Tag Archives: independent learning

What makes a good education?

I was asked last year to write something brief about what I thought was a good education.  I was under time pressure and had a word limit.  This was what I came up with.


A good education begins at home in the very early years of life. In fact, the role of the home (usually, but not always, our parents) is vital to the provision and access to a good education. Our parents/guardians are our first teachers and the only teachers who are with us throughout our entire childhood and development.


At school a ‘good’ education can be defined in many different ways, but fundamentally, children need to be provided with the skills that will allow them to access a life in modern society (numeracy, literacy, social responsibility, understanding and tolerance of others in the world). However, they must also be given the opportunity to explore, learn for themselves, perhaps through their own mistakes, develop their own specific interests and ideas and to form relationships with others.


I value highly and place a huge importance on achieving the highest grades possible in whatever examination series a student is participating in and in particular the ‘terminal’ GCSE and A level exams we have in the UK. This is not because I think the exam system is necessarily a good one, but because I believe in the power of exam result to open doors and create opportunities.  It is on the outcome of public examinations that our young people individuals are judged when it comes to university education and the job market.  The outcomes of the results in these examinations stay with them throughout their lives and careers. Clearly the better a candidate appears to be on paper, the more opportunities will present themselves.


I believe that there are two broad aspects essential to a student achieving their full potential. The first is a quality teaching and learning experience delivered by empowered and credible teachers who can inspire the best possible academic success from their students.


The second is in providing a holistic approach to the education of a young person. This is a very broad statement. Maslow’s hierarchy offers a good starting point, but I would add that education is about positive life experiences and encouraging students to have a desire and passion for learning beyond the subjects they have specified an interest in. Our ‘science’ students should be inspired to consider and understand the arts; humanities students ought to understand or have access to principals of theories such as evolution and relativity. Furthermore, I believe that if a student has a quality ‘holistic’ and ‘extra-curricular’ experience, they will be more successful academically and in life. They will have broader horizons and more able to understand and appreciate others. Schools and colleges clearly have a role to play in giving young people access to opportunities that provide an education (with a small ‘e’).



I stumbled across this very good blog from “Faculty Focus”


It outlines an age old problem – what actually is the role of the teacher, and what do we mean by the terms “teaching” and “learning.”  A topic can only be said to have been taught when the learners have learned what is being taught.  Now, I want to make a confession here.  It’s about stalagmites and stalactites.  I’ve never learned which is which.  Many people have tried to teach me.  I’ve been taught various lessons about which ones “hang on tight” and are held with “all their might” but I can never remember which is which.  OK so before writing this article I googled it and now, I think, I know, but otherwise, I hadn’t learned it and so technically I had never been taught this despite attending several lessons during which the teacher would have claimed to have taught me the difference.

A rather silly example, but the distinction between teaching and learning is a subtle one.  In the blog I reference here, the writer alludes to a student who makes the claim that “the teacher didn’t teach us anything, we had to learn it all for ourselves.”  An immediate conclusion to jump to here is that the teacher is at fault.  The teacher is paid to teach and so the students in the classroom should not be expected to have to learn for themselves.  In fact it would be easy to see how that teacher would end up being disciplined by a superior saying “I pay you to teach! Why are you letting these poor students do all the work for themselves?”  But you’d have to be careful here.  The superior may have a very good point.  If the students are learning nothing from their teacher, he or she is in dereliction of his or her responsibilities as an educationalist and not fulfilling his or her most basic of job descriptions.

However there is a fine line here, because “learning” should not be a passive process.  Learning is hard work.  Learning requires us to make mistakes and take wrong turns before coming up with the right solution or the right outcome.  I’ve heard this described as “the pit.”  A dark place in which the student feels like they’re getting nowhere, only to finally and successfully climb out of the pit once the topic has been learned.  The teacher’s role is to facilitate this process.  The teacher is the facilitator of learning in any classroom or with any student or group of students.  They create the environment and the circumstances in which their students are able to learn.

This does not necessarily mean that they “tell” the students about a topic or that they act as a source of information for the student (although it may do).  A very good teacher will provide the tools and the materials and the environment and the circumstances and the support in which, with their guidance, learners are able to solve problems, create images, develop understanding, think critically, make comments (or whatever) and the learner may FEEL like they “learned it themselves.”  The student would be correct, they did “learn it for themselves,” because what other type of learning is there?  You can’t learn something for someone else and no one else can learn for you.

Key strategies in this process are:

  • Engaging learners
  • Giving appropriate and timely feedback
  • Encouraging independent learning
  • Challenging learners

So my point is that a good teacher would ensure that his or her students learned EVERYTHING for themselves and what looks like good teaching could be nothing more than good provision of information or a good resource or a good technique.  Staff in schools with “teaching and learning” responsibilities in reality just have “learning” responsibilities.  You can’t have teaching without learning, if nothing has been learned nothing has been taught.  So if you want to know if you’re a good teacher, make sure you check what has been learned by your students.  If they’ve learned it, you’ve taught it.  Congratulations!