Drew Miller

Want quality teaching? Here’s the model

When Cessnock High School approached us in 2020 about a long-term partnership focused on developing a clear, coherent culture of teaching and learning, we were two years into an ambitious five year program of research on the impact of Quality Teaching Rounds on student and teacher outcomes.

We had evidence from the first in a series of randomised controlled trials that teacher participation in QTR could improve students achievement, teaching quality and teacher morale.

The challenge was to translate this large-scale research involving hundreds of teachers across hundreds of schools into a partnership model that deeply embedded a culture of quality teaching in one highly disadvantaged school.

Our role at Cessnock High was supporting their teachers to do the challenging work of reflecting on and developing their practice. We did this by centring the partnership on the Quality Teaching Model and engaging all teachers in Quality Teaching Rounds.

How Cessnock High achieved its goals

As reported last night on the ABC, Cessnock High School ranked first in the Hunter region and 11th overall in the state for their growth in NAPLAN results from Year 7 to 9 in 2023. Cessnock students’ HSC results also improved by more than 50 per cent in 2022, a result that was sustained in 2023.

Student attendance and engagement grew by seven per cent – triple the average across the state. Positive behaviour referrals were up 130 per cent in 2023 while negative behaviours significantly decreased. 

Importantly, teacher morale improved, their efficacy went up, as did collegiality, confidence, and the quality of their teaching.

This highly successful partnership model is at the heart of a new project, announced today, to support 25 disadvantaged NSW government schools to enhance teaching quality, support teacher wellbeing, build positive school cultures, and improve student achievement and equity. 

The partnership

We started from a position of respecting teachers and their professionalism as they were the key to changing outcomes for students. Teachers understand that depending on their context, the specific lesson, and their students, different teaching approaches can produce powerful learning. The Quality Teaching Model and QTR provide a mechanism to ensure the underlying pedagogy, regardless of the teaching strategy, is high quality and produces powerful learning experiences.

The QT Model, grounded in Newmann’s Authentic Pedagogy work and supported by a broad history of education research is centred on three key ideas:

  • Intellectual Quality: Focusing on deep understanding of important knowledge.
  • Quality Learning Environment: Ensuring positive classrooms that boost student learning.
  • Significance: Connecting learning to students’ lives and the wider world.

In opposition to a focus on the technical and telling teachers how to teach, the Model gives a conceptual lens through which a broad range of teaching strategies can be reflected upon to increase understanding of pedagogy.

Bringing teachers together

QTR brings teachers together to learn from each other and improve their practice. It is an approach to teacher professional development that involves teachers working in groups of four to observe and critically analyse each other’s teaching using the Quality Teaching Model. Importantly, it offers teachers deep engagement in their craft, intellectual challenge that is significant to their work, and the processes of QTR ensure teachers are in a safe, supportive learning environment with their colleagues.

Framing this work using the concept of school capacity to improve student outcomes (see Newmann, King and Youngs) the partnership functioned to produce program coherence among staff by centering pedagogical understanding around the Quality Teaching Model, and improved teachers knowledge, skill and dispositions, and professional community through engagement in collective, collegial professional development through QTR. In turn, leadership supported the work by providing the time for staff to engage in developing their practice. 

While quality teaching was the central pillar in this process at Cessnock High School, change of this nature does not occur without cultural change. Instructional leadership at the school was supported by academics and our non-profit social enterprise the QT Academy via the partnership. This left space for executive leadership to focus on practice and policy to promote a consistent, calm and safe teaching and learning environment that recognises that all students are capable of engaging and learning. This also meant working on better connecting the school to its community and promoting high expectations and positive aspirations for students and the community.

Thriving schools

Now, at the end of our major five year program of research on QTR, we have high quality  evidence from three randomised controlled trials that participation in the program improves student achievement in mathematics and reading, it improves teaching quality, and teacher morale and efficacy.

The Cessnock partnership provided evidence that a whole-school approach to QTR enables schools to keep a clear focus on teaching and learning despite the other matters that demand their attention. Across the four year partnership, we found focusing on the core business of teaching and supporting teachers to do this work produced strong positive effects on teachers and their teaching. This, in-turn, improved student attendance and engagement and reduced behaviour issues, with a profound impact on student achievement.

It’s a testament to the teachers and to the leadership of Cessnock High School in sticking with the partnership approach through all the ups and downs over the past few years.

What’s really exciting is we now have the opportunity to take this approach and test it in 25 other NSW government schools, with similar low socio-educational complexities over the next three years thanks to funding from the Paul Ramsay Foundation and support from the NSW Department of Education.

Core to all this work is a commitment to both equity and excellence in Australian education. 

Drew Miller is a senior lecturer in the School of Education, University of Newcastle and the deputy director of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre.