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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