Friday, February 27, 2009

Teacher leadership

Over the last few months I've been thinking a lot about value-added and distrubuted leadership (Sergiovanni, 2005), and I'm becoming more convinced that the key to improved student achievement is through teacher leadership - teacher leadership not by position but by ability.  That is, if a teacher exibits an ability to lead, then she should be given the choice, responsibility, authority, and support to do so.  Teachers should be given a choice to take on leadership roles as opposed to some top-down directive.  If they so choose to take on a leadership role, they should be held accountable for carrying out this new role.  Similarly, they should be given a level of authority in order to make decisions without fear of failure.  Finally, taking on a new leadership role without the proper support can lead to futile attempts towards implementing change.

In language learning, for example, curriculum, assessment, and instruction can all benefit from teachers taking on leadership roles.  In an effort to eliminate using the book as a syllabus, teachers collaborate in determining what understandings, knowledge, skills, and dispositions learners should have upon completing a given language course.  In addition to establishing the what and how of a language course, the when, where, and from whom become equally important as language learners become more selective in how they obtain information via the internet, for example.  Building their own personal learning environment (PLE) - both online and f2f - becomes a vital part of being a continual learner.  The PLE thus evolves as the learning grows and emerges as a more proficient user of a new language.

Designing common assessment through teacher leadership is an additional way for improving student achievement.   Informal discussions, instructional conversations, tests, academic prompts, and performance tasks (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) are all examples of both formative and summative assessments that can result from teacher collaboration.  Although common assessments may be similar in design, the way in which they are implemented within instruction will vary depending on the teaching style and class profile.

Finally, walkthroughs, clinical supervision through peer review, and team teaching are a few ways that teachers can take on leadership roles for discussing "best" practices.  Instead of subscribing to a single teaching approach, method, or technique, certain learning principles are contemplated in a way that respects individual teaching practices while still providing the basis for continual improvement.  

Creating leaders among faculty transfers well to the classroom as well.  Language learners should be encouraged to exercise their strengths when learning a new language and should be given a level of choice in what, how, when, where, and from whom they are to learn.  Responsibility, authority, and support equally become part of the process as well depending on the given teaching context.  When one considers all the actors that make up the educational environment (i.e., administrators, faculty, students, parents, and the community) one realizes that the change process embodies a constant shift between teacher, leader, and learner roles.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Identity and language

Elfina wroteThis example is a good one [identifying idioms] to show in terms how much our cultural environment determines who we are, what culture we belong to and what cultural values we share. We all share our common cultural inheritage but of course we have our own cultural traits.

Elfina, your research on idioms interests me. When I read this statement, however, I wondered if by identifying the meaning of an idiom necessarily means that one uses it or identifies with it. Does your research include which idioms speakers use in everyday speech as well? I´m interested in your thoughts

I think the question of identity is clearly marked between cultures, but even within cultures as well. My identity differs depending on when I´m with my friends, family, workplace, etc. and my language reflects this identity - for better or for worse. When people interact, perceptions are formed based on the language they use; there is this attempt for the speaker to project a certain message and then there is the interlocutor´s perception of the message being transmitted. Even within native speakers, this attempt and perception can be at odds - for language learners it can be even more so.

I would argue that language is our best attempt to communicate or transmit our identity and not so much as a determinant of our thinking or identity. Perhaps this might be the case in brief instances, but with time and clarification, I feel our truer identities reveal themselves even if several language attempts are necessary. In other words, I think what other people have to say is more of a determinant of our thinking and identity than what we say ourselves.

This is an interesting discussion and I look forward to hearing from others. I also reserve the right to change my mind (smile).