Driver of Student Learning: Learning Culture

How is it defined?

‘Learning culture’ comprises a set of factors that characterize the learning environment—its physical features, its culture, and teachers’ practices (Willms, 2010). These factors alongside quality instruction and learning time, are the foundations for success of a schooling system (Willms & Tramonte, 2014). Three of the most important aspects of a learning culture are the relationships between teachers and students, the disciplinary climate of the classroom, and the norms for academic success (Willms, 2010).

The Learning Bar’s Teacher Survey is a self-evaluation tool for teachers that is based on ‘effective schools’ research, consisting of eight of the most important variables associated with the drivers of student learning, and coupled with the Outward Bound model of teaching and learning covered in John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning (Hattie, 2009).

Why is it important?

  • Students prefer teachers who establish learning environments characterized by interdependence and a strong culture of learning (Willms, Friesen, & Milton, 2009).
  • Students with positive teacher-student relations have a greater motivation to perform well academically compared with those who have poor teacher-student relations (Hughes, Cavell, & Willson, 2001).
  • Students who describe their classroom disciplinary climate as positive are more likely to report high levels of interest, motivation, and enjoyment in learning (Willms et al., 2009).
  • When teachers maintain a culture of high expectations, students have higher achievement; in contrast, when teachers have low or negative expectations, student achievement suffers (Rubie-Davies, Hattie, & Hamilton, 2006).

How do we measure it?

Teachers respond to eight items on a five-point scale which is scored as follows: 0 (Strongly Disagree), 1 (Disagree), 2 (Neither Agree nor Disagree), 3 (Agree), and 4 (Strongly Agree). The data are scaled on a 10-point scale and the results are reported as ‘the average score for learning culture’.



Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

Hughes, J. N., Cavell, T. A., & Willson, V. (2001). Further support for the developmental significance of the quality of the teacher–student relationship. Journal of School Psychology, 39(4), 289-301.

Rubie‐Davies, C., Hattie, J., & Hamilton, R. (2006). Expecting the best for students: Teacher expectations and academic outcomes. British Journal of Educational Psychology76(3), 429-444.

Willms, J. D. (2010). School Composition and Contextual Effects on Student Outcomes. Teachers College Record, 112(4), 1008-1037.

Willms, J. D., Friesen, S. & Milton, P. (2009). What did you do in school today? Transforming classrooms through social, academic, and intellectual engagement. (First National Report) Toronto: Canadian Education Association.

Willms, J. D. & Tramonte, L. (2014). Towards the Development of Contextual Questionnaires for the PISA for Development Study. Report prepared for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Paris: OECD.

Article is closed for comments.