Friday, December 03, 2010
An idea whose time has come; schools and teachers working together
'Developing Teacher Leaders' by Frank Crowther, Stephen Kaagan , Margaret Fergusson and Leone Hann, with a forward by Andy Hargreaves. The book provides evidence of the importance of redefining leadership so as to work in parallel with classroom teachers.
The book calls for acknowledging teachers as the key to lasting change and asks for a renaissance of the teaching profession. Hargreaves's preface states that 'educational leadership is at a crossroads'.
As the focus is increasingly on student learning then developing the capacity of teachers as leaders is an imperative. Teacher creativity, not imposed standardisation, is central. Teacher creativity needs to be celebrated, recognised and shared.
Principals who can share leadership with their teachers and then with other schools will be seen as the real future leaders. Crowther calls this 'parallel leadership' - connecting principals and teachers through mutual respect. Up until now, Hargreaves states, teachers have been marginalised but we all know a school is only as good as its teachers.
This teachers and principals as leaders is an idea for principals associations working in smaller cities and rural towns to consider. There is no doubt that teacher isolation all too often makes becoming aware of new ideas difficult and this applies even more so to isolated schools. Crowther's (and others ) book 'Developing Teacher Leaders' provides an exciting means to break down this teacher and school isolation and to place the centre of new ideas firmly back in schools. Nothing of lasting note has ever been imposed on schools. All the recent Ministry contracts have proved difficult to sustain.Many have disappeared without trace - thankfully!
Three things have motivated me to share ideas of teacher , principal and school collaboration.
One is a National Radio talk I heard recently about the importance of developing collaborative networks between scientific research organizations in New Zealand for their mutual advantage. The theme of the radio discussion was: there are a lot of ideas out there; no one knows everything; and if we collaborated this would result in exponential growth of shared knowledge to advantage of all.
The other is the writings of Frank Crowther, author of ‘Developing Teacher Leaders’, about school leaders tapping into the often ignored strengths of creative classroom teachers as leaders. Obviously a school aligned behind shared beliefs (often inspired by the actions of a few teachers in the school) is ideal but the next step would be to tap into teachers in other schools and to share teacher skills from your own.
Crowther calls the combination of principal and teacher leadership parallel leadership. Crowther thinks it is important to see teachers as leaders and not just as ‘delivers’. He writes that teachers have been pushed out of the limelight the past few decades.
The third motivation goes back to the months before Tomorrows Schools .
The last District Senior Inspector in our area Taranaki, Julian Hoffman, asked all schools in Taranaki to, on a single piece of paper, write out their school beliefs and what strengths the school could offer other schools. Unfortunately the idea was lost in the competitive environment established by Tomorrows Schools. Ironically school clustering and sharing is now being encouraged by the Ministry.
Would it not be valuable for local principals associations to establish a website building on the ideas introduced by Hoffman?
Such a website could have links to individual school ‘offerings’ and these could be then used by principals to search out suitable schools for their teachers to visit (examples: a school with an excellent year one teacher; teachers with ICT expertise; environmental education; inquiry learning etc.). Teachers from other schools could be asked to visit to assist in another school. Currently no one really knows the strengths of other schools.
Possibly associations would need someone to liaise between schools and to help gathering information to post on the website; and to keep the website up to date. Most areas have a retired principal who could do the groundwork.
This process would see teachers being seen as their own experts and would provide recognition to teachers and contribute to them developing a greater sense of their own worth.
A future possibility is for teamS of teachers from different school, working on action plans, to develop ideas for use of all ('teaching as inquiry' as in the New Zealand Curriculum).This would be an excellent opportunity to develop teacher leaders.
If such a collaborative association were to be established then it could lead to developing focused shared school professional development. Bigger Conferences could share expenses in attracting top guest speakers and make use of identified local teachers for workshops.
I know of only one are which has tentatively moved along these lines (but with no website) and that are the schools in Blenheim.
As such an arrangement is informal, and not linked to any Ministry initiative, there would be no pressure for schools to comply with anything. It is just a means to take advantage of each others expertise.
The idea aligns well with the NZC intent of every student becoming ‘their own seeker, user, and creators of their own knowledge’ as it applies the philosophy behind such statement to teachers and schools.
And as we all know real innovation comes from the edge!
Time for school and teachers to reclaim their rightful positions?