Saturday, September 25, 2010

Leading the Transformation

Last week I read a blog post by Edna Sackson about Management vs Leadership.  This year I have taken on the role of ICTL Team Leader (we are no longer called Heads of Department or Coordinators) and one of the main reasons I did this is because I was told I would be mentored in leadership, which sounded new and exciting to me and because I thought it would lead to more discussions at school about improving teaching and learning.   Currently it's rare for me to have a really deep discussion about these important issues at school, possibly because of the pressures of time, whereas in contrast I seem to be involved in these discussions on an almost daily basis with other educators around the world through Twitter and blog posts.  In the past few months I have found that I am turning increasingly to my PLN outside the school to help me move forward.

Some years ago I was fortunate to attend Harvard Project Zero, which was probably the best professional development I have ever received in nearly 30 years of teaching.  One of the Co-directors and founding members of PZ was David Perkins who drew up a list of "knowledge arts" for students (though they apply equally to teachers):

  • Creating knowledge - teachers should create knowledge about teaching and learning
  • Communicating knowledge - teachers should communicate this knowledge to one another
  • Organising knowledge - teachers should also organise knowledge within themselves and for others to make it more meaningful and accessible
  • Acting on knowledge - teachers should act on this knowledge in order to improve student learning.

The more I think about leadership, the more important I see it is in improving the quality of teaching and learning, because it is the leadership that forms a school culture and determines whether teachers feel respected and whether they collaborate in order to improve learning.  A transformation in the culture of a school will only happen when the leaders of the school transform themselves and promote and lead that change in others.  When the leaders of the school change what they think, say and do, this change will radiate out to the entire school community, in the same way that dropping a stone into a pool of water will create ripples that radiate out over a large area.  And this must not be a one-time event - it must be seen to be ongoing.

Our school has changed dramatically in recent years, as it is an amalgamation of a couple of very different schools in our local area.  This was an ideal opportunity to rewrite the culture of the school.  However teachers' job descriptions were not changed so that there has not been much effect on teachers expectations about what is taught or how it is taught or how teachers work together in collaborative teams.  And even more important many teachers having only a sketchy idea of what those in leadership positions are thinking, saying and doing to promote student learning.

What do we need to do, to really transform learning?  I would like to see our leaders more involved in what is going on in the classrooms, and for them to be creating more time for teachers to truly collaborate instead of adding more and more duties, clubs and activities that have a negligible impact on the actual student inquiry and learning that is taking place in the classrooms.  I put myself into that category too - I feel I need to get out of the IT labs more and participate in what is actually happing when technology is being used in the classrooms.  I also believe our teachers are in need of mentors and coaches - people who will support and encourage them to move forward and try out new ideas - again I feel as a team leader I should be devoting more of my time to these very important aspects of my role.  We also need more professional development days that are focused, relevant and that have continuity across time, rather than just one-off days where issues are discussed but never revisited.  I tried to do this last year by offering "techie breakies" every couple of weeks and perhaps I need to revisit these and think about how to expand this programme.  What is needed, as mentioned by David Perkins, is to transform that learning into action in order to improve the quality of learning in the entire school community.

Photo Credit:  Honk!!! Honk!!! Honk!!! :))) by Denis Collette


  1. We recently had a full school review from an outside reviewer. Much of what you have mentioned showed up in his report. We now have the challenge of trying to do something about it as a whole school. We have coaching and mentoring happening, and are now looking at the more focused leadership. The review was helpful in bringing this to everyone's attention.

  2. The schools I have worked in have had managers, not leaders. There is a marked difference and one that I think you illustrate well here. What we need is more people who will come along side teachers and work with them so that every person in the school is constantly working and growing to be better. The problem I have found with managers is they think they have reached the top and there is no longer need for growth. Leaders are different, leaders know there is always room for growth and they encourage others to grow with them.
    After reading Edna's post, I was thinking about how teachers need to be leaders in their classrooms instead of managers.

  3. I totally understand your concerns around school leadership. It is very hard for people that hold positions with titles and responsibilities to move from management to leadership. Managing the school, keeping the trains running on time, consumes so much energy and is the default position. Leadership requires a special commitment and some really good training and mentoring. For your own reading and professional development, I would highly recommend a new book that I recently read entitled, Learning from Lincoln: Leadership Practices for School Success. It is very engaging and helps construct a view of leadership through Lincoln's work. The author applies the lessons from Lincoln's leadership of the US to school leaders today. I think he does a great job. Also, ASCD publishes a study guide for people who want to use the book for a group experience. See what you think and see if it helps answer some of the difficult questions you raise. Here is the link:


    Bob Ryshke
    Executive Director
    Center for Teaching
    The Westminster Schools
    Atlanta, GA

  4. Oh Maggie this is so true. As I sit down to write my goal for the year my first question was how well do the Leadership team know me in my classroom? Only one of them has every team taught with me and that was at my request while she was covering another teacher's class. How can they then support me in my professional growth which is I believe the aim of our PD this year?

  5. I think you have just summarized excellently what we as a team of teachers feel.
    I am a classroom teacher and love teaching my kids how to blog, use prezis, glogs, spicy willing to teach my colleagues to and have ! however, no one has come to me and supported mean in this endevour. I thoroughly enjoy what I do, but still feel my efforts have gone unrecognized.