By Zainab Asif – Head of Department at American International School, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Leadership can be defined using various terminologies depending on what kind of leaders have people been exposed to. But a true leader is one who prioritizes a culture of deep relationships. The thought provoking question would be how does leadership influence teaching and learning in classrooms?
Does it matter?
Learning-centered leadership is a set of strategies that influence the quality of learning and teaching in classrooms. School leaders have a strong influence on teaching and learning in classrooms and how their impact on students is largely indirect. The paradigm shifted to learner-centered leadership which broadly explains how effective or strong leaders define their work as school improvement goals. In this approach, the learner’s voice is given priority throughout the learning process. Alternatively, it is expressed as leadership that fosters the utilization of resources, creating learning opportunities, a clear mission, and teaching expectations with leaders being social and moral agents.
Learners as Leaders
Often teachers do not give control and power to students as they worry about the risk factor involved. Learners have high curiosity levels and want opportunities that would enable them to channel their curiosity into learning rather than being informed. We all need to understand that educators would be working as “facilitators” and allow learners to develop their unique learning experiences. The learner centered paradigm should be created where teachers bring in a learning experience with skills in content and learning design, while the learner holds personal knowledge about their passions, needs, challenges, and dreams. Studies have shown that when students show ownership in the learning process, the attainment gap is narrowed and the outcome is vastly improved compared to the traditional learning model. Leaders identify strategies to improve the quality of teaching and learning as they are highly focused on improving student outcomes.
How do leaders make it happen?
When leaders are more focused on improvement and quality of learning, they assure that teachers are well-trained through professional development sessions so that they have a positive impact on student outcomes. As Southworth (2009) discussed in his article that the learning-centered leadership strategies are modeling, monitoring, and dialogue to which West-Burnham later added mentoring as underpinning all three (Earley, 2013).
Any new approach introduced takes the trial-and-error format where the teachers watch the leaders closely of their actions and trust those to be effective for students. Leaders should set examples for teachers to follow and this is referred to as the modeling process which makes it easier to adapt those tried strategies in classrooms.
Analyzing data plays a vital role in personalizing learning for students. Leaders observe lessons and arrange constructive feedback meetings with teachers which enhance the teaching and learning in the classroom. Lesson observations or monitoring classrooms should be taken as a form of learning for both teachers and leaders so that they are informed about the student’s progress and knowledge of teachers’ strengths and development needs. In this way, professional support can be provided which is fundamental for overall school improvement.
Dialogue is essential for articulating self-knowledge, understanding, and assumptions. Leaders create opportunities to meet their colleagues or teachers and discuss student learning and achievements. They might ask about specific students or groups, or follow up on an aspect of teaching which the staff have agreed to take as an area for development, such as questioning, marking, or children with special learning needs.
Increasing teachers’ reflective powers and expanding their teaching repertoires are treated as professional learning opportunities and processes.
How do I promote learner-centered leadership at my school?
As a leader and a coach, I work closely with teachers and students’ development across the phase. Regularly, my activity includes gathering of student and teacher data to measure the progress in lessons which would directly affect the attainment of the class/group. This data is analyzed to identify the target class/teacher/students who need support and training. Those teachers are assigned mentorship and coaching programs that help to support quality teaching. My next step is to monitor lessons and most of the time demonstrate strategies in the classroom setting for better modeling. Feedback and follow-up sessions are conducted regularly where the conversation is more of a dialogue with the purpose of enhancing the teacher’s knowledge of how students learn rather than being a judgmental meeting.
Overall, regular personalized professional sessions are conducted where best practices are been shared by teachers with their colleagues or new positive approaches that I would find beneficial for students. Teachers have a voice like the students, to share if those approaches have been effective or need modifications and adjustments.
To conclude, learning-centered leadership is a cycle of continuous improvement and adjustments where all the stakeholders are directly or indirectly involved in decision-making and voice out their opinion for creating a unique and personalized learning experience.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John Kennedy, former President, USA
Zainab Asif is the Head of Department at American International School, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Connect with her on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/zainab-asif-5434b6109
Leading the learning – yes but for what purpose?-Teaching Times