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School Review

4 Evidence from the instructional core

4.1 Importance of the instructional core

Developed by Dr Richard Elmore and members of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the 'instructional core' is a model that helps identify and analyse the relationship between students and teachers in the presence of content. Outlined in the book ‘Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Teaching and Learning’, the authors remind us that ‘teaching causes learning’.

While this might seem obvious, the impacts of teaching can often be overlooked amidst the vast amount of data and evidence that is available to schools.

The ‘instructional core’ is the first place that schools should look to improve student learning. It comprises three integrated components that are central to improving student learning:

  • increasing the intellectual rigour of content students are taught
  • increasing the skill and knowledge that teachers bring to the teaching of that content
  • increasing the level of students’ active learning of (that is, their engagement with) the content

Schools secure improvement of these instructional core components in day-to-day practice by:

  • promoting an adult learning culture that enhances the knowledge and skills of teachers
  • increasing students’ voice, agency and leadership in their learning
  • increasing the quality and intellectual rigour of the curriculum

A school develops and sustains a strong instructional core by diligent implementation of each strategy, and proactively ensuring that the three strategies inform, support and energise each other.

'You don't change performance without changing the instructional core. The relationship of the teacher and the student in the presence of content must be at the centre of efforts to improve performance.‘vi

4.2 Investing in evidence from the instructional core

The new model of school review uses the instructional core throughout the review process. Evidence from the school’s instructional core is gathered and analysed. The review process should:

  • highlight improved teaching practices achieved through the school’s learning culture, its contribution to student learning, and improvement of professional knowledge and practice
  • reference opportunities to engage student voice, agency and leadership in the pre-review self evaluation (PRSE), the review and the School Strategic Plan
  • consider evidence of curriculum content, including whole school curriculum, assessment planning, annotated student work and assessment tasks

Research shows us that it is possible to collect reliable evidence in each of these areas, and to use that evidence to understand each school’s improvement opportunities, identify each school’s strengths and challenges, and drive internal accountability. Applying rigour to analysing performance in the domains of the instructional core is central to understanding where a school is situated on the trajectory to excellence. The analysis is fundamental to selecting and sequencing goals, targets and KIS that maximise improvement through strengthening focus on the instructional core and shaping a powerful, coherent culture of instructional practice. The new model of school review invests in collecting and analysing evidence in schools which focuses on the instructional core: student–content–teacher.

Instructional core model

Instructional core model
Instructional core model

The instructional core is surrounded by

  • student
  • teacher
  • content
Download Instructional core model

This instructional core symbol is used throughout school review documentation to indicate when the instructional core should be used as a focus to gather evidence.

When gathering evidence on student voice, agency and leadership, the analysis should focus on:

  • student perceptions of teaching practice
  • student focus groups
  • student-led learning based on understanding of performance, including conferences and learning goals

When evaluating curriculum content, evidence collection and analysis should focus on:

  • whole school curriculum and assessment planning
  • annotated student work
  • moderated common assessment tasks

For teaching practice, evidence collection and analysis should focus on:

  • adult learning culture, including whole school professional learning plan, and classroom observation processes and protocols
  • evidence of professional conversations and engagement

‘You don’t improve schools by giving them bad news about their performance.

You improve schools by using information about student learning, to find the most promising instructional problems to work on, and then systematically developing with teachers and administrators the knowledge and skill necessary to solve these problems.’vii

4.3 Integrating instructional core, FISO and school review

The Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO) Essential Elements 1, 2 and 4 are directly related to the strategies used to implement the instructional core: student voice, agency and leadership; curriculum content; and teacher practice – knowledge and skills.

  1. Documented curriculum plan, assessment and shared pedagogical approaches
  2. School-based professional learning program developed and implemented that supports the school’s identified improvement strategies
  3. The School Improvement Team (SIT) is formed to develop, oversee and evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the Annual Implementation Plan: For Improving Student Outcomes
  4. Student voice, leadership and agency in own learning activated so students have positive school experiences and can act as partners in school improvement
  5. Whole school approach to health, wellbeing, inclusion and engagement
  6. Moderation of common student assessment tasks
  7. Data collection, analysis and evaluation of student learning growth over time
  8. Explicit use of evidence-based school improvement strategies and teacher professional practice activities

Evidence from the instructional core is referenced in each phase of the review process as indicated below.

Pre-review self-evaluation

Schools should consider data and gather evidence on their performance and practice outcomes, with a focus on:

  • student voice
  • agency and leadership, and curriculum content
  • teaching practice

The PRSE Report must provide evidence, including enablers and barriers, to support their evaluation of the FISO Continua of Practice.

Phase 2: Preparation meeting

The principal, senior education improvement leader (SEIL) and reviewer co-develop the process for classroom observations or focus groups on Validation Day. The Panel members will test and observe the school’s practices with regard to student voice, agency and leadership; curriculum content; and teaching practice.

The Panel should view a broad cross-section of classrooms. They may also be allocated to specific classes.

Phase 3: Before the review

To prepare for the Validation Day, Panel members familiarise themselves with the PRSE Report. That includes considering evidence about, and reflection on, the school’s practices in the areas of student voice, agency and leadership; curriculum content; and teaching practice.

Phase 4: Validation Day

The Panel members undertake classroom observations to enable them to test findings included in the PRSE Report. They will do this by focussing on the elements of the instructional core. The Panels’ views will contribute to determining the school’s level of proficiency against the FISO Continua for the six High-impact Improvement Initiatives. It also guides the remaining review phases by informing the development of Terms of Reference (ToR) focus questions, methodology, and fieldwork.

Phase 5: Fieldwork

Fieldwork includes classroom observations and focus groups. It explores the ToR and focus questions. Fieldwork further investigates and tests the school’s practices in student voice, agency and leadership; curriculum content; and teaching practice. Fieldwork also enables the Panel to identify any other areas requiring more in-depth exploration.

Phase 6: Final School Review Panel Meeting

As part of its broader discussions, the Panel discusses the school’s practices in student voice, agency and leadership; curriculum content; and teaching practice.

Panel members consider the instructional core when determining directions for the next School Strategic Plan, including goals setting, targets, and key improvement strategies (KIS).

Phase 7: Review Report

The Review Report provides evidence of the school’s practices in student voice, agency and leadership; curriculum content; and teaching practice. It evaluates the school’s progress against the goals, targets and KIS of the School Strategic Plan.

The Report determines the school’s proficiency in all 16 dimensions of the FISO Continua and makes inferences about the enablers and barriers.

Phase 8: School Strategic Plan

The Review Report forms the basis of the new School Strategic Plan.

FISO highlight

FISO highlight
FISO highlight

Student achievement, engagement and wellbeing

Positive climate for learning

  • Empowering students and building school pride
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Setting expectations and promoting inclusion
  • Intellectual engagement and self awareness
Download FISO highlight

4.4 Student voice, agency and leadership

Student voice

Student voice extends beyond giving students the opportunity to communicate ideas and opinions; it empowers students to influence change in their school.

Student voice provides genuine opportunities for students to contribute to the conversation, allowing a truly collaborative approach to learning and assessment to occur. Valuing an authentic student voice leads to improved educational outcomes.

Student agency

Student agency refers to the level of autonomy and power that a student experiences in their learning environment. Agency empowers students to direct and take responsibility for their learning. It creates and sustains independent, self-regulating learners.

When students have a strong sense of agency they understand they can have an impact on things that matter to them in their school and in their broader community.

Student leadership

Leadership potential is inherent in all learners. Student leadership includes listening to and being able to clarify and communicate the issues of interest and concern to the students they represent.

Successful student leadership models are inclusive. They represent the voices and perspectives of all students in the school.

FISO highlight

FISO highlight
FISO highlight

Student achievement, engagement and wellbeing

Excellence in teaching and learning

  • Evidence-based high impact teaching strategies
  • Curriculum planning and assessment
  • Building practice excellence
  • Evaluating impact on learning
Download FISO highlight

4.5 Curriculum content

High-quality curriculum, assessment and reporting, underpinned by intellectual rigour, is essential to enabling lifelong learning for every student.

Emphasis must fall on increasing the quality and intellectual rigour of the curriculum, especially the tasks students are given in class as part of the teaching and learning program.

FISO highlight

FISO highlight
FISO highlight

Student achievement, engagement and wellbeing

Excellence in teaching and learning

  • Evidence-based high impact teaching strategies
  • Curriculum planning and assessment
  • Building practice excellence
  • Evaluating impact on learning
Download FISO highlight

4.6 Teaching practice

Schools that invest in the knowledge and skills of teachers promote a culture of continuous learning. Effective schools are learning communities. At the core is a culture of collaboration and collective responsibility to develop effective and consistent teaching practices that improve student achievement. The review intends to support schools in creating and sustaining a high performance learning culture, continuously identifying areas for improvement.

Effective school systems commit to continuous improvement for all adults and students. Successful leaders create and sustain a high-performance learning culture. Effective teachers continually reflect on and improve their practice.

Students achieve more when teachers assume collective responsibility for student learning. Professional learning that improves teacher effectiveness is fundamental to student learning. Review outcomes are intended to support schools to consider quality teaching and its contribution to both student learning, and to significant and sustained improvement of professional knowledge and practice.

Each school review has a focus on the classroom, particularly the impact on learning and improving student outcomes. This focus is a catalyst for change that accelerates school-wide practice improvement.

More detail about each of the three areas can be found in the relevant priority areas of the FISO Continua for School ImprovementExternal Link :

Guidance chapter explaining the Instructional Core model that helps identify and analyse the relationship between students and teachers

Reviewed 14 June 2020

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