In this article, AERO Principal Teaching and Learning Specialist Cate Whiting shares practical guidance and tools to help teachers and school leaders most effectively teach for how students learn, in safe, supportive and well-managed learning environments.
Secondary school teacher leaning over group table, giving students feedback.

While all teachers and school leaders share the desire for their students to flourish and succeed academically, the real challenge lies in determining the most effective ways to positively impact student learning outcomes. With an overwhelming amount of information available, putting the right practices into action can be difficult. Engaging students through evidence-based, inclusive and culturally responsive practices is an effective and efficient way to cut through the noise and improve learning outcomes for children and young people.

The Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) is Australia’s independent education evidence body supporting schools and early childhood settings to use evidence-based practices. Established in response to several education reform initiatives (including Gonski 2.0 and the 2020 National School Reform Agreement), AERO is jointly funded by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. We are truly a national organisation, with staff in every state and territory of Australia, and advisory groups made up of teachers, educators, school leaders and education system and sector representatives from across the nation. As an organisation, we proactively engage with stakeholders and experts to ensure we present clear, useful information that fills gaps and meets needs.

Our vision for Australia is to achieve excellence and equity in educational outcomes for all children and young people through effective use of evidence. We do this by: 

  • generating high-quality evidence when it doesn’t already exist
  • presenting existing evidence in relevant and accessible ways
  • encouraging adoption and implementation of evidence in practice and policy.

As part of our vision, we provide teachers and school leaders with clear guidance on the most effective, efficient and consistently relevant approaches based on evidence.

That way, leaders and teachers don’t spend precious time on practices that sound promising but don’t work well or are inefficient. We want to close the gap between knowing about effective practices and using them in schools and classrooms. AERO’s guides and resources support the use of evidence-based practices and include practice guides, rubrics, vignettes from schools, exemplar videos, teaching and learning units and sample lesson plans.

Effectively managing classrooms to create safe and supportive learning environments

Classroom management is critical to helping students thrive in their learning environments. For just over a year, I’ve been leading a project at AERO focused on developing practical guidance and tools to help teachers and school leaders create safe, supportive learning environments through effective classroom management.

Safe and supportive learning environments are developed through classroom management that:

We have initially developed a suite of resources for beginning teachers, teachers working in new environments, or experienced teachers who want to refine or refresh specific elements of their classroom management practice.

The practices and skills above have a supporting resource. The resources can be used to individually reflect on and refine individual practice, or as shared resources to support mentoring and other collaborative and whole-school approaches to refining classroom management.

The foundational classroom management resources can be accessed in one place as a handbook or individually via a user guide, which is especially useful for pointing a teacher to a particular practice or skill. The handbook introduction and the user guide provide an overview of the resources and suggestions for their use, including guidance on where teachers might start and first steps in establishing effective classroom management, then where to go next. They also provide information about rehearsal, practice, feedback and reflection to refine practice.

There are 3 types of resources:

  • explainers summarise the evidence for classroom management. They explain key principles and describe how they are enacted in practice
  • practice guides provide step-by-step guidance for effectively applying and refining evidence-based practices and developing responsiveness through reflexive practice
  • skill resources support teachers in applying effective classroom management practices by refining necessary classroom management skills. 

We will soon release resources to support school leaders to lead a whole-school approach to classroom management, and guidance on supporting colleagues to refine their classroom management practice. In 2025, we plan to release professional learning resources to support school leaders to guide teachers in refining their classroom management practices, observation and feedback tools for supporting colleagues to refine their practice, video demonstrations of practice and guidance for supporting students with additional learning needs. We are also engaging with First Nations people to ensure First Nations perspectives are embedded.

Teaching for how students learn

To further support teachers and school leaders, AERO recently released a model of learning and teaching that identifies evidence on how students learn and explains how effective teaching practices align with and support the learning process.

Evidence from cognitive science, neuroscience and education psychology fields explains learning processes, memory functions and the implications for teaching. These disciplines explore the differences between novice and expert learning and offer explanations for why some teaching practices are more effective than others. There is a strong and consistent body of evidence about the positive impact of teaching practices and policies that align with how students learn. Recent research advancements mean we can be confident that the teaching practices identified in AERO’s model are effective for learning.

Research underpinning the practices of explicit instruction, formative assessment and mastery learning shows they maintain their positive impact on learning in a variety of contexts and are relevant to different learning areas and different year levels. They have proven impact in both primary and secondary school settings. They have positive benefit for students with and without additional learning needs. 

The model links elements of student learning processes to associated teaching practices in 4 key areas: 

  1. To align with the evidence that learning is a change in long-term memory, teachers develop a teaching and learning plan for the knowledge students will acquire
  2. To align with the evidence that students process limited amounts of new information, teachers manage the cognitive load of learning tasks
  3. To align with the evidence on how students develop and demonstrate mastery, teachers maximise retention, consolidation and application of learning.
  4. To align with the evidence that students are actively engaged when learning, teachers foster the conditions of a learning-focused environment.

This fourth essential element wraps around the other elements of the model, recognising that: 

  • engagement and learning have a reciprocal relationship 
  • students learn best in safe and supportive learning environments.

Resources to describe and support understanding of the model are gradually being released and will include practice guides, demonstration of practice videos and school leader guidance for incorporating practices in the model. The practical guidance and tools that AERO is developing support teachers and school leaders to most effectively teach for how students learn in safe, supportive and well-managed learning environments, leading to improved learning outcomes for children and young people.


About AERO

In December 2019, all Australian governments agreed to create an institute to position Australia’s educators at the forefront of education research to improve learning outcomes for all children and young people. The Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) uses 3 factors to help determine their research agenda:

  • Demand – They listen to the Australian education community to hear your priorities and interests.
  • Impact – They consider evidence gaps and areas of research that are likely to lead to the greatest impact.
  • Feasibility – They consider operational issues, including availability of resources, data and expertise.

To learn more about AERO’s panel of school leaders and teachers, see our advisory groups.

About the author

Cate Whiting is an experienced Queensland state school leader and has led school improvement by applying evidence-based practices, including in the areas of classroom management, pedagogy, literacy and multi-tiered systems of support. She is currently the Principal Teaching and Learning Specialist leading the Engaged Classrooms Through Effective Classroom Management project at AERO. 

This feature article was originally published in The Queensland Principal, the Queensland Association of State School Principals (QASSP) journal, in June 2024.