3.3 Retrieving a Sustainable Future in our Schools

Schools everywhere, both in the UK and globally, are now having to rethink their approach to education and to ask themselves the questions that will determine not only academic performance but the legacy that students will carry away from their schooldays. At no time in our history has how we learn become as critical to the delivery of that legacy as our ability to absorb new knowledge. There are many different ways of expressing our educational values and outcomes but they will always include the development of … healthy, confident and organised individuals; enterprising, creative and innovative contributors to their communities and to society as a whole; ambitious, capable and informed learners recognising that learning is a lifelong endeavour; and ethical, caring and productive citizens wherever their lives may take them.


If strategic planning was previously introspective, the new world order leaves schools with little option but to prepare their students for a lifetime of learning. The critical questions become … what capabilities do we want our students to acquire that will serve them well in an uncertain future?

What are the implications for teaching styles and practices and for classroom culture? How will we manage the development and growth of individual student learners alongside the conventions of the curriculum?

The onus is now on the senior leadership team to redefine the strategic deliverables, to marry examinable attainment with the equipment of the proficient learner, the tools to thrive in increasingly alien environments.

Planning that is genuinely strategic is new to many schools who have previously been content with the tactical … in other words, concerning themselves with the issues of the present rather than attempting to read, and prepare for, the changes that future years will inevitably bring. Forecasting and anticipating the future is not easy and will never be entirely accurate but the secret is to ask the questions that a planning framework will require the answers to and to keep the resulting plan, its assumptions, objectives and action plans under regular review and revision.

Download an outline Strategic Planning Framework to help you on your way …


Powerful learners meet difficulty and uncertainty with confidence, competence and enthusiasm. Thus, the curriculum challenge is to design a school that is an effective incubator of these values. This means not just covering the subject matter but the adoption of appropriate teaching styles and classroom cultures.

Willingness to learn, and learn effectively, depends upon encouraging the expression and development of habits of mind, characteristics that might include tolerance, trustworthiness, bravery, conviviality, creativity, thoughtfulness, perseverance, kindness and the like.

So, some values will be addressed by how the school is organised, how it lives it values, and others by how the curriculum is taught.

Social values such as kindness or generosity, for example, may be shaped by the moral environment the school creates … how leaders and teachers exercise their pastoral roles; ensuring that students care for one another; celebration of spontaneous selfless acts.

Epistemic outcomes, the core learning habits that are frequently overlooked in a design system because they are less immediately tangible. Will your students emerge from school inquisitive and resilient or passive and easily defeated? Is a revision of the curriculum structure and updating of the assessment regime standing in the way of meeting the needs of the less confident?

Revisit ELLI: Tracking Learning
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Pursuing a strategic vision that puts the development of Learning Power alongside academic subject matter within the curriculum affects curriculum design at 3 levels … namely, how teachers design their courses, how they design individual lessons and, importantly, the spontaneity and flexibility of their delivery.

Success will depend in large measure on the teacher’s own propensity to learn.

Teachers themselves as learners …

  • their beliefs
  • heir own ‘learning mindset’
  • belief in the importance of students understanding how they learn and its application beyond school

Teachers’ approach to knowledge transfer

  • use of language that requires student response and so prompting their greater engagement, or providing the right answers to difficult questions
  • encouraging recognition of patterns, models, connectivity or using a rigid theoretical framework

Teacher attitudes to exercising student minds

  • using challenging and engaging activities with specific purpose
  • teamwork competencies and learning in groups
  • engaging the authenticity of using examples found beyond the school gates
  • applying observation techniques prompt such as listening, imitating, reflecting

The role of the teacher in student learning

  • transfer of ownership from teacher to student … when to be facilitator or didactic; how to introduce ‘blended learning’, the meaningful marriage of face to face activity with the support of technology and the social media

Learning and technology

Pressures on time, the availability of massive volumes of information on line, the potential for misuse of the internet with ever-present personal intrusion from stalking and grooming add further to teachers’ responsibilities to their student learners.


Devolving ownership of the learning process from teacher to student has enormous implications for the manner in which classrooms are viewed throughout the school. Turning classrooms from being teachercentric to becoming learning-centric requires concerted action from teachers and students alike.

Teachers will need a consuming and compelling belief in creating and valuing learning’s essential dispositions in their students. And, it is that belief and the action that it demands that will govern student response … the development of a personal ownership for learning and a determination to practice its skills and dispositions beyond the school environment.

Creating culture shift … a respected menu for change

  1. Relating

This is about the management of teacher/student relationships, the sharing of responsibility for learning that leads to the transfer of ownership.

  • Coaching more, teaching less
  • Modelling learning processes and bringing their dimensions, underlying habits and behaviours to life
  • Students thinking, collaborating, asking questions, feeling valued contributors.
  1. Talking

Giving learning a language and making it the subject of regular conversation with students becoming fluent in that language, using it to talk about their learning and now, being the leaders of classroom conversation and purposeful activity..

  1. Constructing

Building the learning model into lesson construction so that review and reflection drive knowledge transfer at the expense of ‘talk and chalk’.

  1. Celebrating

Shifting what is celebrated about learning, prizing the ability to learn from mistakes, recognising perseverance, teachers admitting their own mistakes and learning from them.

The focus becomes continual improvement, valuing the making of mistakes, accepting feedback and rising to the challenge.