The extent to which leaders create the culture for learning and innovation in their schools often results in diverse approaches to teaching and learning. Foundational to this is the notion that is highlighted in the the new Future Ready Leaders Guide by EdSurge:
Becoming a “Future-Ready School” does not mean replacing existing curriculum and instructional practices with technology. Instead, it is an opportunity to rethink 1) how students learn best and 2) how you can implement curriculum and instructional technology to help drive better student outcomes.
I was working with a group of site district and site administrators and we were discussing the desired learning experiences that we believe are critical for students to ensure they are set up for success today and in their future. I was struck by how similar our words were but how different our interpretations of the actual classroom scenarios were and how they aligned (or not) to the desired outcomes.
The common refrain that we need to transform our education is warranted in many instances, but this requires a dramatic shift in the role of the teacher. Too often, however, teachers are not clear about the expectations and what exactly leadership expects to see in their classrooms. I believe this is in part because many leaders do not quite know exactly what they wish to see either. I also think this is ok but necessary to acknowledge and discuss. The only way to get close to our desired outcome is to talk about it, share our struggles, and learn to improve.
Moolenaar, Daly and Sleegers (2010) found that teachers were more likely to take risks to develop and implement new knowledge and practices when they were supported by transformational leaders. Transformational leadership can be characterized as:
1) Empowering and inspiring people to achieve great success; leading with a vision, confidence and greater sense of purpose.
2) Providing opportunities for continuous learning that is cyclical, participatory and reflective.
3) Developing a system of collective responsibility to ensure that instructional decisions have the desired impact on teaching and learning.
As I have worked with diverse leaders, I can generally categorize 3 different types of change in schools as: 1) pockets of innovation, 2) device-centered innovation, and 3) learner-centered innovation.
Pockets of Innovation:
Isolated pockets of innovation exist based on individual teachers and their own desire to change while the staff as a whole lacks a clear understanding of the goals or “the why.” The leadership has not cultivated a shared vision of the desired learning and teaching. In these schools, teachers often work in isolation and teach in their comfort zone without being pushed to change pedagogical practices.
Teachers in these schools often lack structured time to engage in rich professional learning and rarely analyze the impact of teaching on student learning as part of their school wide expectations. Without time and opportunities to share new thinking with their peers, these innovative teachers remain isolated and their ideas fail to spread beyond their classrooms to impact the rest of the school community. This climate can create frustration for teachers who are pushing boundaries as well as those who are comfortable with the status quo. In addition to creating tension amongst colleagues, this often results in inequitable learning experiences and opportunities for students.
As technology becomes more and more common in schools, leaders who are technology focused begin with the applications or programs that are digital and often replace old worksheets or textbooks. The majority of technology integration and professional learning becomes focused on the device rather than learner-centered instruction. Without building a shared understanding or clear expectations for learning and teaching, technology is often piled on to what teachers have always done or replaced it with little to no functional change in how students learn.
Adding devices to a classroom can be overwhelming for some and new and exciting for others. It is tempting to see devices as the key to engagement but device-centered approaches rarely change how students learn. Without clear goals for desired learning and teaching and systems for collective accountability to ensure the new programs and resources achieve the desired learning outcomes, devices alone do not transform our schools.
Wide spread learner-centered teaching supported by powerful use of technology is most often observed in schools with leaders who had a clear vision, diverse opportunities and support for teacher development, and systems that foster a culture of collective responsibility. The school leaders do not necessarily see themselves as the experts, yet they are innovative and lead with the belief that powerful learning and teaching accelerated by technology can transform learning experiences and lead to desired outcomes for diverse learners.
Teachers in schools where learner-centered innovation exists on a large scale often credit the culture of learning and openness to risk taking to the change in practice. To support his, leaders in these schools create systems for ongoing learning opportunities to ensure needs of the learners guide and support the desired pedagogical shifts.
Creating a Culture of Learning and Innovation
How, when, and what teachers learn is part of this culture. What is valued and celebrated by leaders, how teachers get feedback, teachers willingness to take risks are all instrumental to the culture of a school and impacts the movement towards desired outcomes.
The teachers who often report the most widespread change in their practice work in schools where there is a clear vision for learning and teaching anchored in desired outcomes for students. These teachers collaborate regularly with their peers and have access to resources and tools to support the desired outcomes. They learn from one another as well as from coaches and outside experts to develop their instructional practices and there is collective accountability for achieving desired students outcomes.
To realize desired shifts in learning and teaching in all schools and classrooms, it is necessary to examine the context that exists to support the changing role of the teacher, including visionary leadership, systematic support for professional learning, and shared accountability achieving desire student outcomes.