Developing Culture of Inquiry and Learning Excellence in School

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This paper seeks to establish a conceptual framework through an insightful synthesis of creating and building a culture of inquiry and learning excellence within the school. It is grounded in specific ideas and evidence about what gets in the way of student success, what makes a change so hard within a school, what shifts in teacher beliefs and school culture are needed, and what designs for inquiry and leadership development best target and facilitates these shifts. It will outline a set of principles and guidelines, essentially a roadmap to eliminating the school conditions that inhibit student success. Bolman and Deal (2003) have developed four frames or perspectives for understanding organisations and leadership. Theses frames have been used as a lens to explore how to positively engage staff in collaborative inquiry and how this process affects me as a leader, the individual and the team.

The paper, as such, is a personal interpretation of my understanding and synthesis of the major professional issues, which have become significant to me as a result of my experience in leading an inquiry into school-level teaching and learning initiatives in early number. This agenda provides an opportunity for detailing a plan around how staff will engage positively with the action research project they are involved in. The conceptual framework will act as a support providing the opportunity to think about complex situations, enabling insight to make sense of the situation and determine strategies to improve them. Conceptual frameworks provide an exploratory scaffold for deepening understanding and using these lenses have settled for me certain questions, identified other areas to focus upon, provided new learning and some conceptual clarity, to support my ongoing learning.

GS Primary School is a co-educational, Catholic primary school in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. The school was founded in 1996 and now has a growing population of over 730 students. GS is a diverse multicultural school community with almost half of the students’ families recently fleeing war-torn countries. Students with a language background other than English now comprise 82% of the student population.

A major concern for the school, identified through the previous school improvement period, is that improvement in numeracy has been inconsistent and efforts have not resulted in the anticipated and planned for gains. The ongoing challenge for the school is identified through the casual relationship between the organisational and teaching climate that exists. Staff have experienced this through: lack of role clarity, particularly for school leaders; inconsistent development and implementation of effective school structures that support adult
learning; 
individual teaching practice; 
individual professional learning; 
inconsistent development and implementation of effective school structures that support student learning; 
inconsistent understanding of the needs and aspirations of our community and inconsistent development and implementation of effective school structures and strategies that support leadership development.

The School Improvement Staff Survey from 2007-2015 had shown little, if at all, any improvement in the preconditions for an effective and contextually appropriate learning culture (organisational climate and teaching climate).  This is mirrored in the school’s survey data collected over the same period, which has consistently been in the lowest 25th percentile of schools. Our ongoing challenge is to drive sustained improvements in the climate of the school and link this to improved outcomes for our students.

Much work has been completed over the past year and a half, with the school articulating a clear school vision focusing on continuous improvement and high expectations for students, agreed behaviour management practices, school meetings that are now focused on student learning, clear professional learning opportunities for staff, the development of a clearly documented numeracy curriculum, development of a numeracy assessment schedule, increase in instructional time for teaching numeracy and the implementation of clearly communicated policies.

Although a lot of work has been achieved, the organisational climate and learning culture of the school is still not in a healthy space. The wellbeing and engagement of teachers seem to be suffering and many are not sufficiently motivated to engage in the teaching and learning practices that enhance student outcomes. This is also reflected in the high turnover of staff experienced by the school, which has already seen three teachers leave since the beginning of 2017.

Schools are complex organisations. They are systems made up of many interdependent elements that are in a relationship with each other. While each element can be uniquely identified and focused upon, its effectiveness is simultaneously dependent upon the effectiveness of another or others. In 2016, the principal presented the School Strategic Improvement Plan. This plan is to enable ‘A pilgrimage of Learning and Revelation.’ It is positioned on the premise of activating our collective endeavour to make real the Kingdom and promise of God, and an educative purpose of lives fully lived. “An organisation without a plan is seen as reactive, short-sighted, and rudderless. Planning then is a ceremony any reputable organisation must conduct periodically to maintain legitimacy.” (Bolman & Deal, 2003, p. 279).

The strategic improvement plan is embedded in our understanding that Catholic schools are founded on Jesus Christ and are an important part of the Catholic Church’s mission; the values and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the Gospel and proclaimed by the Church are central to our school vision, a vision that offers fullness of life. It places the child at the core of all improvement initiatives while recognising the significant influence that families have on a child’s learning. It responds to the complexity of the interactions and relationships between each improvement domain of the school and calls upon a collective commitment to carry out this business.

Mintzberg (1994) explored how well strategic planning rarely achieves its objectives and presents an analysis of this practice. He suggests that plans are not redundant but are only valuable as strategy finders, analysts and catalysts, providing managers with questions upon questions without providing answers. He also identifies that planners can be detached from the reality of an organisation and inhibit creativity through the nature of their formalised approach. Although strategic planning can be detached from the reality of an organisation, it is the organisations approach to building value around the plan and implementing management processes needed to support it that can add real value to its success.

The strategic plan consists of the strategic priorities, intents and questions. The priorities list five overarching goals to ensure coherent action designed to improve the learning experiences for each student, including, being a living witness to the gospel, achieving excellence in student learning and well-being, strengthening relationships, developing a culture of shared leadership and responsibility and providing a contemporary learning environment. This shared and well-communicated plan aligns a vision for success and focuses on the work to be achieved.

The strategic intents provide statements of what we want to achieve in the long term. These statements are provided below:

  1. Proclaim the Gospel of Christ
  2. Design learning that enables all our students to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, active and informed, citizens
  3. Strengthen family and community engagement in learning
  4. Promote collective and distributed leadership for learning
  5. Develop the school to be a contemporary learning environment.

The strategic priorities and intents are linked with the school goals and big strategic questions that will endure the life of the strategic plan.

What followed was the link to the school improvement plan. Here focus questions were developed to focus the inquiries for the life of the school improvement plan. They focused on five connected inquiry domains. As the leader of numeracy, the inquiries of my focus sit within the domain of quality teaching: exploring pedagogy, learner pathways and learning design.

To be more explicit in what to focus on the annual action plan shapes our inquiry questions. In the domain of quality teaching and our questions around pedagogy we hope to answer:

  • How can we know our students and how they learn?
  • How can we best plan for our students and implement effective teaching and learning?
  • How do we Initiate and engage in professional discussions with colleagues to evaluate practice directed at improving professional knowledge and practice and the educational outcomes of students?

Through learning pathways we are asking:

  • How can we manage our student information and data to ensure we know our students learning needs?
  • What is our whole school approach to Intervention and provision for students with disabilities?
  • How can we effectively create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments?

Within learning design, we seek to answer:

  • What are the elements of our current curriculum and to what extent do they respond to our student’s needs and interests?
  • What are the design principles that will inform a rich, relevant and rigorous Catholic curriculum?
  • How can learning technologies be effectively used to support student learning?
  • How can we design for learning that enables our students to contribute to a more just and fair world?

The key improvement strategies outline how we will go about this inquiry. These strategies identify the structural efforts in place to ensure success and include:

  • Formation of the Literacy and Numeracy Innovation Teams Support staff to see themselves as learners, reflect on their practice and create opportunities to develop their professional expertise.
  • Develop a whole school approach to pedagogy— through building a common language, shared meaning and collective commitment to action. Provide opportunities to build pedagogical capacity and skills of educators, with a particular emphasis on growth in students’ literacy and numeracy
  • Establish a Learning Engagement Plan for each village
  • Develop collaborative processes that support the professional inquiry into practice.
  • Setting aside time for in-depth staff discussions of achievement data and of strategies for the continuous improvement of student outcomes.
  • Develop systems and structures to ensure early identification of student learning needs.
  • Develop clear policy and strategies to promote appropriate behaviour to further support staff and student relationships and improved learning outcomes
  • Provide professional learning opportunities to build educators’ capacity and skills to meet the learning needs of students with additional learning needs, with a particular emphasis on growth in students’ literacy and numeracy
  • Map current curriculum provision against AUSVELS and the Early Years Learning Framework.
  • Manage the transition from AUSVELS to the Victorian Curriculum.
  • Processes and resources to document learning design and curriculum provision
  • Establish a Curriculum Plan for each village

Cohen and March (1974) identified four symbolic roles for plans. They suggest that plans are symbols; they become games; excuses for interaction and advertisements. The plan as a symbol identifies the need for improvement and details the key improvement areas through engaging in self-analysis of the current situation. It also provides the opportunity for interaction and a commitment to new emerging priorities. If a plan’s goals are unclear, requesting a plan around how a specific program may meet the needs of our school community, will determine commitment and the process of developing the plan will be the benefit. As an advertisement, the plan provides an attractive display to entice prospective families, and outside agencies to work in collaboration with the school.

School improvement is an inquiry, a way of being and as inquiry a way of doing. For teachers to work collaboratively and use evidence to meet the learning needs of all students a strategic and deliberately designed approach needs to be implemented. Merely asking teachers to work collaboratively and use student data to improve instruction is not enough; rather, the design must engage the particular cultural mindsets and routines that inhibit change. The model of inquiry enacted within the school is an attempt to marry school improvement and leadership development. The model is comprised of highly structured tasks with design features that directly target the challenges involved in re-cultivating our school. The goal of collaborative inquiry is to bring shifts in school culture toward shared accountability, evidence-based practice, and development of leadership capacity.

“Capacity for change is all about learning: learning, in which people engage individually and collectively in continuous, challenging and purposeful consideration of their professional responsibilities, their beliefs, their skills, their motivation and their practices.” (Stoll, 2009 p. 121). Through a focus on creating and building a culture of inquiry into our practice, the school devised a model based on the work from Helen Timeperly (2012). This model outlines the essential elements of evidence-based inquiry. It represents an interconnected five-part domain cycle.

The first part of the inquiry model is labelled ‘scanning’ and is built on the understanding that all decisions are student centred, and the current context is always considered in light of a students’ spiritual, social, emotional and academic learning achievement. It focuses on seeking to understand:

  • What is our current context?
  • What is our current level of achievement?
  • What can students do and what do students know already?
  • What sources of evidence have been used?

The second domain ‘focussing’ allows for focus questions concerned with growth and development around a particular aspect of the current context, directly related to students’ spiritual, social, emotional and academic learning outcomes. It asks:

  • What is our preferred future?
  • What could it be?
  • What would we like to see different in the future?
  • What other sources of evidence could be used?
  • What do students need to learn?
  • How do we build on what is known?

The third domain, titled ‘learning’ is focused on building the capacities required to influence growth and development in a particular aspect of the current context. Learning will be directly related to growth in students’ spiritual, social, emotional and academic outcomes. This area will seek to understand:

  • How we have contributed to the current context?
  • What do we already know that we can use to promote valued outcomes?
  • How have we contributed to current context?
  • What do we need to learn to promote valued outcomes?
  • What sources of evidence/knowledge can we utilise?
  • What capabilities do we need to build in order to achieve our preferred future?
  • What do I need to know more about?
  • What I need to be able to do at a higher level of sophistication?
  • What can we learn from each other?
  • What can we learn from additional experts?

The fourth domain, ‘taking action’, identifies strategies focusing on influencing growth and development. What are the strategies most likely to influence a creation of the preferred future? Questions to explore this include:

  • What practices will we trail?
  • What approaches to professional learning will most effectively build knowledge and skills in relation to the desired outcomes?
  • How do we ensure deep and sustained learning will occur?

The fifth domain, titled, ‘checking’, is focused on the impact of new practices on growth and development. It evaluates the impact on a students’ spiritual, social, emotional, academic learning outcomes. It seeks to evaluate:

  • How well the new practices are being implemented?
  • Are students and staff responding to the changes in practice?
  • To what extent have we answered our school improvement questions
  • To what extent have we impacted on student learning outcomes
  • Where can we achieve further growth?
  • What areas do we still need to focus on?

A focus on creating and building a culture of inquiring into our practice is a challenge faced by leaders. Creating situations that promote learning about practice that make a difference for students is our core business. “A culture of professional inquiry is fostered when teachers and leaders engage in communities of continuous inquiry; sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning-oriented, growth-promoting way; operating in a culture of collective enterprise in which the goal of teachers and leaders is to enhance their effectiveness as professionals for the students’ benefit. (Stoll et al. 2006).

When examining the social architecture of the school, and employing a structural design to best fit the goal of supportive structures for staff to engage in purposeful learning, organisational change became a high priority of the school. In a strategic and deliberate attempt to provide an effective learning environment, the needs of the ‘whole of school organisation’ were taken into account and the principal in consultation restructured the organisation. The creation of villages with an assigned learning leader was created, in order to address year levels operating autonomously from each other, in regards, to curriculum planning, pedagogy, assessment and student management. One possible reason for such autonomy of practice was that there was very limited school-wide agreement and/or policy in place to shape the development of a shared practice. Nor are there defined organisational structures, other than the weekly staff meeting, that provided the opportunity for collaborative discourse on matters of instruction, curriculum planning or student wellbeing and management.

The learning consultant for mathematics (number intervention) from the Catholic Education Office Melbourne, working with the collective around the research project has devoted time and communication to develop collaborative professional relationships. Forming a collective and leading this professional learning community has created a space in which to build shared understandings of the vision and how to apply this to the context of our school. It has also provided the opportunity to share resources and advice in addressing issues within the school. In turn, it provides the opportunity to create a professional learning community within the school, who learn together to support teacher teams working to improve student learning. This structural frame built buy-in and capacity while providing the experience of using collaborative inquiry to improve practice in leading change. Most importantly, they built trusting, collaborative relationships between the system and the school. “Successful organisations employ a variety of methods to coordinate individual and group efforts and to link local initiatives with corporation wide goals.” (Bolman & Deal, 2003, p. 50)

Research focusing on schools that successfully overcome great odds, link continuous improvement to learning communities. Making inquiry the approach to developing individual, team and school capacity required a structural design in order to be effective. Therefore the strategic decision to create and foster a Numeracy Innovation Team that exhibits shared values and vision, strives for collective responsibility for student learning, has a collaborative focused approach on learning both as collective and individual professional learning was formed. Professional learning communities display reflective inquiry, openness, form networks and partnerships. They require inclusive membership built upon respect, mutual trust and support. A professional learning community can be defined as “…a group of people who take an active reflective, collaborative, learning-oriented and growth-promoting approach towards the mysteries, problems and perplexities of teaching and learning.” (Mitchell & Sackney, 2000, p. 20). Furthermore, “A true professional learning community is a way of organising the educational staff to engage in purposeful, collegial learning. This learning is intentional for the purpose of improving staff effectiveness so all students learn successfully and to high standards. The professional learning community serves to promote quality teaching, the prime factor in whether students can learn well. Thus, the professional learning community supports the school’s purpose – high-quality student learning.” (Hord, 2008, p. 96).

To address the need for collaborative discourse around matters of instruction and curriculum planning, the redesigning of my role as the numeracy leader, to include planning time of one hour a fortnight with teams has been effective. In addition, the scheduling of modelling and coaching opportunities during the twenty-minute number sprints through the week allowed teachers to work with me and with each other. It has allowed greater leadership in the area early number. Structuring weekly professional learning community meetings also provide an opportunity to further develop the team. First, it provided opportunities to share current knowledge and practice, in a sense providing a collective wisdom to the issues identified through student data. It also began to cultivate a culture of a high functioning team.

Secondly, a new culture within the team began to emerge and it is hoped that members continually support each other as they have built new understandings and practices together and will be a stronger force when immersed in the larger school culture they are working to change. The expansion of the LFiN inquiry will begin in term three in the Nazareth Village (years one and two). Although, in its early development, it is hoped that teachers can act as a supportive network for the new inquiry learners, and essentially lead others using inquiry to move student outcomes, move system change and move colleagues in applying inquiry into other areas.

Thirdly, establishing this team at the start of the school year and designing learning opportunities where teachers and co-educators shared students across the level built a collective responsibility for improving outcomes for specific students engendering a shared accountability. This bound team members through their work, while improving the outcomes for students through a focus on “their” students and each other as critical for their own learning, producing cultural shifts needed for the team to thrive.

Katzenbach and Smith (1993), highlighted six characteristics of high performing teams, including:

  1. High-performing teams shape purpose in response to a demand or an opportunity placed in their path, usually by higher management.
  2. High-preforming teams translate common purpose into specific, measurable performance goals.
  3. High-performing teams are of manageable size
  4. High-performing teams develop the right mix of expertise
  5. High-performing teams develop a common commitment to working relationships
  6. Members of high-performing teams hold themselves collectively accountable.

Therefore, conveying a clear vision of where the team is headed and inspiring its members to make it a reality, is fundamental to team success. As a leader, it has been important to take the time to get to know people and encourage them to subscribe to the vision and become self-sustaining. “A shared vision imbues an organisation with spirit, resolve and élan.” (Bolman & Deal, 2003, p. 253). Leading small teams through the LFiN inquiry has made the scope of the project manageable and support can be guaranteed, provided and organised. The Foundation team has a range of experience and expertise which has led to innovation and creativity at times.

As part of my role as the learning leader of Numeracy and leading my school in the LFiN Research Project and inquiry around early number, it was important for me to articulate the vision of this project. My goal was to align staff on what we hoped to achieve by working in this collective, what critical challenges would we face and the intended outcomes we would like to see. I presented this to the staff during their planning meetings and began to build a plan around what needed to be developed and support required to achieve this vision.

Through participation in the LFiN inquiry:

  • Foundation teachers will have increased their knowledge of pedagogy and content in early number.
  • There will be a shared belief and common understanding about the teaching of the Learning Framework in Number developed across the schools.
  • Engaging in this collective supports each school to have an outward facing view of learning and be working openly and collaboratively to build the capability of all Foundation teachers.
  • Foundation teachers will develop capabilities in administering and analysing Assessment Schedules to target individual student growth.
  • Foundation teachers will develop capabilities in designing curriculum to improve student-learning outcomes.

Identified through our previous school data, and further scanning and focusing on our current context, elicited the learning and subsequent action to be taken. In order to achieve this vision, a set of specific measurable objectives was defined. These articulate how teachers are to engage in professional learning and practice that:

  1. Develops teacher knowledge and conceptual understanding of early number
  2. Develops teacher understanding of effective pedagogies for teaching early number
  3. Develops teacher understanding of the Learning Framework in Number (LFiN) developmental framework
  4. Develops teacher capacity in administration and analysis of assessment tasks
  5. Develops teacher fluency in understanding learning and teaching cycles
  6. Develops teacher knowledge of the Victorian curriculum
  7. Develops the capacity of the Numeracy Learning Leader to lead for improvement.

“Rules, policies, standards and standard operating procedures limit discretion and help ensure predictability and uniformity. Rules govern conditions or work and specify the standard process for carrying out tasks, handling personnel issues, and relating to the external environment.” (Bolman & Deal, 2003, p. 51) The vertical coordination and lateral coordination of the inquiry has had limited success as colleagues’ behaviour seems to be unaffected by commands, rules and systems. This may be due to the colleagues lack of respect for authority, or perhaps being confronted with an overwhelming resistance to using planning time, after school meeting time and professional engagement support, which releases teachers when required to engage in professional learning to focus on inquiry. Through individual coaching sessions, teachers expressed that studying data and reviewing practice in a cyclic approach left them unable to complete other tasks, they were required to complete in other curriculum areas. Administrative support was sought to remedy this issue and determine next steps, which resulted in affirmation for the inquiry and the support structures in place deemed appropriate for teachers to engage with their work. Staff had previously unpacked the ATSIL Teacher standards and revisiting these provided the opportunity to discuss their role in guiding professional learning, practice and engagement. This was only able to happen because of the flexibility that an inquiry allows.

An organisation needs to properly understand its environment for effective management to take place. The internal environment is composed of elements within the organisation and includes employees, management and culture, which can define behaviour. The external environment relates to the forces and institutions outside the organisation that affect its performance. These forces are political, economic, technological and socio-cultural. Inquiring into and viewing the internal environment has produced a clearer understanding of the needs of the team and my leadership within. A teaching culture that blames students for failures needed to be challenged in order to switch the culture of blame to one that focuses on the skill gaps of students, using evidence to diagnose and address student needs. For my leadership, this was a turning point, as challenging such behaviour, required consistent focusing the conversation on what students could do and where to target next in their learning. Motivating teachers to see small gains in student achievement has given them hope that they can make a difference. Celebrating these small achievements, with the team has been arduous, but beneficial in beginning to turn around behaviour.

A focus on the organisational features of the school, while critical, is not sufficient for creating a culture of learning excellence. More recently Stringher (2014) has identified that successful school improvement actions, which have student learning as their focus, share some consistently common features:

a) Student centred, customised, deep learning, connected to previous knowledge, motivating diverse student populations;

b) Collaborative and group learning through inquiry-based activities;

c) New learning environments for the exploitation of a wide array of learning resources (e.g. ICTs, external experts);

d) Assessment for learning and deep understanding rather than rote or fragmented knowledge acquisition; and

e) The emerging role of teachers as learning facilitators, experts in fostering learning and learning how to learn, and able to use assessment information for enhancement of student learning outcomes.

Student-teacher interactions, act as the glue that holds it all together, which can have a significant impact either positive or negative on learning.

Bolman & Deal (2003) identified core assumptions that highlight the link between understanding people and their symbiotic relationship with organisations. These include:

  • Organisations exist to serve human needs rather than the reverse.
  • People and organisations need each other. Organisations need ideas, energy, and talent: people need careers, salaries and opportunities.
  • When the fit between individual and system is poor, one or both suffer. Individuals are exploited or exploit the organisation – or both become victims.
  • A good fit benefits both. Individuals find meaningful and satisfying work, and organisations get the talent and energy they need to succeed.

Improving human resource management requires investing in people as a foundation to achieve a highly motivated and skilled workforce. Investing in people can take multiple forms, from developing and building a shared philosophy for managing people; hiring and deploying the right people into the right positions; keeping employees through rewarding, promotion, investment in learning and career development opportunities; empowering employees and promoting diversity.

Engaging in the collective research project on early number provided selected staff with the opportunity to develop their skills, knowledge and understandings. With financial assistance from Catholic Education Melbourne, the school decided this was a perfect opportunity to invest in its staff, empowering employees with information and facilitating support. The deployment of village leaders was a strategic move in rewarding staff from within the school, as 3 out of the 4 village leaders were lead teachers within the school. This approach was powerful as it began to foster trust and loyalty, while also working as an incentive in achieving growth in performance. “Progressive organisations empower employees as well as invest in their development. Empowerment includes making information available but doesn’t stop there. It also involves encouraging autonomy and participation, redesigning work, fostering teams, promoting egalitarianism, and giving work meaning.” (Bolman & Deal, 20003, p. 143)

In order to foster a self-managing team, a priority was to develop the capacity of the village leader in jointly leading this initiative, as a facilitator to support team members in dealing with the challenges of how to successfully move forward in their context, navigating resistance and applying the inquiry principles and process of moving students as well as colleagues. The success of this approach was limited due to the tensions within the group (Which group?) and a breakdown of relational trust. In moving forward, a charter, detailing ways of working was collectively developed, in the hope to rebuild relational trust between the team members and accountability to each other and the collective research project they were participating in.

Furthermore, the precondition to maximising future possibilities and improving student learning is influencing the habits of the mind and hearts of teachers to focus on student learning. This will mean focusing on the purpose and rationale for change, the social practices of teaching and leading, relationships with colleagues, and organisational structures and cultures that support collaborative inquiry. The creation of an effective learning environment is also dependent upon the best use of the available learning spaces. This is achieved by changing the everyday work practices of staff and students in ways that focus on engagement with learning and how this can be enhanced by the learning spaces.

The work practices adopted to support a culture of learning excellence need to both develop and promote relational trust. It is important to recognise that relational trust among the adults in a school community ‘…does not directly affect student learning. Rather, it creates the basic social fabric within which school professionals, parents and community leaders can initiate and sustain efforts at building the essential supports for school improvement.” (Bryk & Schneider, 2003)

When a culture of trust has been established, teachers can allow themselves to be risk takers, safe in the knowledge that their colleagues will support them. They can engage in open and honest conversations to reflect on their practices and identify ways in which they can improve (Brown, 2004). A high-quality learning culture will be characterised by:

  • A high degree of leadership support for ongoing adult learning and risk taking.
  • Collective responsibility for improving practice.
  • Disciplined collaboration aimed at specific and relevant goals that relate to the learning needs of students.
  • High levels of trust, interaction and inter-dependence.
  • Support for professional learning through school structures, explicit planning and the allocation of time.
  • A focus on the professional learning that is most likely to be effective in improving professional practice and student outcomes.
  • An emphasis on the organisational conditions required for improvement as well as teaching and learning process. (Hopkins, 2011)

Any significant change that is likely to improve teachers’ expertise and enhance student learning will be gradual and often difficult. The time and effort that is needed to learn how to work as part of a team may increase teachers’ workloads, especially at first. Developing the trust and confidence to take risks, experiment and work collaboratively requires perseverance because it is in conflict with the norm of autonomy that has historically characterised the work of teachers. Nonetheless, when implemented effectively a team approach can reduce variations in learning outcomes between classes. This is because teachers actively support each other to construct knowledge and develop pedagogies that have the capacity to improve student learning. While students are clear beneficiaries of a team-based approach, benefits also flow to teachers by growing their knowledge, skills and confidence, and to schools and the system through school improvement.

The interpersonal conflict, appearing within the group although addressed in the charter agreed upon by the team, required further insight to explore the deeper problems. “Some groups are blessed with little conflict, but most encounter predictable differences in goals, perceptions, preferences, and beliefs.” (Bolman & Deal, 2003, p. 176)

Through discussion, it became evident that the teaching philosophies of the teachers were remarkably different, and as such required them to investigate what practices they believe in and what evidence supports their pedagogical position. This was also coupled with personal problems experienced by a few members of the team and ultimately inhibited their full engagement in this process.

Revisiting and checking in on the team will be paramount for its success as we continue. As the leader, juggling the tasks and process within the inquiry and supporting the needs of the teachers through either redesigning their work or implementing structural support will be key. “Managers need to understand that groups always operate at two level: task and process. Both levels need to be managed if groups are to be effective. “ (Bolman & Deal, 2003, p. 179) This is an important part of the inquiry process as often one inquiry will lead to another and the cyclic approach to the inquiry cycle begins again.

Looking at the conflict from the political frame perspective offers insight into developing tactics and strategy, which differs from both the structural and human resource frames. The focus here looks at not resolving the conflict but how to manage conflict appropriately in order to advocate for and represent competing interests. Negotiation techniques and skills are required by the leader in order enable the team to move forward. Fisher and Ury (1981), propose ‘principled bargaining,’ as a strategy for dealing with conflict. They identified four interrelated strategies including separating people from the problem; focusing on interests, not positions; inventing options for mutual gain; and insisting on objective criteria.

The first strategy requires a tactical approach, separating the people involved from the problem in order to avoid anger and personal attacks. In my role, avoiding personal attacks and focusing on the issues, has been very successful. Constant clarifying of the problem and negotiating solutions to get the job done has elicited and shaped my leadership. It is important to note in these situations, consistency in this strategy is key, and reminding the team to focus on the problem has removed tensions. The second strategy focuses on not getting locked into a particular position, remembering that there may be multiple ways to achieve a goal. The third proposes identifying new possibilities in order to advantage both sides. This often requires innovation and negotiating solutions that could work for all parties involved. Lastly, insisting on a standard for substance and procedure provides a framework for agreed ways of working and decision-making.

Applying these strategies to the problem of teacher accountability, led teachers to identify using a tracking system to track student achievement. In developing this tracking system, teachers collaborated on a design that worked for them that also took into account the time restraints many felt prevented collecting evidence. This tracking tool has further been redesigned in order to address group collaboration, in particular, access for the whole team through the uploading and sharing on Google Docs.

Within the school, a positive culture among the team and wider school is developing. The importance of ritual and ceremony in developing a positive school culture has been identified, as it is a way of taking action and celebrates success. Through the simple gesture of an email, I have begun a ritual to thank teachers for the work they have been doing with their students in early number, explicitly acknowledging their success in achieving their identified goals. Using a video to record teacher practice has celebrated student growth and their own growth, and planning for celebrating the success of the research project will present as a team to the staff in term four. At the beginning of planning meetings, teachers share in a notice and name session about what they have achieved, and what they would like to achieve in the future.

Employing an inquiry mindset has been effective to provide a clear road map toward sustainable improvement. Using the school model of inquiry is allowing a dramatic improvement to student outcomes and school culture. Using a clear set of design elements and principles and paired with moving from small teams to larger groups allows for big results. This model has proven to shift teacher practice and mindsets, while aligning with other collective schools and the Catholic Education Melbourne has stimulated, accelerated and extended the schools progress.

Exploring and applying Boleman & Deals (2003) Four Frames of Leadership Model, has allowed me to gain an understanding that changes in student achievement through an inquiry framework are based upon instructional structures and practices, and the professional culture existing in the school. Change outcomes will not occur unless these have changed. As a leader, school improvement depends on my capacity, and the capacity of staff to effectively diagnose and respond to what inhibits student success. Change is not something that comes quickly; it is strategic and starts small building influence in shifting how we work within the school. Reflecting on achievements and celebrating the success of the inquiry process can make all the difference in motivating others in continuing and applying inquiry to other areas of their learning.  Assisting teams to work through problems encountered through the inquiry cycle requires a leader who understands, anticipates resistance and struggles. Developing teacher collaboration, shared accountability, the use of evidence and effective leadership we hope to improve the spiritual, social, emotional and academic outcomes for students.

As part of this leadership course and reflecting upon my year as a leader, I reflect on the significant opportunities to share experiences and learn from the experiences of others. This process has been a journey. I have at times felt isolated by workload commitments. I have valued the time to step outside of my workplace and be with other leaders to compare and discuss what we do. This has allowed self and collective discovery while reinforced the importance of reflection. I have developed a deeper understanding of my school, the community and myself as a leader. I now act from a place where the future I am trying to create is evoked through my leadership.

As a leader, my commitment is to renew existing models of purpose, power and pedagogy founded on values of care and passion for students, and their communities. With this in mind, I have the belief that I can make a difference, knowing what I do and how I behave affect outcomes, inspiring an act of collective efficacy. As a new leader and a continual learner reflecting upon the past year I have learnt to create and invent my own path rather than choosing one that’s already there; seize opportunities and imagine what might be; develop and renew my spirit and disposition; inquire, plan and map a route, inspire others to join in on the journey; evolve, move on and take risks; question, question and question some more; and develop networks and mentors to guide my own personal journey.

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