Canadian principal George Couros spent last week sharing his ‘connected’ learning with our teachers and leaders. Several school leaders said they felt ‘inspired’ after hearing George talk so passionately about his students, profession and his professional learning.
The workshops with George and our Principals Masterclass may look like ‘stand-alone’ or ‘one-off’ events but they are actually part of a learning continuum that began seven years ago. The mere fact that our leaders have an opportunity to collectively engage in deep conversations on learning is powerful learning.
At the start of the 2012 school year, we set our collective focus to ‘learning by inquiring’ – how we could engage in the inquiry and knowledge building cycle within schools and across the system. It builds on the work of Helen Timperley by responding to the emerging needs of ‘our class’ – whether it be school leaders, teachers or learners. It requires a commitment to engage in continuous learning through collective problem solving and data analysis to improve the learning outcomes for each student.
For me, the principals masterclass was a high point in this journey to improve learning and build capacity. When we started we relied heavily on outside experts but last week we had our own leaders sharing their learning. Although the context of the school communities may be different, there is a shared vision that transcends physical and virtual borders.
As I listened to the keynotes, three things became clear. The first is we are beginning to get the language right – we are crafting a new narrative shaped by the best of what we know when it comes to improving learning and teaching. The second is we are developing greater precision around the work by getting rid of the ‘noise in the background’. We are focusing on the things that make a difference – the high effect strategies to drive change where it counts most. Thirdly after listening to our school leaders, we are now seeing tangible evidence of building teacher capacity and its impact on student engagement and learning. It’s starting to make a difference.
All of this leads into new areas for discussion and new ways of working but we are doing this together. In the past we’ve “intellectualised” the process of improvement but ignored the implementation process. Competing narratives haven’t led to sustainable change – the discussion was broad and shallow. Yet what I saw and heard last week was a significant shift at the point of delivery – system leaders working with school leaders working with teachers – everyone as George said ‘elbows deep in learning.’
If there is one thing that resonated with me when listening to George it was the importance of modelling the what, how and why of what we do. It challenges us to lead in the way we ask our leaders to, teach in the way we ask our teachers to and learn in the way we ask our students to.