What do teachers do?

Teaching is complex and creative.
Every day, teachers work with groups of students from different backgrounds and cultures. As they do this, they must focus on the needs of individual students and make sure that the others in the class continue to be engaged in their learning.
Effective teaching is based on teachers continually asking and answering these questions:
  • Where are my students now, and where do I want them to go? The teacher uses available information to find out what is known about their students and what they need to learn. They then use this information, their knowledge of what the community expects, and the New Zealand Curriculum to choose the outcomes most worth pursuing, given the time available.
  • What might I try? The teacher pulls together all the evidence they have from formal research and informal research (from their own practice and the experience of colleagues) to design and carry out a course of action based on the outcomes.
  • What happened for my students as a result? The teacher looks at the impact of their teaching on their students’ learning, measured against the outcomes. They think about what they might need to do differently, if necessary.

How do students learn best?

  • Teachers need to: create a supportive learning environment
    Students need to: accept one another and form positive relationships with students and teachers
  • Teachers need to: deliver effective instruction based on the student needs
    Students need to: help to set individual learning goals and monitor their progress
  • Teachers need to: encourage reflective thought and action
    Students need to: stand back from the information or ideas that they have engaged with, think about these objectively and translate thought into action
  • Teachers need to: enhance the relevance of new learning
    Students need to: understand what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will be able to use their new learning
  • Teachers need to: facilitate shared learning
    Students need to: take part in shared activities and conversations with other people, including family members and people in the wider community
  • Teachers need to: make connections
    Students need to: integrate new learning with what they already understand
  • Teachers need to: provide enough opportunities to learn
    Students need to: have enough time and opportunity to engage with, practise, and transfer new learning

Effective pedagogy

Teacher actions promoting student learning


While there is no formula that will guarantee learning for every student in every context, there is extensive, well-documented evidence about the kinds of teaching approaches that consistently have a positive impact on student learning. This evidence tells us that students learn best when teachers:
  • create a supportive learning environment
  • encourage reflective thought and action
  • enhance the relevance of new learning
  • facilitate shared learning
  • make connections to prior learning and experience
  • provide sufficient opportunities to learn
  • inquire into the teaching–learning relationship.

Creating a supportive learning environment

Learning is inseparable from its social and cultural context. Students learn best when they feel accepted, when they enjoy positive relationships with their fellow students and teachers, and when they are able to be active, visible members of the learning community. Effective teachers foster positive relationships within environments that are caring, inclusive, non-discriminatory, and cohesive. They also build good relationships with the wider school community, working with parents and caregivers as key partners who have unique knowledge of their children and countless opportunities to advance their children’s learning. Effective teachers attend to the cultural and linguistic diversity of all their students. The classroom culture exists within and alongside many other cultures, including the cultures of the wider school and the local community, the students’ peer culture, and the teacher’s professional culture.

Encouraging reflective thought and action

Students learn most effectively when they develop the ability to stand back from the information or ideas that they have engaged with and think about these objectively. Reflective learners assimilate new learning, relate it to what they already know, adapt it for their own purposes, and translate thought into action. Over time, they develop their creativity, their ability to think critically about information and ideas, and their metacognitive ability (that is, their ability to think about their own thinking). Teachers encourage such thinking when they design tasks and opportunities that require students to critically evaluate the material they use and consider the purposes for which it was originally created.
PAGE OF IDEAS TO DO THIS Encouraging Reflective Thought and Action

Enhancing the relevance of new learning

Students learn most effectively when they understand what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will be able to use their new learning. Effective teachers stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to use or apply what they discover in new contexts or in new ways. They look for opportunities to involve students directly in decisions relating to their own learning. This encourages them to see what they are doing as relevant and to take greater ownership of their own learning.
PAGE OF IDEAS TO DO THIS Enhancing Relevance of New Learning


Facilitating shared learning

Students learn as they engage in shared activities and conversations with other people, including family members and people in the wider community. Teachers encourage this process by cultivating the class as a learning community. In such a community, everyone, including the teacher, is a learner; learning conversations and learning partnerships are encouraged; and challenge, support, and feedback are always available. As they engage in reflective discourse with others, students build the language that they need to take their learning further.

Making connections to prior learning and experience

Students learn best when they are able to integrate new learning with what they already understand. When teachers deliberately build on what their students know and have experienced, they maximise the use of learning time, anticipate students’ learning needs, and avoid unnecessary duplication of content. Teachers can help students to make connections across learning areas as well as to home practices and the wider world.

Providing sufficient opportunities to learn

Students learn most effectively when they have time and opportunity to engage with, practise, and transfer new learning. This means that they need to encounter new learning a number of times and in a variety of different tasks or contexts. It also means that when curriculum coverage and student understanding are in competition, the teacher may decide to cover less but cover it in greater depth. Appropriate assessment helps the teacher to determine what “sufficient” opportunities mean for an individual student and to sequence students’ learning experiences over time.

Teaching as inquiry

Since any teaching strategy works differently in different contexts for different students, effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students.
Inquiry into the teaching–learning relationship can be visualised as a cyclical process that goes on moment by moment (as teaching takes place), day by day, and over the longer term. In this process, the teacher asks:
  • What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are at?
    This focusing inquiry establishes a baseline and a direction. The teacher uses all available information to determine what their students have already learned and what they need to learn next.
  • What strategies (evidence-based) are most likely to help my students learn this?
    In this teaching inquiry, the teacher uses evidence from research and from their own past practice and that of colleagues to plan teaching and learning opportunities aimed at achieving the outcomes prioritised in the focusing inquiry.
  • What happened as a result of the teaching, and what are the implications for future teaching?
    In this learning inquiry, the teacher investigates the success of the teaching in terms of the
    prioritised outcomes, using a range of assessment approaches. They do this both while learning activities are in progress and also as longer-term sequences or units of work come to an end. They then analyse and interpret the information to consider what they should do next.
See The school curriculum: design and review for a discussion of purposeful assessment.
Teaching as Inquiry diagram from NZC page 35.
Teaching as Inquiry diagram from NZC page 35.

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E-learning and pedagogy
Information and communication technology (ICT) has a major impact on the world in which young people live. Similarly, e-learning (that is, learning supported by or facilitated by ICT) has considerable potential to support the teaching approaches outlined in the above section.
For instance, e-learning may:
  • assist the making of connections by enabling students to enter and explore new learning environments, overcoming barriers of distance and time
  • facilitate shared learning by enabling students to join or create communities of learners that extend well beyond the classroom
  • assist in the creation of supportive learning environments by offering resources that take account of individual, cultural, or developmental differences
  • enhance opportunities to learn by offering students virtual experiences and tools that save them time, allowing them to take their learning further.
Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning.

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