Relief from Learning Disruptions

By Greg Whitby, 4 December 2018


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

I recently had a conversation with a parent who felt frustrated by what they called the ‘revolving door’ of teachers their son had for Year 8 Maths. They asked me how it was possible for multiple teachers to establish continuity or build the necessary rapport required for delivering quality teaching and support. It’s a fair question and one built on the premise that the teacher is always at the centre of the learning.

Good teaching is relational. In other words, when we know the child and how he or she learns, we are able to adjust the teaching to ensure they progress. Staffing is one of the biggest challenges of leading any school community. Consistency is important; however teachers do get sick, they are entitled to take leave and many have parental/family responsibilities.

Making sure that students aren’t negatively impacted by staff absences requires us to address two things. The first is how we organise the school day. This is particularly relevant in secondary schools where groups of students are taught one subject by one teacher. If a teacher is away, they are usually replaced by a relief teacher. Despite how committed and capable these teachers might be, it is a huge task to be able to establish rapport and manage the dynamics of a classroom for a short period of time.

The second is how we organise the learning. In NSW, there is a review currently underway of the curriculum. This is a golden opportunity for us to think differently about individual teachers having sole responsiblity for their specialist subject and move to an integrated approach where responsibility is shared and learning is focused on project-based learning. In this model, the focus is not on the teacher but on the learning. Teachers working in teams becomes a powerful antidote to the issues that arise from teacher absences and shortages.

It is critical that we realise that the real work of teachers is teaching students how to learn. We won’t be able to do this successfully unless we shift the model of learning from being teacher-directed to student-centred. Having learning centred on the students and led by the students provides better outcomes for everyone!

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


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