Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The conditions that support learning

Today was the first day back at school for all staff and it was full of meetings (mostly organisational ones), but I'm still thinking about the first meeting of the school year that I attended as a team leader last week on Friday because this meeting was about the conditions that support learning.

Drawing on the work of Professor Richard Elmore, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, we discussed what educational leadership involves:
Leadership is the continuous improvement of instructional practice and student learning over time.
We discussed the conditions that support learning in a classroom or a school as a whole - just as the classroom should be a learning community, the school and everyone in it should be too - so the same conditions that support learning will apply at each level of the organisation.  These were defined as:
  • transparency of practice:  knowledge is shared. To me this implies that students are working collaboratively and sharing their ideas and learning from each other.  It also implies that teachers and administrators are working collaboratively and sharing their knowledge too.  The classrooms are not separate "islands", the team leaders are actively empowered to be instructional leaders and the administrators are actively involved in what is happening in the classrooms and with the student learning.
  • effective group practice:  we are part of "real teams" which have a clear purpose, strong norms, resources and access to expert coaching.  This year we will focus more on building our teams - this could be as subject area leaders or as grade level leaders.  We talked about the fact that we need to be working not with a "power over" model, but with a "power to" model.
  • developmental mindset:  the focus needs to be on growth, on effort leading to growth and on persistence rather than on ability.
  • clear and detailed feedback is needed for us all:  giving feedback to students was the focus of our summer reading.  Today we met in groups to discuss the book.  In our group one of the teachers talked about 360 degree feedback that would also involve the students giving feedback about the lessons, and the teachers giving feedback about the administration.  Feedback shouldn't just be "top down".  This was also mentioned in a comment to one of my posts about feedback last week:  that teachers should also use feedback they get back from their classes to help them decide how they should go further with the next lessons.
  • lateral accountability:  to each other and the team.  This is different from the traditional view of accountability where teachers are often looking upwards and doing what administrators require of them or where students are doing things because that is what the teacher requires.  Instead it involves being accountable to our colleagues, the other teachers on our teams, and the students being accountable to other students they are working with in groups too.  
This year I'm feeling that there is a refocusing, that the emphasis is changing.  I'm happy to be part of a group that is discussing how we can create the best possible conditions and how all of us, students and teachers, can be more supported on our learning journeys.

Photo Credit:  Teach/Learn by Duane Schoon AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

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