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Education Opinion

Sorting It All Out ...

By LeaderTalk Contributor — June 13, 2010 4 min read

The end of this school year is more difficult than most because over the last 4 weeks I have decided to leave my current position as principal and accept a principal position in another school. As part of the process, I have been busy sorting through both digital and physical files accumulated over the last 11 years. I am excited about my new job but I also want to make sure I take the lesson I have learned and build on those in my new setting. This means identifying the principles and foundations of leadership that I have come to embrace and clarifying my own strengths and weaknesses.

Two things that I rediscovered in my Evernote files were an article on building vision and an article on the educational theory of enactivism. These articles point to two key aspects of leadership, which need to be grappled with in defining an approach to educational leadership. Understanding your concept of building a vision and identifying the educational theories that drive your ideas of learning and teaching are essential to self-realization .The article “Vision, Leadership, Change” by Sylvia Méndez-Morse discusses the role of a clear vision in effecting change in an organization or school. Defining vision, she reminds us “vision not only describes an organization’s direction or goal, but also the means of accomplishing it. It guides the work of the organization.” In this case, vision is not simply about a picture of the future but it is about moving us to action. It is noteworthy that while discussing the necessity of building a shared vision that the article acknowledges one cannot always wait on that process. The article states that, “the collaborative process required to develop shared vision did not help in meeting urgent needs for change or demands for quick action.” There is a balance to find with regard to change and visionary leadership. In my opinion, the effective leader has a strong personal vision that allows for action and a strong commitment to the process to build a shared vision that is reflective of and responsive to the needs and culture of the community.

Another significant concept presented in the article was the relationship between a principal’s vision and a teachers’ vision. While the principal usually focuses on the big picture and schoolwide instructional issue the “teachers’ visions are more likely to address teacher roles and student outcomes... (as well as) more participatory and decision-making roles for teachers.” The organizational focus of the principal and the more specific and individual focus of the teachers are in essence a matter of perspective and responsibility. Understanding these, differing perspectives underscore the importance of building a shared vision and provides a platform for discussion.

As the school year draws to a close and in preparation for next year, I encourage you to read this article in its entirety and join me in reflecting on your own successes and failures in building a shared vision. As part of my own reflective practice, I have found that thinking about educational theory is also part of the vision building process.

Many dissertations have been written on competing educational theories and many great minds have entered the debates about the most effective models for teaching and learning today. It is not my purpose to replicate this discussion but rather to highlight things I have been thinking about and to point you to some resources for your own research and thinking. Within the framework of a digitally connected world, education has struggled with its definition of teaching and learning. Information resources have multiplied exponentially as has our sense of global connectedness and our ability to interact with and participate in the creation of knowledge. Instructional leaders need to consider this context in building a vision for teaching and learning. Currently constructivism is one of the most discussed theories it has many variations in educational practice. A kind of generic description is found on Concept to Classroom site and states:

... that teachers help students to construct knowledge rather than to reproduce a series of facts. The constructivist teacher provides tools such as problem-solving and inquiry-based learning activities with which students formulate and test their ideas, draw conclusions and inferences, and pool and convey their knowledge in a collaborative learning environment. Constructivism transforms the student from a passive recipient of information to an active participant in the learning process. Always guided by the teacher, students construct their knowledge actively rather than just mechanically ingesting knowledge from the teacher or the textbook."

There is much in the constructivist approach, which resonates with best practice in today’s classroom, but there is another learning theory called enactivism that has some compelling components. This perhaps is not as well known and so I point you to a recently presented paper called “Instructional Design and Technology grounded in Enactivism: A Paradigm Shift?” which has also been published in the British Journal of Educational Technology.(Note: link will take you to a list of articles and this article is about a third of the way down the page) Please take the time to read the whole paper, which discusses the relationship between constructivism and enactivism in depth. What intrigued me about this theory was the relationship described between the teacher and student. At the risk of oversimplifying a very complex idea, part of the key to enactivism is that it is not about knowledge but rather about knowing. Furthermore, “Enactivism views that cognition is a complex co-evolving process of systems interacting and affecting each other and their environments.” To my understanding, it is the interaction of the learner, the teacher and the world that produces knowledge and meaning and this gives support to the idea of all members of the school are learners and authors of knowledge.

Educational theories are theoretical underpinnings, which shape our visions for teaching and learning, to revisit and reflect on them can stretch our thinking. Vision however must also be built on praxis. There is no better time than the end of the year to reflect on lessons learned and to plan for the future with a new sense of purpose and vision.

Barbara Barreda

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.