Learning Principle #1: Learning takes place at different levels of complexity - Teaching to productive surprise


Principles of Practice is a professional learning programme delivered in collaboration with the School of Education at Oxford Brookes University. Principles of Practice provides teachers with an opportunity for depth-engagement with educational research in a way that makes research directly relevant to everyday classroom practice. The programme provides a space for dialogue about the 'big' questions that underpin professional life for teachers - about the practice of being a teacher, and the ethical and pedagogic principles that underpin this practice.

The programme is anchored in the ten Ecolint Learning Principles, with this session focusing on Learning Principle #1: Learning takes place at different levels of complexity. Drawing on the experience and expertise of participants, the session will begin with an exploration of the layers of complexity that can be found in the learning process. We will then concentrate on the specific  theme of "Teaching to productive surprise". In this discussion we will consider how learning is complex because it involves unexpected, unpredictable outcomes, and requires teachers to be spontaneous, adaptive, creative, and flexible. This is subtle, finely-crafted 'adaptive expertise' involves taking risks in order to facilitate the engagement of students. By sharing examples of unexpected, positive learning experiences that emerge in teachers' experience of classroom practice, we will work together to consider mechanisms to make productive use of the divide between anticipated learning objectives and unanticipated outcomes. In doing this, we will be taking a student-oriented approach to the development of “adaptive expertise”.

Programme Lead: Dr. Patrick Alexander (Director, Centre for Educational Consultancy and Development; Reader and Research Lead, School of Education, Oxford Brookes University)

Mode of Delivery

The programme takes place entirely online via a dedicated Oxford Brookes Moodle platform, and consists of the following activities:

  • Pre-reading of one academic article and one professional article focusing on learning and complexity
  • 90 minute synchronous session involving lecture content and extended discussion with the programme leaders.
  • Forum discussion of readings via guided questions
  • Carrying out a reflective writing exercise, identifying one example 'productive surprise' in your teaching practice over the course of 2 weeks
  • 60-minute synchronous plenary session where examples of 'productive surprise' are shared and during which we will collaborate on a 'toolkit' for making the most of unanticipated opportunities for learning.


The reflective writing exercise, forum and discussion will record examples of critical engagement with theory, as well as concrete examples from classroom practice that demonstrate the application of theory to practice. The collaborative toolkit will provide a practical means to extend the impact of the programme beyond the programme cohort. A brief evaluation survey at the end of the programme will also give a metric of the impact of the programme on practice.

Proposed dates: April 12th - May 10th 2021
Please note that the times are tentative and will be confirmed closer to the date. But it will be after school hours.

This course is available for Ecolint Staff only

Interested in this course?


Sorry, registrations are either closed or not yet open. Please write to institute@ecolint.ch with any questions.