We only think when we are confronted with problems.

John Dewey

The title of the article comes from a quote by John Dewey [1859 – 1952] an American philosopher who is widely renowned as a leader in the progressive educational reforms of the 20th century.

At this week’s leadership meeting, the first for 2008  we spent some time talking about instructional leadership and what that means for principals and team leaders. In my opinion the research evidence that instructional leadership has a greater impact on student learning than other styles of leadership [eg transformational] is now very compelling. The problems confronting us as leaders today included what strategies or innovations do we focus on and do they promote teacher conversations and reflections about teaching and learning that will make a difference with student learning.

As a starter to the conversation we looked at Professor John Hattie’s work on the effect sizes of various strategies on student learning. John spoke at the ASCD conference in Sydney last year as well as internationally in Hungary and is currently at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His presentation can be downloaded from my resource list. John has a definite view from his research, which uses a very substantial data base of students in mainly OECD countries on what strategies or innovations have a larger and more positive impact on student learning. His presentation challenged us to list in effect size order some innovations and strategies. There were some surprises here eg class size with an effect size of 0.2 as compared to teacher feedback and teacher – student relatonships at 0.72. His research on students repeating a year was confronting at -0.15. John in his presentation makes the point that class sizes is a working conditions issue and that by itself does not directly improve student learning.  

John also made the point that we need to set challenging goals for students and then provide specific feedback to students in terms of positive aspects of achievement and what needed next. However this is sometimes more easier said than done in an overcrowded curriculum where teachers are trying to teach multiple outcomes at the same time.

Anne Hamond, an educational coach we use to support teachers in the teaching of English [student writing focus] makes the point continually that we need to make explicit goals [one or two] for each lesson for the initial whole class instruction period or teaching group and provide feedback on those goals to students. That’s achievable!

Team leaders therefore have the responsbility when planning in teams to make these teaching points explict in the planning documentation and follow up conversations around student work at their next meeting. This is part of the work of instructional leaders. Our aim is to increase the percentage of time teachers spend talking and reflecting on teaching and learning from what some researchers have plotted at between 3-10% of their time per month to 50 – 70%. Then we can say we have a learning culture. 

We are also trailling the use of reflective journals for all teachers. Our intention is to make time during meetings for the purposeful act of writing reflections about teaching and learning at EPS. More on this later in the term. When thinking about reflections I’m reminded of a quote by Margaret J. Wheatley 

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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