Artifact: Principal Interview
Communication and collaboration with parents, colleagues, and the community is an integral part of Explorer Community School, where I have worked the past ten years. Therefore, my experiences in this area have been very extensive and have shaped the type of teacher I am today; one that welcomes and values open communication and collaboration as tools to improve achievement and the school experience for all Explorer students. In addition, I value the way my experiences have continually improved my professional practice. This program provided an opportunity for me to better understand my school’s functioning by applying the theoretical concepts that I learned. The program has also brought to light ideas that I plan to pursue in the future.
Teacher Leader Realizations
At Explorer, a three classroom / three teacher, multiage choice school collocated at a campus with a neighborhood elementary school, there is a lead teacher position that receives an extra stipend. Within Explorer, the three teachers work highly collaboratively and flexibly, with the leadership role being fluid between the team depending on the nature of the task or activity. We believe that we are all lead teacher at various points during the year and therefore, we split the stipend and give no one teacher the title. Hilty (2011) introduced me to a broad definition of teacher leaders, and it was interesting to compare that definition to our current functionality. The definition is “teacher leaders lead within and beyond the classroom; identify with and contribute to a community of teacher learners and leaders; influence others towards improved educational practice; and accept responsibility for achieving the outcomes of their leadership.” (p. 6) Reviewing this definition allowed me better recognize all the ways we are teacher leaders, even beyond our shared lead teacher role at Explorer. We are teacher leaders because of the broader roles we play on the entire campus and in the school district. One example is parent-teacher-child goal setting conferences, which Explorer has done for many years. These conferences are done in place of the traditional parent-teacher conference and build a stronger collaborative bond between teachers and families on behalf of students. Our model for these conferences supported the entire district, when it adopted this approach a half-dozen years ago for all elementary school conferences.
Reviewing Hilty’s definition of teacher leaders also helped me realize that we are not fully engaged in a community of teacher leaders beyond our own campus. With all of the rich and excellent experiences we have available on campus, we are missing an opportunity to grow as professionals by not connecting more with teachers at the other choice elementary schools. We have had periodic meetings, and they have always been very beneficial, but we have never established a routine or an ongoing collaboration with these other strong and similar teaching teams. I would like to establish a more regular connection in the future. These meetings would provide a strong context-based learning opportunity, also referred to as situated cognition by Hansman (2001) who stated that “the core idea in situated cognition is that learning is inherently social in nature.” (p. 45) Our social interactions and discussions of our practice would bring to light new ideas for all involved in the meetings.
Many of the ideas I studied and considered while preparing my plan for staff learning (see Artifact: Staff Learning Writing Instructional Strategies) will impact future efforts that I pursue. A big one was how important providing a variety of learning modalities is to a successful program. For the program I developed, self-directed learning opportunities were an essential component. Pilling-Cormick (1997) described self-directed learning as “an approach where students have control over their own learning process,” (p. 69) and “an active process in which students determine the information or skills they need, and acquire it.” (p. 71) Giving staff an opportunity to engage in some self-directed learning, and then having them share the results of these efforts, can enrich any program. I will continue to include such opportunities in my future learning projects.
The interview I did with our administrator (see Artifact: Principal Interview) reinforced a couple of concepts I had not considered fully when thinking about implementing campus-wide learning opportunities. The first was how much logistics impact decisions related to implementing staff learning opportunities. Between mandated trainings, union contractual requirements, and the need to honor teachers’ time, it became clear that there were only small windows available to provide training to teachers that would be widely accessible. Our administration mentioned these constraints repeatedly during the interview. In the future, I will need to take these limitations into consideration if I want to make sure learning opportunities I am involved in are maximally accessed by teachers.
Missing Book Studies
Our readings in Zepeda (2013) allowed me to identify many of the ways we already learn and collaborate in groups. Our current practice uses elements of critical friends groups, lesson study, learning circles, action research, and portfolios which are all given dedicated chapters by Zepeda. Action research, where teachers plan, act, observe, and reflect in a cyclical manner, is an area where our teaching team is especially strong. We are currently engaged in an action research project related to keyboarding, an area where we believe our students have been inadequately supported in the past. We looking forward to seeing if our new, researched instructional practices help students improve their keyboarding fluency and accuracy.
While current group practices are very beneficial, my attention was called to something I missed that I had done in the past, book studies. Zepeda described book studies as “a form of individually guided professional development that allows a small group of teachers to meet to have discussions centering on a topic and a book that gives insight about an area of professional interest. Book studies promote conversations among teachers and other school personnel.” (p. 190) I had a great experience in a book study at our campus several years ago. This book study related to brain learning and its application to the classroom, but because the administrator has not continued to organize these book study groups, I have not been in another one since. I plan to both ask my administrator if I could organize a book study at our campus, and to seek out other book study opportunities related to education. I often find that deep reading related to a topic, combined with focused discussion about the reading results in transformational learning, “which can occur gradually or from a sudden, power experience”, and it “changes the way people see themselves and their world.” (Baumgartner, 2001, p. 16) My reading related to brain learning had a transformational effect on my teacher practices. I look forward to the next “aha” moment that I experience during a book study, and I will look to advocate or even implement book study opportunities for staff in the future.
Overall, I am thankful for the many ways I am able to experience excellent communication and collaboration, and I look forward to continuing to expand my range of experiences so that I continue to grow as a teaching professional and a teacher leader.
Baumgartner, Lisa M. (2001). Context-Based Adult Learning In New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 89 (pp. 15-24). New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Hansman, Catherine A. (2001). Context-Based Adult Learning In New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 89 (pp. 43-51). New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Hilty, Eleanor B. (Ed.). (2011). Teacher Leadership: The “New” Foundations of Teacher Education. New York: Peter Lang.
Pilling-Cormick, Jane (1997). Transformative and Self-Directed Learning in Practice In New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 74 (pp. 69-77). New York: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Zepeda, Sally J. (2013). Professional Development: What Works. New York: Routledge.