This post is by Ann Jaquith, associate director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).
Achieving opportunities for every student to experience deeper learning will require having teachers who can create these sorts of learning opportunities for their students. Deeper learning for students means that they are regularly asked to think critically, to make connections, and to ask questions. To provide this sort of learning environment for students, teachers need to work in a professional environment where they, themselves, have opportunities for deeper learning. Teachers need to work in environments where they are expected and supported to think critically about their instruction, to make connections between how they are teaching and what students are learning, and to ask questions about their practice.
School principals are responsible for establishing this sort of learning environment for teachers. Guess what? In order for principals to create such conditions for teachers’ professional learning, they, too, must be supported to imagine this sort of professional environment for teachers and, then, to develop their own capacities to create these conditions in which teachers are supported to think critically about their instruction.
An integral part of a professional environment where teachers are supported to learn will necessarily need to involve teachers in helping to lead that learning. Beyond making time for teachers to work together, principals need to know how to work with teachers to structure and facilitate this time so that teachers are looking together regularly at student work. Teachers need to engage in conversations about the evidence of student learning (or the lack of it) and the instructional moves that led to that learning. Beyond working with teachers to provide protocols for looking at student work, as one example of a deeper learning routine teachers might engage in together, principals and teachers need to know how to select protocols that will guide instructional conversations about student work that go beyond superficial observations of the evidence. School leaders need to support the use of protocols that will yield productive insights into teaching and learning. Furthermore, school leaders need to know how to facilitate teaching conversations that can support teachers to connect their specific insights to broader problems of teaching and learning--and then develop a strategy for tackling those broader problems.
In order for students to experience deeper learning in all classrooms, not in just a few, all schools need leaders that can create optimal conditions for teacher learning. In order to develop a cadre of principals with these skills, central offices must also know how and be able to create the conditions for learning among its administrators.
Developing leaders across the existing rungs of our educational system who can create the conditions for learning for the adults with whom they work will require:
- Re-imaging what the work of these leaders is and who these leaders are;
- Establishing opportunities for teachers to lead in schools;
- Developing new structures (e.g., routines and practices) for doing this work that supports learning behaviors over compliance behaviors;
- Creating cross-level and cross-role opportunities for two-way communication;
- Envisioning and creating new measures of what success looks like for leaders in these positions.
Some districts have paid attention to the sorts of intra-organizational processes that promote learning for instructional improvement within schools and across schools within a district. We can learn from the practices that these districts and schools have developed. For example, some districts have developed principal learning communities where principals are supported to learn in and from their school leadership, to ask questions of their leadership practice, and to identify new skills that they need to develop in order to ensure that teachers in their schools are providing students with meaningful opportunities to learn. Other districts have established structures like Principal Summits, where principals annually present their school’s levels of student achievement and plans for improving student achievement to the school board. These sorts of intra-organizational processes can contribute to the development of new learning relationships between the central office and school sites as well as between principals and teachers that are critical for developing the sort of meaningful opportunities for adult learning that are needed if schools are to become places replete with deeper learning opportunities for students.
The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply 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.