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Summarising "Swimming out of our depth? Leading learning in 21st century schools": Revision

  • This project started with the following general questions:  How difficult is it for teachers acculturated in 20th century ways of thinking about education and its purpose to “shift their paradigm”?Do today’s teachers have the dispositions and competencies they are being required to develop in their students—given that their schooling was not designed to develop these? 7What kinds of learning environments would teachers need to develop these competencies and dispositions? (728)
  • Today’s teachers, if they are to meet the needs of 21st century learners, need to develop what they know, but they also need to develop how they know. 11 The 21st century learning literature focuses on the need to develop students’ cognitive, inter‐ and intra‐personal capacities: however, a necessary precursor to this is that teachers’ capacity for, and awareness of, their own learning needs to be developed. (628)
  • Twenty‐first century teacher professional development needs to combine and integrate individual and organisational development: it needs to build individual learning, but it also needs to focus on individuals working together—to build their current “community of practice” as teachers, but also to move forward together in “learning communities”. 12 Our starting point for this project was that 21st century professional learning environments need to provide opportunities for teachers to work together in “communities of practice” and in “learning communities”. (1077)
  • In the Leading Learning project our aim was to explore the extent to which three case study schools have been able to provide opportunities for teachers to participate in communities of practice and learning communities. (596)
  • We were interested in finding out how school leaders are thinking about the learning environments they are creating for their staff, and how teachers are experiencing these learning environments. 12 13 14 See Fullan (2005) and Earl and Hannay (2009). (645)
  • We interviewed the leadership team and some teachers in each school to gather information on the leaders’ thinking and the teachers’ experiences of their professional learning environment. (578)
  • We also looked at the schools’ documentation to see how important teacher professional learning is in each school, how it is linked with other aspects of school operation and what kinds of learning are emphasised. (725)
  • We observed several professional learning sessions at School A, but only one session each at Schools B and C (however, a researcher attended a conference for teachers run by staff at School B). (699)
  • The teachers we interviewed also identified other professional learning opportunities—including attending conferences and courses, speakers coming into the school, tutor teacher meetings, informal discussions and reading articles and research reports. (605)
  • The school commits to providing staff with professional learning which “affects their practice” and the inquiry cycle for teachers is considered the core focus of professional learning. (787)
  • For example, the school sets the direction for professional learning (related to the focus of the wider school improvement cluster), but staff have considerable flexibility in designing and carrying out their own inquiries. (564)
  • One teacher said that this was a very innovative school and that was the main reason she had stayed there. (This school has several teachers who were first employed as beginning teachers and have stayed on. ) Teachers said that they felt the learning environment they experienced as teachers in the school was similar to the learning environments they provided for students in their classes. (1273)
  • The school’s vision revolves around the following themes: 16  the school as a community of learning with the student at its centre  a school culture based on adult relationships and social connectedness  a learning environment that uses a mix of learning modes, spaces and approaches  interdisciplinary teaching teams and projects/topics  a commitment to developing the whole student within an ICT‐rich environment. (857)
  • Three of the teachers interviewed were experienced teachers (one of whom was new to the school), and two were second year teachers (one of whom was also a professional learning team leader). (631)
  • It gets me learning. ” For the five members of the senior leadership team, the professional learning environment is the key to ensuring their school stays at the forefront of 21st century learning. (760)
  • Both the senior leadership team and the teachers at the school say that the most valuable professional learning takes place in the four weeks at the end of the year when all students are on examination leave. (572)
  • Other professional learning opportunities during the year are similar to those in other schools (attending workshops, conferences and university courses; observing and showcasing good practice in specialist subject and cross‐curricular areas; whole‐staff workshops instigated by staff inquiries; staff feedback from conferences; and professional learning for leadership roles from senior staff). (757)
  • The sessions we observed included strategies for mixing people in groups. 19 The teachers we interviewed said that the school’s open teaching spaces were a model for how students will work in the 21st century, but they also said that they provided important professional learning opportunities for them. (558)
  • An additional spin‐off of this arrangement is improved student behaviour: as one teacher put it, “Modelling the behaviour wanted works for students as well as for teachers. ” Overall, the teachers at School B were very confident of their knowledge of 21st century learning and were comfortable about sharing this, hosting an Emerging Leaders “unconference” at the time we were working in the school. (814)
  • The school has developed its own unique model of learning, described on the school website as follows: In this model another whole body of legitimate knowledge sits alongside what is mandated in the national curriculum or ‘School Learning. ’ We need to value this ‘Self Learning’ just as highly as we value academic learning. (794)
  • In addition, two NZCER researchers attended the first day of a youth symposium held at the school for Years 12 and 13 students. 20 20 Although not formally a teacher professional learning session, the principal considered this symposium (which had been collaboratively planned) was a good example of how “learning from each other” is integral to the way the school works. 13 School documentation related to professional learning—such as the school’s “critically conscious, culturally responsive teacher profile”, and teacher evaluations of a recent conference—were also made available to us. (1003)
  • Both the leadership team and the teachers described a well‐developed professional learning culture at the school: in fact the principal said, “I like to think everything we do is professional learning. ” Some teachers are enrolled in postgraduate courses (funded by the board of trustees) and, at the time we interviewed her, the principal had nearly completed her PhD thesis (which, she says, “describes the school’s journey”). (843)
  • Members of both the leadership team and the teachers group we interviewed thought the principal’s professional learning had provided learning opportunities for them as well. (600)
  • Professional learning at this school involves much more than ongoing development of teachers’ professional knowledge of “best practice”. (519)
  • At this interview, teachers mentioned the same professional learning opportunities as those discussed by the leadership team, although they initially focused mainly on specific events—such as the conference run by the school, and courses or professional development run by outside providers. (661)
  • According to the recent Ministry of Education‐commissioned Best Evidence Synthesis on teacher professional learning and development, successful programmes have the following features:22 22  They are consistent with wider policy trends and research.  They provide extended time for teachers to engage with new ideas and their implications for practice. (524)
  • All three schools used external experts, but went about this rather differently: School A has an external literacy adviser “embedded” in their literacy professional learning; School B invites outside experts in on an as‐and‐when‐needed basis; while School C said that they had difficulty sourcing appropriate professional learning from outside providers, but that they do use them, adapting what they learn for their context. (968)
  • Teachers at all three schools participate in a wide range of other professional learning activities, and all felt they had some freedom to choose professional learning opportunities that met their individual needs. (728)
  • All three schools are actively involved in developing initiatives to meet their needs: School A was recently involved in running a conference for all schools in their School Improvement cluster; School B ran an “emerging leaders” conference in the school holidays; and School C brought social justice educators from overseas to a conference for their school community. (936)
  • Teachers at all three schools also talked about the informal learning opportunities available to them: teachers at Schools B and C spoke of the benefits of open plan teaching spaces where they could observe each other teach; and teachers at School A saw informal discussions with colleagues as useful learning opportunities. (985)
  • At all three schools, teachers were committed to providing the best possible education for their students, but their conceptions of what the “best possible education” involves differed substantially. 16 At School A the focus of the teacher professional learning programme was on being better teachers of literacy and numeracy. (833)
  • When asked to compare the professional learning she received at school with learning in other parts of her life, this teacher said her professional learning was like her experience of being coached at netball. (832)
  • They were well structured and often modelled techniques that teachers might use with their students. 23 However, in the teacher interviews and our observations of the sessions, we saw little evidence of teachers thinking deeply about the “bigger picture” of their work: for example, about the purpose of schooling and/or ideas about “21st century education”. 24 In the interviews, teachers said that they “don’t think much about the ‘big picture’—the leadership team do that, and they let us know what is important” or “we have plenty of opportunities to think about the ‘big picture’ but I’m not that keen”. (650)
  • Milne (2009, p. 5). 17 We began this project with the assumption that effective 21st century professional learning environments need to provide opportunities for teachers to work together in “communities of practice” and in “learning communities”, and that the aim of these communities should be to assist teachers to “re‐situate” themselves as learners. (621)
  • A ‘learning whanau’ would look very different to a learning community and I think we have a learning whanau—where individuals, linked through whakapapa or kaupapa, work together to fuse new learning with old learning, retaining cultural ‘ways of being’, so change is shaped and supported from a mindset that benefits whanau first and doesn’t come from an individual perspective. ” These are interesting ideas that will help as we push our thinking further. (734)
  • Drago‐Severson (2007, 2012). 18 (adult) transformational learning—or growth of mind—that is the objective of learning communities. 29 These practices include:  scaffolding different forms of adult collaborationcreating contexts in which adults can articulate their thinking through writing, speaking and/or actinguncovering assumptions and beliefs that guide thinking and actionshaving opportunities to discuss ambiguities, contradictions and faulty reasoningenvisioning alternative ways of thinking and behaving  considering alternative points of view. 30 In the case study schools we saw a few examples of individuals engaging in these practices,31 but few instances of individual teachers being engaged in the kind of slow, reflective, ruminative thinking that is the basis of creativity and innovation. 32 The teachers we interviewed (in each school) expressed, not a range of different views and perspectives, but a level of certainty, a commitment to a “one right answer” that was surprising, especially in the two schools that are actively challenging the status quo. (816)
  • In particular, we think further discussion is needed on the concept—and putative benefits—of learning communities in school contexts, and on the kinds of school leadership required for teachers—and students—to thrive in the 21st century. (522)

Online summariser2

Tessa Gray

Enabling e-Learning online facilitator. I'm excited about the prospects of the VLN and how it can bring like-minded people together online. I am here to help promote discussions and share effective practice.