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