What really improves student learning?

By Greg Whitby, 30 April 2019
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


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

There is not a week that goes by when a story about schools doesn’t make it into mainstream media. A few weeks ago, I came across the headline: ‘The 4 secret ingredients that can turn good schools into great ones’. It suggests to readers that the recipe for school improvement is all about adding the equivalent of a few secret ‘herbs and spices’. It is not that simple.

Decades of research and examining best practice in classrooms have already revealed what the drivers of school improvement are. Sadly though, there is still a desire, especially at election time, for quick wins and partial solutions. Coming up with a shiny new idea, a pithy new slogan or a bucket of money rarely by themselves improve learning for each child.

Successful schools are the result of many factors but the real driver for improvement is effective teaching overseen by effective leaders supported by parental engagement. We have great teachers in Australia, the problem is however, that they are not in every classroom. And there’s an equity issue here: every child deserves a great teacher, but those whose needs are greatest deserve the greatest teachers of all.

Great teachers care deeply about their students. They also recognise themselves as members of a team. They don’t ‘own’ their classroom but allow others to contribute to the learning of their students and, in turn, support the learning of other students. They learn from what they see and do in their classrooms and what they see in other ones. They are curious and never stop asking questions. They make themselves accountable for what they teach and what students learn.

And who are the very best teachers of all? They are the ones who are doing all of this in communities where the young people in their care experience disadvantage, are vulnerable or require additional learning support. The work of these teachers is more than great – it’s heroic.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


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