Rationale: The research base for Learning for Life

For many decades, Shire Christian School has developed and delivered rigorous, considered, excellent teaching programs. The pedagogical stance has been one built on explicit instruction, underpinned by authentic relationships with students, and partnering with parents. As our school grows, and with our expanding teaching base, it drew us to a point of reflection. We began to ask ourselves questions such as;

  • What do we believe about knowledge?
  • What do we believe about student ability and potential?
  • Do our teaching programs, our stance in the classroom and how we structure our school reflect and reinforce what we say we believe about teaching and learning?

These questions clearly indicated that it was timely to begin to refine and consider the current factors that make up our learning culture.

Learning culture refers to a set of factors that characterise the learning environment of a school, including its physical features, its culture, and teachers’ practices. These factors alongside quality instruction and learning time are the foundations for success of a school. The learning culture of a school is reflected in the relationships between teachers and students, the disciplinary climate of classrooms, and the norms for academic success. (NSW Department of Education)

Our first step was to form a committee to delve into our learning culture and to interrogate and ask those questions of key stakeholders. A team was selected to form our Research to Practice Group and we spent 18 months conducting focus groups with students across the whole school. Workshops were conducted with teachers and a select group of parents were also asked for their reflections and observations about our learning culture. Teachers and students provided important insights into what aspects of learning were valued at Shire Christian. It gave us perspicacity into the intentional and even unintentional messages we were sending about learning. An overwhelming outcome of this research led us to recognise the need to develop the tenacity of our students. Being tenacious is defined as being determined, resolute, holding on tightly to something and persevering to achieve a goal. This is exactly the disposition we hope to see being the learning attitude of every student. We wish to see learners who have grit, who resolve to improve and who are committed to improving.

At the conclusion of this research stage, it became evident that we needed a whole school approach and the development of a framework that would uphold and direct the teaching and learning practices of the school. By developing a whole school framework, it provides a philosophy and set of standards against which we can align our teaching and learning practices. It also allows the whole school community to have a shared language and understanding about what we value at Shire Christian, how we wish to teach and how we prepare our students to engage with and participate in their own learning journeys.

A motivating tenet for this approach was derived from the research of Geoff Masters (2018), which states that “school improvement is most likely when an entire school has a shared improvement agenda and is committed to learning how to improve. In a learning organization, members commit to learning together and to sharing what is learned throughout the organization. In schools, this means collaborating to find ways to improve current school and classroom practices”
(G. Masters 2018).

After much research, it was the work of the renowned cognitive scientist, Guy Claxton, who developed the Learning Power Approach (Claxton, 2018) that most resonated with our school’s mission and vision. This approach seeks to reduce limiting assumptions about learning and ability and replace them with an approach that amplifies positive and empowering attitudes towards learning itself. Claxton’s approach seeks to “identify the different mental ingredients that go to make up learning power, and devise ways, in schools and especially in classrooms, that teachers can actively strengthen the learning power of their students” (Claxton, 2018, p 17). Through a shift in language, in attitudes and approaches in the classroom, students will become more self aware of themselves as learners and also begin to recognise the particular practices and mindsets that “good learners” adopt; essentially, moving towards a belief that learning is learnable.

After much reading, visiting other schools and attending professional development conducted by Guy Claxton, considerable time was spent developing the framework specific to our school context. By utilising the school’s logo of a tree as our foundational image, we aligned the key principles of the Learning Powered Approach to our school’s underpinning beliefs of having a firm foundation being grounded on God’s word. Through consultation with a large team, we proudly named and developed Shire Christian’s school learning framework: Learning for Life.

With a strategic roll out across the year and different iterations of implementation, our executive and teachers are committed to researching, learning, implementing and refining what we do and how we do it. Just like we are asking our students to become more independent and self aware, strategic learners, we as teachers are also committed to life-long learning. As a legend in Christian education, Harry Burggraaf once said “A teacher who has stopped growing, learning, questioning, experimenting is an educational hazard”.

Mrs Natalie Bluhdorn
Academic Head

Click the link below to read about how Learning for Life affects wellbeing and life beyond the classroom.

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