Leadership of Professional Learning: School Leaders
Maureen O’Rourke and Peter Burrows, 2010
School leaders have a critical meta-strategic practitioners in community so that students
role to play in shaping culture and ethos and as become learners capable of participating in, key enablers of effective professional learning contributing to and understanding their within schools. We use this term to include all contemporary world.
members of the formal leadership team of a
school. This is the team that works with and As for other leaders of professional learning, supports the principal to determine and lead school leaders can use the Locus of Power in
the direction of learning at multiple levels Learning to both locate the existing balance of within the school community and beyond. They practice and to shape the desired direction for ‘orchestrate’ they way learning occurs within future development.
the school community and provide the
necessary scaffolds and opportunities that
enable all learners (students, teachers, teacher
leaders, parents etc) to learn and work
together in community.
School leaders need to know how to build
leadership and learning capacity together with
deep understanding of what constitutes
effective professional learning and what kind of
learning matters most (for students and
teachers). They are responsible for shaping the
climate and culture of their schools through
enactment of their values, the stance they bring
to their work and the way they allocate time In the context of school leadership of and resources. The three areas of knowledge professional learning, developing the and professional practice we have identified as professional knowledge and know-how of worthy of priority attention to more teaching staff is always a priority, as research consistently amplify strong leadership of has clearly linked this to impacts on student learning were: learners.
1. Culture and ethos shaping School leaders cannot do this alone. Their
broad challenge is how to build internal 2. Meta-strategic approaches and learning
capacity for leading and learning, so that a infrastructure
school community is capable of addressing the
3. Enabling leading for learning needs of diverse learners in a contemporary
world. School leaders face the added challenge Together these three areas of knowledge and of leading in contexts where what constitutes practice constitute a holistic, meta-strategic ‘valued learning’ is a continually shifting and approach to leadership for learning that is changing landscape as new technologies primarily focused on building the capacity of reshape the face of literacy, new learning the school to be the best it can. The intention is research emerges and political priorities affect to create the conditions in which teachers public perceptions of school effectiveness. become sophisticated and knowledgeable
The granting of ‘agency’ to other leaders within their school is very much influenced by the
mindsets and values school leaders bring to one noting that their role was ‘extremely
their work, together with their beliefs about important for impact on our students’ learning
what it means to lead in community. Affording and our teams ability to teach and structure others greater agency so that they increase learning suitable for our students’. Another
their levels of self-determination, choice and noted: ‘Professional learning needs to be decision-making also means sharing power. For targeted to student and teacher learning needs some school leaders this has been most and aligned with school, network, regional and rewarding and enabled them to enact change system goals’. Whilst it is reasonable to argue beyond their initial vision. For others, the that student learning was in the back of many affording of greater agency to colleagues was other respondents minds, is that where we something they were working towards as they want it to be?
established ways to build capacity and
1. Culture and ethos shaping professional knowledge and know-how. They
recognized that there could be no productive 1.1 Identifying what is important to learn, and agency without commensurate balance in how best to learn relation to these other elements.
How do learners learn around here? This crucial Schools are better able to serve their diverse question is one for the attention of school learners when they establish negotiated leaders as they consider how learners at all internal accountabilities, strengthen their levels (students, teachers, teacher leaders and internal capacity to lead professional learning parents) are provided with opportunities to and create the conditions for teachers to learn in community in light of contemporary expand their knowledge and know-how. This goals for education. School leaders co-create provides the basis for increasing the levels of and communicate a compelling moral purpose agency that can be afforded to teachers as and vision for learners which is enacted through respected professionals who are equipped to their professional stance and way of being in work out what is best for student learners. community (Hargreaves, 2009; Kaser & Halbert, Balancing attention to all four interdependent 2009). Values are also enacted every day in elements and working out local needs and relationship with others and by what school readiness in light of the associated continuums leaders choose to attend to – and reflect the assists school leaders to identify the broader symbolic dimension of leadership (DEECD, direction of future practice as well as 2007). Shaping culture and ethos means that immediate next steps. there must be razor-sharp alignment between
what school leaders say is important and what When 63 school leaders were prompted to they show is important through their everyday consider their role - ‘Over the past couple of actions. Changes wrought in culture and ethos years, I've come to see my role in leading are ‘sticky’ and sustainable (Fullan, 2003; professional learning as.... ‘ the responses Gladwell, 2000). ranged between taking a practical to a more
strategic view of the role. James is principal of a large suburban
secondary college. Although students in his The most common responses to this prompt school perform well on external measures, were framed around personally facilitating or he was concerned by internal data that providing professional learning (23), setting a indicated they were not as engaged or vision, focus or direction (15), planning and challenged as they could be. Also, during his organizing professional learning (7), facilitating visits to classrooms, he noticed that or being a member of a team with collective students were often passive in the learning responsibility (8), and coaching or mentoring dynamic. He wanted to see more active others (6). pedagogies in everyday practice Only five respondents mentioned students or James decided to create a learning circle student learning, directly or in passing. Just two with his three assistant principals and people made an unambiguous link between invited an external learning partner to join professional learning and student learning – the group. James believed that if he was to
ask teachers to become active learners and developing the capacity of teacher leaders inquirers into their practice, then the to lead discussions about designing leadership team needed to model this. The curriculum for deep thinking and team commenced their work together by understanding and the implications for identifying areas of interest that they pedagogy and assessment. And a final wanted to learn more about. Their initial strategy attended to the organisational questions were mainly new forms of challenges of timetabling and resources that professional learning for the school, such as enabled staff to learn in these new ways. peer coaching, collegiate observation,
Crowther et al’s research (2009) identified Lesson Study and amplifying the work of ‘envisioning inspiring futures – by enacting moral one team in the school where data indicated courage, intellectual ingenuity and well-significant increases in student engagement developed collaborative capabilities’ (p. 75) as a and achievement. key ‘metastrategic function’ of the principal
which shapes culture and ethos. Similarly, Following several inquiry sessions with their
research with high performing principals who external learning partner and some
successfully transformed their schools (Kaser & additional ‘taking stock’ in light of their
Halbert, 2009) identified a leadership mindset initial inquiry questions, the leadership team
characterised by ‘intense moral purpose’ as a identified a sharper focus for their learning.
disposition enacted by these principals. While they saw peer coaching and classroom
observation as a methodology to assist them
We asked Victorian professional learning to achieve their vision, what they really
leaders about the extent to which school wanted to see were students being provided
leaders had defined high aspirations, with opportunities for high order thinking, a
expectations and priorities for student learning teaching focus on the development of meta-
and linked these to the professional learning cognition and increased rigor in the work
goals and content of teacher learning: students were being asked to do. They also