From the Principal

Educational Silver Bullets

The term “silver bullet” regularly ricochets around education stories.

Silver bullet (noun)

  • a bullet made of silver, supposedly the only weapon that could kill a werewolf.
  • a simple and seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem.

On the positive side, but carrying an immense and unreasonable weight of responsibility, is the idea that education is the silver bullet that can cure all of society’s ills – everything from social inequality to driving deaths, social media awareness to suicide prevention etc.

“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. Competition for the best teachers should be fierce; they should be making six figure salaries.” Sam Seaborn, West Wing

On the other hand is the idea that a silver bullet approach – one great change – can fix all of education’s problems.

“We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” Barack Obama

Unfortunately, the problem is that “everyone else” (particularly teachers) is to blame for educational failings and everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to “fix” education by providing the magical silver bullet.

Every now and then a “silver bullet fix” for education comes up and everybody – media, politicians, academics etc –  jump on the bandwagon until …….. nothing really changes.

The reasons for this ongoing acceptance that one quick fix will work is most likely because the news cycle and those who follow it cannot deal with complex strategies needed for real change and improvement in education.

“The architecture of human cognition is such that we have a hard time handling more than a handful of concepts in our head at a time.”
Prof. V. Clinton-Lisell, Professor in Educational Psychology, University of North Dakota

Given this, many people are unconsciously drawn to silver bullet solutions to complex problems, like falling education standards.

I well remember when St Columba’s Higher School Certificate results found us in the Top 100 schools in the state for the first time.

Suddenly St Columba’s story gained traction and interest among fellow educators and I was asked to present to a number of schools to tell them our “secrets of success”.

When I started to talk about the impact of targeted literacy and numeracy strategies in the first stages of Primary School, the curriculum efforts to diminish disengagement in Years 8 to 10, structural change to support better learning and how we use NAPLAN data to identify weakness and potential, I was interrupted.

These schools did not want to hear about long term plans that led to our “sudden” success. They wanted to know how they could manipulate their Year 11 and 12 teaching and learning to get the same results we had achieved.

 They wanted a silver bullet.

To say they and I left those particular meetings somewhat disappointed is an understatement.

St Columba’s excellent HSC results and other achievements are built on years of planning, research and hard work by our Pre K to Year 12 teachers and their leaders.

We identify and address weaknesses, constantly look for ways of improving our performance and ensure that quality teaching and learning sets the foundation for great results.

This means that we are able to keep pace with the best of the best schools, while remaining true to our foundational ethos.

Unfortunately, it seems an educational silver bullet will not actually kill the “werewolves” of educational failure and/or decline.

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at

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