Saturday, April 16, 2011

Leadership for student learning

One of the units of inquiry PYP students study each year is Where We Are in Place and Time.  Several different grade levels are doing this unit right now and it is prompting me to ask the question of myself:  where am I in place and time?  and more importantly where do I want to go, to move forward, from here?  I'm at the time in my life where I don't necessarily have to carry on teaching.  Once our daughter is finished with her IB diploma next summer I no longer need to be concerned about being in an IB school, or even in a school at all.  In some ways this is a liberating thought.

Some teachers I know are very driven to move into administration as soon as possible.  I've worked with teachers who tried out a different position of responsibility or grade level every year so that they would have a variety of experiences to put on their CVs.  Most teachers, however, have very little interest in becoming administrators - they have found their niche in the classroom and are genuinely satisfied with their roles.  I'm speaking, of course, of teachers in good schools.  In poor schools many teachers are not satisfied because they are not trusted, valued or respected - and often because they feel isolated.

This year I've thought a lot about teachers as leaders.  Oftentimes when we think about school leaders we think about administrators, yet teachers are incredible leaders too:  student learning depends more on the quality of teachers than it does on many other variables (class size, school size, funding, race, educational attainment of parents etc).  According to the Task Force on Teacher Leadership report that came out some years ago teachers are "indispensable but unappreciated leaders ... they instill, mold and ultimately control much of the learning and intellectual development of the young people in their charge.  It would be difficult to find a more authentic but unacknowledged example of leadership in modern life."

Here are the 10 areas defined in the report where teacher involvement is essential to the health of a school (some of these summarised into my own words based on my own experience in international schools):

  • choosing instructional materials
  • shaping the curriculum
  • setting standards for student behavior
  • deciding which students need special classes/extra support/extension
  • designing staff development and in-service
  • setting promotion and retention policies
  • deciding school budgets
  • evaluating teacher performance
  • selecting new teachers
  • selecting new administrators
Yes I have worked in schools where teachers were very involved in these, and others where these were made without reference to teachers at all.  Where shared decision making simply involved sharing the decisions that had already been made!

In the 21st century things are changing - "vertical hierarchies are giving way to horizontal information-sharing networks and collective decision making" and "leadership is being seen more as transformational than transactional".  Even in schools that still operate the "old way", some teachers are now emerging as leaders too - they are using social networks and seeing there are better ways of doing things, they are seeking and finding challenges to help them grow - and finding mentors outside of their schools to help them reach these goals, and in their schools they are supporting their colleagues, taking risks, collaborating and are getting involved in peer coaching.  It's not that they necessarily have any more power, but perhaps they do have more influence.  They are creating more professional learning communities and student learning is improving as a result.

Photo Credit:  Who's the leader?  by Tanakawho

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