To better meet the needs of today’s learners, more and more school systems are shifting away from traditional teaching practices. Some schools are engaging students in more meaningful, real-world learning experiences through project-based learning. Others are embracing makerspaces, design thinking, gamification, blended or personalized learning. Many schools are mixing and matching these learner-centered approaches to pursue their unique vision of 21st century education.
In researching All Together Now: How to Engage Your Stakeholders in Reimagining School, I interviewed school leaders from diverse contexts who are guiding ambitious school change efforts. Their choice of instructional strategies varies along with their context. What remains constant across diverse settings—from small towns to urban districts to international schools—is the understanding that lasting change requires collective effort.
In particular, school leaders stress the importance of sharing leadership with teachers who will be at the tipping point of any change effort. We know that without teacher buy-in, change initiatives seldom move beyond wishful thinking. Yet most teachers continue to feel that their voices are not factored into the decision-making process at district, state, or national levels.[i]
Here are four field-tested strategies for sharing leadership when it comes to school change initiatives.
- Transform staff meetings into learning opportunities.
Instead of using meeting time for announcements or administrative details that can be addressed online, use staff meetings to model and reinforce the instructional practices you want to see in the classroom. If your school is implementing PBL, for example, frame staff discussions with an open-ended driving question. If your school is embracing design thinking, invite teachers to suggest design challenges (such as: How might we reduce student absenteeism or tardies? or: How might we make better use of library space?). Then use design thinking to work toward solutions that everyone can endorse. If you are introducing a new technology tool or application, give teachers a “tech playground” experience to try it themselves in a low-risk setting. Invite teachers to plan collaboratively for how the tool could support specific learning goals. Be a learner alongside your teachers to model risk-taking and collaboration.
- Deprivatize teaching.
Make it safe for teachers to literally open the doors on their teaching methods and invite peer observation and feedback. Simple as this may sound, it can be challenging to “deprivatize” the classroom. As a leader, anticipate any barriers. Solutions might be structural, such as providing subs so that teachers can make visits to other classrooms. Barriers might also be psychological; teachers may feel vulnerable about sharing their practice with colleagues. Remind them that the purpose of classroom visits is not evaluative. It’s a strategy to help good ideas travel. Market the idea as classroom field trips—for teachers, by teachers.
- Identify and encourage early adopters.
Keep your radar up for teachers who are ready to run with new instructional practices. Encourage these early adopters by inviting them to share a lesson or strategy during a staff meeting (or to host a classroom field trip for colleagues). Visit their classrooms yourself and share evidence of what you notice with photos, emails, tweets, or student reflections. Create incentives for early adopters to serve as teacher leaders for peer-to-peer professional learning.
- Shape and share your new story of learning.
Are you the lead storyteller for your school or district? This is an important but often unrecognized role in school change efforts (identified by edublogger Silvia Tolisano). The new story of learning that’s taking shape in your community is too important to leave to others. Be strategic about shaping and sharing compelling examples of teaching and learning. Help parents and other community members visualize why school change is worth the effort. Eric Williams, superintendent of Loudon County Public Schools in Virginia, uses his Twitter account to good advantage to showcase effective instruction. The hashtag #onetotheworld or (#OttW) is a reminder of his district’s vision for transformative learning, which was shaped by stakeholder engagement. Good storytelling keeps stakeholders engaged, and their engagement keeps change efforts on track for the long run.
[i] Rentner, D., Kober, N., & Frizzell, M. (2016). Listen to us: Teacher views and voices. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Downloaded from file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/RentnerKoberFrizzell_Report_TeachViewVoice_5.5.16.pdf