School leaders are the architects of the social, emotional and intellectual organization of the school. They weave different human and material resources into a significant cultural tapestry (Deal & Peterson, 2009), which incorporates individual strengths and commitments into a collective and collaborative whole and provides a platform for effective discourse and eventually, improvements, to take place.
Promoting and cultivating healthy individual and collective learning and achievement cultures in schools is essential to how teachers feel about their work and how they think about themselves as professionals. The extent to which they are able to find continuing professional and personal fulfillment through their work, and through these, sustain their commitment to teach to their best over time, will depend to a large extent upon the opportunities they have to grow, sustain and renew their capacities to be resilient (Day & Gu, 2014).
It’s an essential consideration, given the degree of a teacher’s professional fulfillment affects classroom practice, and classroom practice has a large effect on pupil learning and achievement (Deal & Peterson, 2009; Hallinger, 2005; Hanushek, Kain & Rivkin, 2005; Leithwood, Day, Sammons, Harris & Hopkins, 2006; Rockoff, 2004).
Learning to teach and developing an identity as a teacher:
Developing an identity as a teacher is an important part of securing a teacher’s commitment to the work and adherence to professional norms of practice. The identities teachers develop shape their dispositions, where they place their effort, whether and how they seek out professional development opportunities, and what obligations they see as intrinsic to their role (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005).
Ideally, new teachers should learn to teach in a community that enables them to develop a vision for their practice; a set of understandings about teaching, learning and children; dispositions about how to use this knowledge; practices that allow them to act on their intentions and beliefs; and tools that support their efforts:
“Teacher candidates must form visions of what is possible and desirable in teaching to inspire and guide their professional learning and practice. Such visions connect important values and goals to concrete classroom practices. They help teachers construct a normative basis for developing and assessing their teaching and their students’ learning” (Feiman-Nemser, 2001).
Learning to teach in a community, and extending that, to engaging in professional practice as a community, are both powerful influences on learning (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001).
Teacher quality is the single most important variable influencing pupil achievement (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 2005). So, making teaching a more attractive and more effective profession must be the priority in all school systems if they are to secure and enhance effective learning (OECD, 2009; Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 2011). Indeed, reports detailing the experiences of the world’s best performing school systems concluded that getting the right people into the teaching profession and, once in, developing them to become effective teachers, has played a central role in enabling these systems to come out on top, and more importantly, continuing to improve (Barber & Mourshed, 2007; Mourshed, Chijioke & Barber, 2010).
A strong school isn’t possible when leadership from the principal is weak or ineffective, Grissom (2011) analysis of national school and teacher surveys showed that teacher satisfaction is likely to be lower, and the probability of teachers leaving school significantly greater when school leadership is lacking or is ineffective (Day & Gu, 2014).
Schools will improve for the benefit of every student only when every leader and every teacher are members of teams where the culture reflects a synergy in problem solving, and emotional and practical support. In this environment, leadership is distributed to better tap the talents of members of the school community, and interpersonal accountability, which is necessary for continuous improvement, is promoted. Such teamwork not only benefits students, it also creates supportive leadership, as well as time for the meaningful collaboration that allows teachers to thrive and address the complex challenges of their work (Sparks, 2013).
Indeed, school improvement and innovation doesn’t come from heroic individuals who overcome the system’s inherent inertia, but from committed communities of educators who are empowered by a system that nurtures curiosity, seeks innovation and displays a bias for action. At the same time, it’s only when the individual professional commitment of teachers is aligned with structures and strategies that encourage innovation is there any chance for systemic change (Beairsto, 2012).
- Use protocols to help guide the group work and provide a consistent framework.
- Agreements put in place are clear, purposeful, and understood.
- Must be committed to agreed-upon decisions and plans of actions.
- There is a sense of accountability and obligation to the team for its progress.
- An inattention to results
- Avoidance of accountability
- Lack of commitment
- Fear of conflict
- Absence of trust.
Practical ways to promote networks of teams in schools:
- Ask teachers to keep weekly journals on just two students, one who is underperforming and one who needs to be challenged beyond the current curriculum. Have them consider questions such as what did you try/what worked/didn’t work /what’s next. Taken alone, it’s difficult to draw conclusions from the observations of just one person. But when the entire faculty contributes to such an effort, isolated practices can be highlighted and shared frequently and systematically.
- Make faculty meetings an announcement-free zone, in which all administrative announcements are relegated to paper or email, and all faculty meeting time is focused on professional sharing.
- Create a best-practices book every year, with each teacher contributing just a single page. Present the booklet as a going-away present at the end of the year, and as a welcome at the beginning of each year as a recognition of great, local teaching practices. Over the years, the great work of a single teacher will influence the best practices of colleagues years into the future.
- Create a best practices club with student involvement – students help identify teaching practices that positively affect learning. In this ways, students can see themselves as part of the learning process.
- Allow anonymous sharing of best practices during each faculty meeting and professional development session for questions, challenges and success stories. Teachers know who the most effective professionals are, but the technique of anonymity shields the authors of success from accusations of self-promotion (Reeves, 2008).
The importance of respect:
Superintendents must take the impact of respect for employees seriously, as it is directly related to one of the key challenges of educational leadership today – retaining and recruiting teachers and leaders.
- Recognize excellence
- Emphasize freedom to use judgment
- Listen to and act on teacher ideas
- Encourage innovation – many senior leaders are masters of innovation. That’s great, but it’s also a potential limitation. Because when a senior leader is innovative and thoughtful, the positive impact on other innovative colleagues may be diminished. If you want to encourage teacher leadership, encourage innovation and get out of the way.
- Provide feedback and coaching – must take place more frequently and at every level – students, teachers and leaders.
- Value people as individuals. This is perhaps the greatest challenge in transforming respect from a song title to daily reality.
- Provide a sense of being included.
- Apprentice diverse perspectives, ideas and work styles. Every challenge and diverse perspective is an opportunity.
- Encourage full expression of ideas without fear.
- Listen to, and fairly handle complaints.
Promoting teamwork while achieving coherence as a learning system:
- Requires high levels of energy and innovation with students’ engagement, learning and well being at the forefront.
- New areas of learning and inquiry are linked to previous areas of inquiry. When thinking about what’s next, consideration is given to what has been learned before. The main purpose of linking areas is to facilitate the transfer of key ideas from one focus to another. This kind of coherence requires a whole school strategic approach to professional learning. Professional learning plans come to mirror student learning plans, with both tied to strategic goals for the school as an organization. This does not mean professional learning plans look the same for everyone. It means they all pull in the same direction.
- Approaches to professional and student learning are consistent with the principles underpinning the inquiry and knowledge-building cycle (Reeves, 2008).
Strategies for bringing implementation closer to reality:
Create short-term wins:
Effective leaders design plans in the spring and summer that will produce short-term wins within the first few weeks of school. For example, every two weeks, principals can post the percentage of faculty who agreed on the score of a collaboratively evaluated student assignment. A higher percentage indicates a more effective collaboration and a clearer scoring guide. This type of effort is particularly important when turnover occurs during the summer and staff members are unintentionally sending very different signals to students about their expectations.
Formative assessment is one important way to provide short-term wins throughout the year (Ainsworth & Viegut, 2006; Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappius & Arter, 2011; Popham, 2006). (Ainsworth & Viegut, 2006; Chappuis, Stiggins, Arter & Chappuis, 2004; Popham, 2006). It is absolutely vital the true meaning of formative assessment is understood. It is an ongoing activity designed to give meaningful feedback to students and teachers and improve professional practices and student achievement.
The key to effective short-term wins is that the objectives are meaningful, attainable, and provide immediate feedback to reinforce effective practice and modify ineffective practice. Without short term wins, the pain of change often overwhelms the anticipated long-term benefits.
Recognize effective practices simply and clearly throughout the year.
School leaders can display professional practices and student achievement data on simple three-panel boards: Student data on one panel, adult actions on the middle, and inferences and conclusions on the right-hand panel. This can be district-wide initiative, kind of like an adult science fair.
Emphasize effectiveness, not popularity.
Too many change efforts fail because leaders have underestimated the power of the prevailing culture in undermining change. To challenge that culture, leaders must be prepared to stand up for effective practice even if changes are initially unpopular. If the litmus test for goal achievement is the short-term popularity of the changes necessary to implement the goals, then the strategy is doomed. Change inevitably represents risk, loss and fear, which is never associated with popularity.
Make the case for change compelling and associate it with moral imperatives rather than compliance with external authority.
Instead of citing administrative requirements, inspire staff members with a call for their best. Close the implementation gap with immediate wins, visible recognition of what works, a focus on effectiveness rather than popularity, and an appeal directly to the values that brought us all into this profession in the first place (Reeves, 2008).