Earlier this week I attended a showcase of work, undertaken by about 30 schools in the Sydney Catholic schools sector. The work was focused on improving learning for students in Years 5 to 8 (middle years) in mathematics. I was impressed by the quality of what had been achieved and more importantly by the quality of the thinking of teachers.
The work commenced last year under my leadership until I changed jobs in July. What was exciting was seeing the growth in teacher confidence and their capacity to engage in the professional problems they are faced with in mathematics.
For a while now I have been of the opinion that school improvement is essentially about improving the quality of learning. At the heart of this are teachers. This sounds obvious.
The challenge for me is how to connect teachers in authentic ways with improving schools by improving learning.
Some of my thinking was sharpened when I attended a range of sessions at the 2003 International Congress of School Effectiveness here in Sydney on teacher-led development work. It was there that I came across David Frost from the Leadership For Learning consortium at Cambridge University who had done some interesting work in the area. In 2006 I was fortunate to spend a week with David Frost and his other colleagues Judy Durrant and Gary Holden. (Resources below)
What appealed to me most about the framework was that it connected teachers' professional learning interests with student needs and the school’s identified needs. Often I found that action research remained at the realm of “teacher hobby” often undertaken by a passionate and dedicated teacher, but frequently in isolation from the school’s improvement agenda.
Teacher-led development work allows for rich, context-based learning. It is a process that builds teacher capacity through strategic engagement in professional problems with a focus on school improvement at the classroom/learning spaces level.
Underpinning the teacher-led development process are:
- Action research approaches to professional learning
- Reflective practice
- Evidence-based school improvement
- Teacher leadership.
It was great to see the results of two years work by teachers in using teacher-led development work in building their capacity to lead improvement through the mathematics projects.