Transformational Learning During COVID-19

Transformational Learning During COVID-19

We are committed to ensuring our Grammarians receive a year’s worth of quality education, no matter what circumstances surround it.  

Principal, Dr Toni Meath, outlines the Melbourne Girls Grammar approach to remote learning, with a focus on the importance of teachers, their knowledge of content and pedagogical design. We know how fortunate we are to have the technology in place, but the quality education that our Grammarians receive is a result of the calibre of our educators and the pedagogical design of our programs.

The agency and independence of the learner has been scaffolded through a recognition that education is transformational, rather than transactional. The learning continuum evolves through developmental progress and understanding of the learner and their needs. 

As Principal, I have worked closely with our teachers since arriving at the School. I sit on the Melbourne Girls Grammar peak body for curriculum, pedagogy and assessment at Merton Hall, the Heads of Department Committee (fondly known as HODs). I regularly attend the HODs meetings and am part of the discussions and decision-making processes that lead the learning at the School. My habitual contact with teachers, visiting their classrooms and engaging in daily discursive pedagogical conversations gives me insight in the day-to-day and I firmly know that Melbourne Girls Grammar teachers are unanimous in their high expectations of the whole School.

Over my career as a teacher, I have come to accept Senge’s (2006) claim that the system, or organisation, will learn because the individual has learnt. At this unprecedented time, high expectations and learning together are important and we are well placed to design the learning for our Grammarians in their ‘home classrooms’. I believe that learning together as a school is important. In the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have come together, this has united us and as a group of intelligent individuals we are working collaboratively to meet the needs of our Grammarians. We are ahead of the curve in the provisioning of remote learning and are propelling from a high base. In the unfolding new pedagogical landscape we find ourselves in with our COVID-19 world, the value of Teacher Knowledge needs to be recognised.

Whilst the literature relating to Teacher Knowledge is vast, here I am focussing on the pursuit of a pedagogy that explicitly focuses on designing learning in a digital setting in a student’s own home.

The Research

Content knowledge is a teacher’s depth, breadth and deep understanding of a specific learning domain. Shulman’s (1986) celebrated words, embraced by teachers around the world, “those who can, do [and] those who understand, teach” (1986, p.14) are highly significant when discussing Teacher Knowledge. Shulman (1986, 1987) studied what teachers know and how they approach their teaching.

He proposed that teachers have seven knowledge categories:

  1. Content knowledge;
  2. General pedagogical knowledge;
  3. Curriculum knowledge;
  4. Pedagogical content knowledge;
  5. Knowledge of learners and their characteristics;
  6. Knowledge of educational contexts; and
  7. Knowledge of educational ends, purposes and values.

Shulman (1986, 1987) was the first to introduce the concept of pedagogical content knowledge, which has relevance to how teachers embrace the Digital Learning and enact it in the remote classroom practice. Historically, Teacher Knowledge has focused on content, however, it has become increasingly apparent that teachers’ subject knowledge and their pedagogical knowledge are crucial to effective teaching and student learning (Buchman, 1982, 1984; Nilsson, 2008; Tobin and Garnett, 1988). Teaching is a practice of both content knowledge, and pedagogy. According to Elmore (1990), it is this specialised knowledge that teachers use when unpacking and delivering any new curriculum framework, such as remote learning, that requires a multi-faceted understanding of what they know and what they do. Teaching is an applied profession and he asserts that specialised knowledge “embraces theoretical, practical, abstract and concrete understandings and most importantly, it requires practitioners to link theory with practice, the abstract with the concrete”. (Elmore, 1990, p.103).

We have incorporated innovative research-based pedagogy in an engaging digital learning environment that encourages and embraces an omnipresent student voice. This has enabled teachers to move quickly to engage in high quality pedagogy online, because it is part of their normal practice.

Teacher pedagogical content knowledge is formulating the domain of expertise of the teacher into representations that make it comprehensible to others (Shulman, 1986, 1987; Nilsson, 2008). This knowledge also involves teacher understanding of the preconceptions required before learning can take place within different settings, such as the remote classroom. Shulman (1986) refers to it as that special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own “special form of professional understanding” (p.8). Developing teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge about education using digital frameworks may be useful in supporting and nurturing their talents.

Teacher pedagogical content knowledge is a unique type of knowledge based on the way teachers relate their pedagogical knowledge or what they know about teaching and their subject matter knowledge (Cochran et al., 1993). It is the synthesis of both knowing the content and being able to represent it, that transforms the knowledge of the student. This is important for remote learners as the teacher’s understanding of their potential and learning characteristics, form a significant part of this pedagogical knowledge. According to Shulman (1986), pedagogical content knowledge: embodies the aspects of content most germane to its teachability. [It] also includes an understanding of what makes the learning of specific concepts easy or difficult: the conceptions and preconceptions that students of different ages and backgrounds bring with them to the learning. (1986, p. 9) Elmore (2009) suggests that there are three ways you can increase learning and performance within school settings, be they in the real, or the virtual classroom.

They include:

  1. increase the knowledge and skills of the teachers;
  2. change the content; and
  3. alter the relationship of the student to the teacher and the content.

Furthermore, with remote learning or digital learning, it is important to recognise Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) formulation of the technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge (TPACK) framework which extended Shulman’s (1986) characterisation of teacher knowledge to explicitly consider the role that knowledge about technology can play in effective teaching.

What IMeans for Our Grammarians 

One of the cornerstone philosophies of our School dating back to the Gilman-Jones era is to develop the dispositions within our Grammarians of self-discipline and self-regulation. Both are key for the success of our Grammarians ‘stepping up’ to learning in their home classroom setting. Remote learning requires Grammarians to self-monitor and understand their pivotal role in relation to the tasks and challenges provided by their teachers. Our Early Learning, Junior Years, Middle Years and Senior Years programs all revolve around purposefully developing the independence and agency of the learner. The explicit and deliberate teaching of these can be found in every classroom across the Barbara Tolson Early Learning Centre, and Morris and Merton Halls. So, our Grammarians whether they are in Prep or Year 12 are already cognisant that they are the active participants in their learning.

This understanding takes time and practise. It is not a skill that can be learned over night or indeed, a brief two-week window leading into the Term 1 break.

The focus of our work in supporting our Grammarians currently is about designing learning that is more than transactional; it is transformational, that is, the learning is two- way. When teaching and learning in an online environment, it is not as simple as replicating the at school face to face model in the virtual arena; unique approaches are needed (e.g. synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid). It is not about curriculum delivery, which by its very description infers a one-way distribution of content knowledge. Hence, the teachers’ understanding of the characteristics and the learning using digital learning platforms, their awareness of developing student thinking and behavioural dispositions, and their recognition of the importance of pedagogical content knowledge are paramount.

Prepared for Whatever the Future Holds

This understanding takes time and practise. It is not a skill that can be learned over night or indeed, a brief two-week window leading into the Term 1 break. Rather, to deliver in readiness for Term 2 in response to physical isolation demanded of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need a well-practised learning and teaching model. MGGS, therefore is well placed to support our Grammarians through this pandemic, because we have been utilising and refining our digital pedagogies for many years. All teachers across the whole school, (regardless of their longevity at the School) have been inducted into the MGGS Learning Management System. It has become part of their teaching arsenal, recognised as one their professional responsibilities, and it has become integrated into their pedagogical repertoire.

The focus of our work in supporting our Grammarians currently is about designing learning that is more than transactional; it is transformational, that is, the learning is two-way.

Since the transition to remote learning, I have stated multiple times, that I am still expecting a year’s growth in learning for a year. McWilliam & Taylor (2020) pose the question “How do we ensure ‘low threat, high challenge’ learning still happens when school classrooms are empty, and schools are closed?” In every school, we must look to our teachers and I am confident that they are more than ready. Parents and guardians, too, play an essential role in this, ensuring that the home is a classroom that encourages reflection on experience and nurtures curiosity. Children often see the world through their parent’s eyes, and this is the time for calm, patience, and the fostering of wonder.

Teachers at MGGS are encouraged to work collaboratively, use the explicit language of digital pedagogies, and seek ongoing feedback from their students to inform their practice. Incorporated into the teacher timetable each week is blended learning using our Learning Management System for curriculum archiving. We have incorporated innovative research-based pedagogy in an engaging digital learning environment that encourages and embraces an omnipresent student voice. This has enabled teachers to move quickly to engage in high quality pedagogy online, because it is part of their normal practice.

So, in our COVID-19 world where is the silver lining? We have all been given the gift of time. We are in this together. Let’s be productive in new and different ways. Let’s use this time wisely.


Buchmann, M. (1984). The flight away from content in teacher education and teaching. In J. Raths & Katz.L. (Eds.), Advances in teacher education (Vol. 1). Norwood, NJ: Ablex. 

Cochran, K. F., De Ruiter, J. A., & King, R. A. (1993). Pedagogical content knowing: An integrative model for teacher preparation. Journal of Teacher Education, 44, 263-272. 

Elmore, R. F. (2009). Usable Knowledge: The (only) three ways to improve performance in schools. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from 

Matthew J. Koehler et al. (2006) The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge Framework (TPCK), Teachers College Record Vol 108, Number 6, pp1017-1054 

McWilliam, E. & Taylor, P. (2020). On-line Support for Collaborative Learning: Getting beyond home-work overload, Brisbane 

Nilsson, P. (2008). Teaching for Understanding: the complex nature of pedagogical content knowledge in pre-service education. International Journal of Science Education, 30(10), 1281-1299. 

Senge, P. (2006). The Fifth Discipline, London: Random House.  

Sergiovanni, T. J. (2005). Strengthening the heartbeat: Leading and learning together in schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15, 4-14.  

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. . Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-22. 

Tobin, K., & Garnett, P. (1988). Exemplary practice in science classrooms. Science Education, 72, 197-208. 


Dr Toni E. Meath, Principal