying definition of the outcomes of education beyond the need for imprecise values such as the creation of independent learners who are able to take greater personal responsibility.
  • The diagnosis of the specific learning habits that will secure greater knowledge and understanding for a particular topic, class or individual should not be left to chance; teachers need to do better than simply back their hunches.
  • Lessons should be planned in ways that ensure that students are building meaning and understanding for themselves and not relying on their teachers to feed them subject knowledge – and fail-safe notes. All teachers should get into the habit of asking themselves what learning habits their students need to use if they are to fully engage with learning experiences, grapple with uncertainty, enjoy breakthrough moments of personal discovery and truly understand new ideas. It is the teacher’s job to devise appropriate resources and activities that will ensure that they orchestrate their lessons with learning in mind rather than merely satisfying themselves that they have taught the relevant content.
  • The outcome of good teaching is the development of resilient, resourceful and reflective learners who work well with others if they are to counter the oft-quoted criticism from Professor Tim Birkhead of Sheffield University: ‘The most striking thing about some undergraduates is their dependence, their lack of initiative and their reluctance to think themselves…new undergraduates seem to expect to be told what to do at every stage. It is almost as though the spoon-feeding and teach-to-the-test culture at school has drained them of independent thought.’
  • Providing students with a language for learning, drawing their attention to how they learn and providing them with guidance on how to progress these autonomous learning habits that enables them to make conscious choices and decisions about how best to learn has a significant impact on achievement.
  • A coherent commitment to learning across the school – that encourages a wide-range of dynamic and individual approaches – provides focus and direction that when communicated effectively to students and their parents inspires enthusiasm and increased confidence in the school and its drive for the highest possible learning outcomes.

Good teachers do what teachers have always done. Learning-powered teachers turbo-charge their lessons and use the energy to build better learners.


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