Anne Coster – Enhancing teaching and learning

A case study for Learning from the Middle.


My project, really, was the logical conclusion of a journey that we’d been on for a number of years around that ongoing cycle of curriculum implementation and review. So we worked intensively with curriculum. We had engaged in review of our own learning areas, key insights that drove practice in those learning areas. We’d engaged really intensively with effective pedagogy and with vision and values. We’d examined the culture of our school, we’d looked at the things that we valued; principles that we based our interaction with each other on. And when I’m talking about interaction, I mean interaction with each other as staff, senior team with staff and interaction between teachers and students.

We moved on in 2009 to focus really specifically on deepening our understanding of the Key Competencies and looking at the multiple contexts in which the Key Competencies can be developed, over time, in a secondary school. And we’d examined current practice, the opportunities that we were creating within and alongside the classroom for meaningful development of the Key Competencies.

We started the year with a wonderful reading called “Students at Bat” which was examined to get those shadows out of the corner that might still be lurking there in terms of the teacher learner relationship, or that sense that we are all learners and therefore how do we interact with each other? Because what we are really interested in ultimately is examining this paradigm shift that has taken place between the teacher and the learners.

I love that image on the inside cover of the curriculum and the reference to the curriculum nautilus and the quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes. What he says specifically is “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original shape [sic]”, and that’s what we’ve been in the process of doing; stretching thinking, stretching ideas and creating a new way of teaching and learning and interacting with each other – the teacher as learners, interacting with our students as learners.

We established cross-curricula learning groups. We worked from the assumption that you talk about learning and you talk about your practice within your discipline, within your department, but that there is a lot to learn from each other. So we set up cross-curricula learning groups which enabled teachers to differentiate their inquiry into different aspects of their practice, always with enhanced student outcomes at the centre of the inquiry.

Added onto that we’ve also built in Browse Week so that you can pop in and see other teachers at work, and perhaps teachers at work with students that you might teach but observe them in a different context and observe the interactions and style of learning that takes place across different disciplines. And we also run voluntary after-school sessions – Wine and Pedagogy sessions – where people can come and explore different aspects of practice or new ideas that people are talking about. We also embedded show and tell sessions because if you have teachers experimenting with new ways of doing things, things don’t always go according to plan and that willingness to share good practice, share your experiments and also to share success stories and not quite success stories with the rest of the staff really creates that culture of trust. We have an understanding of what we’re all working on together, and we’re willing to share our stories with each other.

By the end of that year many of the learning group inquiries had shifted to thinking “well our inquiry is not complete unless we ask the students what they think.” We had this shift to saying, “We’re not going to make big changes without seeing how the students feel about things.” So that coincided with me getting invoived in the National Aspiring Principals’ Programme – so my focus the for the project was specifically on student voice and really embedding that as part of our school culture. So we had a well-embedded culture of staff learning and inquiry into practice. It was very much student centred, and not just centred on doing things for students, but inquiry and reflection that involved students as well and sought feedback. We had students actively involved in leading things in the wider life of the school and we were ready to move forward.

Using this case study

  • Anne Coster describes a number of ‘risky’ strategies that she used to implement her programme. Some examples are: browse week which meant going in to each other’s classrooms, voluntary after school meetings, and sharing experiments. Think about how you would work with your group of teachers and how you would prepare them to take these kinds of risks.
  • How could you use student voice to develop your work and the work of other teachers in your school?
  • Anne did not start from scratch, but used current school development initiatives to extend and shift staff thinking about learning and teaching. What is happening your school that could be built on and/or similarly enhanced?

Related links

Student voice – Anne Coster

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