Codesigning approaches that help learners reach their highest potential


With Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales (AISNSW), New South Wales, Australia

As Australia sees a decline in the academic growth of its top-performing learners in international tests, so educators are noticing that the highest achieving students are ‘playing the game’ of school. They’re present, but not always feeling engaged or being intellectually stretched. We are collaborating with AISNSW to co-design a cross sectoral program that responds to the needs of these learners, and create responsive teaching strategies that ignite their individual passions and optimise their strengths.

The problem

5% drop

in achievement of Australia’s highest-performing 15 year olds between 2000 and 2009


of learners across Australia not consistently engaged in learning or schooling

“Unless there is a dramatic shift in the way we engage with young people, Australia is in severe danger of losing its place among the world’s top innovative countries. Australian society spends a lot of time and money constraining kids, when we should be doing just the opposite: unleashing the brilliance of Australia’s next generation.” Jan Owen

For the schools taking part in this program, stagnating academic results weren’t the reason for joining. Most perform incredibly well in standardised tests, but they recognise that the economy and society are shifting rapidly – to the point where new skills, dispositions and means of assessment are necessary to enable young people to thrive in a changing world. The educators in these schools also know that many learners have the ability to go way beyond the ‘ceiling’ set by the existing model of schooling: learners have the capacity to make a significant impact on their local and global communities, but a lack of motivation or available pathways to explore.

Our Impact

3 communities of practice

featuring schools from 3 states in all 3 sectors collaborating on the design of new practice, with a third coming soon.

15 new practices

currently being prototyped and evaluated in NSW and across Australia with many more in development.

These ambitious schools decided to address the issue of learner underachievement and disengagement. By becoming part of communities of practice, teams of teachers and leaders are being supported to work together to unlock and build upon their professional knowledge and experience, and to use disciplined innovation methods to codesign new practices.

“Effective ‘next practice’ pedagogy for high potential learners needs to become the norm rather than the exception in all schools. AISNSW and our strategic partners share a desire to encourage educators to seek collaborative solutions
and to co-design new pedagogical practices which are transferable, sustainable and scaleable to reach beyond individual schools. Together we are engaging in a robust process of disciplined innovation.” Dr Geoff Newcombe

Through their communities of practice, educators are using ethnography to explore the lives of learners, and are challenging their own assumptions about the root causes behind ‘coasting’, the impact of family and peers on achievement and well-being, and what truly motivates their most engaged learners. Teachers and leaders are being prompted to look critically and creatively at their school structures, curriculum, pedagogical approaches and interactions with their community, and ask where the most interesting learning opportunities might exist.

“ELEVATE has provided us with the opportunity and skills to harness the power of working collaboratively as a team of colleagues and committed professionals. By using design-thinking approaches, we have been challenged to leave the ‘safe lane’ and delve into a range of possibilities. The process is untidy, exhilarating and fast-paced. At times, it raises more questions than it answers, but throughout we know disciplined innovation is at the heart of the solutions we are seeking.” Kate

In a high-stakes, risk-averse environment, being part of a community of practice is supporting participants to generate a compelling case for change for their school community, and – through continuous prototyping and testing – an evolving evidence base about the impact of new practices by using different measures to monitor progress and growth.

“We are developing ways to help our students exude self- efficacy and embrace challenges, to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. Our students have warmly embraced participating in the ELEVATE program and are excited to have a student voice in their learning.” David