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The following article is an interview between Allan Shaw and Melissa Heagney of The Weekly Review published on March 14.


The education landscape in Australia is changing like never before. In fact, the way that teachers such as those at The Knox School are approaching how and what they are teaching is changing.

It’s transforming from a type of “mass education” (teaching students the same thing at the same time in a classroom) into something that is personalised to the individual student.

For The Knox School principal Allan Shaw, this new approach is empowering students of all year levels to take more control of their education and be more discerning of the information they find online in age-appropriate ways.

“The systems that were set up for mass education, we’re starting to tweak and morph them into something else,” Shaw explains.

Teachers are using a method called “learning intentions” where students know what their learning goals are at the start of a class or project and what they should have learned by the end.

It empowers students to ask questions and for assistance when they have not met the goals.

Shaw says The Knox School recently undertook a learning intentions project, where year 6 students were asked to design furniture for a new STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) work space.

Students were told what they needed to achieve and they worked with academics from RMIT to research and design the furniture and evaluate their designs in the real world after assembling prototypes. “To my mind this is an example of how schools need to be developing,” Shaw says.

“Building approaches to learning that take real world issues, use resources beyond the school in a collaborative partnership, having students, be they primary aged or postgraduate, at the centre of the process. Finding workable and successful solutions.”

While this approach is allowing students to take more control of their education, it’s also teaching them the skills they’ll need for the future workforce – a workforce where students will go to jobs which have not been invented yet and will rely on entrepreneurial skills.

“Students must have that solid knowledge base, which good schools have always done. But you now need to have this adaptive set of skills … the four C’s … critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity to be successful,” Shaw says.

“You then add in the personal skills you want kids to use; we want them to manage themselves – to have self-control, resilience, have a sense of responsibility and respect, have care and empathy for others. There’s a whole range of research now that says that knowledge itself is insufficient – yes the basic skills tests and the VCE is important – but, in and of itself it’s insufficient to allow for an adult to flourish in the world.

“It’s how you get on with people,manage people and have conversations and negotiations. How hard you’re prepared to work and how you deal with setbacks matter far more in the outside world than many schools teach in classrooms.”

It may seem that these skills are inherent in many schools, but says Shaw, they need to be emphasised with students. “I think a lot of schools used to teach these things but without being as explicit. Without actually giving them ‘a place in the sun’.

“I’ve been in the workforce a long time.What I was trained to do at university I still draw on occasionally. However, I certainly draw on what it taught me in terms of the (non-academic) attitudes and skills.

“It taught me a focus on precision, accuracy – which is not my natural disposition – I learnt those skills and I learnt to be creative.”

Shaw says the changing approach is teaching not only students but parents and the wider community the value of this type of learning.

“It’s a much more holistic focus, personalised on the development of the whole child, positioning them explicitly for their future. I think it’s an exciting space to be in and an important one,” Shaw says.

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