26 SES 06 B, Leadership for Learning – New Insights from Research and Practice
There is increasing evidence that leadership on all levels in schools matters to the success – or failure – of students (Marzano 2009; Robinson et al 2008: Leithwood et al 2010). According to Hattie’s (2013) synthesis of research both school leaders and teachers should consider on improving key aspects of teaching and instruction as, for example, the extent to which teachers are providing their student with feed-back, teachers’ use of mutual strategies, teacher-student relation, the management of classrooms, and the general quality of teaching in school. Arguing that teachers’ approaches to teaching matter (Solbrekke and Helstad 2016), these significant instruction strategies explain what the quality of teaching in the classroom means. However, both practicing leaders and leadership scholars are questioning how leadership, and in this case, teacher leadership, influence student learning (Spillane 2017).
The purpose of this paper is twofold; 1) to explore the meaning attached to the widely used phrases as “leadership for learning” in classroom environment, and 2) to search for possible characteristics to how leadership plays out in classrooms where students are actively engaged in learning. Teaching is called `the core technology of schooling`, and, as Cohen (2011) notes, teachers can create opportunities for students to learn through instruction - yet students most do the learning themselves. How we conceptualize teaching is thus significant; if we conceptualize instruction narrowly as purely cognitive matter we may reduce the fact that teaching is a multi-facet and a complex endeavour. Teaching is about more than learning subject matter or cognitive skills; it is also about social, emotional and moral matters.
This paper is in line with Spillane (2017) who argues for a distributed perspective which implies that in order to understand how leadership may improve education we have to focus on the practice of leading teaching. On this backdrop we argue that we need to learn more about how teachers lead teaching in a practice characterized by uncertainty and improvisation. Despite the fact that leadership dimensions are always present in the practice of teaching little is written about teachers as leaders.
According to Spillane (2006, 2017) leadership refers to activities related to the core work of an organisation that is designed to influence the motivation, knowledge, and practice by participants. In a distributed perspective practice is about interactions among leaders and followers, as among teachers and students which mean that leaders (teachers) do not only influence followers (students), but followers are influencing leaders in their interactions since practice is framed as a product of the interactions. As Spillane (2017) argues practice is constituted in the interaction rather than in the action of an individual teacher. Hence, individuals without any formal leadership roles may be engaged in and responsible for leading and managing practice. While instruction often is reduced to something the individual teacher do – as a solo project- or equivalent to a teacher’s behaviour in the classroom - other researchers have theorized instruction in a different way, foregrounding its distributed, situated, and collective nature as a practice. Ball and Cohen’s (1999) conceptual work on instruction is particularly informative here: They argue for framing teaching as a practice that is coproduced by teachers and their students on and with particular intellectual (e.g., mathematics, language arts) and physical material such as curriculum and texts. Framing instruction this way, it is no longer just a function of the teachers’ skill and knowledge but also a function of students’ knowledge and skill and indeed key aspects of the situation such as the intellectual material being taught and learned and the materials that are being used for instruction (Spillane 2017).
Spillane (2017) argues that one problem we face in educational research is that concepts are often weakly defined. Loose concepts pose problems because they contribute to unclear research if concepts such as `school leadership`, `management`, or `instruction` are not explicitly defined. On this backdrop the methodology includes examinations into the definition and conceptualization of the term “teacher leadership” combined with a case study. As teaching is primarily social and should be studied in context we decided to include an observation of teaching in practice since leadership practice is the key unit of analysis in a distributed perspective (Spillane 2006). The case emerged within the frame of a larger Swedish–Norwegian project (2012–2015) which explored student experiences with learning academic literacy in different teacher education programs. We applied a longitudinal, ethnographically inspired research design (Alvesson & Sköldberg 2000) that included interviews with students and teacher educators as well as observations of classroom practices. First, we carried out focus group interviews with 18 student teachers. Through these interviews, we learned that the teaching design of two teacher educators, one in pedagogy (Otto) and one in mathematics (Hege), stood out as significant to students’ learning. Thus, we interviewed these two teachers individually. Second, one group interview with the two teacher educators and one group interview with students who had demonstrated experiences recognizable among most students were carried out. Listening to both the teacher educators’ and the students’ reflections helped us gain more insight into various aspects of teacher leadership. In turn, this helped us become more aware of how these teachers enacted leadership in their teaching and how the students interacted with them and each other. We observed the teacher educator in mathematics, Hege, for one day in Spring 2017. The particular class we observed consisted of 26 students, who were in their first year of the teacher education program. The teaching sequence we observed was followed by contextual interviews (interviews that took place right after the observation) with a selected group of four students. In addition, we interviewed Hege immediately after the observation of the teaching session. The three-hour-long observation was recorded and captured through rich field notes. Collectively, the data provides us with examples of how teacher leadership may play out in practice. In addition the data consists of a review of the literature of teacher leadership within the classroom.
The elaboration of ‘leadership for learning’ in combination with the exploration of a teacher educator’s practice, have contributed valuable insights into how leadership in classroom settings may look like. By offering a glimpse into the teacher educator’s classroom, we demonstrate how planning for teaching is necessary, yet never the same as practice. Educational quality implies – from the teacher’s perspective - holistic and relational thinking, not least the ability to improvise and stimulate students’ learning by using tools and routines that encourage students to engage in processes of learning. Never abdicating from her role as a formal leader, while at the same time giving students leadership roles, Hege maintains as the director of the learning processes by enacting leadership through a varied teaching design (Helstad og Øiestad 2017). Her teaching approaches are highly student-centered, yet with a continuous focus on the students’ learning of the subject. By urging students to articulate, collaborate and negotiate meaning when struggling to find solutions to both disciplinary tasks and pedagogical challenges, Hege engages the students in distributed leadership of both individual and collective learning. In sum the study brings forward an understanding of how leadership for learning may work, yet also opens up for what emerges in practice. While this paper mainly contributes with an exploration of the meaning of the concept “leadership for learning” and how it may look like in a classroom setting, the paper also demonstrates tools and routines associated with this term in practice and investigations of a teacher who demonstrates leadership in her classroom. The paper brings forward a nuanced way of thinking about teacher leadership where tools for leadership are strictly linked to processes of learning.
Alvesson, M., and K. Sköldberg. 2000. Reflexive Methodology: New Vistas for Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publications. Cohen, D. K. (2011). Teaching and its predicaments. Cambridge, MA: Harvard College. Cohen, D. K., & Ball, D. L. (1999). Instruction, capacity, and improvement. Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Hattie, J (2013). Visible Learning for Teachers London, UK: Routledge Helstad, K & Øiestad, P.A. (2017) Læreren som regissør (The Teacher as Director. Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk. Leithwood, K., Patten, S., & Jantzi, D. (2010). Testing a conception of how leadership influences student learning. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46(5), 671–706. Marzano, R.J. (2009). Classroom management that works – research based strategies for every teacher. New Jersey: Pearson Education. Robinson, V. M. J., Lloyd, C. A., & Rowe, K. J. (2008). The impact of leadership on student outcomes: An analysis of the differential effects of leadership types. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44, 635–674. Solbrekke, TD & Helstad, K (2016) Student formation in higher education: Teaching approaches matter. Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 73–94 Spillane, J. (2006). Distributed leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Spillane J. (2017) Leadership and Learning: Conceptualizing Relations Between School Administrative Practice and Instructional Practice. In: Leithwood K., Sun J., Pollock K. (eds) How School Leaders Contribute to Student Success. Studies in Educational Leadership, vol 23. Springer, Cham
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