Marta Rudzka, Headmaster of Joy Primary School, reveals her educational philosophy in an interview with Ewa Świerżewska.

Education Is A Relationship Education Is A Relationship

The student-teacher relationship should be built on respect and the student’s autonomy, says Marta Rudzka from Joy Primary School: “Students have to feel their opinions are valued, that there are no wrong answers, and that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. Mistakes show the students are taking initiative and, in fact, prove that the learning process is taking place. These ways to educate people who believe in themselves, people who are able to pick themselves up from any failure and take up new challenges.”

Ewa Świerżewska: Education is so very important and evokes a lot of emotions, because the future depends to a great extent on its quality. Visionaries appear from time to time who initiate positive change. Professor John Hattie, who developed the concept of ‘visible learning’ is certainly such a figure.
Marta Rudzka: Hattie conducted a meta-analysis of many scientific studies on pedagogical activities, pedagogical interventions and their impact on academic performance. On that basis, he ranked over 250 techniques, strategies, methods and their effectiveness. He came to the conclusion that we should move away from the teaching culture and concentrate on what learning is. To look at the educational process as a learning process, as seen through the eyes of the student; as a dialogue between the teacher and the student. Hattie recognized that the teacher has a huge impact on the student; the teacher must be very aware of that, has to thoroughly understand the student’s needs and constantly review his or her teaching skills. This means avoiding a focus on grades or perfecting favorite teaching methods, in favor of constantly adapting teaching techniques, strategies, and methods used in class to the needs of the students, based the feedback they give.

Moreover, Hattie distinguished three key elements: clear goals – students need to know what their purpose is, why they are learning something, and their goal. A situation in which goals are not clearly defined can be compared to visiting a foreign city without a map; success criteria, or ways to achieve them. The teacher should show the student how to improve his tools, skills and competences in order to achieve a specific goal. Feedback should not be limited to a description, characteristic, or grade – it should inform the student how to proceed going forward.

How does that look in practice?
I think the most prominent element is formative assessment. Hattie says that formative assessment and feedback are very important. He also proposes the concept of “feedforward,” i.e., in addition to commenting on what the student did and describing the work, we outline ways for further work – how to make up for some gaps, what to improve. Formative assessment is not only an evaluation, but an approach that determines the entire educational cycle. It is a twofold kind of feedback – firstly, for the student, regarding where they are and how to proceed going forward, but also for the teacher on how her or his techniques and teaching methods affect this specific group of students or a specific student. It is much more motivating than other methods of assessment, because it prevents students from studying for a grade, in favor of themselves, which means we build internal motivation – and further progress depends on that.

The grading process itself has educational value. The student takes part in self-assessment and learns to be systematic, to look at themselves and their work from the outside. Self-awareness, self-steering and critical thinking are awakened.

In today’s world, there is a lot of talk about relationships. The most important one is between parents and children, but the relationship between the child and the teachers is quite close to it. What should that relationship be like for both sides to benefit as much as possible?
Education is a relationship, so the teacher should establish a close, positive relationship with the student through deep respect and by considering the student’s needs. The teacher should be empathetic and curious, provide the student with the space for expression, self-realization, and focus on students’ independence. This independence is expressed in many ways: as independence in thinking, speaking and writing, but also as independence in the selection of learning materials.

So, does it make sense to use textbooks less?
The approach outlined above is very engaging and requires the teacher to deviate from ready-made solutions. Abandoning textbooks, or at least the traditional ways of using them, would be a good example here. It is worth getting involved in projects, because while implementing the core curriculum students can pursue their passions, because they run the projects.

What are the advantages of working with the project method?
By using the project method, we teach students how to ask questions and formulate answers; we shape a person who is independent and avoids ready-made solutions. The method is very good in this respect, as it shows the student that there is more than one good source of knowledge. Now, they have knowledge at their fingertips and the ability to assess and evaluate whether information is credible, reliable, true, and adequate to our task – all this is extremely important for students in achieving independence.

How do students acquire this skill?
It is worth focusing on critical thinking, which is ‘a level up’. In order to teach children to think critically, we need to go back to the basics and look at how we present knowledge (sources of knowledge) and how we strive for children to acquire this knowledge. And here again: projects, open tasks, discussions and then verifying knowledge with open tasks, presentations, self-presentation, cooperation, i.e., group tasks, joint investigations to solve problems. These are the ways, strategies, and techniques that teach critical thinking. Any open-ended tasks that require a little more effort will help children develop this kind of thinking.

What is the importance of Hattie’s contribution to the development of education and the creation of a ‘new school’?
In short, Hatti’s great analysis is a roadmap for all educators, teachers, schools, and education systems for which direction to choose. First and foremost, it is a cue to keep reflecting on your work; be aware of what kind of student you are working with and what she or he needs.

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