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Everything Old Is New Again: Enacting Instructional and Leadership Shifts

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This post is by Jon D. Snyder, the executive director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).

The Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC) Project is a partnership between the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, the California Teachers Association, and the National Board Resource Center at Stanford. We formed the partnership to assist California public school educators in the implementation of the California Standards for English Language Arts/English Language Development and Mathematics as well as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The ILC supports teachers and other educational leaders to design and facilitate learning experiences for other educators in two areas: (a) improve classroom instruction via the enactment of instructional shifts; and, (b) improve the school-based learning conditions for teachers via the enactment of leadership shifts. These two areas work together to enrich and deepen the opportunities for learning that educators provide for the students and families in their care.

In a previous post, I contrasted the approach of the Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC) with several other approaches to growing professional capital. In that post, I explained how the ILC selects and supports exemplary educators to provide learning opportunities with their colleagues. Those colleagues then share their learning with other colleagues through formal and informal networks among and between all the levels of the educational ecosystem. The project uses five principles to guide its approach:

  • Using Capacity to Grow Capacity (developing the capacity of existing exemplary educators to support the development of the capacity of their colleagues);
  • Cross-role Collaboration (using all the roles and all the levels of the educational ecosystem to enrich the learning opportunities provided and increase the cohesion of the effort);
  • Institutional Partnerships (ALL of the multiple institutional players in the educational ecosystem are critical for growing the conditions necessary for successful implementation of the new California Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards);
  • Developing Knowledge and Skills through a recursive and continuous model of Learn, Do (practice, try out), and Assess (learn more deeply); and
  • Cohering and Aligning with Local Initiatives and funding sources to sustain the capacities developed for the long haul.

In this post, I address the goals of the ILC approach.

At the most basic level, the goal of the ILC is for educators to enact instructional shifts that support students' opportunities for learning the new standards--and the leadership shifts that support teachers' capacity to learn and enact those instructional shifts. Instructional and leadership shifts, however, are only tools. Unless one knows how to use a tool, the tool is of little value. Give me a chainsaw and one of my own limbs is probably at greater risk than the tree's limb.

The ILC's basic assumption is that in order to use the tools of the instructional shifts well to support student growth and development, teachers need to develop knowledge and skills in four inter-dependent areas. As if these four areas were not challenging enough individually, even more challenging, teachers must integrate and enact these four areas of knowledge and skills minute by minute in the crucible of their classrooms.

  • Students. It is an obvious (if oft overlooked) fact that teachers teach students. Thus, when ILC members provide professional learning opportunities with their colleagues, one of their primary foci is understanding, valuing, and using the strengths, interests, and needs of their students--the students as individuals as well as within the environments in which they grow and develop such as their families, their communities, and their cultures.
  • Pedagogy. When ILC members provide learning opportunities, a second focus is to have their colleagues learn by experiencing the pedagogical approach themselves, "trying it out" in their own classrooms, and finally returning to ponder with their peers what they did, what their students did, and what they can do better next time.
  • Content Knowledge. While teachers teach children, they also want the children to learn something. That "something" is better learned by students when teachers deeply understand the content and the ways in which children understand, as well as partially understand and misunderstand, the content.
  • Assessment. Normally, I tend to think of assessment as being part of pedagogy. Our CTA partners and ILC Design Team members, however, persuaded me that the changes in the assessments accompanying the new standards mean that knowing how students will be asked to display their knowledge is important enough to add as a separate (but obviously mutually interdependent) focus for teachers' work with their colleagues. This includes both formative and summative assessments with a particular focus on the four SBAC claims--as the SBAC exams will carry considerable consequential stakes for California public school children and the districts.

We asked ILC members and some of the more than 10,000 California educators who attended professional development provided by ILC members, to share the highlights of their work in the first year of the project.

  • "What was extremely rewarding for me was seeing students who typically don't speak, speak! Those students finally had a chance to interact meaningfully with texts and share their ideas as experts. We worked hard to level the playing field ...for that lesson and it was incredibly satisfying to hear from students who the teachers told me typically do not contribute ideas." 
  • "That ALL students are able to participate in academic discussions if given the opportunity. I realized that all students are learning academic language. I learned the importance of persistence and respect for the starting point of the strategy."
  • "Some of the interaction strategies for students were so welcome that teachers went to their classrooms and tried them right away!"
  • "The highlights of this experience for me were all of the teachers' enthusiasm and hunger for knowledge about the claims and the shifts. Everyone had really good questions and was really grateful, receptive, and open to even more information."
  •  "I learned to scaffold my students' learning based upon their needs and abilities."
  • "I really liked getting a chance to experience the full flow of a lesson; the level of text complexity required of my students to succeed on the SBAC. I also learned many strategies involving reading, writing, and listening speaking that will help my students understand, analyze, and synthesize multiple texts. ...  Best professional development I've seen in this district for YEARS!"
  • "Science can be a fascinating, explorative, thought provoking, inquisitive, challenging and active way of learning about one's natural world."

Of particular note is how important participants felt it was to work simultaneously on instruction and leadership shifts.

  • "My highlight was when the administrators and teacher leaders discussed the implementation of CCSS at their sites. The questions and level of understanding demonstrated the acquiring of new knowledge and an excitement for implementation."
  • "The science exploration was part of the introduction so that administrators would experience how the nature of science lessons will change with NGSS. The discussion centered around what leaders would need to do to support their teachers in implementing NGSS."
  • "The opportunity to bring together teachers and administration to train was in itself a shift. To design processes to heal and build relationships among teachers with administration was definitely a highlight. To introduce the idea/concept of professional capital was a huge highlight."
  • "It is groundbreaking to have administrators and teachers working together to implement the CCSS effectively. Professional development must be created collaboratively with teachers and administrators and delivered by teachers as well."

As I write this I am reminded of multiple conversations I had with my parents when I began teaching in the 1970s. Nearly every time I would say I had learned something new or was trying something different, they (who were both educators) would tell me whatever it was I was learning or was trying was not new or different. It was what they were learning and trying to do when they began as teachers in 1946 ... and that they had learned in their educational preparation programs before World War II interrupted the world and their professional careers (if not their love story).

Now, 40 years later, I feel I am having the same conversation with myself. What I just described feels an awful lot like what I was learning and trying to do in the 1970s. And, it is definitely identifiable as springing from the same well of teaching and learning. The difference is that, as content knowledge grows, and children and the worlds in which they develop, evolve, so too must our integration of knowledge and skills about children, subject matter, pedagogy, and assessment as we work with children and families in our communities. What is old isn't old, but rather new again as it is re-created each and every day in the profession that makes all other professions possible.

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