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Education Theories for Teachers and Leaders

Refresh your understanding of dominant educational theories that guide best practice in the UK.




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Whether you qualified in education decades ago or are new to the sector, education theories provide a foundation on which to build your teaching practice. 

Staying up-to-date with the latest teaching techniques and learning theories is an important part of continuous professional development for any education professional. But while many focus on the latest research, it’s equally important to revisit the long-standing work that has stood the test of time.


Essential Educational Theories in the UK

Not only do the education theories below provide the building blocks that the modern UK curriculum is based on, but applying these theories in your classroom can dramatically improve your teaching effectiveness. After all, the research has already been established; it’s up to you to put it into practice. 

Let’s take a look at five of the core educational theories and how they can help you sharpen your teaching and leadership skills.

Bruner’s Discovery Learning Approach

A leading and long-standing figure in cognitive psychology, Jerome Bruner developed the concept of “discovery learning”. Bruner’s approach to curriculum design was simple yet effective – any subject can be taught to learners at any stage of their development. He proposed that instead of trying to match the complexity of the subject with the learner’s cognitive stage, it’s more effective to present information in ways that are engaging and easy to grasp. This approach both makes learning more enjoyable and enhances deeper understanding.

Black and Wiliam’s Insights on Formative Assessment

In their influential book “Inside the Black Box,” Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam highlight the importance of formative assessment in learning. They emphasise five main principles: 

  • Involving learners actively in the process
  • Providing meaningful feedback
  • Adapting teaching based on assessment outcomes
  • Enabling learners to assess themselves and their peers
  • Understanding the impact of assessment on motivation. 

By applying these principles, teachers can get a clearer picture of their student’s progress and tailor their teaching to suit their needs better.

Hattie’s Visible Learning Concept

New Zealander John Hattie established the idea of visible learning, a more transparent approach to the teaching process. His theory is that when both teaching and learning are visible, teachers can easily identify if students are grasping the concepts and students understand what they need to learn and how. This transparency helps teachers tailor their methods effectively. Hattie believes in the ideal scenario where students take control of their own learning and teachers continuously evolve their teaching styles.

Alderfer’s Motivation Theory

Clayton Alderfer breaks down motivation into three categories: existence, relatedness, and growth. He suggests that people move from basic needs to personal growth through social interactions driven by satisfaction. In reverse, frustration leads to a focus on more basic needs. Understanding these levels of motivation allows teachers to better connect with and inspire their students.

Whitmore’s GROW Model

John Whitmore’s GROW model offers a straightforward framework for coaching. It’s about setting a Goal, understanding the current Reality, exploring Options, and committing to the Will to succeed. This model is fantastic for helping students set and reach both their academic and personal goals.

Education theories put into practice - writing on chalkboard.


Applying Education Theories in Your Classroom

Understanding educational theories is only the first step. The next is putting them into action in practical, everyday ways. Below are some tips to get you started:

  • Embrace Discovery Learning

Encourage your students to explore topics in a way that sparks their curiosity and makes learning more engaging and memorable. Set up problem-solving activities or enquiry-based projects where they can explore subjects, ask questions, and discover answers on their own. 

  • Undertake Assessments

Regularly check in on your students’ understanding through quizzes, discussions, or peer reviews. Use these assessments as a tool to adjust your teaching strategies and help students better understand their own learning journey.

  • Make Learning Visible

Create a classroom environment where feedback is open and ongoing. Encourage students to discuss what they’ve learned and what they’re finding challenging. This transparency helps you tailor your teaching to their needs while involving them more within the learning process.

  • Understand Motivations

Recognise that your students are motivated by different things – some might be driven by grades (existence), others by relationships (relatedness), and some by personal growth (growth). Try to incorporate elements in your teaching that cater to different motivations.

  • Apply the GROW Model

Use the GROW model as a framework for setting goals with your students. Whether it’s for a single lesson or a longer-term project, help them understand where they are (Reality), where they want to go (Goal), the options they have (Options), and what will drive them to get there (Will).

By incorporating these education theories into your daily teaching practice, you can create a more responsive and proactive classroom. 


In Conclusion

By applying and adapting these approaches, educators can create a more engaging, responsive, and fulfilling educational environment for their students. Not only will this make your teaching more impactful, but it will also empower your students to take an active role in their own education.

At Teach HQ Limited, we provide a range of leadership CPD courses to develop your professional growth and the learning experiences of your students. Explore our current courses online. 


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