Sunday, November 21, 2004

The 'missing link' - 'Teacher Leaders'?

With the introduction of 'Tomorrows Schools', schools were expected to survive as 'stand alone' self managing organizations and encouraged to compete with each other.
The 'market forces' ideology, under pinning the changes, was based on the need for schools to be accountable; successful schools would survive and failing schools close. It was a form of 'social Darwinism'. Parents would choose, helped by the 'name and shame' auditing of the Education Review Office. Luckily we escaped the desire of politicians to establish 'league tables' to make comparisons more efficient.

Before 'Tomorrows Schools' regional Education Boards provided support for schools in trouble and also provided school inspectors and advisers to help. It wasn't perfect, but the assistance is sorely missed. 'Tomorrows Schools' 'threw out the baby with the bath water'!

With 'cracks' showing in the market forces ideology, when applied to social services, the Ministry has recently tried to supply assistance to failing schools. Curriculum contracts were delivered to assist, and many school, keen to be involved, created unintentional 'over load' and 'burnout' for their teachers. To support struggling schools Principals support groups were established and advisers from the College of Educations provided to assist. Failing schools could be easily identified by the number of advisers paid to help - like vultures circling around a dead carcass!

Now is the time to revive teacher professionalism and assist schools to work together. The ministry has already begun this process by providing contracts to encourage clusters of schools to work together. Information Communication Technology clusters have been really successful.

The next stage is re establish some form of regional support for schools in geographical areas. Two groups of schools have already done this informally. The ministry needs to assist the development of such groups but to refrain from over controlling them, as 'ownership' is a vital requirement for success. What is required is for the Ministry to create the 'high trust' conditions and support to empower schools to take the initiative. Diversity within national frameworks would need to valued rather than conformity - the real message of Darwinism. Great ideas would spread like benign viruses to other schools and clusters throughout the country. Good ideas, as they emerge, will 'attract' attention - a form of 'divine gossip'. This organic model of change could eventually replace the current 'top down' curriculum model which has been shown to have had little effect.

To work each group needs to appoint a mentor and to gain financial assistance each group would also have to get together to establish an agreed framework of beliefs to work within and be held accountable to. A balance needs to be agreed between group negotiated beliefs and goals and individual school individuality and creativity. A website could be established to share ideas and school needs etc.

The mentors role is to co ordinate actions, help schools identify strengths to share with others and identify particular areas of need. The key would be to release teachers, in identified areas of expertise, for agreed terms, to work with other schools. Such teachers, coming from successful classroom practice, would bring with them expertise and credibility. Such 'teacher leaders', appointed on such a 'revolving door' system, would return to their own schools bringing back with them knowledge to share with their school. As well they will have had the professional leadership recognition of their peers. The role of group mentors would also provide career choices for successful 'leader principals'.

Teacher leaders, mentors and regional support systems - the missing links?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep pushing this idea Bruce. It is exactly what we need.

I love your blogs!