Leadership and Learning

These are the thoughts relating to the ACEL paper “Leadership and Learning” by Douglas B. Reeves.

The structure of the paper is:

  1. Leadership matters
  2. Leadership is inclusive
  3. Leadership can be taught and learned
  4. Conclusion


1. Leadership Matters

– Leadership actions matter not only with regard to measurement of student achievement, but particularly for gains and that leadership will improve student achievement. IN fact, when teachers/leaders start believing that they are able to make a difference, then they will. Believing you can and then regular and effective monitoring of the progresses are major factors in the efficacy of educational leadership.

– Improving standards can be achieved through: a. early, frequent and decisive interventions, b. personal connections with students who are failing, c. parent connections, d. peer tutoring, e. managing students choice with clear intervention, f. Assisting in school – not relying on homes for support, g. reforming student grading, feedback and so enhancing motivation.

– Another set of strategies for ensuing that leadership makes the difference it should is to a. standardise the expectations in the classrooms, b. use stronger internal than external assessments, c. address any culture of defeat and replace with a culture of relentless enthusiasm and confidence, d. “Effective instructional leadership depends upon recognising and rewarding professional excellence and , when necessary, sanctioning ineffective practice.

2. Leadership is Inclusive:

From Plato to Hemlock, all agree that “teaching and leadership are inseparable qualities” and so the challenge is to overcome the challenges presented between teachers, leaders and political authorities in a way that allows (and encourages!) us to nurture, challenges, encourage and develop every student in our care!

Reeves makes it clear that data, research and training all affect the performance of teachers, but moreso is the impact or influence of other teachers and the advice they give. Are we comparing (judging) our allocation to the improvements in teaching/learning? The challenge then is make greater use of job embedded professional development and to evaluate our results based upon the observable impact on professional practices and student results.

Reeves also makes a direct connection with the level of expectations. Many times research (and teachers) say that when expectations are raised, students reach them. The same can be said for teachers and leaders. Expect great things from your teachers/leaders and they will achieve them. My experience supports this when identifying setting standards for new staff to a school – it is easier to set high standards and the staff achieve them – despite lacking the experience of the idiosyncrasies of the school (and sometimes the experience in teaching).

When teachers engage in action research, teachers have a greater impact on student achievement, they impact their colleagues and they improve their effectiveness and many other teachers improve as well.

3. Leadership can be taught and learned.

Reeves suggests that leadership can be taught and learned. I would suggest that people have the gift of leadership or “natural ability” to lead. I would say that both are correct. People who have the gift of leadership must still learn and develop the practices and skills of leadership. Similarly, those who are not natural leaders can still learn leadership skills and practices. In the same way that there are teachers who are “naturals”, they must still be taught the craft and skills of teaching, but they may develop quicker/further than the person who is not a natural teacher.

An area that needs to be addressed in terms of leadership potential and action is what Reeves refers to as “…the ‘implementation gap’ – the chasm that separates intent from action.”. He identifies the following as areas for development:
Time: Allocation of time linked to priorities for the school (e.g. literacy)
Meetings: The effective us of meetings, not for administrative announcements, but for focusing on student learning, creative teaching strategies, collaborative scoring etc.
Teacher Allocations: Do all students have equal opportunity to receive an education from the best teachers we have? Or are the strongest teachers on the weakest or strongest classes only?
Professional Development: Must focus on what to teach, how to teach it, how to meet the needs of individual students and how to build internal capacity to accomplish the previous goals.
Collaboration: We must allocate time for teachers and leaders to collaborate.

How do we close this implementation gap? Reeves again suggest 4 strategies:
Create short term wins/goals: Give more feedback/information/marks etc
Display effective action research: Show and share what staff are doing well and embed the good practices through collaboration.
Distinguish popularity from effectiveness: Encourage the implementation of tested effectiveness rather than the latest “gimmick”.
Make the case for change: quickly and effectively and for good reasons, not just for compliance! (This is a sad indictment on the current system of inspections for non govt schools which focuses on the planning – not learning – and reaching compliance – not excelling)

4. Conclusion:
The way that Reeves concludes his discussion is interesting in that there will always be exceptions, but we do need to look at the research and follow the advice that research is providing and utilise leadershipt o improve learning.

This article is by Douglas B. Reeves and was presented for the William Walker Oration, October 1, 2008 on behalf of ACEL.
ISSN: 0 813 5335

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Cultivating Student Leadership

Cultivating Student Leadership

By Larry Ferlazzo
Premium article access courtesy of TeacherMagazine.org.
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The Harvard Education Letter recently ignited a “buzz” in education circles with a report on four longitudinal studies that tried to identify common childhood characteristics for people who became leaders as adults.

Cultivating student leadership has been a critical part of my classroom practice for the last eight years. I became a high school teacher after spending 19 years as a community organizer. One of the primary reasons I made the switch was that I had witnessed adults making dramatic positive changes in their lives because of the leadership skills they had learned in organizing. Wouldn’t it be better, I thought, if people developed these abilities when they were younger?

Here are a few of the strategies that I employ to nurture student leadership:

Develop Power

“Leadership is the wise use of power. Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it.” -Warren Bennis, scholar, author, and pioneer in leadership studies

You really can’t be a leader without having power, which most dictionaries define as “the ability to act.”

One way to have power is by feeling a strong sense of self-efficacy—a strong belief that you can accomplish your goals. William Glasser calls this quality the “power within.” Differentiation strategies, including the ones shared by Katie Hull-Sypnieski and me in this space last month, can help to build students’ self-efficacy.

Teaching students about learning strategies can also strengthen self-efficacy. This is different from teaching skills. Being able to turn on the car’s ignition is a skill, but if you’d lost your car keys, you’d need strategies. We can help our students gain the capacity to tackle unforeseen problems by emphasizing comprehension, not decoding; using inductive learning to ask students to identify patterns and not always explicitly telling the “rule” in advance; and helping them learn to categorize information instead of just listing data.

We can also introduce students to what community organizers call “relational power” when we use cooperative learning activities and invite as much participatory democracy in the classroom as possible. We can be more open to students’ ideas about how our classrooms look and where students are seated. We can even let students grade their own work—which can work surprisingly well. I have had students grade their own work during my entire teaching career: 90 percent of the time I have left the grade as is, 5 percent of the time I’ve raised it, and 5 percent of the time the student and I have jointly decided to lower it after a discussion.

Glasser suggests that 95 percent of classroom management issues occur as a result of students trying to fulfill a need for power. Power is not a finite pie. When we share power with our students, it doesn’t mean that we “have less power” —but it can mean we’ve created more possibilities for learning and leadership.

Enhance Intrinsic Motivation

The studies described in The Harvard Education Letter identified intrinsic motivation as a key childhood characteristic among adults who became leaders. I’ve previously sharedvarious actions teachers can take to improve students’ intrinsic motivation. For example, we can build relationships with students so we can learn their self-interests, hopes, and dreams, and be better prepared to more explicitly connect lessons to them. We can praise effort and specific actions more than intelligence. And we can encourage cooperative learning. (Read about additional strategies here.)

Explore the Stories of Leaders

A substantial amount of recent research has found that reading stories—fiction or non-fiction—can promote empathy and alter behavior. I have my students read short examples that demonstrate leadership and we use them as opportunities for literacy instruction and for exploration of leadership characteristics that connect to students’ own lives. For example, we have read stories highlighting Martin Luther King’s emphasis on developing relationships, Cesar Chavez’s willingness to take risks, and Nelson Mandela’s sense of vision.

Teach Others

Good leaders also teach others. You may have heard of Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Experience”: “We learn 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we say or write…[and] 90% of what we teach.” Though the research behind this statement has been discredited, many leadership experts (including William Glasser) still quote it often because they say it reflects their personal experiences. I agree. And, of course, numerous other respected studies have found peer-assisted learning to be very effective.

Teaching others not only requires students to reread and return to learned material but it also enhances self-confidence and provides good modeling for peers. When employed effectively, this strategy can help students develop the kinds of relationships that are critical for genuine leadership that moves people into collective action. When peers teach one another, they develop respect for each others’ judgment and expertise. After all, how can someone truly be considered a leader if they do not have a following?

“Teaching others” can be implemented in the classroom in multiple ways. Small groups of students can teach short lessons to other small groups, who then reverse roles (in my experience, this set-up works far better than having small groups teach the entire class). Alternatively, individual students can prepare short clozes (fill-in-the-blank statements) and then exchange them, keeping in mind that their statements need to be carefully designed so that their peers can use context clues to complete them. The well-known “jigsaw” concept—in which students become experts and teach each other about a topic in small groups—is yet another useful method. When a lesson includes a cooperative learning activity, I try to identify unofficial “leaders” for each group and have private conversations before the lesson and “de-briefings” afterward with them.

Take Action On Community Issues

We can also develop student leadership by creating opportunities for students to take collective action to improve their community—addressing issues that matter to them. For example, when my class of English-language learners was studying for the U.S. Citizenship test that many would be taking in the future, they went beyond what would be “on the test.” They explored what it would take to be an active citizen (not just a citizen in legal terms). One of the criteria for active citizenship, the class determined, was to be engaged in improving the community. But how to begin? How do we decide what issues are most critical to our communities? Students decided they wanted to learn about other community members’ greatest concerns.

Each student initiated conversations with 10 other people, including students in and outside of the class as well as adults within and outside their families. They sought answers to these questions:

• What is this person interested in? How do they spend their time? What gives them energy?

• What goals does this person have for next year? Five years from now? Ten years from now?

• What does this person worry about?

• What other concerns about the community might this person have?

Through the process, students identified a lack of jobs as an issue that they wanted to work on, and they decided to focus on job-training opportunities. They invited representatives from a variety of programs to a meeting at the school, then spent class periods role-playing and planning. They contacted their interviewees, convincing a crowd of 150 to attend a multilingual gathering led by students.

Here are some of the students’ post-project reflections:

I felt pride in myself because it is not that easy to speak in front of so many people.

I felt important and good for speaking in front of people.

When I saw so many teachers, parents, and friends get together in the meeting, we had more power.

I learned that I can speak in front of a lot of people and do it well even if it is not in my language.

Community organizing and education have very similar goals. Rene Cardenas writes that the purpose of community development has never been to build a road or improve a park but “to teach others to teach themselves, to learn how to learn, and to evolve from a history of dependence … to one of independence and helpfulness.” That’s exactly what I’m trying to do in my high school classroom: cultivate tomorrow’s leaders.

Larry Ferlazzo teaches at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif. A Teacher Leaders Network member, he has written several books on education, including English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work, from which this article is adapted. He also writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher.