Too often, educators fall into the theory-practice trap. How many times have you heard a teacher say, ‘All that theory’s fine, but it doesn’t work in my classroom,’ or the theoretician say, ‘It’s a shame teachers don’t use the theory to inform their work.’ So it was refreshing to meet with a school leader who understands that good teaching involves both sides of the coin – you can’t have good practice without good theory.
Yesterday we met with Michael Fullan and Lyn Sharratt from the University of Toronto and James Bond, who is the principal of Park Manor Public School. The work James and his staff are doing to improve the learning outcomes of students is one of the case studies profiled in Fullan and Sharratt’s new book, Putting faces on the data.
I have written about this in an earlier post, but it was great to meet with James and discuss his approach in detail.
James has an interesting background. He originally trained as a teacher but when he couldn’t find a position, spent several years working in industry where he gained an insight into cultural change, particularly the application of both good theory and practical strategies to deliver sustained change.
What was really fascinating in listening to James describe his school’s approach, was the space he created to do the work – the staff learning centre – where, regardless of what teaching area they work in, teachers come together to share the data, analyse it and collaborate.
James didn’t start this work by leading a discussion on educational theory, rather he focused at the very centre of the teaching process, asking his teachers how they could improve their students’ learning.
He clearly values his staff and knew they had the answers. It was his role as the leader to help them find the answers by ‘putting faces on the data’; starting with the practice and ensuring it reflects good theory is what good leaders need to know how to do.
So what does the data look like?
There is a data panel for every student which is personalised and displayed on the data wall according to their levels of achievement in such a way that staff can see and take collective responsibility for each and every child (see below).
The data wall records:
- Student achievement at varying intervals
- Hypotheses for student performance
- Suggestions for change in teacher practice
- Verification process for effectiveness of change
Michael Fullan describes this as a powerful ‘pull and nudge’ model.
We can’t ignore the evidence of James’ student achievement data. For us it is a great example of how theory and practice come together to the direct benefit of each student at Park Manor Public School. It is also evident that his theory-practice model is changing the whole culture of the school.
Of course this approach is deeply rooted in good theory. Interestingly though, James never once referred to it.