Exciting times afoot! Becoming more future focussed in college.

It has been an honor to work with the teachers at Northcote College recently. The school set up a Year 9 class at the end of last year, which families and children indicated an interest in being a part of. This class is taught by 3 core teachers of Science, English and Social Studies, who have committed to altering the pedagogy in their classes.


Following a visit to my class at the end of last year, these three brave teachers decided to embark on a journey towards more future focused pedagogy. They really took a risk in trying out a model that hadn’t been used in a secondary school before, which I commend them for. I have been working with these teachers for about two terms now, so it was a good opportunity to stop, reflect and take stock. Below are the teachers’ thoughts so far.

Why did you want to be a part of this initiative?

  • It provided me with an impetus to change my classroom teaching.
  • Seeing what was happening at Willow Park got me excited about the possibilities for our students – the students in Year 6 were independent, responsible for  their own learning and supportive of each other.
  • I felt I needed to change and having a model there to help was useful. Otherwise I would not have known where to start.
  • I thought we would be building on what happened at intermediate and primary.


How has your teaching changed?

  • I have passed more control over to the students and I’m putting the onus back on them. They need to be responsible for their learning.
  • I am giving the students more choice.
  • I am having more 1:1 conversations.
  • I use workshops in the class more.
  • I know the kids better.
  • I have begun to make learning more personalised and I am more explicit about feedback and students’ goals.
  • I have opened up assessments more, so students have more choice about what they inquire into. This has resulted in more buy in because kids are more interested.
  • I have started getting the kids to co-construct the marking schedule.
  • I have worked to explicitly teach the students to be more independent.
  • I have given the students lots more trust, which the kids haven’t really broken because the focus is so much on the learning.
  • Little tweaks to what I do have made a big difference (eg. I changed the name of SSR to independent reading, which implies to the kids that they are taking responsibility for their reading). These little tweaks have been taken up by other teachers in the department.
  • We (the 3 teachers) are connecting more and in a more meaningful way – talking about individuals, skills to be developed and how we can back learning up across the curriculum and between classes.
  • I am better able to cater for different needs and extend those students who need it.
  • There is a common language of learning across the three classes.
  • There are common goals across  the three subjects


How have the students changed?

  • The kids make goals based on learning in general, not just subject specific goals.
  • They are more mature and more engaged than other Year 9 classes.
  • They are achieving better than other Year 9 classes.
  • There are hardly any behavior issues.
  • These students will question things in class (eg. to alter a lesson slightly to suit their learning needs), which other classes wouldn’t.
  • The kids are more interested and passionate about their learning.

Impressive changes have been made already, as you can see. I can only imagine what’s possible!


Teacher-student relationships

My year has had a quite interesting start; beginning at a new school, taking on a new leadership role, getting used to working in a modern learning environment, tackling a new (shorter!) year group.

It’s been a great learning curve and I’ve found heaps of benefits in teaching and learning in a modern learning environment. I’ve never collaborated in such an intensive way with fellow teachers or for a school with such clear and embedded values, learning vocabulary and ways of operating. I’ve enjoyed the experience so far in many ways but there is a bit of a niggle that we have been discussing at school recently – relationships between adults and students.

I brought this up earlier this year, mostly because I miss this aspect of teaching terribly. It rubs salt in the would when I visit Northcote Intermediate and College, where many ex-pupils now attend, and they chat away with me like old friends catching up. I receive emails from time to time updating me on their progress, which I really care about because I really KNEW these children when they were in my class and they knew me.

I don’t have that same feeling anymore. Building that kind of relationship with 60 children is just really tough. Don’t get me wrong, we have great learning focused relationships. I could tell you an awful lot about their strengths and weaknesses learning; I just don’t know whether they won their rugby game on the weekend or how much their big sister bugs them.

It makes you wonder though, is this a fault of the MLE schools that needs some creative thinking to fix? Or is it something I am hanging onto because I like that aspect of teaching when really it is pointless and perhaps students don’t really want to build relationships with us anyway?

I had no research to back me up, aside from John Hattie’s effect sizes (0.72 for teacher-student relationships) and the fact that children would be somewhat more likely to report abuse to you if you had some sort of relationship with them. But, honestly, I find those reasons a bit callous. Teaching is, after all, a human activity.

Here is a little snippet from research out of New York University that perhaps shows that relationships really are rather important:

Teachers play an important role in the trajectory of students throughout the formal schooling experience (Baker, Grant, & Morlock, 2008)….Teachers have the unique opportunity to support students’ academic and social development at all levels of schooling (Baker et al., 2008; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998; McCormick, Cappella, O’Connor, & McClowry, in press). Aligned with attachment theory (Ainsworth, 1982; Bowlby, 1969), positive teacher-student relationships enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and provide scaffolding for important social and academic skills (Baker et al., 2008; O’Connor, Dearing, & Collins, 2011; Silver, Measelle, Armstron, & Essex, 2005). Teachers who support students in the learning environment can positively impact their social and academic outcomes, which is important for the long-term trajectory of school and eventually employment (Baker et al., 2008; O’Connor et al., 2011; Silver et al., 2005).

When teachers form positive bonds with students, classrooms become supportive spaces in which students can engage in academically and socially productive ways (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Positive teacher-student relationships are classified as having the presence of closeness, warmth, and positivity (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting both academically and socially, to take on academic challenges and work on social-emotional development (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). This includes, relationships with peers, and developing self-esteem and self-concept (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Through this secure relationship, students learn about socially appropriate behaviors as well as academic expectations and how to achieve these expectations (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Students in low-income schools can especially benefit from positive relationships with teachers (Murray & Malmgren, 2005).