Creating a School Leadership Culture Part II: What teachers need and want

  • On 2015-07-28
  • capacity building, David Gurr, instructional model, intuyu consulting, Lawrie Davidson, school culture, spiral curriculum

 “Change begins with a culture where everyone is elevated to the status of learner”

 Sarah Brown Wessling

frustrated_teacherIn the last blog I shared about the research that David Gurr and Lawrie Davidson from Melbourne University have been doing around successful leadership in Australian Schools. Since I wrote that piece I have been discussing their research (and my interpretation of it) with a number of schools and their staff. The discussions have been fascinating to say the least!

Over the next few blogs I am going to dig a little deeper into what each level of leadership needs and wants to empower them to be effective in delivering student outcomes. My assertion is that schools that are successful over a long period of time have certain structures that not only provide what each level of leadership needs and wants but builds a particular empowering culture.  In this newsletter I am focusing on Teachers. Please feel free to challenge or add to my thinking!


Level 1 Impact

Classroom teachers have a direct impact on student learning. They are directly interacting with students each day and create the experience of learning and the school for each and every student. As Hattie pointed out in his 2003 paper Teachers make a difference – what is the research evidence?

 “It is what teachers know, do, and care about which is very powerful in this learning equation.”

“Teachers can and usually do have positive effects, but they must have exceptional effects. We need to direct attention at higher quality teaching, and higher expectations that students can meet appropriate challenges”

Hattie and Jaeger reviewed all the literature and identified five major dimensions of excellent teachers.

“Expert teachers

  • can identify essential representations of their subject,
  • can guide learning through classroom interactions,
  • can monitor learning and provide feedback,
  • can attend to affective attributes, and
  • can influence student outcomes”

We know that pre-service teaching does not create expert teachers – they are often just beginning their teaching journey. Where teachers develop their expertise is through practice and professional learning in their school environment. So what structures and processes would teachers require within a school to support them to progressively develop their capacity to become “expert teachers”? The following are some of my thoughts:

  • A spiral curriculum that outlines the progressive development of concepts, skills, understandings, and affective attributes across subjects through the years of schooling at the school. The aim is to provide a clear progression for teachers so they not only know the expected levels but also the connection across and within subjects. It also allows for a coherent and consistent approach to scaffolding and gradual release of responsibility over the year and through the years.
  • A clear instructional model so teachers know what to focus upon and what works best in curriculum planning, pedagogy and whole school affective and general capability development. Given the amount of evidence based research now available schools can articulate a model which captures what works best. This would include clear planning templates and planning and reflection processes.
  • Time for teaching teams to plan curriculum using a backward planning model (e.g. UbD). Petra Leitz in her 2009 ACER report pointed out that there is more variance in performance within Australian schools than between schools. My assertion is that a big part of this is because teachers do not have a shared common understanding of the “essential representations of their subject”. Time to plan and collaborate together on developing the written, enacted and assessed curriculum is critical to creating an aligned team and each and every teacher being clear about the learning goals and success criteria. In countries where there is significant teacher planning and discussion time (e.g. Finland) there is minimal variance within schools.
  • A well thought out framework for teachers to collaborate Team meetings often can devolve into administrivia rather than focussing on the core aspects of influencing student outcomes. Having clear structures for meetings and how teachers can work together to influence all the students is an important facet. This goes beyond cooperation and into teachers being data informed and working together to address each and every student.
  • Well thought out and progressive development processes for teacher capacity building (e.g. structured self-reflection, Individual Learning Plans, instructional and cognitive coaching, professional learning – individual and whole school). I find that most professional development within schools is piecemeal. Once a school has articulated a spiral curriculum and a clear instructional model then the school strategic plan should lay out how, over the coming years, the teachers will be building their expertise from their current level of expertise. This plan answers the question “How are we developing expert teachers that reflect the vision, values and foci we want for the school?”
  • An induction program for teachers new to the school so that over time the teachers are mentored / instructionally coached into thinking from and operating from the articulated school approach. A lot of focus has been recently been put on pre-service teacher training. Whilst I dislike the “Teach for Australia” approach in principal I believe one of the things they got right was the strong coaching structure embedded into their processes. A structured instructional coaching approach that progressively develops teachers new to the school will ensure that expert teachers and leaders are being grown
  • A school culture that values learning from mistakes and encourages teachers to experiment and evaluate their initiatives. We all learn by trial and error and this is critical for teachers to adapt to the varied needs and level of competence, knowledge, skills and dispositions in their classes. Unless everyone is working within a developmental mindset and are, at heart considered learners, then progress will be slow.


I would love to hear your thoughts about what I can add or change to the above at the level of teachers. Next time we will look at what is needed and wanted at the level of middle leadership.

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