This week in my exploration of ISTE Teaching Standards with my graduate program in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am examining ISTE Teaching Standard 5 in an effort to understand how teachers can…
“continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources.”
Embedded in this standard is the indicator for teachers to…
“exhibit leadership by demonstrating a vision of technology infusion, participating in shared decision making and community building, and developing the leadership and technology skills of others.”
This standard immediately make me think about my previous post on ISTE Teaching Standard 3 in which I explored collegiality and collaboration among educators. Collaboration of any kind is an important global skill that takes advantage of unique perspectives and expertise, while also being an effective method of adult learning (Morel, 2014). It is one that we need to be fostering in our own students, so it is important that we develop and model this ability ourselves. EdSurge reported that “Teachers consistently say they learn best from their peers” (2014, p. 8). In my previous post on collaboration, I used the word informal at times to define a collaborative experience that is less about attending a training guided by a top-down approach and more about working with colleagues to experiment and offer reciprocal feedback. My professor, @RobinHenrickson, guided me to consider my use of the word informal, as it can connote practices without norms or protocols. I realized that my past year of effective collaboration that I shared in this post utilized norms, whether I knew it or not. My colleague and I followed an inquiry model for implementing new practices or technologies, we offered each other feedback and support, and we respected each other’s expertise. So, as I approach ISTE Teaching Standard 5, I am now wondering how leadership can play an important role in the effectiveness and sustainability of collaborative professional development. How can I expand upon the success I’ve had collaborating during this past school year and work to lead a model that engages and benefits more of my school community?
What role do teacher leaders play in establishing effective collaborative practices focused on Ed tech?
Role of the Teacher Leader
So what does a teacher leader look like? Research on this topic led to me a variety of lists, such as “How Teachers Lead Teachers,” which outline the qualities, skills, and requirements important in a teacher leader. Interpersonal skills, as well as strong content and pedagogical knowledge are both important. The ability to facilitate group processes, personalize learning for educators, and identify as a lifelong learner alongside colleagues are other commons threads I read about. While these general lists started to help me answer my question, I found more concrete answers from expanding my research.
Fairman and Mackenzie determined some key strategies for leadership based upon their case studies across seven schools. They found that modeling, coaching and advocating were key aspects of effective teacher leadership, as well as modeling a commitment to the practice, an openness to alternative ideas, and a willingness to take risks (Fairman & Mackenzie, 2015). Additionally, they stated that it is necessary to offer support as teachers practice with new ideas, and participate in a team that advocates for change, while building trust and a collegial climate (Fairman & Mackenzie, 2015).
Fostering Teacher Autonomy & Personalization
We continue to hear that the role of teachers is shifting from “a sage on the stage to a guide on the side” as technology makes increasing information available to students, thus reducing the need for content expertise from teachers. The shift to a culture of student autonomy in the classroom is no less necessary in professional development. Therefore, a teacher leader should similarly foster colleagues taking an equal role in the collaborative practices. In this same vein, when professional development is dictated by districts in a top down approach, the teacher is loses ownership in the process (EdSurge, 2014). If the autonomy is put in the hands of the educators, interest is created, relevance is supported, and ownership over professional development is established. It is apparent that leaders must ask what teachers are eager to learn about, in addition to what they can share to inspire new learning amongst one another.
A teacher leader who establishes teacher autonomy simultaneously personalizes the learning. Often professional development is in a model that necessitates logging time spent in training. Of course, this is also the model of how we school students. Students must spend a year at each grade level to determine mastery of content and skills. As we know, this doesn’t always benefit students who are different places in their learning. The same can be true for educators in professional development. Certain trainings can be unnecessary for teachers who are already proficient. These teachers may desire training not offered because it is beyond the proficiency of the critical mass. Alternatively, a teacher on the other end of the spectrum who needs additional support might find the same to be true. Professional development is often offered to meet the needs of the majority. EdSurge reports that “The biggest shift for PD Systems of the future will involve shifting their focus to recognizing when teachers gain proficiency or mastery, rather than measuring how much time they spend in a workshop or whether they complete an online course” (2014, p. 9). The goal then is for a teacher leader or facilitator, to create a collaborative environment that not only welcomes, but encourages personalized opportunities.
A belief in autonomy and personalization has led to the growth and success of “unconferences” such as EdCamps. While structured, these less formal methods of collaboration thrive on the contributions of participants. Teachers learn from one another, instead of a speaker. Additionally, topics of interest are decided upon in real time. In a study by Fairman and Mackenzie on teacher leadership, they found that “informal leadership had greater potential than formal leadership to influence improvement in teaching and student learning” (2015, p. 73).
Building Relationships, Collegiality & Trust
Teacher leaders must also work to establish trust between members of a collaborative team. Building trust requires a mutual respect and a recognition of each person’s unique talents, and expertise (Fairman & Mackenzie, 2015). Fairman and Mackenzie reported that educators in their study, “voiced appreciation for the instructional skills and knowledge of others” (2015, p. 74). The U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology report, Connect and inspire: online communities of practice in education, stated that “Learning is a social activity” (2011, p. 8). We learn from one another through talking, asking questions, taking supported risks, and receiving helpful feedback (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). Learning about new methods of instruction, digital tools, or 21st century skills requires experimentation, inquiry, and, sometimes, even failure. It is important to be in a setting in which mistakes are okay, and constructive feedback supports the inquiry process. Solid collegial relationships allows both the expert and novice alike to belong and feel respected for individual contributions (Fairman & Mackenzie, 2015). Teachers who experience an exchange in support with other educators are more likely to develop new skills, to develop norms for collaboration, and are quicker to compliment one another (Fairman & Mackenzie, 2015, p. 78).
Presenting Oneself as a Lifelong Learner
Often, teachers do not like to think of themselves as leaders for fear of tarnishing collegial relationships (Fairman & Mackenzie, 2015). Part of establishing a culture of equality is recognizing one’s role as a lifelong learner alongside those being lead. Therefore, a leader must share vulnerabilities, past failures, and the desire to continue one’s own learning and growth. This acknowledgement positions a leader to push colleagues to influence and support (Fairman & Mackenzie, 2015).
What Might this Look Like?
Understanding the important components for a leader pushes me to envision what this might look like in my own school. I foresee hosting a monthly session, in the vision of EdCamp, in which attendees suggest topics of interest to share and collaborate on. Time would be provided for teachers to experiment and practice new ideas or tools. Additionally, teachers could bring what they’ve learned from their own inquiry and experimentation to subsequent sessions. An online community could allow teachers to receive immediate feedback as needed. Finally, weekly, optional drop-in sessions for teachers to ask questions, or get support could be beneficial. My video at the top of the post outlines my vision for leading monthly sessions of this type of collaborative professional development.
My own district’s professional development requires a lot of paperwork. Colleagues have told me that they sometimes find this so cumbersome that, while they attend, they don’t finish the paperwork necessary for compensation. Additionally, this system can feel more like a means to an end, checking boxes to accumulate a total of hours, as opposed to learning about topics of interest and relevance. Finally, the need to complete hours of training sometimes means that less time is available to utilize more collaborative and personalized methods of professional development.
Fairman, J. C., & Mackenzie, S.V. (2015). How teacher leaders influence others and understand their leadership. International Journal Of Leadership In Education, 18(1), 61-87.
Margolis, J. (2009). How teachers lead teachers. Educational Leadership. Volume 66, No. 5 February Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb09/vol66/num05/How-Teachers-Lead-Teachers.aspx
Morel, N. J. (2014). Setting the stage for collaboration: an essential skill for professional growth. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 81(1), 36-39.
U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology. Connect and inspire: online communities of practice in education. Retrieved from http://connectededucators.org/report/files/2011/03/0143_OCOP-Main-report.pdf