‘Actions are visible, motives are secret’ – Samuel Johnson

March 18, 2022  
Head of Senior School - Mr Nick Hackett

The eighteenth-century author, Samuel Johnson is credited with the popular aphorism, ‘Actions are visible, motives are secret’ and in this week’s newsletter I’d like to reflect on this statement with reference to our core business of teaching and learning.

In 2022, Senior School teachers and leaders are commencing a collaborative exploration and evaluation of the impact of our classroom practice that will carry us into 2023 and beyond. The work we are undertaking is based on the findings of Professor John Hattie’s significant study of what works best in classrooms and how we as educators can be intentional in our planning, our delivery and our assessment of learning in light of these findings.

In education, as in other professions and many other areas of modern life, fads and trends can sometimes dominate the discourse, as the next ‘big idea’ rises to the fore and makes bold claims about improvements, efficiencies, and savings, usually fading away sometime later, just as quickly as it appeared. What first attracted me to Professor Hattie’s research some years ago, was that it really isn’t trying to promote a new, or trendily progressive practice. Instead, it seeks to quantify the effectiveness of actions that teachers regularly take in the classroom and draw attention to the actions that have the biggest impact on student growth.

This isn’t about new practices, but evidence-informed best practices.

Professor Hattie’s work – popularly titled ‘Visible Learning’ – is about making the teacher’s learning aims for each lesson, and each student’s attainment of them, a transparent and explicit part of what happens in every classroom and implementing a rigorous focus on ways that teachers can know their impact on learning. As the Johnson quote makes apparent, the provision and completion of activities in classrooms is the observable part of teaching and learning, but it is the purposes that student engagement in those activities achieves that can sometimes be less readily communicated, and not as fully understood by students. Visible Learning aims to empower students to better understand their own learning and to equip them with the skills they need to become skilled independent learners.

This term, our teachers have undertaken professional development in which we have established a broad overview of Professor Hattie’s research, we have heard from teachers who have significant experience of working within the Visible Learning framework and we have created a pilot group of passionate TIGS teachers to pioneer next steps and undertake some small-scale action research in their own classrooms. Next term, this group will be trialling some approaches to gathering the student perspective on learning in their classrooms.

Our leaders, and teachers will continue to focus and develop our work in this area throughout the rest of the year and I look forward to providing you with further updates as we progress.


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