Leadership for professional learning in Australian schools

Photo/Dennis Sparks

In order to offer students the kinds of experiences that reformers want them to have, teachers need to immerse themselves in similar experiences.

—Mary Ann Smith

Last week I was honored to talk about professional learning with a wonderful group of Australian educators at a conference in Sydney sponsored by the Australian Professional Teachers Association.

I began by offering the group my view that the fundamental purpose of professional learning is to ensure that all students in all schools experience quality learning every day and are surrounded by supportive relationships. The achievement of that goal, I said, requires that teachers and leaders themselves experience quality learning and supportive relationships as part of their daily work. Such learning affects educators’ beliefs (world views, mental models, conceptual frames), the depth of their understanding about important issues and subjects, their habits of mind and behavior, and the type and amount of social support they receive in their daily work.

In the spirit of dialogue, I offered participants several “propositions” to discuss in small groups. High-quality professional learning:

is for the benefit of all students in all classrooms. That means it affects all teachers and school leaders, not just some of them.

is aligned with the outcomes and methods sought for students. That means that educators’ professional learning replicates as closely as possible the outcomes and attributes of the teaching desired in K-12 classrooms. For instance, students’ deep understanding of important subjects requires teachers’ deep understanding of instructional methods that foster that outcome.

is of sufficient “cognitive demand” that it affects what teachers teach and how they teach it. That means that professional learning is intellectually rigorous and is sustained over many months and years so that ideas and methods move into daily practice as teachers and leaders acquire new beliefs, understandings, and habits.

is based in meaningful professional communities with a strong ethic of interpersonal accountability. That means that every teacher is part of one or more high-functioning teams whose primary goal is the continuous improvement of student learning.

recognizes that existing school cultures can suppress innovation if left unaddressed and that leaders are the primary shapers of school culture. That means that leaders intentionally influence culture by changing what they belief, understand, say, and do on a daily basis.

The conversations of our Australian colleagues were thoughtful, and the issues they discussed would have seemed familiar to American educators—finding time for learning and teamwork, providing skillful leadership at the school level, and establishing supportive policies, among other topics.

I’m confident that the conversations that began last week will continue in many other venues in the months and years ahead. I’m also confident that the collective efforts of Australian educators and their unwavering commitment to high-quality professional learning will enable them to create the outstanding schools they desire for all students in their vast and diverse country.

1 Response to “Leadership for professional learning in Australian schools”

  1. 1 Maria Delaney October 29, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Hello all,

    As a fan of the “Productive Pedagogies” framework I like this article by Sandra Sytsma so would like to share the url. But it’s not just school staff in need of this.. a great need for policy makers and managers too.

    It’s about time: Productive pedagogues and professional learning communities
    The role of teachers as pedagogues is examined with a view to teachers producing their own learning in professional learning communities. As professionals learning together in community, it is time for teachers to emerge as productive pedagogues who can reshape their own as well as students’ learning outcomes.

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