Learning to Change, Learning to Innovate (Part 3)

Alberta’s high schools are changing. From structure to improved student engagement, the goal is a system rooted pedagogically sound organizational structure, quality teaching and optimum learning for students, teachers, and administrators.

How this change is coordinated, while staying true to fundamental principles and roots, is best explained by talking about complex adaptive systems.

What did researchers find?

(the 11 findings from this study will be discussed over the next series of blogs. Read about findings 1 & 2 here, and findings 3 – 6 here. This blog contains findings 7 – 9)

The following findings pertain to research question 2: In what ways do principals support teachers’ professional learning?

Finding 7: Professional Learning Supports

Continuous professional learning for teachers and for principals guided by a theory of action for change focused on improving, strengthening and deepening student learning (achievement, engagement and well-being) was supported through external and internal supports in the learning system.

Participants discussed a collective leadership and networked support structure as essential conditions for success. Supports ranged from external supports (network of other schools in the high school success initiative, Ministry, graduate studies) to internal supports from the jurisdiction to within the school and to the classroom level. Networking as a result of the provincial high school success initiative was described as a key influence on the changes and improvements to learning practices occurring in each of the schools. School principals reported a high degree of connection with other school administrators in the province who were also engaging in school improvement with a focus on student achievement, engagement and wellbeing as part of the Moving Forward with High School Redesign. Similarly, individuals from the network of schools were also cited in the survey as influencers and supports for learning improvements.

Finding 8: Collective Leadership

Principals enacted a conception of collective leadership and collective responsibility in iteratively making data-informed, research-based changes through teacher-led, teacher-driven professional learning using cycles of inquiry.

It was evident school transformation was not the result of one heroic leader or a command-and-culture style of leadership. Similarly, the literature supports a collective leadership approach is stronger than an individual leadership approach for school improvement. Seashore Louis and colleagues (2010) define collective leadership as “leadership-as-influence – and the property of the system rather than an individual” (p. 16). This shared conception of leadership was described by participants as a collaborative approach with all members taking collective responsibility in working towards adaptive outcomes. Participants recognized the strengths of colleagues and the importance of collective efforts. In a concerted effort, all members of the learning community including formal and informal leaders were involved in continually designing changes.

Principals described taking an active role in teacher professional learning by providing supports and resources as well as engaging in field study. Our findings show that highly adaptive high schools use a leadership approach based on design principles for professional learning. As a whole, learning systems require a collective, design-based orientation to leadership guided by a theory of action for change. Key attributes for principals and teachers involved in successful high school redesign include: collaborator, leader using design principles, growth-oriented and entrepreneurial spirit, dialectical and collaborative inquirer.

Finding 9: Indicators of Success

Multiple indicators of success (qualitative and quantitative) based on a theory of action for change enabled principals to lead a learning system to engage in a dynamic and iterative process of inquiry and professional learning for high school redesign.

This ninth finding suggests school leaders need to continually use data-informed, research-based, multiple indicators (qualitative and quantitative) of success as evidence to inform iterative changes during cycles of inquiry. In these highly adaptive high schools, principals and teachers reported using both qualitative (i.e. achievement results, completion rates) and quantitative indicators of success (observations, sharing success broadly) to continually inform professional learning and high school redesign.

The next blog will provide an overview of the last findings and discussion related to the third research question.

For a full discussion of the findings reported in this blog, please consult the full report of the study.


References:

Friesen, S. (2009). What did you do in school today? Teaching effectiveness: A framework and rubric. Toronto, ON: Canadian Educational Association.

Herrington, J. & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23-48.

Newmann, F., Bryk, A., & Nagaoka, J. (2001). Authentic intellectual work and standardized tests: Conflict or coexistence? Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/publications/p0a02.pdf

Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can transform learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Perkins, D. (2014). Future-wise: Educating our children for a changing world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Seashore Louis, K., Leithwood, K., Wahlstrom, K. L., & Anderson, S. E. (2010). Investigating the links to improved student learning: Final report of research findings. Wallace Foundation.

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