St Helena’s Catholic Primary School, Ellenbrook

Learning and Accountability

This case study reveals how St Helena’s Catholic Primary School made the strong connection between research and practice and what this meant in terms of ‘improving student learning and enhancing teaching practice’. 

Improvement can only be achieved through the development of a performance and improvement culture that is supported by the school structures and is lead by a reassessment and redefinition of what the prime role of leadership is within the school. This case study revealed that the unit of improvement for the Catholic education system is not the school but the classroom.

Improvement was driven by seeking, from the research, answers to a number of questions. The first question was, how does the principal effect change in teachers’ classroom practice? The answer to this was to define what constituted effective teaching practice and then provide teachers with professional learning that was embedded in their daily practice, classroom based and supported through direct observation and regular and effective feedback.

Another question was how does a school leader encourage and motivate teachers to improvement performance without alienating them? Informed by research, we sought to focus on changing the culture of the school by emphasising development rather than appraisal of teachers.

The leadership sought to ‘win hearts and minds’ by being explicit with how we worked with teachers. We made clear the four assumptions all improvement we founded upon;

  1. Every teacher wants to teach and every student wants to learn

  2. Teachers are not the same - they do not possess the same levels of expertise and capacity

  3. Every teacher in every class can become and outstanding teacher

  4. It is impossible for a teacher or leader to know everything there is to know to be outstanding and therefore gain the view that further improvement is not necessary or required. 

A third question was how can data be used in ways that will promote the intrinsic motivation that teachers need to improve?  We used student performance data to create a mindset around two concepts;

  1. A sense that urgent changes were needed to improve student learning

  2. Learning has immediacy - it takes place in 30-40 minute timeframes

Still another question was if effective teaching is the single most powerful influence on student achievement should there be a shift of emphasis from supporting student learning to supporting teacher learning? 

It was concluded that sustainable whole school improvement could only be achieved by focusing resources on teacher learning and how that would impact on student learning.

The concept of ‘edunomics’ was developed where student support programs were reviewed and measured by the impact they had in the shorter term on improving student learning while utilising the most effective and efficient use of limited school financial and human resources.