Teacher Learning Cast #1: Getting Started

TLC Socials

Creative Commons

ICTs as a Tool to speed up Processes in Education

General overview of how the incursion of ICTs speed up communication processes in Educational Tasks. (focusing on TLC as an example) (UNESCO)

The Sharing of Weekly Experiences

  • Combined Strategies in a presentation for a large class
  • Creative Commons and ePortfolios

Empower Everyone

Philosophically, I agree with Lew’s overall thesis in Don’t “empower” anybody, but the meaning of empowerment and its employment aren’t so cut and dry. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word empowerment, as it simply comes down to semantics.

Understanding the meaning of empowerment will depend on how one defines power (and empowerment for that matter). For the purposes of this discussion, I define power as…

the ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.

Let’s now compare definitions of empowerment, which will begin with my definition first, followed by Lew’s definition.

to enable or permit [how I define the term]

to give power to (someone); to make (someone) stronger and more confident [Lew’s definition]

Using my definitions, I would then expand the notion of empowerment as follows:

enabling or permitting someone to do something, to take action, to become capable of doing something, or to accomplish something

In contrast, Lew offers an interpretation of what empowerment means as follows:

The key words here are “give” and “make.” Empowerment means you’re transferring power to someone else. You think someone else needs you — your permission, your influence, your talents — to do something. And I don’t ever believe that’s the case.


Depending on the context and the individual, people move between moments of dependency, independency, and interdependence — the goal being one of interdependency. So, employees do need their superiors just as superiors need their employees. Humans succeed to the degree they become interdependent.

A leader enables others to act and to become more knowledgeable and skillful as long as these actions align with organizational and individual goals. In this sense, leadership becomes an entitlement and is not limited to rank, position, or title. Indeed, leadership facilitates the transition between dependency, to becoming independent, then ultimately interdependent. Think of the meaning of leadership as being ontological as opposed to epistemological.

So, let’s not throw out empowerment and power just yet. The reason why there are multiple definitions in the dictionary for a single word is because people use the word in different ways. Semantically speaking, the problem has more to do with certain interpretations of the meaning of power than how some interpret the meaning of empowerment; regardless, let’s continue using both terms (with appropriate definitions) so that we continue having the right conversations about their meanings in terms of promoting proper leadership skills for the future. If we continue having the right conversations long enough, perhaps some of the current definitions of power, empowerment, etc. will become archaic.

Originally posted to Medium.

Learning technologies for English for academic purposes (EAP) classes

Here's a rundown of learning technologies I plan to use next semester.


I'll be trying Schoology for the first time this semester for the three courses that I plan to teach this fall (2014): applied linguistics, composition (3rd semester), and composition (5th semester).  All of the resources for the three courses will reside both within Schoology as well as outside of Schoology: public websites, virtual library databases, etc.

Google Drive

Google Drive (documents) will be used within Schoology where learners will be able to create the written word as well as collaborate and cooperate with each other.  As their instructor, I will also be able to interact with their creations and ideas as well.

Google+ Hangouts and Communities

Most ad hoc videos created throughout the semester will be recordings of Google+ Hangouts on Air that will be posted as Google Events within the TILL Community.  Also, certain classes may also involve Google+ Hangouts on Air (such as poetry readings) so that learners have exposure to authentic audiences for their classroom performances.  All authentic performances will also be recorded so that learners can self-assess and use it potentially as a performance-based teacher portfolio.

Scrivener for Mac and Dropbox

Throughout the semester I will be putting together my thoughts and experiences together using Scrivener (for the applied linguistics course only).  Periodically, I will be compiling the data in Scrivener to a PDF file which will be shared to Dropbox (and accessible to learners via Schoology).  This will allow learners to not only have access to information for reviewing content covered in class, but also will give them the opportunity to provide feedback to the document itself.

These are the learning technologies that I plan to use next semester in order for my learners to be more engaged with the content and each other.  My intent is also to be as accessible  as possible as I anticipate using not only my MacBook Air but various mobile devices to access information and student communications related to the three courses.

What learning technologies are you currently using or that you plan to use in the future?  To what end?




IHAQ#4 on EdTechTalk

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reVC9MxJLDQ&w=500&h=315]

IHAQ#4 on EdTechTalk (Google+ Community) begins later today.  Past questions that have led to potential questions for this week:

Featured Question:
From  +Paul Allison   via  https://twitter.com/youthvoices

What would a K-12 MOOC have in it? What connections would it nurture? Would teachers codesign it with students? Do they exist?

Other Questions That May Be Addressed:

From +Benjamin L. Stewart 
How can instruction and assessment (not accreditation) "live as one" within an online course.

Why does Mitra anger so many in education?  

Curious, is it possible to pull info (using a hashtag) from blog posts without sharing in Twitter, facebook, Google+, etc? 

From +Clarissa Bezerra 
Best ways to approach/handle teenage smart-phone use/addiction <nervous-thumbs syndrome> :) in the classroom?

From https://twitter.com/joseluisserrano
How can assess (and accredit) rhizomatic tasks in higher education? or, it is conflicting? 

From: https://twitter.com/EarlyYearsErica
Teachers are subverting education policy rubbish to ensure children have creative learning experiences! Good! #eduquestion time

Possible follow-up on last week's question

#Eduquestion Matrix

EdTechTalk brought up a question I had this past Sunday about how to best foster/curate #eduquestions...


Here is my response and a possible #eduquestion matrix...


If you would like to post education-related questions and engage in the discussions, use the Twitter hashtag #eduquestion.

Asking School Principals The Right Question

How have you changed your communications strategy in the digital age?

Sheninger's question, if addressed to the instructional leader or administrator, is a reactionary response to a cultural movement that begins with the educator.  If the question is directed to the educator, then the question is incomplete.

I'm not sure how much utility there is to catapult leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, etc. to the educational field.  As great leaders they certainly had a message and could communicate it well to others.  And yes, school principals need to be able to do this to a degree, but I think it's more important that principals are able to promote relationships within the local context of the school.  The level of detail and locality in relationship building required in schools is hardly achievable between a country's president and its citizens.

Changing a communications strategy is a cultural change involving all educational stakeholders.  It's not enough to ask the question to one stakeholder without understanding the relationship (and implications) the answer has in terms of others.  Purposeful change comes from understanding how a change in one educator affects change in someone else.  Principals who understand their local complexity, understand how to rally relationships together in order to problem set and solve.

If I were asking school principals the question, I would ask...

How can interactive environments bring the necessary people together in order to problem set and solve around a school's mission and vision statements, cultural values, and current objectives?

What questions would you ask school principals?  Educators?  Instructional leaders?  Civic leaders?

Asking School Principals The Right Question

How have you changed your communications strategy in the digital age?

Sheninger's question, if addressed to the instructional leader or administrator, is a reactionary response to a cultural movement that begins with the educator.  If the question is directed to the educator, then the question is incomplete.

I'm not sure how much utility there is to catapult leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, etc. to the educational field.  As great leaders they certainly had a message and could communicate it well to others.  And yes, school principals need to be able to do this to a degree, but I think it's more important that principals are able to promote relationships within the local context of the school.  The level of detail and locality in relationship building required in schools is hardly achievable between a country's president and its citizens.

Changing a communications strategy is a cultural change involving all educational stakeholders.  It's not enough to ask the question to one stakeholder without understanding the relationship (and implications) the answer has in terms of others.  Purposeful change comes from understanding how a change in one educator affects change in someone else.  Principals who understand their local complexity, understand how to rally relationships together in order to problem set and solve.

If I were asking school principals the question, I would ask...

How can interactive environments bring the necessary people together in order to problem set and solve around a school's mission and vision statements, cultural values, and current objectives?

What questions would you ask school principals?  Educators?  Instructional leaders?  Civic leaders?

Defining Leadership

“…here is my definition of what effective educational leadership is able to achieve: improve learning outcomes for students.”

I agree that the purpose of educational leadership is improved student achievement, definitely. It’s the outcome of leadership practices, but is no more or less important than the process that leads to this outcome. I think others come close to a working definition of the notion of leadership:

1. “Instructional leadership consists of direct and indirect behaviors that significantly affect teacher instruction and, as a result, student learning” (Daresh and Playko, 1995).

2. “The leader is a person who is in a position to influence others to act and who has, as well, the moral, intellectual, and social skills required to take advantage of that position” (Schlechty, 1990).
3. “Instructional leadership is leadership that is directly related to the processes of instruction where teachers, learners, and the curriculum interact” (Acheson & Smith, 1986).
4. Quoting Jo Blase, “Leadership is shared with teachers, and it is cast in coaching, reflection, collegial investigation, study teams, explorations into the uncertain, and problem solving. It is position-free supervision wherein the underlying spirit is one of expansion, not traditional supervision. Alternatives, not directives or criticism, are the focus, and the community of learners perform professional-indeed, moral-service to students” (as cited in Gordon, 1995).
5. “Leadership [of nonprofit organizations] is not about being soft or nice or purely inclusive or consensus-building. The whole point is to make sure the right decisions happen-no matter how difficult or painful-for the long-term greatness of the institution and the achievement of its mission” -Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors
6. “…any useful conception of academic leadership must be based primarily on clarity about the goals of school, analysis of current results, and purposeful actions to close existing gaps between desired results and present reality” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007).
Patterson (1993) provides further insight into specific behavioral patterns that stem from effective instructional leaders:
  •  They provide a sense of vision to their schools (can articulate a vision, help develop it, and keep the vision and mision alive on a day-to-day basis).
  • They engage in participatory management (empower others to lead).
  • They provide support for instruction.
  • They monitor instruction.
  • They are resourceful.
Any other good definitions of leadership out there?

Projects Slated for the Rest of 2011

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The great difficulty in education is to get experience out of ideas. -George Santayana

This next semester is a busy one.


The last few days I have been working feverishly on my dissertation proposal, trying to get it cleaned up and approved before I start my research.  I'm conducting a study on how EFL educators working in Mexico interact within a personal learning network and how that interaction influences a change in behavior and beliefs (i.e., teaching practice and reflection).  It's a hermeneutic, qualitative case study involving three teachers who will be using various ICTs in which to interact with other individuals, communities, and/or groups.  The Moodle course that we will be using can be found here and many of the activities are open to anyone interested in teaching English to students of other languages.

University Classes

Classes begin the second week of August and I'm scheduled to teach the following: (a) Applied linguistics, 7th semester, (b) academic writing, 7th semester, and (c) teaching practicum, 5th semester.  The applied linguistics and academic writing classes will have some online content made available to anyone who might be interested.  The idea I have for applied linguistics is to get my students to interact in online communities so they can address current issues related to teaching and learning English as a foreign language.  And the students taking the academic writing course will work largely in Wikieducator as they improve their writing skills and knowledge about formal writing discourse.  Finally, I will also be facilitating 5th semester students who will be teaching for the first time English in front of a group of peers.  They'll work in groups and students will be ask to plan, implement, and reflect on their English classes in terms of curriculum, assessment, and instruction.  All the students from the three classes are pre-service English language teachers studying a BA in ELT at the UAA.

I will be sharing more about these classes throughout the semester either in the form of a blog post or in my TESOL Talk program.

University research

Since February of this year, I have been involved with a research line with two other colleagues investigating the noticing hypothesis among EFL learners practicing their writing skills.  This next semester we are slated to begin the data analysis and will begin writing up our findings for peer-reviewed publications.  This semester we are scheduled to present talks at RECALE (in September),  MEXTESOL (October), and ANUPI (October).  More information will be provided as our research unfolds.

Edukwest writer

I am happy to announce that as of this month, I will be joining a group of writers for Edukwest: On the search for better education.  Edukwest (originated by Kirsten Winkler) covers a wide variety of topics and formats all dedicated to improving education.  I look forward to joining in on the discussion and if you have any interest in anything related to education, I recommend that you check out the website!

Well, that's about it.  The latter part of 2011 will certainly prove to be the busiest semester yet, but am happy to be involved in so many worthwhile projects.  If there is anything in particular that interests you and you would like to know more, feel free to contact me by clicking on the email icon below.

Ethical Leadership

As part of an overall educational philosophy, ethical considerations, along with aesthetics, provide an axiological framework of what makes a good school. The perception of what makes a school good has been associated with the notion of accountability which has given rise to high-stakes testing (e.g., No Child Left Behind Law) in ways that fundamentally limit how common assessments measure a wider range of student learning (Conley, 2011, p. 20). Reaching a point in today’s schools where “students...find [ethical reasoning] as important in their lives as content knowledge (Sternberg, 2011, p. 39) will place equal importance on how the curriculum, assessment, and instruction subsume issues of reality (i.e., metaphysics), knowledge (i.e., epistemology), and values (axiology). In turn, students become better prepared for college and a career when an educational and life-long philosophy mirror each other.

Ethics in schools, based on moral principals, embodies various dimensions of schooling:

community involvement, school buildings and grounds, classroom spaces, organization of knowledge, uses of learning materials, philosophy of education, teaching strategies, staffing patterns, organization of students, rules and regulations, disciplinary measures, reporting of student progress, administrative attitudes, teacher roles, and student roles (Wiles & Bondi, 2007, p. 46).

Within each of these dimensions, a variety of moral principles can be applied, especially notions of compassion, wholeness, connectedness, inclusion, justice, peace, freedom, trust, empowerment, and community (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2007). Indeed, given the 10 different moral principles to be applied to the variety of dimensions possible, prioritizing becomes foremost. Academic leaders (i.e., instructional leaders) therefore play a central role in how ethical behavior emerges at the school, faculty, and classroom levels such that a holistic approach to curriculum, assessment, and instruction afford learners the greatest probability of succeeding in a global society where many future jobs have yet to be created.

Areas where ethics play a central role

Ethics play a key role in schools; among faculty where professional development is the result of a democratic, iterative, and reciprocal communicative process; and within the classroom according to how student achievement excels through a democratic, iterative, and reciprocal communicative process among students as well. The three areas - school, professional development, and classroom - are not meant to be viewed as existing in isolation, but rather adapting to each other (i.e., as an overall complex system) temporally and spatially according to network principals, namely in terms of connection and contagion (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). A moral imperative thus becomes the skillful utility of a network that incorporates moral principals within the different dimensions that reside in each of the three aforementioned areas.

School ethics. Of the four major philosophies (i.e., idealism, realism, experimentalism, and existentialism), idealism and existentialism render a juxtaposition worth considering since both are considered at either ends of the philosophical continuum (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009); ethics or values are seen as being “absolute and eternal” at the conservative end, while existentialists view values as being “freely chosen” and “based on individuals’ perception” (p. 37). To resolve this juxtaposition, philosophies and their respective reasonings must adhere to the “four pillars of a professional learning community: mission, vision, values [or collective commitments], and goals” (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008, p. 166). Particularly, moral judgments are best viewed in terms of overall mission and vision statements that set out to achieve goals by establishing collective commitments.

Rooting school-wide goals in collective commitments comprises of equitably input from all educational stakeholders (i.e., board members, administrators, teachers, parents, & community leaders). For example, Adlai Stevenson High School, one of the most successful schools in the United States (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008), creates collective commitments that ultimately drive what the faculty do on a daily basis. The following provides some detail:

Every candidate for a teaching or administrative position is asked to review them before applying, and the statements are referenced repeatedly as part of the interview process. The commitments are studied and discussed during new staff orientation as veteran representatives of the group review each commitment and stress its significance. Experienced teachers tell net staff members, ‘this is what it means to join this faculty. These are the promises we make to each other and to our students. These are the promises that have made us who we are, and we ask you to honor them.’ Upperclassmen mentors review the student commitments with incoming freshmen during the first week of school and stress, ‘these are the commitments the students who have gone before you have made to make Stevenson the school it is today. If you honor these commitments, you can be assured you will be successful here, and you will make an important contribution ot our school’s tradition of excellence’ (Wiles & Bondi, 2007, p. 150).

Action-based, collective commitments communicate not only express expectations in terms of what needs to be done at the individual level but are developed and adapted in such a way that groups of people are not marginalized. “Consensus decision-making” (n.d.) leads to a more professional learning community by virtue of taking one a collective and connective responsibility.

Ethics and professional development. Ethics and establishing a moral imperative is key to addressing the problems the field of education faces with regard to professional development. The problem with professional development is that it

(a) frames accountability in terms of summative assessments that assumes academic outcomes through simplistic relationships of causes and effects,

(b) adheres to a singular approach to differentiated instruction that focuses more on the program than on people and practices,

(c) ignores the importance of setting priorities,

(d) ignores that much of learning is unintentional and is emergent,

(e) recognizes that interaction is more important that simply the content or topics being discussed (Reeves, 2010).

To address these issues, a sense of right and wrong consequently drives the change process both in teacher behavior as well as individual perspective. Implementing change in how professional development is planned and implemented stems from a moral imperative towards a common good (both for the individual and the professional learning community) and not a top-down directive expressed in terms of an obligation imposed by those outside the school (e.g., state legislation, standards, etc.) (Reeves, 2009). Hence effective professional development remains ethical as long as professional learning, as opposed to professional development, endures through an ongoing, situated learning cycle that considers the learner, context, and the learning itself that emerges through the experience (Webster-Wright, 2009).

Professional learning and ethical behavior become apparent through an explicit moral code. Typically, a moral code is stated in terms of what a teacher can do (i.e., beneficence) and what a teacher cannot do (i.e., non-maleficence) (Ozturk, 2010) while other principles include justice, fidelity, and autonomy (Cook & Houser, 2009). If principals, for example, are fair and just, respectful of established rules and principles, and are mindful of individual freedoms and diversity, then so too will the faculty (Karakose, 2007). Essentially, modeling a code of ethics and professional learning transitions an individual from a novice to becoming an expert learner through ethical decision making; that is, doing “the right thing for the right reasons at the right time” (McDonald, Walker Ebelhar, Orehavec, & Sanderson, 2006, p. 162).

Classroom ethics. Classroom ethics builds a democratic, learning community. A democratic learning community involves “creating the kinds of ties that bond students together and students and teachers together and that bind them to share ideas and ideals” (Sergiovanni, 1999, pp. 120-121). Ties between students and teachers provide the basis for understandings the sociocultural complexities that influence academic progress. For example, pedagogy can serve “as a bridge between...home culture and the classroom” (Cammarota & Romero, 2011, p. 492) in ways that can benefit the community, referred to as “social justice youth development” (p. 490). As a matter of ethics, understanding what goes on at the homes of students can offer insight into a pedagogical perspective that both adheres to the curriculum as well as making learning experiences that are more relevant and meaningful for each student.

A classroom with international students can bring about ethic complexity. A common goal among parents from collectivistic societies (e.g., Kenyan, Mexican, Japanese, etc.) is that students should be moral and should maintain a strong bond with family; a goal that can be more different for those accustomed to a more individualistic society that places individual success as a top priority (Rothstein-Fisch & Trumbull, 2008). Moreover, a paradigm of sameness, or tendency to presume that international students, each with their own ideology, will assimilate to the dominate culture, is likely to continue especially among poor, urban schools where little parental involvement is commonplace (Caruthers, 2006). Even in terms of becoming bilingual, a non-equivocal notion, investigating how some students take on an additional language (e.g., English as a second language) and respective cultural underpinnings while others find it a challenge will lead to a shift from “‘colorblind’ philosophies” (Fitts, 2006, p. 356) to one that is pluralistic and more accepting in the way diversity is celebrated within a school.

Ethics play a role in how schools adapt values or collective commitments throughout the system, how academic leaders guide teachers in their own professional development, and how teachers promote a more equitable education within the classroom. Ethics and moral reasoning that align with the mission, vision, and goals of the school provide the direction and justification by which all educational stakeholders are to follow. Similarly, academic leaders guide novice and expert teachers alike via a moral code based on beneficence and non-maleficence. Finally, ethical behavior within the classroom leads to a more equitable learning experience based on the backgrounds and sociocultural upbringings that is specific to each learner. As a result, the academic leader (i.e., instructional leader) must mediate between collective commitments (i.e., values, moral code, moral reason, and moral judgment), professional development - more accurately termed as professional learning, and current teaching practices to avoid treating each discipline as separate and independent endeavors. In doing so, curriculum, assessment, and insturction is not seen as solely a specific issue related to the teaching practice, but more of connective and collective responsibility that is more likely to lead to greater academic achievement.

Ethical concerns relating to curriculum, assessment, and instruction

As ethical considerations regarding schools, professional development, and the classroom are not handled in isolation, nor are issues concerning curriculum, assessment, and instruction. The job of the academic leader is to find meaning and relevance to school goals and state and national standards in terms of the written, taught, and tested curriculum; student assessment; and differentiated instruction. The ethical academic leader (EAL) is the primary mediator through which all educator stakeholders voice an opinion and are given the freedom to act in ways that are beneficial and are consensual to all learners.

The EAL and the curriculum. An academic leader uncovers standards that can be incorporated within the curriculum in terms of big ideas and deeper understandings (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007). An EAL can tie standards and the curriculum to the learner’s perspective. For example, 51 states and territories within the United States have adapted the Common Core State Standards Initiative (National Governors Association, 2009), which is a state-led effort, involving many teacher leaders in determining what students should learn. Many more academic leaders will be required to continue adding and adapting standards, sharing common assessment practices, and determining at a local level how the standards will be met. Determining how the standards will be achieved will take careful and critical pedagogical mindsets to assure that the student’s perspective and identity are not lost as they pertain to the curriculum.

Ethics, values, and culture play an important role towards the influence of individual perspective” (Hiriyappa, 2009, p. 85). Indeed, cultivating a learner’s identity can contradict educational ideologies that mitigate race as a factor in advancing the educative experience. For example, colorblindness, as an ideology, “is particularly persuasive because it seems to advocate for an equal and just society. However, in a just society skin color would not be associated with degrees of power or privilege” (Patterson, Gordon, & Groves Price, 2008, p. 97). One solution is by implementing a “critical language pedagogy” that aligns a learners identity through language that instead of ostracizing one’s ethic, value system, and culture, creates a curriculum that provides “opportunities for students to compare multiple perspectives on language variety and dialects, including sociolinguistic perspectives, widespread language ideologies, and students’ own preexisting viewpoints” (Godley & Minnici, 2008, p. 338). The role of the academic leader is to mediate between state standards, the curriculum, and those educational stakeholders that are involved in the teaching the curriculum (i.e., students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders) by allowing for open, iterative, and reciprocal discourse that is tolerant of diversity.

The EAL and assessment and instruction. The EAL champions formative assessment in schools. “Formative assessment is a planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by teachers to adjust their ongoing instructional procedures or by students to adjust their current learning tactics” (Popham, 2008b, p. 6). Since formative assessment entails both instructional adjustments on the part of the teacher and modifications to current learning tactics, the EAL’s role is to provide opportunities for sharing contextual circumstances by which such student-and-teacher adjustments and modifications take place. From an ethical standpoint, the benefit of sharing assessment practices throughout the learning community is to avoid assessment bias, or the “qualities of an assessment instrument [or technique] that offend or unfairly penalize a group of students because of students’ gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, or other such group-defining characteristics” (Popham, 2008a, p. 73). So not only must honest and deliberate discourse among students, teachers, and administrators cover student and teacher adjustments, but it should also be sensitive to students’ identity in the way in which they are being assessed.

Ethical instruction connects the building of cognitive structures with the affectiveness of teaching and learning. EALs who promote through assessment and instruction “metability” (Garner, 2007) or “ongoing, dynamic, interactive cycle of learning, creating, and changing” (p. xv) among learners and at the same time encourage a spiritual dimension to learning that include elements of “acceptance, curiosity, enjoyment, flexibility, patience, and perseverance” (p. 133), among others are creating opportunities for learners to not only gain knowledge and skills, but also to become more driven to act on that knowledge and skills through a “social emotional learning” (Hoffman, 2009, p. 533) or even an “existential intelligence” (Armstrong, 2009, p. 182). Students and teachers alike need to feel like they belong, that their contributions to a particular community has some form of impact, and that mistakes are celebrated as opportunities for improvement. It is the EAL’s job to assure that such an environment exist so that knowledge and abilities can be put to use in ways that benefit the individual as well as the group (i.e., school or network).

EALs are most effective then consistently taking part in ethical decision making. An EAL typically chooses between one of three different ethical decision criteria when choosing to take action: utilitarianism, rights, and justice (Robbins, 2001). A utilitarian approach to decision making seeks to take action in ways that benefit the higher number of educational stakeholders. Respecting the rights of students, teachers, etc. is another factor when making a decision that impacts the quality of learning in schools. And third, decisions are made by being fair or just to those who will be affected by the change. Of the three criteria, the utilitarian approach is least favorable because it ignores individual rights and personal equity (Robbins, 2001). EALs directly or indirectly answer to all stakeholders through the ethical decisions they make on a day-to-day basis. Some decisions will require consultations with other teachers, the EAL ultimately making the final decision, at times the team alone will make the decision, the EAL may make the decision alone, or the decision may be made between the team of teachers and the EAL (Alvy & Robbins, 2010). Thus, ethical decision making is a highly situational act that if done consistently well, can lead to sustainable professional learning and high-impact improvements to student achievement.

Ethical decision making occurs at various levels. Schools establish mission statements, vision statements, values (e.g., collective commitments and moral codes of ethics), and goals that not only must align with each other but also impact each other based on the major philosophy a school happens to adapt, typically choosing among one or more of the following: idealism, realism, experimentalism, and existentialism. The role of an EAL is to contribute to the development of these four pillars that make up a professional learning community (DuFour, DuFour Eaker, 2008) so that teachers begin respecting certain collective commitments through a certain moral code. Beneficence and non-maleficence, along with justice, fidelity, and autonomy, hence guide the novice teacher to becoming an expert in terms of knowledge base, skill set, and disposition. Finally, ethical behavior in the classroom lends itself well to building a democratic learning community among students. Many notions applicable to professional development and ethics also apply to the classroom with the central theme of recognition of sociocultural factors that negate the paradigm of sameness assumption based on “colorblind” philosophies. The EAL’s responsibility is to create an open discourse whereby teachers are able to share how ethics within their respective classrooms celebrate diversity and learner identity in ways that promote a more educative experience. School ethics, ethical professional development practices, and classroom ethics then link to how the curriculum is written, taught, and tested.

Academic leaders have a moral obligation to contribute to standards (e.g., the Common Core State Standards Initiative) then find innovative ways to develop a curriculum that is relevant and meaning to the students at a local level. The curriculum should promote big ideas and understandings (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007) in ways that promote critical thinking skills. In turn, the EAL serves as a mediator in bringing together state standards, or what students should be learning, to a local level in determining how students are to meet or exceed said standards. Assessment and instruction, commonly viewed less as being separate distinctions and more as an iteration between informally assessing the students and making subsequent adaptations to instruction and students modifying future study tactics, is to unite cognitive development (i.e., metability) with a spiritual dimension of acceptance, curiosity, enjoyment, flexibility, patience, and perseverance (Garner, 2007). Therefore, the successful EAL will have the ability and wherewithal to know when to make key decisions, who to involve in the decision-making process, and will have the foresight to anticipate how the decision will impact each of the educational stakeholders in ways that both preserve individual rights and retain overall justice.


Alvy, H. & Robbins, P. (2010). Learning from Lincoln: Leadership practices for school success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Armstrong, T. (2009). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Cammarota, J. & Romero, A. (2011). Participatory action research for high school students: Transforming policy, practice, and the personal with social justice education. Educational Policy 25(3), 488-506. doi: 10.1177/0895904810361722.

Caruthers, L. (2006). Using storytelling to break the silence that binds us to sameness in our schools.The Journal of Negro Education, 75(4), 661-675. Retrieved fromhttp://search.proquest.com/docview/222067743?accountid=28180

Christakis, N. & Fowler, J. (2009). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Conley, D. (2011, March). Building on the common core. Educational Leadership, 68(6), 16-20.

Consensus decision-making: A virtual learning center for people interested in making decisions by consensus (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.consensusdecisionmaking.org/

Cook, A. & Houser, R. (2009). ASCA ethical standards and the relevance of eastern ethical theories. Journal of School Counseling, 7(28), 1-24.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at work: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Fitts, S. (2006). Reconstructing the status quo: Linguistic interaction in a dual-language school. Bilingual Research Journal, 30(2), 337-365. Retrieved fromhttp://search.proquest.com/docview/222026601?accountid=28180

Glickman, C., Gordon, S., & Ross-Gordon, J. (2007). Supervision and instructional leadership: A developmental approach. New York: Pearson.

Godley, A., & Minnici, A. (2008). Critical language pedagogy in an urban high school English class. Urban Education, 43(3), 319-346. doi:10.1177/0042085907311801

Hiriyappa, B. (2009). Organization behavior. New Delhi: New Age International (P) Limited, Publishers.

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Karakose, T. (2007). High school teachers’ perceptions regarding principals’ ethical leadership in Turkey. Asia Pacific Education Review, 8(3), 464-477.

McDonald, W., Walker Ebelhar, M., Orehovec, E., & Sanderson, R. (2006). Ethical decision making: A teaching an dlearning model for graduate students and new professionals. The College Student Affairs Journal 25(2), 152-163.

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Ornstein, A. & Hunkins, F. (2009). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues. New York: Pearson.

Ozturk, S. (2010). The opinions of preschool teachers about ethical principles. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice 10(1), 393-418.

Patterson, J., Gordon, J., & Groves Price, P. (2008). The color of caring: Race and the implementation of educational reform. Educational Foundations, 22(3-4), 97-116. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=EJ857641

Popham, W. (2008a). Classroom assessment: What teachers need to know. New York: Pearson.

Popham, W. (2008b). Transformative assessment. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Reeves, D. (2009). Leading change in your school: How to conquer myths, build commitment, and get results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Reeves, D. (2010). Transforming professional development into student results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Rothstein-Fisch, C. & Trumbull, E. (2008). Managing diverse classrooms: How to build on students’ cultural strengths. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Sergiovanni, T. (1999). Building community in schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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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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Christakis, N. & Fowler, J. (2009). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Common core state standards initiative: Preparing America’s students for college and career. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/

Conley, D. (2011, March). Building on the common core. Educational Leadership, 68(6), 16-20.

Downey, C., Steffy, B., Poston, W., & English, F. (2009). Advancing the three minute walkthrough: Mastering reflective practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at work: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Glickman, C., Gordon, S., & Ross-Gordon, J. (2007). Supervision and instructional leadership: A developmental approach. New York: Pearson.

Margolis, J. (2009). How teachers lead teachers: When teachers lead instructional change, these seven strategies help them engage their colleagues and get everyone on board. Educational Leadership, 66(5), Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb09/vol66/How-Teachers-Lead-Teachers.aspx

Hanson-Smith, E. (2006). Communities of practice for pre- and in-service teacher education. In P. Hubbard & M. Levy (Eds.), Teacher education in call (language learning & language teaching) (p. 302). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publication.

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McEwan, E. (2003). 7 Steps to effective instructional leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2008). The SAGE handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice. London: SAGE Publications.

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Wei, R., Darling-Hammond, L., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the U.S. and abroad. Dallas, TX: National Staff Development Council.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Leadership Framework

School-wide leadership and professional development endeavors that set out to close the gap between what teachers know and what teachers actually do oftentimes fall short of expectations (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, 2008; Reeves, 2010; Reeves, 2009). During the 200th anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, President Barack Obama (2009) declared the following: [Lincoln] recognized that while each of us must do our part, work as hard as we can, and be as responsible as we can - although we are responsible for our own fates, in the end, there are certain things we cannot do on our own. There are certain things we can only do together. There are certain things only a union can do (as cited in Alvey & Robbins, 2010, p. 39). Stakeholders who cooperate and collaborate in an “open, diverse, autonomous, and interactive” (Downes, 2010) manner afford educators an equitable opportunity to cultivate their learning through the development of a personal learning network (PLN) that is maintained through iterative and reciprocal social relationships. Creating a connective community of educators provides the “social capital and relational trust” (Sergiovanni, 2005) required to help close the knowing-doing gap that ultimately leads to higher academic achievement for each student.

Like students, academic leaders (e.g., supervisors) and teachers have varying degrees of readiness with regard to personal knowledge, skill sets, and habits of mind. Academic leaders in particular also have the responsibility of fostering a learning organization through professional development endeavors that lead to closing the gap between the vision and reality of the school (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007). Closing the gap between the vision of the school and reality necessitates working with each teacher - depending on individual readiness - based on the behaviors that emerge within the teacher-academic leader relationship, namely listening, negotiating, and problem solving.

Listening that Leads to Learning

Interaction between the AL and the educator requires careful listening in order to better understand the educator’s position with regard to a particular phenomenon. But the way in which listening becomes a part of the discourse between the AL and educator will depend on the type of interaction and the behaviors that follow. In the three-minute walkthrough (Downey, Steffy, Poston, & English, 2009), the type of reflective discourse that results between the AL and the teacher will depend on the type of interaction that transpires (e.g., direct, indirect, and collaborative). Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon (2007) suggested that the listening phase as part of the overall reflective discourse (i.e., listening, clarifying, encouraging, reflecting, presenting, problem solving, negotiating, directing, standardizing, and reinforcing) will occur depending on the type of supervisory intervention taking place: “directive control behaviors, directive informational behaviors, collaborative behaviors, and nondirective behaviors” (pp. 144-149). Understanding the perspective of the teacher will depend on the type of supervision that is established between the AL and the educator and how the ongoing supervision transforms the educator from being dependent to independent to ultimately interdependent. Active listening becomes an iterative and reciprocal process that allows for such transformation.

To understand the perspective of the teacher, ALs actively listen to both what the teacher says and the intention of the what the teacher is saying. Giving teachers the AL’s undivided attention, noticing the teacher’s verbal and nonverbal communication, and responding to the teacher’s message through dialog help build the relational trust required to be a good leader (Hoppe, 2006). According to J.L. Austin, the sender’s message can have both an intended meaning or illocutionary force and the actual meaning as interpreted by the interlocutor which is referred to as perlocutionary force (as cited in Lycan, 2008; Kaplan, 2010). Thus, listening becomes the precursor to understanding the intended meaning of the speaker which corresponds to an acceptance of diversity.

Diversity throughout a professional learning community demands active listening via open dialog. President Lincoln had a way “of bringing aboard individuals with diverse personalities, ideas, and ambitions sheds light on the value of separating person from practice and choosing competence over personality” (Alvy & Robbins, 2010). Actively listening to teachers leads to professional learning that focuses more on people and practices than on programs (Reeves, 2010). And listening to parents and the community establishes mutual trust and respect among stakeholders who have a direct interest in the achievement levels of the students (Voltz, Sims, & Nelson, 2010). Accepting and respecting others through active listening enables a professional learning community to lead and flourish as a result of purposeful dialectic. Engaging in a purposeful dialectic comprises of negotiating meaning in terms of closing the gap between current teaching practices (i.e., reality) and what teachers should be practicing or the vision statement of the school (i.e., ideal).

Negotiation of Meaning that is Navigational and Nurturing

Negotiating meaning between teacher and AL employs an iterative and reciprocal process of listening and responding. Extending the previous notion of active listening and illocutionary and perlocutionary forces, negotiation leads to meaning-making processes based on the ongoing interpretations that emerge between speakers during the conference. A Wittgensteinian view of language is that people converse by way of a “language game” and that there is no difference between the meaning and use of a speech act (Lycan, 2008). Similarly, distinguishing between analytical, synthetic, and emotive statements helps speakers to interpret what is logically to be true, what can be proven through the scientific method, and what are statements of emotion (Gutek, 2004). Indeed, language and meaning that transpires over the course of a teacher conference forms interpretations and understandings of not only certain behaviors and perspectives but also is representative of the power relationship that exists between the educator and AL.

Power relationships between AL and educators influence social identities. When teaching children, power relationships dictate how the teacher sees the student and how the student sees the teacher (Rogers, Kramer, & Mosley, 2005). How an educator and AL relate to each other depends on the type of help that is given: “dependency and autonomous-oriented and assumptive help” (Nadler, Halabi, Harapz-Gorodeisky, & Ben-David, 2010). The authors argue that dependency-oriented help (i.e., the recipient turns to rely on the helper) and autonomous-oriented help (i.e., tools are provided to the recipient to solve problems) actually lead to the formation of “high and low status groups” (p. 188), doing little to resolve the power relations that exist. In contrast, assumptive help results from a solicitation on the part of the recipient as is viewed as being more preservative of self-identity. The negotiation of meaning, therefore, overlaps between the meaning of understanding via a dialectic and the meaning of the type of help that is being implemented. Instead of viewing negotiation as solely dyadic, negotiation across a network creates the dynamic that empowers all members to develop self-identity while recognizing the power relationships that can best serve the entire connected community.

Negotiating meaning through networks dissolves the expert/novice dichotomy that can formulate into status groups. Downes (2010) promotes a “connective intelligence” through the creation of community via the “semantic principal” that applies to the following four domains: (a) “autonomy”, (b) “diversity”, (c) “openness”, and (d) “interaction”. In this way, the educator becomes a part of a network that relies on more than just the AL for professional advice, but rather learns from colleagues and outside experts as well. The learning process emerges through having a choice in one’s learning, a respect for diversity in opinions, maintaining transparency in one’s learning, and interacting with others by sharing experiences and perspectives. Thus, the expert/novice notion that is often associated with one’s role is substituted for an expert/novice distinction linked to a particular activity or event where any particular moment warrants experts and novices depending on personal understandings, skill sets, and dispositions. Hence, negotiating meaning between educators becomes more reliant on assuring the success of others throughout the network and less about power relations that stifle the network.

Problem Setting and Solving Through Action Research

Active listening and negotiation of meaning intertwines with problem setting and solving. Taking a pragmatic view of learning and doing through experience, the educator and AL can co-create a personal learning path based on the mission and vision statements of the school. For pragmatists, general questions related to one’s experience are of the utmost importance: “How do we know? What is the most accurate way of knowing? How do we know that our ideas and beliefs are true?” (Gutek, 2004, p. 73). And “experience is experimental, and all of our beliefs are fallible. Meanings, and hence the determination of truths within their structures, are never final, but are subject to revision” (Rosenthal, 2007, p. 5). Implementing a systematic approach to setting and solving problems (e.g., educators focusing on a personal weaknesses in their teaching practice) permits learning by doing and reflection in a way that is conductive to the semantic principle mentioned earlier.

Action research ties the practitioner to the problem. Within the education field, the term practitioner research has gained popularity “which implies that insiders to the setting are the researchers, whereas in other traditions of action research, the researcher is an outsider who collaborates to varying degrees with insider practitioners or community members” (Herr & Anderson, 2005). When comparing participatory action research (PAR) in particular with the pragmatic approach of experimentalism, “PAR adherents agree that is breaks from the positivist and empiricist science” (Reason & Bradbury, 2008, p. 31). Hence positionality (insider or outside) can vary in PAR, but nonetheless remains a “negotiated process” between educator and AL until favorable responses result. (Ravitch & Wirth, 2007).

Kemmis (1982) put forth the notion that the “spiral of action cycles” begins with the development of “a plan of action to improve what is already happening” (as cited in Herr and Anderston, 2005, p. 5). The AL and educator collaboratively sets a problem through negotiating meaning, which leads to understandings, and active listening. The type of reflective dialog that results from such collaboration will depend on whether the teacher is at the dependent, independent, or interdependent stage. What follows is a description of an action research proposal that is intended to develop improved teachers through a cyclical process that includes setting a problem, taking action, observing the results of the action, and reflecting on the final experience.

Academic Leadership in Practice

Academic leadership requires actively listening, negotiating meaning, and problem setting and solving. What follows is a plan that will explain how academic leadership emerges from a distributed entitlement that affords a learning community to be open, interactive, diverse, and autonomous (Downes, 2010) through a problem solving cycle of problem setting, action, observation, and reflection. The goal of the plan is to create the educational ecosystem necessary for educators to connect with others so that they might take on a more active role in their own professional development, a professional development endeavor that consequently all stakeholders are responsible.

Before describing the plan, a description of the educational context is necessary. The plan is meant for educators teaching English-as-a-foreign language (EFL) at the University of Aguascalientes (UAA) (Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes, 2011) located in the country of Mexico. Teachers’ ages range from 24-60 and although most teachers have a bachelor’s degree in English language training, others have varying degrees in medicine, business, and other degrees in the humanities. Years of experience range from one year to 12, and about half of the teachers hold a master’s degree. There are no EFL educators with doctorate degrees. The EFL educators teach general English in a program that consists of eight levels, each level constitutes 80 hours of study. EFL students can choose between classes during the week, Monday through Friday for one hour each day, or Saturday classes that run five hours each session. Teachers teach between one to four classes per semester and are paid monthly for their services. Teachers are responsible for attending various face-to-face meetings throughout the semester as well as certain online workshops that are held both synchronous and asynchronously, and their participation is considered as part of their evaluation that occurs each semester.

The Plan

Over the last year, the EFL educators at the UAA have participated in various online workshops (Stewart, 2010a; Stewart, 2010b) that were intended to promote more interaction and teacher autonomy. The objective of these two virtual workshops was to provide faculty the opportunities to interactive with not only themselves but with other EFL educators from around the world. At the same time, EFL educators learned about different technologies that could be used to not only promote their own learning but also as tools to be used in their own classroom teaching. During the semester a few face-to-face sessions were scheduled but the intention was that teachers would work through the modules of the workshop interdependently. The result of these efforts were less than stellar in that few teachers participated even though their participation was included in their teacher evaluation.

This semester - January-June of 2011 - a similar plan was implemented but with a slightly different focus. To promote more interaction between the EFL educators and the AL (i.e., coordinating department of the English program), the online workshop was centered around PAR (Stewart, 2011). Prior workshops lacked the collaborative participation among teachers and more importantly lacked the evidence of problem setting and solving capacities required to address improvements to current teaching practices. To resolve this, a student questionnaire (Stewart, 2010c) was administered to 65% of the student population (n=900) in order to gain insight on student perspective and current teaching practices. Some question items included topics such as teacher-to-student talk time, the use of English versus Spanish in the classroom, and the types of feedback teachers use to assess learners. The results of the questionnaire were shared with teachers shortly after the questionnaire was administered to allow teachers to reflect on the results and on their own practice in relation to a variety of topics. Thus the workshop began by having the faculty to develop an area to improve upon in any combination of the following domains: (a) communicator of the English language, (b) pedagogical skill set, and/or (c) knowledge of how languages are learned or applied linguistics (Bartels, 2005).

Once the teachers developed a problem, they were asked to create a Google Docs (2011) as a means for fostering a negotiation of meaning (and thus understandings) as well as active listening skills. The document was shared with at least one other colleague as well as the AL so to create at least a triadic discourse of shared experiences. The document includes the following three sections: (a) the problem or area the teacher feels needs the greatest improvement, (b) scheme of work that outlines content and language to be covered on a weekly basis, and (c) a personal reflection on how current thoughts, perspectives, and behavior have changed in terms of the initial problem that the teacher set. Since the document is shared with another colleague and the AL, the problem and the reflection can manifest itself in many different ways: (a) the educator can work alone, (b) groups of educators can work together, and (c) the educator and AL can work collaboratively. And the three types of manifestations can shift throughout the action research cycle as the EFL educator becomes more interdependent by gaining more confidence in making personal learning more transparent and participatory. The listening process and the negotiation of meaning indeed become an iterative and reciprocal process that all but eliminate the fixed expert and novice dichotomy often associated with traditional views of teacher supervision.

The final part of making learning more transparent is by sharing thoughts and experiences in an open forum. Since the distance English language training workshop is open to anyone, EFL educators working at the UAA have the chance to collaborate with other EFL educators from around the world. As they are expected to reflect and share thoughts in Google Docs (with a colleague or colleagues of their choice and their AL), they are also expected to share something in an open forum for everyone to see. The sharing between Google Docs and the open forum might be the same reflection but it does not have to be. The EFL educator can decide on how much or little to share in the open forum just as long as some amount of reflection is occurring. As with Google Docs, the open forum is designed to provide the means for EFL teachers to share more with others in the field of EFL education. The entire workshop is meant to be a place where teachers feel comfortable to take risks, reflect on their results, and share those results with others. Without interaction, diversity, autonomy, and openness (Downes, 2010), teachers will not be able to actively listen to each other, negotiate meaning that leads to understandings, and problem set and solve their way to improved classroom practice.

Challenges and Expectations

Planning a professional learning community around listening, negotiating meaning, and problem setting/solving behaviors renders a professional network that is open, diverse, autonomous, and interactive (Downes, 2010). The time and place for active listening between the EFL educator and the AL will depend on if the teacher is dependent, independent, or interdependent. The AL’s responsibility is to guide the teacher so that a personal transition can take place, moving the teacher from dependency to interdependency. Moreover, active listening is the ability to understand now only what an EFL educator says explicitly but the way in which statements are being expressed (i.e., tone, register, nonverbal communication) and what is not being said. Active listening thus becomes a precursor to negotiating meaning whereby speakers are giving and receiving illocutionary and perlocutionary forces that aid in the collaborative meaning-making process. Moreover, negotiation between individuals or groups can involve power relationships that can negatively influence one’s social identity. For this reason, creating a community based on the “semantic principal” yield educators who are more autonomous, diverse, open, and interactive (Downes, 2010) as the concept of negotiation extends through a more networked discourse as opposed to the typical dyadic discourse often associated with more traditional approaches. Through active listening and negotiating between faculty members themselves and the AL, problem setting and solving occurs at both the individual and group level such that the educational experience is viewed as “experimental” (Rosenthal, 2007, p.5).

The challenges of implementing a relationship between the AL and faculty that incorporates active listening, negotiation of meaning, and problem setting and solving constitute the creation of a professional learning network that emerges from a participative action research process that is daring, sharing, and caring. Specifically, teachers rely on relational trust and social capital (Sergiovanni, 2005) that extends throughout the network in order to achieve personal goals that are aligned with the mission and vision of the school. Although the expectations are that EFL educators are to share ideas and experiences openly, the learning ecosystem needs to exist beforehand in order to encourage faculty to take more risks and to learn from their successes and failures through ongoing and open discourse with others. By creating interdependent educators, accountability becomes a shared responsibility, commonly expresses as one for all and all for one while still maintaining autonomy and respecting the personal goals of each teacher.


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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.

Distributed Leadership

I´m reading Sergiovanni's Strengthening the heartbeat: Leading and learning together in schools where he mentions "distributed leadership" within the context of "leadership as entitlement". According to Sergiovanni (and I agree), those who have the ability to lead should be given the authority to do so, regardless of position.

I think this translates well to the classroom as well, that is, a classroom as a learning community. The notion of distributed (or networked) leadership provides all actors (i.e., teachers, students, parents, administrators, civic leaders, etc.) the chance to take on leadership roles at appropriate times based on the individual strengths of the collective. Thus, power is distributed as well throughout the community - both within and outside the classroom - in a way that provides a more equitable education. Learners, for example, who are given the opportunity (or authority) to lead in classroom activities and in their own learning, begin to feel empowered as their ability to lead improves as well. Through their interaction with others, they begin to see the strengths of others while at the same time realizing their own weaknesses. By developing personal wisdom, they gain insight on the benefits of creating various ties with classmates and others in order to improve their own personal learning network.

Although these concepts work at a variety of levels, the challenge is creating an environment that encourages learners, educators, etc. to take on leadership roles through interaction that includes actors that perhaps fall outside the common cliques that drive most social, educational, and professional dialog.

Teacher observations

I´ve been participating in threads pertaining to teacher observations, walk-throughs, etc., and recalling previous conversations with colleagues regarding the same, and still have reservations with the notion of using checklists when observing teachers.
How much can be observed when the observer is going down a checklist containing items that are or are not being addressed in class?  

How reliable and valid can an observation be when focused items from that checklist are discussed and predetermined in the pre-observation conference?  

How reliable and valid are observations that are either scheduled or conducted at random when teachers know ahead of time the areas of teaching/learning that administrators find important?
Working together with all teachers in establishing a set of agreed-upon teaching principals should be the bases of post-observation teacher conferences.  Instead of creating a checklist, having a common educational philosophy, mission, and a set of collective commitments paves the way for teachers to chart out their own path in initiating a change in practice.