John Handley, APF Advisor
With all the external and internal expectations in our schools, establishing a mindset of teachers on productive and intrinsically rewarding practices must surely be a powerful impetus to their school year. In my experience, too much thinking on the what, and not enough on the how of teacher practice and classroom learning, is a recipe for individualism, mediocrity and poor culture.
In an APF Newsletter in early December 2019 it was suggested that it might be time to “revisit our narrative of leadership and school improvement.
It can include:
(a) restating our understanding of context of the work at our school;
(b) reminding others of our school values and goals;
(c) in the context of current school performance and aspirations, highlighting our progress and achievements in the school’s improvement plan (SSP, AIP), especially that made in the school’s teaching & learning practices, both explicit and implicit, what we hoped to see and are seeing; and what each staff member’s responsibility has been in this context; and
(d) reinforcing our understanding of expectations of each other as colleagues, community members and members of the profession, including recognition of the commitments and sacrifices each has made. This is both a reflection and celebration of what we’ve achieved and experienced in 2019.”
In that context as the new school year begins we are presented with another opportunity to reset; and to establish clear indicators for ongoing reflection and review in 2020.
With so much emphasis on measurable student outcomes like NAPLAN and VCE results, it can easily be overlooked that such outcomes result from what and how we impact learning in our schools. That is, instead of overemphasising these results, it is often more useful to focus on what underpins high quality learning outcomes – consideration of improving teacher and teacher team practices that we know are the drivers of school improvement. The more one thinks about them, the more surprising it is that these practices aren’t prioritised to a greater extent across our schools.
If we are to learn from John Hattie and others’ findings of the impact of school leadership and teachers on student learning outcomes, it is a no brainer to focus on such work practices.
Imagine if across our system and schools, school leaders, teachers and teacher teams regularly assessed their performance against these work practices:
• consistency in expectations for high level student learning
• consistency in practice across classrooms and grade levels
• agreement about what high-level student work looks like
• cross-talk amongst teachers and school leaders about problems of teaching and learning (reciprocal responsibility)
• collaborative planning and problem solving around instructional practice
• level of agreement (and explicit statements) among individuals about norms, values, and instructional practice
• processes and structures for making common problems common
• collective ownership (responsibility & accountability) of student learning.
Where for each of these points there is discussion and subsequent identification of what the work would look like if each was practised at a highly effective level. And what would be the impact on the learning environment in staff rooms and classrooms.
Imagine the responses in the Staff Opinion Survey in areas like collective efficacy, collective responsibility, staff trust in colleagues, teacher collaboration, and collective focus on student learning. And from a leadership perspective, areas like leading change, cultural leadership, flexibility, Intellectual stimulation, leader’s support for change and instructional leadership!
Imagine the energy and excitement generated by teachers as they take responsibility for more than just their own students in their classrooms!
If your school has a culture whereby such practices are clearly articulated and embedded, I expect your student learning outcomes continue to improve, and your workplace is buzzing! If for one reason or another these practices are not valued and enacted widely in your school, maybe it’s time to reset and for giving them careful consideration.