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The centrality of leadership in 21st century schools July 24, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Educational Leadership, Engaging Learning Environments.
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from Professor Steve Wilson

This is the first of two posts from Steve Wilson on school leadership. The second post will develop in more practical detail some of the ideas contained here. That post is titled ‘The context of leadership in 21st century schools’.

More than ever, it is clear that the quality of leadership in a school is fundamental to the success of the school in meeting the needs of its students. We now clearly understand that the quality of teaching in a school, and the expectations that teachers bring to student learning, make a significant difference to student learning outcomes and to the lives of students. We now also understand that the quality of leadership in a school, and its capacity to provide vision, direction, and support for teachers, is imperative in a well-performing 21st century school.

School leadership is not easy, particularly in the 21st century school. School leaders must cope with changing policy and political expectations such as the national curriculum and partnerships agreements with the states, as well as ever-changing technological challenges and pedagogical opportunities and the impact of national and international testing regimes. In this environment, teachers rely on a leadership that can provide well-considered, common sense directions for teachers students and parents, optimism, support, and which promotes a sense of direction, achievement and professional fulfilment for teachers.

Outstanding leadership in schools is necessarily distributed (Blankstein, 2004; Woods et al, 2004) across the body of teachers, and in well-performing schools formal school leaders (the principal, for example) put a lot of energy into matching the strategic needs of the school with the capacities of staff at all levels so they can exercise significant informal leadership. The result is often the emergence of an effective school community of learners (Fullan, 1998; Fullan & St. Germain, 2006), in which the teaching staff has a strong understanding of where the school is going, and a strong sense of ownership of these directions.

Effective leadership of a school involves the formal school leader/s facilitating an enabling culture of learning and continuous improvement, which draws out and utilises the various strengths of the staff and community. This form of leadership encourages collaboration, initiative and leadership at all levels, and has as its fundamental purpose the maximising of learning engagement and learning outcomes for each one of the students in the school.

In bringing about an enabling culture of learning and continuous improvement, the formal leaders of a school will have acquired, and be able express through their leadership, a formidable repertoire of understandings and skills. Critically, they will exercise effective pedagogical leadership, having a good knowledge of curriculum and pedagogy and what works in engaging and challenging students, and being able to provide a constructive pedagogical narrative or story for the teachers in the school. The 21st century principal cannot simply be a highly effective manager who is disconnected from the classroom. They will have a commitment to student engagement and learning achievement which will ideally place students at the centre of learning. They will have a commitment to curriculum innovation and experimentation which emphasises the value of organisational learning, sharing, and the celebration of success.

Formal leaders of 21st century, well-performing schools will have high expectations of students, teachers and parents, and a capacity to communicate and demonstrate these expectations and through them to influence learning outcomes. Additionally, they will have the capacity to build and sustain autonomous and accountable teams which drive innovation and student and organisational learning within the school. Finally, they will have a commitment to data-led strategic planning and improvement, and will advocate to all that evidence of improved student learning engagement, and learning outcomes, is the fundamental measure of success. In the 21st century school, it is no longer enough to feel that things are working well – we need access to all sorts of data, and to be adept at drawing out evidence of our achievement from these data.

Celebration is important. Celebrating the leadership and achievements of all staff is important. As activist and businesswoman Anita Roddick once said, we should “make heroes of the employees who personify what [we] want to see out of the organisation”. In a well-performing school, the desire of our teachers to learn, to share and to lead student learning improvement is expected, celebrated and valued, and this desire by teachers to exercise leadership is explicitly developed by the principal and others with formal leadership responsibility.

In such schools teachers will, as informal school leaders themselves, develop the necessary attributes of leadership as a culture-building activity. Through this they will become ready themselves to move into positions of formal leadership, perhaps in other schools, and will in turn influence the quality of teaching and learning achievement in those schools. Well-performing 21st century schools, driven by these distributed, outcomes-oriented and optimistic learning communities and models of leadership, do and will continue to become lighthouse sites of educational practice. Other educators, who are keen to understand how ‘what works’ can be achieved, will come to these schools seeking answers and investigating effective models of practice. The quality of leadership in such well-performing lighthouse schools will continue to be a vital factor in their success.

References:    Blankstein, A.M. (2004). Failure is not an option: Six principles that guide achievement in high performing schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.   Fullan, M. (1998). Leadership for the 21st century: Breaking the bonds of dependency. Educational Leadership, 55(7). 6pp.  Fullan, M. & St Germain, C. (2006). Learning places. Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, CA.   Woods, P., Bennett, N., Harvey, J., & Wise, C. (2004). Variabilities and dualities in distributed leadership: Findings from a systematic literature review. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 32 (2), 439-457.

Steve Wilson is Head of the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. This post was drawn from his presentation to a group of Sydney-based deputy-principals in 2010. His next post will examine the nature of the pedagogical narrative that school leaders can utilise to promote effective 21st century learning for students. Previous posts related to this content are: The evolution of the 21st century school, and The teacher as ‘leader networker’.

Technology in the middle years mathematics classroom: Technology driving pedagogy or pedagogy driving technology? July 10, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Catherine Attard

Catherine Attard examines the use of ICTs in the teaching of mathematics, and suggests it is important that these technologies are used thoughtfully, and in the continued service of effective mathematics learning for students rather than the converse.

With new technologies continuing to change the ways we communicate, calculate, analyse, shop, and many other aspects of our home and work lives, it is timely to consider how effectively technology is being used in our mathematics classrooms. Arguably, computer technologies are changing the ways in which we think and make sense of our world (Collins & Halverson, 2009). This has been acknoweldged in the Australian Curriculum  (mathematics) with the inclusion of information and communication technology (ICT) as one of the ‘general capabilities’ students require to be successful in work and life in the 21st century. With ICT embedded within the content descriptions and elaborations across all strands of the new curriculum, teachers are now responsible for incorporating a range of ICTs to support and enhance student learning and their engagement with mathematics.

It is a common belief that the incorporation of computer technology into mathematics teaching and learning motivates and engages students (Pierce & Ball, 2009). However, research into their use in mathematics classrooms has revealed some issues that could negatively impact on student engagement as a result of how they integrate with existing pedagogies. There is a danger of the technology driving pedagogy, rather than pedagogy driving the technology. Research by Samuelsson (2007) revealed some teachers who regularly incorporate computers into their lessons tend to use them in a way that resonates with a didactical, teacher-centred approach. Reliance on such an approach restricts the potential of ICTs to act as an agent of change in terms of supporting students’ engagement with the subject.

As mentioned in my first blog post, “If you like the teacher, you’ll ‘get’ maths more”: Students talk about good mathematics teachers, my recent research into engagement with mathematics during the middle years found students appeared to experience mixed feelings towards the use of ICTs that were directly related to the way the technologies were incorporated into mathematics lessons. For example, when computers were used purely as replacement for text books, providing little opportunity for teacher/student interaction, students began to disengage from mathematics and found the emphasis on computers to be a distraction, with this student’s comment a typical response:

…there’s also a lot of distractions ‘cause I can see people around, like the boys around me, they’re not actually doing their work, they’ve got games and the calculators on the dashboards and like the internet, and it’s like using the Macs… I find it a lot more distracting ‘cause there’s Bluetooth and I’m very tempted, and the Internet’s just…there’s like a lot of gimmicks where you can just get rid of the screen straight away and go back to your work,  like command-H hides that page.

On the other hand, when the same group of students experienced the use of technology through a student-centred approach, their engagement levels appeared to increase:

Maths has been a lot better. It’s not as boring as doing the same thing over and over again on (the commercial website). We’ve been doing more interactive with the drawing and the measuring with the ruler and Sketchup and all these other programs.

Teachers who have successfully implemented computer technology have been found to display a wide variety of teaching styles that include a willingness to become a learner alongside students, and a willingness to lessen teacher control in the classroom (Thomas, Tyrrell, & Bullock, 1996).

When good pedagogy drives the incorporation of technology into mathematics teaching and learning, ICTs have immense potential to enhance students’ experiences with mathematics. However, it must be acknowledged that the incorporation of ICTs is not without difficulties and challenges for many teachers. Factors that inhibit teachers’ use of computers include issues of access, lack of technical support, and the time it takes for students to learn to use the equipment and software programs, taking away from time learning mathematics (Forgasz, 2006; Hoyles, et al., 2010).

For teachers to make the transition from a traditional mathematics teaching approach to one in which computers play an integral role,  a commitment to learning how and when to use the technology is required (Goos & Bennison, 2008; Pierce & Ball, 2009). Aspects of good practice that have been identified from research are:

  • Teacher confidence and expertise with technology;
  • Emphasis on mathematical ideas and concepts rather than on teaching the processes of using the technology;
  • The ability to teach mathematics with technology so that its use is seamless, and the use of computers in such a way that students are able to reflect on results rather than simply produce answers;
  • Presentation of the big picture of mathematics, the use of multiple representations of concepts and development of skills necessary to understand concepts better; and
  • The ability to engage students in technology teaching and learning activities and the ability to respond to and support students’ needs accordingly (Thomas et al., 2007).

The use of computer technology in the mathematics classroom has the potential to enhance students’ learning and have a positive impact on their engagement when used appropriately. It is not enough to embed ICT into our curriculum documents. Teachers need to be supported with access to professional development and strong technical support, peer support and system support. Only then can we expect to see more instances of pedagogy driving technology rather than technology driving pedagogy.

References: Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The digital revolution and schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press.  Forgasz, H. (2006). Factors that encourage or inhibit computer use for secondary mathematics teaching. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 25(1), 77-93.  Goos, M., & Bennison, A. (2008). Surveying the technology landscape: Teachers’ use of technology in secondary mathematics classrooms. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 20(3), 102-130.   Hoyles, C., Lagrange, J.-B., Drijvers, P., Kieran, C., Mariotti, M.-A., Ainley, J., Meagher, M. (2010). Integrating technology into mathematics education: Theoretical perspectives Mathematics education and technology-rethinking the terrain (Vol. 13, pp. 89-132): Springer US.  Pierce, R., & Ball, L. (2009). Perceptions that may affect teachers’ intention to use technology in secondary mathematics classes. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 71(3), 299-317.  Thomas, M., Bosley, J., delos Santos, A., Gray, R., Hong, Y. Y., & Loh, J. (2007). Technology use and the teaching of mathematics in the secondary classroom. Wellington, NZ: Teaching and Learning Research Initiative.  Thomas, M., Tyrrell, J., & Bullock, J. (1996). Using computers in the mathematics classroom: The role of the teacher. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 8(1), 38-57.

Catherine Attard is a Lecturer in mathematics education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She has published several other posts on maths education – you can search her name using the search engine at the top of this page.

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