Category Archives: Student engagement

“Connection – The Foundation of Learning”

louise gilbert

One of the reasons that I feel so passionate about education is because I know deep in my heart that teachers have the most important job in the world.

“It is not simply about educating minds.”

It is more than that. Education is about developing human beings and creating a better planet.


What we do in the classroom not only impacts the children we teach but a teacher’s work ultimately influences the world. These students of ours grow up to become future citizens and leaders. What we do today in our classrooms touches the planet in ways that, quite possibly we might not even realize yet. A teacher’s work is about creating a better world. And it all begins with the connected relationships that we create in the classroom.


Once upon a time, before you became a teacher, you were once a student.

Cast your mind back to when you were at school. Take a moment to remember one teacher who made an impact on you in powerful, positive ways. Remember when you were in his or her classroom you were attentive, you were engaged in the learning and interestingly enough, your academic results were favorable?


Now what was it that made this teacher so great? How did he or she impact your life? And how is it that you still remember his/her name all these years later…




When you think back to that one great teacher who impacted your life, it is certain that you had a great relationship with him or her. You felt connected, you felt seen and valued as a person and there was a mutual respect between the two of you.


Great teachers understand that there is one critical foundation to effective teaching and learning that comes before anything else – connection with students. Skilled teachers create positive relationships of respect and trust. From a place of connected relationship, students learn effectively, feel valued and will be far more readily engaged and focused in class.


A significant body of research shows that positive relationships between teachers and their students are paramount to effective learning.


Studies show that, “Academic achievement and student behavior are influenced by the quality of the teacher and student relationship.”[i] The more the teacher connects and communicates effectively with his or her students, the more likely they will be able to help students learn optimally and accomplish quickly.


One particular study out of The University of Nebraska concludes,

“Teachers must never overlook the importance of cultivating student-teacher relationships in their classrooms. Student-teacher relationships are built through purposeful and continual effort, primarily on the part of the teacher. It is in the relationship between teacher and student where learning takes root and begins to grow; and the degree to which a teacher invests in those interactions not only affects learning outcomes and student behavior in the classroom, but also potentially impacts each student’s future achievements and success.”[ii]


One reason why positive relationships improve student learning is due to what happens in the brain when a student feels good. Positive relationship boosts a student’s sense of well-being.


The brain releases dopamine when an experience is pleasurable, such as a positive interaction with a teacher who is liked and respected. Dopamine is one of the brains most important neurotransmitters and turns on all the learning centers in the brain! And researchers have now discovered that how quickly and permanently one learns, is directly related to how much dopamine we have available in our brains.[iii]


Research aside, it’s common sense isn’t it? If the relationships with your students are positive, then your students are more likely to listen, less likely to disrupt, more likely to be engaged and open to the learning because of the strong foundation of human connectedness that you’ve built between you. The relationship is like a bridge. You are on one side with the learning outcomes you wish to share with your student. On the other side of the bridge is your student. Without the relationship, there is no bridge to cross together or to meet in the middle. Instead there is just a wide, cavernous gap.


Building this bridge is a daily focus. It takes skill and attention. There are many ways to go about it and in my work I get to see countless teachers out there making a difference, building these bridges with their students and creating positive, flourishing and respectful relationships as the foundation of learning.


As educators, it’s important to remember how significant our work in the world is. We are in the business of human development – nurturing lives, developing hearts and minds, making a difference in the world that impacts the future of humanity. And the foundation of it all begins in the classroom – with our striving to create connected relationships with our students.


[i] Jones, V. & Jones, L. (1981) “Responsible Classroom Discipline.” Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc. Page 95

[ii] Knoell C.M. (2012) “The role of the student-teacher relationship in the lives of fifth graders: a mixed methods analysis.” PhD Thesis, University of Nebraska. Page 86

[iii] Pleger B, Ruff CC, Blankenburg F, Klöppel S, Driver J, et al. (2009) Influence of Dopaminergically Mediated Reward on Somatosensory Decision-Making. PLoS Biol 7(7): e1000164. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000164


Join Louise Gilbert to learn more at her TTA workshop, “Transformational Teaching Tactics – A 5 Step System for Quality Teaching with Effective Learning Outcomes” on May 26th Melbourne

Know your stuff – the importance of depth of subject knowledge

Brainy School Kid Reading A Book


Today’s teacher is pulled in many directions – from the focus on teaching the curriculum, to results and endless paperwork.  Where is the time for keeping yourself up to date and developing a true depth of knowledge in your subject area?  And why should you bother?

Here is what some of our presenters think:

1.  Greater teacher confidence

Greater knowledge of your own subject area is generally linked with greater teacher confidence – and job satisfaction.   Dr Karen Lambert, Lecturer in PDHPE at The University of Sydney offers advice to teachers in the early years.  “Master your subject area and get even better at it.  Mastery is very important.  It is important to see you are good at your subject area.  And also to know you will get better and better as you go.”

2.  Better student engagement

“The world has changed.  The quality of what we teach and the way we teach needs to be different if we want to engage all our students,” says Anita Chin, maths teacher and consultant working in schools across Australia and New Zealand.

“What students value has changed…Knowing specialist content for your subject area and knowing your students [will help] to engage your students.”

3.  Improve student outcomes

Student outcomes will always benefit from teachers’ own depth of knowledge.  “In my experience,” notes Ken Webb, History and English HSC teacher and TTA presenter, “kids feel confident if their teacher knows what they are talking about.  There is no short cut – you need to read and research yourself.”

“If teachers don’t know the content in depth, in terms of developmental teaching sequencing, they can’t cater as well to the wide range of needs in any classroom,” says Anita Chin.

In the middle years, for example “…the challenge for high school teachers is that they need to know primary content and be able to go back [if students have gaps]…and ask how do I implement primary content in a high school content.”

How to achieve deeper subject knowledge

  1. Collaborate and draw on the knowledge around you.  There will be a wealth of knowledge in your own staffroom.
  2. Ensure that at least some of your professional development is centred on your own subject area, particularly for those teaching in secondary schools.
  3. Change your focus.  If you are doing too much of the hard classroom work yourself, is the balance right?  Can you work smarter not harder?


“The people who should be working hardest in any classroom are the students,” are Darryn Kruse’s wise words.   Darryn is the Principal of Williamstown High School, history teacher and expert in the area of the Inquiry Classroom.

“As a primary teacher – we don’t specialise but rather work across lots of areas so it is about connectivity.  It is about teaching literacy and numeracy within the context of say history.  So as primary teachers we need a deep understand of how things are connected… of how learning happens…Content is important but the pedagogy should come first,”  argues Jo Blannin, ICT specialist and primary teacher.

And finally, a message for leaders:  teachers need the time and space away from their classroom commitments in order to continually keep their subject knowledge up to date.  How about Ken Webb’s idea? Allow teachers to get out of the classroom for periods of time – perhaps in the form of a sabbatical in another school – so they can add significant value for themselves and other teachers.


To read more about these presenters and the courses they offer, visit their profile page on the TTA website: Darryn Kruse, Anita Chin, Ken Webb, Joanne Blannin, Kery O’Neill, Karen Lambert

TTA offers over 300 fully accredited, high quality practical professional development courses for teachers, delivered by over 200 experienced presenters across Australia via face to face or online.

Practical hands on strategies for science teachers.

With a passion for bioethics education Dr Siew Fong Yap had a dream to write a book that would assist teachers educating in the field of bio-ethical issues.

The new National Science curriculum provided her with an opportunity to develop an ebook that would assist science educators with practical hands on ideas for engaging with the strand “Science as a Human Endeavour“.

“I am passionate about highly effective teaching in the science classroom, especially in the area of biotechnology and bioethics.  “, says Dr Yap

Students are encouraged to think critically and make ethical decisions about the use of current technologies.

Teachers are provided with clear direction and frameworks with which to develop engaging lessons.

Click here to download the ebook Classroom Teaching Strategies in Bioethics education

Improving student outcomes (Part 1)

kids in huddleWe asked 6 of our presenters, what they believe are the most important elements for improving student outcomes.  Here are their answers:


Joanne Blannin

Primary Teacher in France, England, America and Australia.  ICT Coordinator, Laburnum Primary School, Victoria and currently undertaking a Doctorate of Education focusing on the use of ICT in education

The research shows that engagement is the most important key to a student’s success.

Students may be motivated to win a sticker or prize but that is not enough.  Teachers need to find tools that are engaging and that deepen the learning.  Examples include online quizzes or blogs with a share and comment function.  These are engaging for students and therefore achieve outcomes although the topics discussed are not that different.


Kery O’Neill

Veterinary surgeon. Research scientist. Science educator at primary, secondary, tertiary and community levels. Post Graduate Certification in Brain Based Training.  Previously a Senior Biology Teacher and HSC marker.

Know the children in your class well and work with their wellbeing.

  1. Keep in mind the big picture and help students to see and understand what the big picture looks like for them.
  2. Take the time to understand why education is important for the individual students you teach, and help students to see and treat education as a gift not a punishment


Dr Karen Lambert

Lecturer in Human Movement and Health Education, University of Sydney, HSC marker, PDHPE Specialist

Learners will have better outcomes when students have greater control over their learning and they are inspired with it.  For me, the key elements are:

  1. Engagement and connection
  2. Variety and creativity
  3. Authenticity
  4. Transmitting inspiration and motivation for learning.


Look out for Part 2 of this article with comments from 3 other highly respected educators.

To read more about these presenters and the courses they offer, visit their profile page on the TTA website: Joanne Blannin, Kery Neill, Karen Lambert

TTA offers ver 300 fully accredited, high quality practical professional development courses for teachers, delivered by over 200 experienced presenters across Australia via face to face or online.