It should come as no surprise that when we - teachers and parents - respect students as learners, they learn better. But what do we mean by respect? 

Some of us perhaps can remember days when classes were always teacher-centred, with rows of bored children waiting while a teacher scrawled illegible hieroglyphics on a blackboard. Certainly these methods showed no respect for the students as learners, let alone as individuals. Instead, the answer is for students and teachers to be partners together in a student’s learning, and the key to this is mutual respect: students respecting their teachers’ knowledge and care, and teachers respecting their students’ differing educational needs and pathways.

 The urgency of this has recently been thrust into prominence at a national level. David Gonksi, in the Gonski Review (more correctly known as Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, March 2018) responded to the decline of our national standing in international educational testing and the challenges of the near future by presenting a series of recommendations to the Prime Minister. His research group identified three priorities and 22 specific recommendations. The first group of recommendations was centred around laying the foundations of learning, and prominent on the list was this recommendation: 

Ensure all students have the opportunity within schools to be partners in their own learning. 

Gonski realised that an educational environment where students are respected as learners is essential for the nation’s children to reach their full potential. The goal is for students to learn the skills of self-monitoring, self-evaluation, self-assessment and self-teaching: to have the awareness of their own abilities, methods and progress that they can take greater control of the learning process. This does not mean that the teacher is irrelevant, but rather the teacher is the catalyst and support. It argues against spoon-feeding and is for greater self-reliance. Rather than students being sponges, ready simply to soak up all the knowledge that flows out of the teacher, they need to be active participants and partners in their own learning. Gonski saw that in order to respect students, we need to hear their voices: to let them have a say in their own learning by seeking and valuing their feedback - something we as teachers can find a challenge as we seek to continue along our familiar pathways in the classroom. This certainly means listening better to children when they are stuck or confused, but it also means making them think their way through a problem rather than holding their hand the whole way, or even being open to new ways of assessing the material being studied. As a contributor to the Gonski review noted: When students feel cared for and noticed at school, their confidence and motivation increases, they develop better learning strategies, are more cooperative in the classroom, have a greater sense of belonging, and more positive perceptions of school. Peter Goss, writing for the Grattan Institute, studied the extensive research literature on what makes an effective classroom, and his findings put respect for the students as learners, and respect from the students for their teachers, as key priorities. He identified six elements, all of which depend on an atmosphere of respect:

 • High expectations - of the teacher for the student, and of the student for themselves; 

• Strong teacher-student relationships • Clarity and structure in instruction 

• Active learning • Encouragement and praise 

• Consistent corrections and consequences

The strong teacher-student relationships he mentions are not a matter of a teacher being liked by the students, but rather the teacher showing care for the student as a learner and a person.

The rest of this article can be viewed here in the latest edition of Spectemur.

Dr John Tuckfield

Director of the Murdoch Centre for Educational Research and Innovation