The Education Review Office (ERO ) suggests that successful boards are boards that work cooperatively with school leaders for the benefit of students. While I agree with this I am not convinced it goes far enough and suggest a whole school approach is more beneficial to students.

A whole school approach includes boards, schools & parent community working together in collaboration to lift student achievement. Working collaboratively looks different to working cooperatively. Collaboration involves more cross pollination and gathering of ideas and voices from all stakeholders. Collaboration breaks down walls that keep knowledge in silos and is a breeding ground for leveraging strengths to lift student outcomes.

Collaboration involves having a shared vision and planning together to ensure we are all on the same page heading in the same direction. If you think about a car with all it’s wheels going off in different directions, it’s not going to get very far. But, if the wheels are all going in the same direction then you can reach maximum velocity very quickly.  It’s like that with schools, if we are all heading in the same direction we will get where we want to go much faster.

A shared understanding of school work is an essential part of working together to lift student achievement. One tends to reject more readily what they don’t understand than what they do.  It is worth taking the time to include the BOT and parents in learning conversations because this builds trust which is in essential ingredient in successful teams and collaborative environments.

Boards are made up from parents from different sectors and different minds rubbing up against each other is good for generating ideas!  Eco chambers will keep us in the current factory model of schooling. If we ever want to move on from this we need to utilise the diversity of minds around us.  Utilising the diversity of minds on boards and parent community means creating opportunities for conversations between BOT, community and staff.  I believe every person’s voice has value and there is not one person that I have ever met that I have not learned something from.

In order to build relatedness between all stakeholder we need to create opportunities to spend time together.  In our school, board members are invited and encouraged to attend conferences so we can gain a shared understanding of best practices in schools.  Our principal brings learning conversations to our meetings and at parent information afternoons. The use of social media like Twitter, Facebook KnowledgeNet or other interactive forums can be utalised to build relationships and networks.

ZombiebotsThe respect and admiration I have for teachers has deepened from watching them work as parent help and being inspired by them on twitter. I would encourage teachers to create opportunities to have parents and board members in the class more often. I recently was invited to watch a group of children learning robotics and programming and it really helped me understand  ‘why’ this was being introduced into the school.

One could argue that governance is about governing and is hands off – parents and board members should not be getting involved in all that teacher stuff.  I’d agree that governance should be hands off, BoT and parents should not be involved in the day-to-day business and running of the school.  However, collaboration, inclusion  and consulting and being involved with day-to-day school matters are not mutually exclusive.  We can exist in our own domains and be connected by collaborative practices that exist in our schools at the same time.

Giving praise is fairly common place in classrooms, offices and in most homes.  Praise can have a big influence on confidence and motivation, however some types of praise can have unwanted and ongoing effects. This seems counterintuitive, how can giving someone praise possibly be bad for them?

Carol Dweck’s research on praise shows that when praise is based on intelligence (i.e “You are so clever ”) it can lead to the belief that intelligence is fixed.  Whereas praise that is based on effort can lead to the belief that intelligence is something than can be changed. This matters because a person who believes they cannot get better at something will put little effort into that activity. This becomes a vicious cycle as we know that effort and persistence is critical for successful learning outcomes.

This video gives a very succinct summary of a large body of research from Dweck explaining the effects of praising intelligence versus effort.

Mueller & Dweck’s 1998 research showed that children praised for intelligence cared more about performance goals, displayed lower ability attribution, less task persistence and enjoyment than children praised for effort. They also showed lower performance outcomes than children praised for effort.  When the intent of praise is to support and encourage the recipient, we certainly don’t want this outcome.  So what does praise for intelligence and praise for effort look like?

Praise for intelligence can look like:

·      Good girl

·      You are so clever

·      You are really good at Maths/sales

·      You are my best reader/worker

·      You are a natural at this, this is what you were born to do!

Praising for effort could look like:

·      I can see you have studied hard for your Maths test, your improvement really shows it. I have seen

       you practising and trying different strategies and that has worked well.

·      You resisted distraction and stuck with it and you achieved your goal. Excellent work!

·      It’s great that you are taking on this challenge, I know you are going to learn a lot from this.

What do you say when you praise for effort?  It would be great if you could share your own examples in the comments section so we could build a knowledge bank on praising for effort.

Jere Brophy (2008) also recommends that praise should be judicious.  Praise should not be delivered randomly; there must be reasons and standards by which praise is given out.  Brophy also suggests praise should be specific as this lets the learner know exactly what they did well so they can keep improving.  Praise also needs to be immediate as our working memory capacity is so limited and young children especially can lose the link between the positive actions they took and the outcome.

I hope that having an awareness of the different ways of framing praise and practising praise for effort will slowly change the vocabulary away from praising for intelligence to praising for effort.


Brophy, J.E. (1981). Teacher Praise: A Functional Analysis. Review of Educational

Research. 51(1) (1981): 5-32.

Mueller, C.M., Dweck, C.S. (1998).  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,

75, 1.

Modelling is a well-known and powerful way of teaching students that comes from Social Cognitive theory (a theory that explains how people learn through the interactive processes of an individual’s personal characteristics, behaviours & environmental factors).  What is not as well known is that not all modelling is created equal.  Bandura in Snowman et al. (2009), suggests that in order for modelling to be effective, four things must happen:

First the learner must pay attention to the model.  This seems obvious, but, just because learners are looking at the model, it doesn’t mean they are actively paying attention to what is being modelled.  For example, take a person learning how to drive a car, the learner must have considered the steps involved: first turn on ignition, then push in clutch, put in gear, foot off brake and so on.  They are not only looking, they are actively considering the steps involved and the order they go in.  Cuing can increase attention as can explicitly demonstrating the task you want to be modelled.  You can read more about attention here  

Students also must remember what they saw.  In keeping with the car example, learners must remember and recall the steps involved in driving the car.  Think aloud strategies are great for helping students remember.  Say some students are grappling with a Maths problem; saying out loud how you would work through the problem allows students ‘see’ your thinking and how you work through the problem to remember it.

The learner must be able to cognitively and physically reproduce what they saw.  In our car example, the learner needs to be tall enough to reach the pedals as well as coordinated enough.  Knowing what students are capable of helps to make sure the task being modelled is not too far above or below the student’s capabilities.

The learner must be motivated to perform the learnt action.  Perhaps our learner in the car example really wanted to drive so they can be part of their peer group who all drive.  Giving students a reason to perform the actions makes a big difference to whether or not they will be motivated to perform the task being modelled.

The age of the learner can also influence the effectiveness of modelling.  Between the ages of 6-12 is when the teacher has the most influence.  This is the best time to model effective learning strategies with explicit demonstration and think alouds.  Between 12 and 15 is when the media that has the strongest power to influence.  In a constant search for identity kids will imitate groups of people they identify with. Using the media (social or otherwise) means modelling can still be used effectively to help students learn.


Snowman, J., Biehhler, R., Dobozy, E., Scevak, J., Bryer, F. Bartlett, B. J. (2009). Psychology Applied to Teaching (1st Australian ed.). John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.

Getting and keeping student’s attention is an important skill for any teacher to have.  Research from cognitive theories of learning, show us that attention plays a critical role in a student’s capacity to learn and retain information.  Slavin (2012) suggests that automatic attention is governed by several factors: personal relevance, familiarity, novelty, contrast, changes and emotion.

Stahl's Information Processing Model

Stahl’s Information Processing Model

When we make information personally relevant to the learner it grabs attention because it means something to them.  When information is personally relevant, students understand that the learnt material has a purpose and is useful for them in their life.

Familiarity affects attention as it is really hard to ignore things that we are familiar with. This is because the brain processes new information in the context of existing information, acting like a filter.  By referencing things that learners are already aware of, we can help learners link new information to something they are already familiar with.

Research by Bunzeck and Düzel shows that humans are driven by stimulus novelty. Humans love shiny new things!  Using a varied instructional approach and allowing learners to explore and discover new things can increase attention.  Over planning and controlling everything that happens in the classroom is a sure way to kill any spontaneity that gives rise to novelty.

Have you ever read a book that someone has gone through and highlighted portions of the text?  It is nearly impossible to ignore the highlighted text because of the contrast the highlighting creates.  Contrasting visuals and instructional materials can be useful to get attention.  I would like to think we could go deeper here and use questioning to create a contrast between a student’s existing thinking and new ways of thinking.

Change builds on the reasoning behind novelty and is fairly self-explanatory; no one wants to listen to the same thing the same way day after day. Changing the way information is presented and in different spaces can capture and sustain attention. Even simple changes like change in intonation or expression can make a difference.

Increasing the emotional content of the material can also increase attention.  According to Vuilleumier (2005) attention activates some of the same parts of the brain that emotion does (which could explain the appeal of soap operas and drama filled reality shows to so many).  Increasing emotional content could look so many ways in a classroom, but I like the idea of building in empathy, relatedness and linking material back to how things relate to us as humans in the real world.

The limitations of the principles that govern automatic attention is that it is teacher driven.  It does not address teaching children how to regulate their own attention or engagement and motivational drivers.  Nevertheless, knowing what affects student’s attention levels gives teachers a distinct advantage in enabling the information being taught, to be processed and remembered.


Further reading:

Cognitive Psychology & Information Processing Theory:



Schunk, D. H.  (2008).  Learning  Theories: An Educational Perspective. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Slavin, R. E. (2012). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice. (10th ed.) Chapter 6.

Vuilleumier, P. (2005). How brains beware: neural mechanisms of emotional attention: Trends in Cognitive Science, 9, 12.