What can we do as a school to achieve better educational outcomes for all our students? That is the question that every teacher asks as does every principal! I would hazard a guess that parents, when reflecting on the education of their child(ren), want to know the answer to this question as well. In approximately 600 words, I am going to give you something approximating an answer to this question.

In fact, I am going to give you two answers. However, it needs to be said that learning represents a complex entity that cannot be distilled sufficiently into sound bites or catchphrases and what I am offering here is not the whole story, but it represents a general approach to learning relevant for all students.

The first answer is the simple answer – more time learning leads to better educational outcomes. Increasing class time, for example, as we have done in Years 11 and 12, will improve educational outcomes for our students. Increasing levels of student engagement in the classroom will give students more time to learn. Building students’ wellbeing so that they are able to be present and concentrate each lesson will give students more time to learn.

Students in the Senior School also have opportunities to learn outside school through the After School Study program in the Learning Commons. I highly recommend students choose to spend some time in the afternoon receiving additional assistance, learning with other students and being absorbed in their own study and review. As you would be aware, this program has been run Mondays to Thursdays until 4:30 pm every afternoon. From this week onwards, the After School Study program will also be running on Friday afternoons as well. We will trial opening the Learning Commons on Friday afternoon to ascertain the level of interest in using this space on Fridays.

The second answer is the more complex answer. Learning how to learn leads to better educational outcomes. British educator Chris Watkins has reviewed research which demonstrates that “learning about learning enhances school performance … For nearly 25 years it has been known that students with more elaborated conceptions of learning perform better in public examinations …”.

What does ‘elaborated conceptions of learning’ actually mean? Take a minute to ask a school student what they think they could do to get better results in the future. 99% will answer “work harder” or “do more study”.  That is part of the answer – in fact, that is my first answer! But there are only so many hours in a day. Students with an elaborated concept of learning will answer this question with “ask more questions”, “do more research using [insert name of search engine or online resource]”, “develop my capacity to focus for longer periods of time”, “collaborate with peers”, “persevere when faced with challenges” or “practise past questions”. That is, they have a deep understanding of what it means to be a powerful learner. Not only do they know how to learn, but they are habitual learners – it has become part of their character; part of who they are.

We seek to build students’ learning character – their capacity to learn, so that they might be a blessing to others. Time (answer one) and learning to learn (answer two) represent a powerful combination.

“I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up, and boy does that help – particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.”

Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of the Berkshire Hathaway Conglomerate, 2007.

Dr James Pietsch