Leading Professional Practice

"Think photo album, not snapshot...thinking like an assessor...means considering an array of evidence that will show that our efforts have succeeded” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2007, p. 230). Linking evidence to success implies connecting effect data with cause data through leadership and learning that can be represented in the following four ways:

  • Lucky: good results with no understanding of the reasons; replication of success not probable

  • Losing: poor results with no understanding of the reasons; replication neither probable nor desirable

  • Learning: poor results with clear understanding of the reasons; replication of mistakes not probable

  • Leading: good results with clear understanding of the reasons; replication very probable” (Reeves, 2010, 17).

Thus, assessing the development of teachers and determining the “relational support and social capital” Sergiovanni, 2005, p. 69) needed emerge through the collection of ongoing evidential learning as it becomes an overall learning ecology. Formal learning, experience, mentoring, performance support, self-learning, community-based learning, and informal learning act as types of learning in a learning ecology (Siemens, 2006) that each hold special support requirements needed in order for teachers to be successful. That is, being successful occurs both at the level of each individual teacher as well as at the level of professional learning community, both of which are ongoing and have an iterative and reciprocal effect on each other as they relate to improving student achievement.

Currently, the teaching profession experiences enormous gaps between what teachers expect and what they receive when it comes to professional development (Wei, Darling-Hammond, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009, as cited in Reeves, 2010) . Professional development is defined as “that which results in improvements in teacher’s knowledge and instructional practice, as well as improved student learning outcomes” (Wei, Darling-Hammond, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009, p. 3). Indeed, measuring student learning stems from indicators that transcend those that focus only on professional development (i.e., what a teacher knows and can do); that is, measuring what a teacher knows and can do serve as a subset to more global measurements that relate indirectly to effects and causes linking to improvements to student achievement. In order for professional development to have relevance and meaning for educators, a purposeful, professional learning community is created “where members have developed a community of mind that bonds them together in special ways and binds them to a shared ideology” (Sergiovanni, 1999). A shared ideology is a conglomerate of opinions and perspectives that amass student achievement indicators to individual teacher goals through open and diverse discourse among local stakeholders and educators outside the school system.

The bedrock of improving teachers’ knowledge base, instructional practice, and student achievement culminates from the ongoing pursuit for a network of personal learning communities. A professional learning community (PLC), for example, is defined as educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006, as cited in DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008, p. 14).

Collective inquiry occurs at a variety of levels, from the least to most important: congeniality, collegiality, and community of practice – the last being the most important in terms of fostering value-added leadership (Sergiovanni, 2005). But instead of viewing a community of practice as a single unit of analysis, or viewing one’s identity in terms of one particular community (Wenger, 1998), a more connectivist view places the learner (i.e., educator) at the center of one’s personal learning network whereby one’s identity is cultivated through the various interactions among the different communities that may exist, whether face-to-face or online. Hence, a “common purpose or domain of knowledge” which has in the past been referred to as being a tenet of a community of practice (Hanson-Smith, 2006, p. 302) now becomes a tenet of ongoing personal inquiry in terms of how an educator (i.e., learner) expects to influence the various communities of interest and how these communities might influence the educator.

In order to understand how to assess the development of teachers, academic leaders (i.e., principals, material designers, etc.) recognize the different responsibilities that teachers have. Since the implementation of the Paideia program in 1982, teachers have been known to assume one of three roles in leading learners to higher achievement: (a) didactic, (b) coaching, and (c) seminars (State University.com, 2011). More recently, these three roles have been characterized as “didactic instruction, facilitation of understanding and related habits of mind, and coaching of performance (skill and transfer)” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2007, p. 129). When not teaching, teachers assume yet more responsibilities by “contributing to the curriculum, analyzing results based on sound indicators, and being live-long learners” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2007, pp. 155-166). Undeniably, assessing teachers is complex given that much depends on how the academic leader creates the environment for interactive, diverse, and open discourse to occur. The academic leader, therefore, accepts a special role and responsibilities when integrating communal expectations with the personal needs and interests of the teachers as well as the students.

An academic leader holds responsibilities that are distinct from those typically found among teachers. The following strategies, for example, are actions one should take followed by others that one should not take:


  • Use humor.

  • Include all teachers and content areas.

  • Explain strategies briefly and then give participants a chance to practice or observe them.

  • Explain strategies briefly and then give participants a chance to practice or observe them.

  • Build from teachers' existing work.

  • Present yourself as a continual learner.

  • Include samples of student work.

Do not...

  • Talk too much.

  • Talk and then ask, ‘Any questions?’

  • Present too many strategies.

  • Focus solely on the leader's own classroom” (Margolis, 2009).

Moreover, academic leaders conduct a gap analysis (i.e., the different between the ideal or vision and reality) then set professional development efforts that are devoted to closing this gap (Wiggins and McTighe, 2007). The knowing-doing gap alludes many school organizations, enough to claim that most educators know how to improve schools but lack the resolve to carry it through (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, 2008).

Assessing the development of teachers takes into account the different types of learning within a learning ecology. “Formal learning, experience, mentoring, performance support, self-learning, community-based learning and informal learning” that collectively make up a learning ecology (Siemens, 2006) are the pathways for educators to increase their knowledge and pedagogical skill set. Academic leaders channel these pathways such that teachers can continue to become more effective and efficient curriculum experts, analysis to school results, and life-long learners. As an example, teachers may need training on entering various online communities such as Classroom 2.0 (2011) where they may begin connecting with other teachers from similar educational contexts. Teachers may also contribute to WikiEducator by developing professional development projects around certain subject areas such as teaching English to students of other languages (Stewart, 2010). Contributing to wikis can serve as a mentoring program that promotes cooperative and collaborative interaction between the mentor and mentee. Finally, online Moodle classes (Stewart, 2011) can help academic leaders to support experienced-based collaboration and support for those teachers who are offering a blended or distance-learning course to students.

Academic leaders can assess development needs by promoting teacher leaders. The following are five primary ways that teachers can function as leaders in a school:

  1. Train and provide staff development for other teachers

  2. Coach and mentor other teachers

  3. Develop and write curriculum

  4. Be decision makers and leaders of school-making teams

  5. Serve as members of teams, committees, task forces, or quality circles” (McEwan, 2003, p. 104).

Distributed leadership then shifts responsibilities to those who have the “will, expertness, temperament, and skills” (Sergiovanni, 2005) and is not bound to one’s position, rank, or status. Moving teachers from being dependent to independent to interdependent educators centers on building formative assessment measures that arise from frequent contact and open communication throughout the learning community (i.e., learning network). The three-minute walk-through (Downey, Steffy, Poston, & English, 2009) allows for frequent dialogs between supervisor and teacher as a means for reflection on action. Instead of traditional observations that judge a teacher’s performance at a single point in time, observing and giving feedback that leads to some future change in behavior or perspective is at the heart of what formative assessment sets out to achieve. Ideally, open collaboration between teachers and academic leaders permits the learning progression to flourish as teachers are encouraged to take risks and share personal experiences related to current teaching practices.

Networking leadership entails a shift in rationality. A clockwork I theory of management holds that leadership requires a top-down directive as to what and how people should work (i.e.,ends-ways-means approach); whereas a clockwork II theory of management asserts that people are rational only when working cooperatively and collaboratively through open communication (i.e., means-ways-ends approach) (Sergiovanni, 2005). Rational people strategic plan through a linear process that might include the following nine steps: (a) “identify common beliefs, (b) identify the organization's vision, (c) identify the organization’s mission, (d) formulate policies, (e) conduct external analysis, (f) conduct internal analysis, (g) state objectives, (h) develop and analyze alternative strategies, and (i) design action plans” (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2007, pp. 234-235). Similarly, as in the case of technical rationality, there would be an a priori agreement exists regarding ends (Schon, 1983) such that a consensus (and possibility conformance) would be established and stated in terms of being “shared” (e.g., shared mission, shared vision, etc.). An alternative is a networked approach that better accounts for the unpredictability of human behavior. Properties such as connections and contagion that establish the structure and function of social networks (Christakis & Fowler, 2009), reflecting-in-action (Schon, 1983), and other divergent notions subscribe to a leadership rationality that is both top down and bottom up.

Professional development that is emergent evolves through an ongoing pursuit of action research. In order for teacher development to emerge, academic leaders establish a learning environment such that “human flourishing, practical issues, knowledge-in-action, and participation and democracy” (Reason & Bradbury, 2008, p. 5) influence each other. The goals of action research are generally two fold: (a) “improving practice or developing individuals” and (b) “transforming practice and participants” (Herr & Anderson, 2005, p. 9). Through a cyclical process that involves problem setting (i.e., establishing research questions), a review of the literature as it pertains to problem setting and solving, taking action, and reflecting on both past and future actions (Jaipala & Figga, 2011), a praxis approach to teaching is much like what the field of applied linguistics seeks to do with teaching language learners. A praxis approach in the area of applied linguistics can be viewed by reflecting on the following question: “How can theory, no matter how global its claims, be interpreted so as to be relevant to local circumstances?” (Widdowson, 2010, p. 10). It is precisely the merging of theory and practice that drives professional development improvements which can only be achieved through ongoing, open discourse that celebrates diverse and perspectival discussions of actions taken as well as changes in personal beliefs and opinions.

Supervision in Practice

Hiring new teachers at a new school permits academic leaders to get to know the teacher candidates' personal beliefs about teaching and learning, their personal accounts of past experiences in the classroom and as a life-long learner, and their overall attitude or habits of mind as they pertain to what they know and what they can (or cannot) do. The hiring process would include a written exam, a mock class, and would end with an interview. The final interview gives teacher candidates the opportunity to explain further their perspective based on what they shared in the written exam as well as during the mock class, along with other topics related to them as a learner. The grade levels include teachers who wanted to teach high school band (levels 10, 11, and 12 grade learners) and the objective is to hire a music director and an assistant music director.

The hiring process begins by administering a written exam. The written exam tests for levels of understanding related to music theory, musical instruments, and what-if scenarios that would require candidates to express opinions on typical instances they might face in the classroom. The what-if scenarios would be based on the art and science of teaching (Marzano, 2007) which might include questions like the following:

  1. What would you do to establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate the successful interpretation of a musical piece?

  2. What would you do to help students effectively interact with a musical piece, the composer, and the learners themselves?

All questions in the written exam would also relate to the various myths (Zmuda, 2010) that lead to misunderstandings about teaching and learning. And finally, the written exam would cover the candidate’s understanding of the common core state standards (2011) and how common assessments in music might “potentially use the novice-expert continuum to chart student progress toward the higher levels of cognitive functioning...” (Conley, 2011). Once the written exam is completed and has been graded, a mock class would be scheduled.

Various techniques would be used to evaluate the mock class. Candidates would be required to submit a lesson plan beforehand to explain the objective of the class, to anticipate problems that learners might face, and to present a rationale for implementing chosen activities. A rubric would be used to measure a variety of criteria such as teacher presence, student engagement, and general flow of the class. The class would also be videotaped so that further reflection and analysis could be made. Possible interview questions would be generated based on the results of the written exam and what was observed during the mock class in order to better understand the candidate’s perspective and understanding.

The interview would bring all prior information about the candidate together so that the hiring committee would be in a better position to ask more appropriate questions related to what the teacher knows, can do, and beliefs pertaining to overall disposition. The recorded class would provide context to questions related to teaching practice, and the results from the written exam would serve to inquire about possible gaps in understanding. Knowing how the candidate feels about learning in the 21st century would also help communicate to the hiring committee the importance of life-long learning given the ubiquity of web tools available (e.g., wikis, blogs, websites, learning management systems, etc.). For example, candidates who know how to cultivate their own personal learning networks demonstrate how a on-demand support can lead to becoming a better learner. Videlicet, how a musical director interacts with other musical directors through musical contests, online communities, and workshops can help promote better understandings and teaching practices that ultimately lead to higher student achievement.

Part of implementing a written test, mock class, and follow-up interview is to measure the developmental needs of the individuals to be hired. Once the musical director and assistant director have been hired, further supervision will be needed so that mission and vision statements, values, and school goals are communicated and followed through. Simply, it should be understood between musical director and academic leader (e.g., principal, curriculum designer, etc.) what should be taught, how it should be taught, and what authentic literacy is present (Schmoker, 2011). This might include a discussion about what musical pieces are being prepared, how students are preparing for the pieces, and how many public concerts will be performed. More generally, an understanding as to the role of arts in a students overall development would help assure that students are getting a well-rounded education and that students are given the opportunity to excel in a variety of ways.

Goal and problem-setting for the musical director and the assistant director orientates professional development efforts that not only adheres to the mission and vision of the school but also helps motivate teachers to reach personal achievements as well. A mentoring program includes both inhouse faculty and outside faculty and provides the means for reflective practice to germinate through participatory action research (PAR). PAR thus becomes the standard process by which all professional development endeavors originate, heeding to an open discourse that is acceptable to diversity, interaction, and autonomy. Goal and problem-setting is a manifestation of open discourse within a learning ecosystem. And as a person (e.g., musical director) adapts to the environment, so too might a teacher adapt a goal or problem. Therefore, teacher supervision becomes a reflective journey between administrators and teachers ascribed more to how and why a goal or problem exist than simply what the goal is in and of itself. The role of the supervisor is to direct, facilitate, and coach each teacher so that reflective practice leads to becoming a better teacher and not simply associating certain traits concerning being a successful teacher.

As a supervisor guides teachers from dependency to independency on to interdependency, the tendency is to think in terms of professional development as a means to being a good teacher. But in a dynamic system such as one found in a school district, it is the act of becoming that is vital. Depending on the situation, most teachers may be the expert or novice at any given time, to the degree that even labeling teachers as dependent may not be helpful from a supervisory standpoint. Academic leaders are at their best when they can recognize the circumstances that result in teachers being dependent, independent, or interdependent and then to create a discourse that either leads them to becoming more interdependent or finds ways to take advantage of a teachers interdependency in new and innovative ways relating to leadership. As Hillary Rodham Clinton boast that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to raise a becoming and capable teacher.


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