“Do your teachers get joy and professional fulfillment from learning and growing their teaching practice?” This was the question posed by author Tracey Ezard in issue 33 of Teachers Matter magazine titled “Are your teachers great learners or just great mates?”
At its core, her question asks us to look beneath the social capital of our schools and truly assess whether our teaching teams have the “foundational requirements for looking rigorously at their teaching practice”, a necessary element in developing teaching and learning programs that offer the best education to the students we teach.
Ezards idea of teachers being great learners sits nicely with the notion of critical reflective practice that I have written about previously. Within that post I confessed that during my previous involvement in mentoring and coaching teachers to develop schoolwide pedagogy, too often I saw colleagues engaging in what Finlay (2008) calls introspection or solitary reflection that acted as a process to affirm existing and sometimes ineffective practice rather than as a tool for re-orientation and development.
“Unless teachers develop the practice of critical reflection, they stay trapped in unexamined judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and expectations. Approaching teaching as a reflective practitioner involves fusing personal beliefs and values into a professional identity”
(Larrivee, 2000, p.293. cited in Finlay, 2008, p.2.)
Shifting the focus onto what is happening within our classrooms and the impact that our programme and practice is having on our students is the perfect test for both the strength and depth of the learning culture in a school.
Whilst a harmonious team provides the perfect environment to develop a culture of learning, Ezard (2017) argues that cracks can quickly appear in teaching teams where harmony exceeds the ability of its members to discuss and address individual practice or challenges.
In these situations, a fear of exposure combined with a sense of vulnerability erode the surface deep strengths of the team, crippling collaboration and co-creation, and allowing distrust to creep in.
It is essential that we build upon the strong connections our teachers have socially to include a connection with each other as learners if a true learning culture is to be established. According to Ezard (2017), the foundational requirements of great learning cultures include:
- A strong belief in sharing successes and failures
- Relentlessly putting work under the spotlight and pulling it apart
- The use of data to as a springboard for action
- A commitment to professional trust
- An ability to participate in robust dialogue and debate
The vision for students within the New Zealand Curriculum includes the creation of lifelong learners. Ultimately this principle must apply to the teachers and leaders of the very students this vision is designed for. Next time you walk into your staffroom or participate in a staff meeting ask yourself: Is this the harmonious hum of a social staff? or Is this the true buzz of a school learning culture where teachers get joy, value and fulfillment from their work?