Many Priority and Focus Schools have made substantial progress in delivering high-quality instruction to all students. Sustaining those strategic improvements and building on the momentum for change is now a principle interest, and developing instructional practice and cultivating leaders is the ambition of every educational organization.The MSU Office of K-12 Outreach works to help all K-12 schools and districts continue to grow their collective capacity by leveraging their own assets.
Developing the collective capacity of schools and districts is what author Michael Fullan states in his book, All Systems Go (2010) as, “the team, the group, the organization, and the system working together to get better” (p. 43). For schools this means creating a “strong sense of partnership between the district and schools, across schools, and between schools and the community” (p. 43). As districts and schools work to sustain and make further improvements in instructiol and leadership, here are some ideas to promote learning among educators at district and school levels.
At the district level this can be achieved by empowering school leaders to: establish clear purposes that become widely shared; give priority to the improvement of instruction; provide flexible, meaningful, and just-in-time professional development for both administrators and their staffs; and collaboratively interpret data and use it as the basis for making decisions (2010).
At the school level, principals should facilitate job-embedded professional development where teachers themselves demonstrate content or strategic expertise; one example includes teachers “modeling lessons in one another’s classroom on a monthly basis” (p.46). This will strengthen the network of teaching within a school setting and facilitate coherence in instruction minus the punitive aspects of evaluative measures. Furthermore, teachers can collectively monitor student work to check for understanding and identify where additional areas for professional development might be necessary. In addition, teachers can establish class and student profiles to identify high-yield strategies as well as students who may need additional support.
Recent study tours of schools in London, England showcased the importance of leveraging the collective capacity within a school. In the U.K., administrators all teach at least one class and every teacher is responsible for some aspect of the professional development within the building. This often includes departmental or school-wide development sessions on content-specific instruction led by a teacher who has expertise in the subject area. In addition, teacher-led demonstrations of instructional strategies that the school has identified as a strategic priority for their school can build school-wide coherence of instructional practice.
In other circumstances, exhibition of collective capacity can play out in cross-school networking. As observed in schools in the U.K., New York City and Boston, reciprocal visits by administrators of different schools can improve leadership practice in both settings, allowing them to learn from one another. Likewise, teachers can learn from having a “fresh eyes” on their instructional practice when teachers from other schools visit classrooms and provide detailed analyses of their observations. This cross-sharing allows for a broader view on what is occurring within a school or a classroom from a vantage that isn’t directly tied to the source.
To summarize, identifying success in classrooms and school leadership and then learning from what has prompted that success can pay dividends for educators desiring to improve practice. Learning from colleagues who have had success can immediately influence the application of those strategies. Michigan schools and districts can and should leverage the skill sets and strategies of successful teachers and leaders from within—creating a sense of shared responsibility for professional development. Furthermore, these same schools and districts should seek to develop collaborative relationships with successful schools and districts in order to examine what professional practices might be beneficial to adopt in their own classrooms and buildings.