Celebrating leaders who foster learner agency in the adults they lead

Schools are increasingly focused on placing their learners at the centre. And there is plenty of research that tell us this is a very good thing! Teams are reflecting on the roles of ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ and inquiring into the ways they keep learners at the centre. They’re asking questions such as:

  • Who makes the majority of the decisions? And why? Is it in response to the needs of my current students?
  • In what ways does my learning programme recognise the strengths and interests of different students?
  • Do my students understand the relevance of what they are learning? Indeed, does what they are learning have a relevance beyond an assessment?
  • Do my students want to come to school?

But do you, as a leader, ask these questions of yourself when you consider the professional learning of your team: the senior leaders, the middle leaders, the across-school/in-school teachers? In these teams:

  • Who makes most of the decisions?
  • In what ways does the PLD recognise its learners?
  • Is there certainty around the relevance of the PLD?
  • Do your teams want to be there?

I want to recognise and celebrate those leaders who deliberately put learners at the centre – the students AND the adults who work with them.

There is such strength in those schools who work collegially to create the conditions that accelerate learning. We know that effective leaders provide clarity around effective classroom practice through a shared vision that relates strongly to their unique learning community. With learner agency as a priority, they also provide the wrap around support to their senior and middle leaders to lead this learning with their teams.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a local school over the past two years where the focus has been on learner agency – for both the students and the adults. The middle leaders were renamed the ‘student agency team’ and their role was to lead the PLD within their respective teams. My role was to meet with them to support not only their own professional learning around agency but also to support the ‘how’ to lead effectively so that the conditions for team learning are enhanced. This kind of partnership meant the unique needs of each team were always front and centre. The PLD targeted their needs and deliberately discussed the ways each leader could provide the ‘just in time’ support and leadership. The ways this team also learned together were not limited to in-school either – they opened their classrooms to other school teams to visit and presented at local conferences their ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’. Collegially they stood unified in purpose and remained open to learning from and with each other.

We know that effective leaders set goals and gain the commitment from the team to achieve these goals. We know that effective leaders resource strategically and ensure quality teaching. We also know that “…if you lead and nobody follows, you’re only going for a walk.” (anon). Leadership is no longer a solo enterprise but instead a description of the quality of the relationships influencing the culture of the school.

Leading adult learners is different from leading student learning and it’s not always easy. At times the notion of ‘team’ is stretched when the roles are not clear and the expectations are not shared. Certainly, feedback from teachers who are part of collaborative teams recognises the importance of having agreed communication protocols to ensure not only effective collaboration but clarity around learning-focused conversations as well. It is challenging work supporting colleagues who are already working hard and are perhaps stretched to capacity already. But it is important work and it is the work that needs to happen if goals are to be reached successfully and collectively.

The heroes are the senior and middle leaders and across school/in school teachers who are working deliberately to support and lead learning with and for their colleagues. They help keep the goals in focus and bring a sense of cohesion to how all the pieces fit together - design team meetings, staff meetings and PLD - in ways that recognise the diverse learners that make up their teams.

Evaluation Associates and Joan Dalton have recognised the need to provide high quality support to leaders and have developed a course that will run over 2018. It is deliberately designed to support leaders to be effective at leading adult learning either in an individual school or as part of a Kāhui Ako. Joan Dalton and I will work with teams to further develop their expertise in leading adult learners to be the very best they can be in creating the learning environments that accelerate success for every learner. For more info, click here.

See also my last blog post: Use hacks for innovative curriculum design with students and teachers 

Tags: leadership adult learning learner agency collaboration


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