Sunday, April 17, 2011

Leadership for student learning - part 2

I've been continuing to think about teacher leadership as I read the School Leadership for the 21st Century report from the Institute of Educational Leadership.  Although it's quite common for teachers to take on positions of responsibility such as heads of departments and team and grade leaders and it's also common for teachers to head up curriculum committees and action teams, most of the leadership that teachers take on is connected to their role in the classroom, as they decide how to teach (mostly they don't get to decide what to teach), how to organise their time, how to assess the students and how to deal with individual students' needs.  All of these decisions help build the qualities that make good leaders - they foster "a knowledge children and subject matter, empathy, dedication, technique, sensitivity to communities and families, readiness to help, team spirit and the ability to communicate" - all of which are essential for good school leadership.

The IEL report however states:
It is readily apparent that, expect in unusual cases, the basic decisions that affect the work lives of teachers, as well as the performance of their students, come from on high, from top-down leadership in its most pristine form.  In most settings, teachers have little or no say in scheduling, class placement, how specialists are assigned decisions on hiring new teachers and, perhaps most telling at ground level, the preparation of budgets and materials.  This is not the stuff of professionalism.
The final section of the report is full of questions - suggestions for discussions in our own school communities.  I summarise below the ones I feel are most important:

  • Are we facing a shortage of motivated teachers?
  • What kind of turnover do we have?  (many international schools have "lifers" - people who are there because they are connected with the local community - but leaving these aside what is the turnover like for those who are free to leave?)
  • Do teachers feel isolated and alienated or do they feel their input is valued in school decisions?
  • Are new teachers provided instructional support, technical resources and mentoring?
  • Do teachers have frequent and meaningful opportunities for peer networking and collaboration?
  • Does the school encourage action research and the sharing of effective instructional approaches?
  • Is teaching a "flat" career or is there a ladder for professional advancement?
  • Do teachers have active roles in selecting and evaluating administrators and teachers?
  • How does the evaluation process provide teachers with the information they need to grow professionally?
  • What incentives are built into teacher evaluation and accountability systems to encourage lifelong learning and to recognise teacher leaders for their contributions and accomplishments?

Photo Credit:  Leadership by David R AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved

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