Together as a whole staff we had the privilege of visiting two schools in Palmerston North today. Throughout my career I have highly valued the opportunity to visit other schools and have been lucky enough that the schools I have been involved have also valued this and have embedded it into their school culture and professional learning.
Firstly a huge thank you to the schools we visited. We were warmly welcomed and impressed by your openness to deprivatise your practice. Our focus was looking at deliberate strategies to raise achievement in literacy and we came away with lots to think about.
School A shared with a specific school wide approach to lifting achievement in literacy known as the Daily 5 supported by the Daily Cafe. What struck me about this was the cohesive and consistent approach of the Daily 5 across the whole school. There was a common language seen, heard and followed in all classrooms. Staff had clearly agreed to implement this approach across their school, deliberately setting specific expectations and explicitly teaching self-management approaches. Great stuff.
Contrastingly School B stated their belief that there wasn’t a one size fits all approach to teaching and learning. Teachers had the professional autonomy to adapt their teaching to best suit the learning needs of their students. While there are agreed upon guiedlines and expectations, teachers had the ‘freedom’ to adpot strategies, use resources and group children as appropriate.
Now both approaches are successful, both schools are well led, both have effective management teams and self-review in place. Both approaches can find a strong base in research and best practice e.g. professional autonomy is a recognised feature of the highly ranked Finnish school system. I was impressed by both schools but as I reflect on the day the contrast between the two approaches, while over simplified in this post, made me think a little deeper and out rose a number of questions…
- Do you need consistency and cohesion before you can go to a state of autonomy? i.e. Do you need to ‘enforce’ a state of consistency to embed behaviours in teaching and learning thus laying the foundation for professional autonomy? What happens then when new staff transition in to the school?
- Can the two coexist within the same school/team and they still function effectively? i.e. Do you need to be consistently consistent or consistently autonomous? Or is being flexible the name of the game because there is no one size fits all for our teachers? Or… is there a consistent way to implementing an autonomous environment?
- Is the experience of a teacher a factor that determines their ability to manage an autonomous classroom? Similar to the first question… Could a beginning teacher hit the ground running and operate autonomously?
- Is it simply a case of teachers teaching to their preferred teaching style? e.g. Not a school decision but a personal preference to operating and managing a classroom of learners. Or is professional autonomy the preferred ideal approach?
- To what extent does school leadership influence the consistency/cohesion or teacher autonomy approach? A school principal has a strong influence over the direction of a school. Is their belief structure reflected in the schools approach, their confidence in the staff, their leadership style? Is it not about that at all but the student demographic?
Too many questions. What are your thoughts?