What does it mean to lead learning?
At no other time in the history of education do we have such a powerful opportunity–given federal policies such as Race to the Top and now ESSA–to redefine instructional leadership in our schools and focus on how and when students are engaged and learning. We know that for students to be cognitively engaged and to construct new understandings, our classrooms must be dynamic, challenging, individualized, and highly supportive.
How do we support teachers in this work?
To support teachers in the creation of these learning environments, instructional leaders must view themselves as teachers of teachers. Just as in our classrooms with our students, we know that ongoing feedback is one of the most impactful ways to influence learning–and is a known factor in the growth of teachers. However, the quality of the feedback matters.
Current observation and feedback practices often reinforce supervision and evaluation as an inspection model–versus a blending of these two essential leadership practices. As a result, teachers are provided lists of evidence or summaries of their actions. These do not promote reflection or efficacy and rarely influence teaching practice or levels of students’ thinking and understanding. Instead, feedback must feed forward and should be based on a growth model focused on student learning in classrooms and professional learning for a teacher.
How do we create feedback that feeds forward?
Based on John Hattie’s research, just as with our classroom learners, feedback to teachers should ensure a clear understanding of:
- Where am I going?
- How am I going?
- And where to next?
Feedback providing the answer to, “How am I going?” should be rooted in a teacher’s impact on engagement and learning. Teachers must recognize effectiveness through the lens of cause and effect relationships occurring during a lesson (e.g “Because you created the learning criteria with the students and modeled how to use the rubric, students were successfully self-assessing to improve their essays…”).
“Where am I going?” and “What’s next?” should reflect expectations not just for teaching, but learning outcomes—helping a teacher see how additional or alternate actions and choices would serve to increase (or continue to increase) student ownership, engagement, and understanding.
What do leaders need to make this shift in practice?
Providing teachers with this supportive feedback requires a fundamental shift in how leaders observe and collect evidence. It requires that leaders analyze the evidence, rather than just give a summary of events witnessed. The shift requires a new skill set, one for which leaders have received little to no support either through pre-service or on-the-job training.
To lead learning, instructional leaders must master three core competencies:
- Effective observation and evidence collection with attention to the learners
- Explicit analysis of teacher effectiveness
- Development of high quality feedback
This is the focus of our new book, Feedback to Feed Forward: 31 Strategies to Lead Learning, arriving on the shelves this July (perfect summer reading!). Though there is power in verbal feedback, we aim to help leaders capture, organize, and process evidence, and craft written reports–steps necessary to engage in a highly impactful conversation. You can read Chapter 4 to find three targeted strategies that enable a leader to:
- Determine Student Engagement Levels
- Determine Teacher Impact on Learning
- Determine Teacher Impact on Engagement