BEST PRACTICES

The development of learning communities and effective collaborative teams is essential to creating a culture of ongoing learning that will result in continuous improvement of instruction and improved student achievement. However, although most teachers are cordial and friendly with colleagues, collaborative teams that discuss improving student achievement through a focus on topics such as standards for learning, assessment results, and improvement of instruction are not the norm.

Learning communities, per se, do not just happen – they must be cultivated, nurtured, and realized in a collegial environment of sharing and collaborating among adults first before presenting new, complex curricula to students in classroom and lab contexts. The new leadership emphasizes a facilitative approach and abandons the traditional hierarchy of doing things. Commitment and unity among staff is not easily achieved, and new leaders invoke motivational and transformational strategies to grow school unity, coalescing and reassuring staff in the school-wide, learning process. Creating a center with a culture focused on community learning remains paramount in improving student learning and achievement. Nothing is more pressing and penetrating for school leaders in their quest to promote a responsive, learning environment; routine tasks like fixing leaky faucets and ordering office supplies will have to take the back burner and justifiably so.

Observably, a culture or learning eases teachers and staff into continuous, learning arrangements with school leaders taking the lead in assembling and orchestrating the learning agenda in their most important function as instructional leaders. Sound, instructional leadership is the key for school leaders, and it begins with school leaders, their visions, and their involvement and visibility in promoting pedagogical changes and improving student learning. In a real sense, new leaders must exude curricular expertise and become sophisticated eclectics, which are good at virtually all things and great at some, with academic and professional polish. Leadership in schools will seem leaderless at times, facilitating instead of directing, be less threatening and more supportive for teachers. Administrators will function as powerful resources for instructional excellence. The result is a better trained and more resourceful, educational leader than ever before. Hence, a culture for learning emerges from the laborious fruit of a conducive, learning environment – everybody wins!

Specific to improving student learning and achievement is the laudable work of teacher-leaders as the necessary catalysts that take where teachers are and mobilize them to new, curricular heights. Teacher-leaders, with the support of school leaders, transform teacher groups into a community of adult learners where new learning is encouraged and highly revered. In this context, teacher-leaders take the lead in teaching other teachers to learn new techniques, skills, and refreshing attitudes about the importance of improving the learning environment. The ambiance of adult learning communities provides teachers with close, pedagogical proximity with peers, affording teachers opportunities to question, discuss, and model new learning in a non-threatening, supportive environment. As a positive result, adult learners working in learning communities keeps school leaders in-the-loop, where they should be, and close to student learning by facilitating, modeling, and reinforcing successful, learning strategies.

Research clearly portrays adult learning communities in schools as the winning formula for the new leadership in creating cultures and centers for community learning. Unfortunately, some teachers can create barriers to new learning in subtle ways. Relevantly, Pamela Terry Godt (2005), a professor of reading who teaches “Leadership in Reading,” tells us:
Teachers may fear changes and new ways of doing things for a number of reasons. They may be afraid of showing their incompetence for these new ways of doing things. For example, when computers were new in schools, many teachers were initially afraid that they might break them if they hit the wrong key. None of us wishes to expose our inadequacies in ways which might open us up to ridicule –not by our supervisors, our peers, and especially not by our students! We do not want to be seen as unqualified to teach (p. 78).

Godt (2005) recommends the following: 1) provide lots of training; 2) discuss people’s fears and concerns and help resolve them; 3) support one another; and 4) permit mistakes when trying something new (p. 78-79). Along the same line of thinking about creating adult learning communities, Jamie McKenzie (1998) writes:
Integrating new technologies into the daily of the classroom requires such skill and courage that it simply will not happen across the board in all classrooms unless safety nets are constantly and conveniently available. The integration challenge is more about attitude and spirit than skill…We must reconceptualize professional development so that we create learning cultures which make change and growth a daily reality (p. 1).

Inclusive adult learning environments can be realized when school leaders make the full transformation to prioritize learning as number one and recognize learning as the only thing, above all else. Until that commitment becomes real and authentic in day-to-day, school operations, a major shift in professional practices will continue to suffer, reverting to old ways and resisting new learning!

-Al Bruno

References:

Godt, Pamela Terry. “Leadership in Reading,” Illinois Reading Council Journal, Winter
2005, Volume 33, Issue 1.

McKenzie, Jamie. “Creating Learning Cultures with Just-in-Time Support,” eSchool
News, April 1998.