written by Marilyn Gwilliam, Principal Papatoetoe Central School
In our schools as we work towards our student achievement goals, it is emerging that an important way ahead is for teachers to work much more closely together.
Like the students they teach, they themselves need to be 21st century learners, building their knowledge of teaching and learning in their daily work. Teachers are important knowledge creators and more than ever, they need to be sharing their insights about their professional practice.
In pretty much every successful organisation, it is generally teams working well together that create and achieve the overall success. Effective teaching teams in our schools can provide a rich environment in which teachers can share what has worked for them in relation to student achievement, and the reasons for the successful outcomes.
Such teams can also provide the forum for the sharing of complexities and concerns. The resulting discourse that arises when issues are debated and theories are challenged helps the team to develop as an authentic learning community in itself.
Effective teams also work together in a mutually supportive way. They don’t name and blame their colleagues for what should have been done, but rather they develop a positive mindset in a spirit of appreciative inquiry. A truly professional team learns with, from and on behalf of each other, to achieve the optimum levels of achievement for their students and to support their own ongoing professional learning.
Donald Schon (1930-1997) was a philosopher, but is remembered for his work in the development of reflective practice and learning systems within organisations. Significantly, he was also a talented jazz pianist. This interest in improvisation and structure was reflected in his academic writing, especially in his research related to a professional’s ability to “think on their feet”.
His legacy of the importance of reflective practice in the daily lives of teachers continues to inform the way many of them do their work, both individually as they teach, and collaboratively as they work in their teams.
Schon suggests that “our knowing is in our action”. This involves making decisions about what actions to take based on the “soup of knowledge” in our heads. This sometimes goes hand in hand with a more conscious approach to what we do, which Schon calls reflection-in-action.
It is inspiring to observe our teachers consciously reflecting and evaluating their own professional decisions and actions and to hear them discussing and critiquing these with their colleagues. The reasons for teams of teachers to work cohesively are very compelling. Time taken to ask for advice from each other, to trial strategies, to use data to inform next steps and to share in the outcomes is time well spent.
As the move to data driven improvement processes takes deep hold in our schools, it is more important than ever to create and sustain reflective teaching and learning teams.
All educators agree that schools should do everything they possibly can to ensure success for all students. The debate about what this success looks like continues to be an interesting debate. Many believe that not everything needs to be measured, graded or assessed.
Most teachers have a deep understanding of their role in supporting the social and emotional development of the students they teach as well as their academic learning. These go hand in hand as we know that learning is highly emotional, that it takes time and it is different for everyone. The context for learning has to be right, it has to be respectful and teachers have to know their students really well.
The Right Tracks
When students feel that they are valued, that their teacher cares and is interested in them, they are on the right track. This involves teaching and learning programmes that are carefully planned, challenging and structured at the right level. When students attend school regularly and achieve incremental success, teachers can build on this engagement and feel rewarded when they see their students flourishing.
When teachers work collaboratively, positively and productively, with a clear vision and passion, they are on the right track. When teachers within a reflective teaching team know, understand and share in the learning of all students in the team, not just their own, everyone benefits.
When schools are doing absolutely everything they possibly can, utilising all available resources for the achievement of each and every student, they are on the right track.
Finally, when senior leadership teams, led by effective principals develop and maintain a culture of support and challenge for both staff and students, they are definitely on the right track.