Understanding Wesley College’s teaching and learning philosophy

Posted November 23, 2018 in Academics, Opinion By Richard Ryan

By Dean of Research and Pedagogy, Deborah Netolicky

 

At Wesley College, students and staff alike are supported to live our College vision and motto: to lead purposeful lives by daring and by doing. While Wesley provides its students with a myriad of wonderful opportunities—including in the areas of service and leadership—at the core of what we do is teaching and learning.

Plenty of research shows that teachers, and the quality of their teaching, can make a profound difference to student learning. At Wesley, our teachers are content experts and skilled practitioners. They are also continuous learners committed to the continual improvement of their practice in order to best serve the students in their care. I am privileged in my role as Dean of Research and Pedagogy to see each day the wonderful work that our teachers are doing with students across our Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12 College.

Teaching and learning at Wesley is based on the following principles. Together, these form our teaching and learning philosophy.

 

We support each student to achieve their best possible success.

Each child is unique, and at Wesley we spend time getting to know each child, respecting difference, meeting individual needs, providing support and challenge, and making appropriate adjustments to teaching and learning. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2007) wrote that teachers facilitate the setting of challenging goals and high standards, designing work so that learners believe in their own capacity for success, and adjusting plans in light of unexpected or inappropriate results. We know that academic and broader success looks different for everyone, and our job is to help each student reach for their own version of excellence.

 

We know that relationships are key.

Teaching and learning is more than a transaction of knowledge and skills between teacher and student. Learning is influenced by relationships, belonging and how a student feels in the learning environment. Teachers-student relationships, our pastoral care system, and teacher-parent partnerships, are central to supporting student wellbeing and belonging. An intimate environment of care, appropriate to age and stage, means that students are ready to learn.

 

We intentionally design curriculum.

Intentional curriculum design allows teachers to scope and sequence content and skills, and to strategically and systematically consider how engagement, pedagogy and assessment fit together. At Wesley, our courses and units are based on specific learning goals as directed by the Western Australian curriculum and underpinned by the Wesley Capabilities of critical thinking, creativity, commitment, communication, collaboration, citizenship and continuous improvement. Schoolbox, our learning management and communication system, allows us to make much of this design transparent to students and visible to parents.

 

We intentionally plan teaching and learning using a balance of explicit instruction and inquiry approaches.

At Wesley, teachers are deliberate and responsive in their application of teaching strategies, resources, technologies, and assessment. They select and implement appropriate classroom design and instructional strategies to help each student learn. Diverse teaching methods include (but are certainly not limited to!) explicit instruction, reciprocal teaching, problem-solving methods, inquiry, explanation, elaboration, modelling and peer learning. Students are taught strategies for critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, self-reflection, goal setting and studying.

 

We provide timely and effective feedback to students and support students in acting upon feedback.

Feedback can have a significant positive influence on student learning and achievement. Feedback, including through formative assessment, is an interactive dialogue between teacher and learners. Teachers use feedback to make adjustments to planning and instruction, while students become active, empowered agents of their own learning as they self-assess, receive feedback, and act on it. Wesley teachers provide students with information about what they know, understand and can do, and what they are ready to learn next. They also encourage students to build on feedback, put it into practice, or reflect on how it can improve their work.

 

We are informed by research, experience, and context.

We are informed by the best available research and what research says works in education. As Dylan Wiliam says, however, “everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere” (2018, p. 2). He also points out that research can tell us what has worked in the past, in other contexts, but it cannot tell us what will work here, in our school, with our community. So, we value not only research, but also the expertise of our staff, our knowledge of our students, and our rich tradition and history as a College. We take Gary Jones’ (2018) advice to consider educational and other research alongside College evidence, professional practitioner experience and judgement, and stakeholder expertise, values and concerns. It is by combining multiple sources of evidence, relevant to our own context and the people within it, that we can make informed and appropriate decisions. We also heed Yong Zhao’s (2016) warning to count what counts, not just what can be counted. That is, we deeply consider what kinds of data are relevant to improving student learning and achievement.

 

We collaborate to improve student achievement.

As staff, we collaborate constantly because we know that purposeful, structured and data-informed collaboration has a positive impact on student learning outcomes. In their new book, Andy Hargreaves and Michael O’Connor say that “collaborative professionalism benefits the individual and the group, it develops the student and the teacher” (2018, pp. 138-9). This year, the Gonski 2.0 report (Gonski, 2018) outlined what research literature has been saying for some time: that teachers need to meaningfully collaborate, and that schools need to provide a growth-focused professional learning environment in which teachers can interrogate and improve their practice, based on knowing research and knowing their students. On the theme of professional learning and collaboration, the Gonski 2.0 report singles out as particularly effective modes of collaboration: peer observation and feedback, coaching, mentoring, team teaching and joint research projects. These modes are ones that Wesley has been using for some time. As the quality of teaching has an impact on student learning, we work together to better know our students, better know our context, and always improve our teaching.

 

Anyone in education is likely to find these teaching and learning principles unsurprising. They reflect the national standards for Australian teachers, such as ‘know students and how they learn’, ‘know the content and how to teach it’, ‘plan for and implement effective teaching and learning’, and ‘assess, provide feedback and report on student learning’. They are based in what research says is most likely to benefit our students, and also in our strong College identity, mission vision and values. This teaching and learning philosophy provides us at Wesley College with a foundation stone for the work we do with students each and every day.

 

 

References

Gonski, D., et al., 2018. Through Growth to Achievement Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. Canberra, Australia: Department of Education and Training.

Hargreaves, A., & O’Connor, M. T. (2018). Collaborative professionalism: When teaching together means learning for all. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Jones, G. (2018). Evidence-based school leadership and management: A practical guide. London: Sage.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wiliam, D., 2018. Creating the schools our children need: Why what we’re doing now won’t help much (and what we can do instead). Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences.

Zhao, Y.  (2016). Numbers can lie: The meaning and limitations of test scores. In Y. Zhao (Ed.), Counting what counts: Reframing education outcomes (pp. 13-29). Bloomington: IN: Solution Tree.

Subscribe to Wesley College News & Events