Today’s Recommended Reading for Teacher Leadership

Two interesting reads online this morning, for those interested in teacher leadership as a key driver in educational improvement.

First, an excerpt from Barnett Berry’s post, “Flipping the system with teacher leadership”

When teachers learn together, we can light up classrooms for our students.

When teachers learn together, we can light up classrooms for our students.

Evidence is growing in the United States that the current reform movement—focus on charters that compete with government schools, short-cuts into teaching that bring in smart teachers, and test score-based teaching evaluations—is not moving the needle on student achievement. And this evidence is beginning to spread in both traditional and social media. As the narrative on teaching begins to shift researchers from across the globe, such as Dylan Wiliam and Ben Jensen, are showing that the key to school improvement is not hiring brighter teachers or firing bad ones, but investing in high quality professional learning systems.

The key to creating these effective professional learning systems is teacher leadership. Of late, a new cadre of economists, using sophisticated statistical methods and more nuanced understanding of the teaching profession, have concluded that students score higher on achievement tests when their teachers have opportunities to work with colleagues over a longer period of time and share their expertise with one another. A recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, from their review of policies in top performing nations, concluded that the most effective form of school leadership may very well be “self-sustained teacher collaboration.”  And a just-released investigation reveals that teachers “improve at greater rates when they work in schools with greater collaboration quality.”

In Flip the System, Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber have assembled a team of researchers and classroom practitioners who show from an international perspective how “teachers’ expertise should be capitalized and put to good use.”

It’s encouraging to see evidence growing for this kind of change. I just recently read Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars, (and also heard Goldstein speak at Stanford recently), and was discouraged by the cyclical nature of many ineffective education reforms, some of them even harmful to students and teachers. Teacher leadership in schools isn’t as new as some people might think, but it’s a reform unique among the others in that it has never really been taken to scale, despite evidence that it works.

The second excerpt comes from Peter DeWitt’s latest post at EdWeek, focusing on “8 Ways to Prevent Within School Variability” –

Among the conversations that need to take place during the summer, and again every single day of the school year, centers around what “good learning looks like.” How can all students achieve good learning, and define it on their own? Equally as important to student understanding is that their teachers can define it as well.

I know that sounds like common sense…

But it’s actually a bit more complicated than you may think. As a Visible Learning trainer who works with John Hattie, I see teachers who define good learning by the behavior of the students. I’m sure you can think of one or two, because they are the ones who sit and talk about student behavior in the faculty room or when they are standing in the hallway. To them, good learning is about students sitting in their seats, raising their hands and doing what the teachers say. Their focus is more on behavior than learning. And in a time when we are all a little tired of compliance, I think we need to blow the doors off this discussion from time to time.

There are many teachers who clearly understand what good learning looks like. They talk about it with students, look for it on a daily basis, and can hone in on those times when it’s not happening. The difference between teachers who look at it through the behavioral lens and those who look at it through a pedagogical one can be quite significant, and I’m not referring to teachers who work in one school as opposed to another. I’m referring to teachers who work in the same school with one another.

Why does this conversation relate to teacher leadership? DeWitt states later in the blog post that the first step in addressing variability is,

Shift the Narrative – Politicians, policymakers, and school leader behind closed doors talk a lot about fixing the teachers. Hattie says we should shift our focus “from fixing the teacher to collaborative expertise.” The power is within the school already. We should use it.

From my experience and from what I’ve learned from other teachers, I’d say these conversations are challenging to start, and even more challenging to act upon. We must keep trying, nonetheless.

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