Monday, August 07, 2006

A process to develop shared teaching beliefs.

  Posted by Picasa Poutama -stairways to knowledge pattern.


If a school is to have any impact on teaching and learning there has to be a collegial understanding of what the ‘school’ means as quality teaching and learning. This can only be achieved by a series of professional dialogues or conversation about ‘what counts as important’ to ensure the school vision and values are realized.

All too often when one asks teachers what the teaching beliefs that underpin their work are they find this question difficult to answer? This needed be the case. Teachers often have the ideas in their heads but have no simple framework to focus their thoughts.

By using a process of professional dialogue or conversations a simple teaching framework can be developed that taps into teachers ‘collective wisdom’ – a framework that they all will have sense of ownership in developing.

By developing a set beliefs to act as a ‘scaffold’, to unify and focus their thoughts, is the key. It is preferable, for ease of memory, to have no more than five core beliefs. When such a ‘common language’ is in place transitions between class levels becomes less of a problem and, as well, teachers have a means to self reference all their decisions. Such focused teaching making life simpler for all

A process to use could be to first decide on the five framework headings.

Then taking each heading at a time get the teachers in groups (depending on how big the staff is) to suggest beliefs or actions that fit under the chosen heading. Record these with no discussion. Teachers can simply say ‘pass’ if they wish.

When all ideas are contributed some can be combined but only if agreed by those who suggested them. People may ask a contributor for any clarification. No cross discussion should be allowed.

Once the list is finalized each member is given 10 votes that they can assign to any idea using four votes at a time. This process is called ‘brainstorming’ and ‘10 /4 voting’. If there is more than one group a team could aggregate group ideas to later present to staff for approval.

A 'lead team' could tidy up the list for final acceptance. When agreed the framework becomes the basis of the teacher performance system. It will take time for all teachers to gain confidence in all suggestion to close this 'gap'will become the basis for school or idividual professional development. Whatever is developed ought to be modified at the end of each year as part of the normal school review system.

The heading blow are arbitrary but most school could modify them. The ideas beneath each are just suggestions. A completed model is available on ‘our’ website.

1. All students to leave with ‘foundation skills’ in place.

Literacy and numeracy are basic to all learning (hence the ‘foundation’ metaphor) and most school would have no trouble defining a set of ‘we wills’ to ensure they are in place. Target or benchmarks could be agreed to as well as school wide programmes and teaching and assessment practices.

Detail of any ‘we wills’ need to be kept in a separate ‘best practices’ folder.

2. Our students to be ‘powerful’ learners.

The ‘shadow’ of all content experiences ought to result in students learning ‘how to learn’ so as to develop their ‘learning power’. Students ought to be aware of their particular talents. They ought to be able to articulate why, what, and how they learn able to set goals, make choices, take responsibility, and self assess their own progress against agreed criteria. Appreciating the importance of effort is important. Ensuring the ‘key competencies’ are being developed and agreed higher order thinking skills.

3. We see our role as teachers of being ‘learning advisers’.

The ‘we wills’ to be included under such a heading need to ‘mirror’ the powerful learning strategies we want the students to achieve. The teacher is a ‘learning coach’ providing diagnostic help (‘feedback’) to ensure all students are able to ‘construct’ their own learning. Idea that might be included could cover teaching an agreed inquiry model, ensuring students are goal orientated able to self assess their own work and teaching agreed design ‘scaffolds’ to ensue all students can produce work of personal excellence.

4. Students to be challenged by ‘meaningful’ learning experiences.

To engage and inspire students rich, real, relevant and rigorous learning experiences need to be provided. Ideas that might be included under the ‘we wills’ could be: planning collaboratively, developing a framework of rich topic themes to be covered each year, making use of students interests and their environment, integrating learning areas and ICT, and teaching using a ‘constructive’ inquiry model. Agreed planning formats might be considered.

5. Room environments that both ‘celebrate and inform’

Collectively the class environments provide the most obvious ‘message system’ to all visitors. Students need benign routines to allow them to take the necessary ‘learning risks’. Ideas to be considered could be: clear daily programmes and group tasks on whiteboards / blackboards, displays of students’ inquiries with appropriate headings, key questions, and process information. Agreed planning formats could be considered.


A test of any set of beliefs is whether or not every member of the school team (including Board of Trustees) an articulate them. Only when they can do you have the beginning of a learning community. When they can be seen in action in all rooms then you have real learning community.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

A simple and valuable process Bruce

Iain Hall said...

This is a good unifying process but will need headteachers (principals) to both really believe in and practice distributed leadership.

Bruce said...

You are right Iain .It depends a 100% on leadership - both by the principal and all others.

I realy appreciate you taking the time to comment.

Kia ora - good health.