One of the unique benefits of working in an international school is the opportunity to engage with a mix of cultures. One of the challenges is the drawing together of a diverse staffing demographics. Raising student achievement is the goal of each individual teacher.
While there is diversity within the student population it is also true within the teaching population. Given the research ( declaring the constant turn over of staff within international organisations of between 20-25 percent each year, the need for continuous induction of staff reveals a number of challenges for the principal and leadership team of the school. How do you sustain learning and not “waste” time inducting and re-inducting staff?
As explained in an article titled “Raising Student Achievement: The work of the Internationally Minded Teacher” (which can be found online at the International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change) the challenge for leaders in the international sector is to continue to meet the learning needs of educators. A targeted professional learning program is required. More precisely, a collaborative professional learning program. One that is focused on improving teacher practice more than learning how to implement a “program” of instruction.
This is where the coaching and mentoring aspect of the leader’s role comes into play.
Recently I finished re-reading one of my favourite reference books by Fullan and Hargreaves, “Professional Capital – Transforming Teaching in Every School”. It has, as its central message, putting teachers and teaching at the forefront of school improvement. Through the path of breaking down the barriers of classroom isolation and engaging in a collaborative culture of learning, raising teacher status will improve student achievement.
Without doubt we need to set the bar higher in our schools and I believe this starts with the teacher. Even a poor teacher will inevitably produce some improvement in students’ learning over a year. What role does the educational leader of your school play? Are they visible? Do they complain of bureaucratic endeavours hiding behind their desk (is the door open?) or are they in the trenches along side their colleagues. There are many views on the role of the educational leader in the contemporary learning environment but the high performing schools have the teacher at the heart of providing an effective learning platform.
Fullan and Hargreaves discusses the need for colleagues to work more collegially and to bring leaders to account for their actions. They urged teachers to become a true pro. Not just a good teacher. This is where you need a strong educational leader to nurture the talents and guide the professional learning.
Educational leaders need to be focusing on the things that our best teachers do which make a difference to student learning. Its simply not best practice in expecting teachers to improve by handing resources to them. Professional learning is an active intention not a passive one and needs active engagement by all members of the school. Improvement, and more importantly, sustained improvement comes from teachers thinking differently about teaching and learning. It is having professional conversations about their practice, learning from each other and then implementing the teaching strategies that work.
Re-reading “Professional Capital” reinforces my view that the unfortunate reality is that many schools still promote leaders based solely on performance in roles vastly different from the one they’re being promoted into. Unfortunately, with less aspiring leaders about, too often managers are thrown into executive leadership duties without the skills and guidance required to excel.