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The book hints at taking a fresh look at purposes and processes in schools and consider what will help them to move and grow, nurturing the people within as leaders and learners in order to foster creative and committed communities of learning. To be able to do this, we need to be clear about what we mean by 'school improvement'. While this book emphasizes our advocacy of teachers and their all-important work, it is important not to forget that at the heart of these endeavors are children and young people and in particular their learning. Some would define 'improvement' quite narrowly in terms of making the teaching and learning process and conditions within schools better in order to raise student achievement, including an improvement in the capacity of a school to manage change in this regard. And in the book, authors have joined with others in taking a broader view to encompass enhancement of pupils' progress, development and achievement. This is underpinned by the capacity of the school to develop and maintain the culture, strategies and conditions that enable it to define a direction for change, set its own goals, maintain stability and momentum and engage in self-evaluation (Stoll, 1999). Authors take for empowerment not as a tool of implementation, which seems to be a contradiction in terms, but as a means to enhance agency. In their work with teachers and head teachers, they are pushing notions of teacher leadership and shared leadership into new dimensions, building on collaborative work initiated by their colleague Dr David Frost, now at the University of Cambridge. This work is based on the premise that teachers must exercise leadership in the complex processes of school improvement principally because leadership and agency are fundamental to people's humanity.
Theme of the Book:
This book bridges theory and practice quite deliberately in the knowledge that there is much work to be done to improve communication and understanding between teachers and others working in schools, policymakers and the academic and research communities.
General Subject Matter:
This book has been taken down from theoretical and practical points of view on school improvement in which teachers' leadership of learning is seen as the key to school change. It dwells on the important and well-established traditions of teachers as researchers and action research, putting these in the contemporary context of school improvement, laying stress on collaborative and strategic approaches in leading learning and building capacity for learning. It needs teachers to use methodological techniques in specific ways to shore up their leadership of change. It also needs them to bring into use strategies for improvement to guide their methodology to ensure maximum impact upon individuals and institutions. It invites a wide range of perspectives on school-based enquiry that requires teachers, head teachers and those supporting school improvement to conceptualize beyond the research project, towards enquiry as the driving force for change, through which they can get engaged and inspire other members of the school community to work and learn in collaboration. It embraces both intrinsic and extrinsic values and motivation, from helping schools to examine how to improve students' achievement through emancipatory influences on teachers, students and other participants.
Summary of the Content
It provides both theoretical and practical grounds for teachers' leadership of change through enquiry. It offers opportunities for teachers and head teachers to engage with the interacting school improvement, school leadership and methodological discourses. Similarly, it gives insights into the world of schools and classrooms through our experience as teachers, tutors, advisors and consultants. The purpose is to show how these ideas about leadership, enquiry and school improvement are put in practice and to offer frameworks for activities that we already know are effective in both inspiring teachers and extending support for their enquiry and leadership. A more open and invitational approach thus far is being fostered through providing an exciting range of materials based on current research whereby teachers can do experiment, complemented by reflection. At the same time, the 'New Relationship with Schools' has been introduced in which every school has been allocated a School Improvement Partner. Although these developments are very encouraging and provide important yardstick, the argument in the book is not tied to current policy initiatives. It is significant that teachers and head teachers are able to see their way through current rhetoric, taking into consideration the real dilemmas and conflicts being faced by schools and their implications and to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to work in effective manner in rapidly changing professional environments, which contain inevitable changes in policy and funding arrangements. It is, therefore needed to consider the following questions and approaches that harness yet transcend the latest initiatives:
How can schools find direction?
How can head teachers and teachers prioritize development and work with coherence? What can we expect of teachers?
How can they use, and discriminate between, the enormous wealth of materials and strategies available to them?
How can teachers find professional fulfillment and move collectively towards desired outcomes, as the political pendulum swings back and forth?
While doing the review of this book I have bring to a close that schools need sustainable approaches to build internal capacity for improvement. 'Capacity' is a well-used term that means the capability within schools to learn continuously in order to respond with creativity to rapidly changing and unpredictable socio-political environments and local variables, while embracing fast to shared principles and values. It requires schools to be confident in their own values and principles and to develop ways of working that celebrate human diversity while being comprehensive of everyone's needs and promoting learning for all. It wants knowledge about the relationship between student, professional and organizational learning and also about processes of change. This learning and change rely eventually on teachers, who are supported in turn by their head teachers, drawing on a variety of internal and external support. Schools aspirants of being learning communities must therefore include 'collegial decision making' in ideas of capacity building. In other words, when 'the school' is to be discussed, it is to be ensured that this means the individuals in the school, not just the head teacher, an elite group or those with the most powerful actors. The investigation of the authors involve delving into some dark corners, becoming involved with some mess and confusion, acknowledging that there are problems that defy quick solutions and that there are questions which are not close-ended and have no right answers. It also requires a comprehension of each school's exclusivity and people's eccentricity. Rather than offering answers, authors have sought to explore how to address the questions and work with the dilemmas, taking into consideration that both the substance of the questions and the processes by which they are addressed are different for every school and for every individual involved. Whilst there is a developing body of knowledge about learning and pedagogy and subsequent organizational development, it is not an easy thing for teachers to have an access, assimilate, adapt and apply that knowledge. There may be many different ways to changing practice and there is certainly no blueprint for practice in situations that are infinitely complicated. Wherever theory, research, experience and excellent practice exist upon which to draw, there are also ways to move forward and make progress, as long as the overall purpose remains clear. Therefore we are in need of practical processes that engage teachers in the day-to-day works that makes improvement. This book is an attempt to acknowledge the reality of relationships and structures, cultures and communities to be found in schools and, through our research and experience in a range of contexts, to offer ways of working that energize teachers. This includes revisiting their original purposes, if necessary reviving their enthusiasm for learning and also nurturing their leadership, helping to create the kind of schools that we would want for all children and for diverse communities.
At the heart of this book is a particular set of ideas about school improvement that suggest that:
- the basic purpose of schools is to involve everyone in learning
- teachers play a vital role in the leadership of learning
- head teachers play a pivotal part in supporting teachers' leadership of learning
- school-based enquiry is the foundation and catalyst for this leadership of learning
- through teachers' collaboration, enquiry and leadership of learning, there is potential to unfasten school cultures in order to build and keep up capacity for school improvement.
Chapter Wise Review
Chapter 1: Takes into consideration some current important perspectives on school improvement and puts forward the argument that teachers are in need of a more holistic approach that requires nothing less than a re-culturing of schools, a change in mindset, and a new way of working. Teachers' leadership of learning through enquiry provides a focal point for this approach.
Chapter 2: Holds that how to unfasten school cultures by adopting the principles suggested above. It is vehemently argued that the current discussion on school improvement and effectiveness has taken some schools further along the road but that transformation remains hard to pin down. Many schools reach a highland where they are left tinkering around the edges of entrenched structures and ways of working. Authors extend argue for transformation through teachers' engagement in dialogue, enquiry and leadership of change, with the common purpose of promoting true learning communities.
Chapter 3: Book also shows that how school-based enquiry can be used not simply to provide 'findings' upon which to base school change, but as a powerful engine for improvement in its own right. It is a medium for the development of teachers' personal and interpersonal capacity to lead change and can drive organizational development. This needs to revisit extended concepts of professionalism, with the caution that whilst trying to find manageable and pragmatic ways of teachers' busy lives with enquiry, they should not be further burdened with greater responsibility and increase of their day-to-day work.
Chapter 4: This chapter has been broken down into a series of sections that explores features of teacher research related to leadership of learning and school improvement. These offer various underlying principles, ideas and strategies to motivate teacher leaders to adopt new approaches to their own and others' learning. Activities are suggested for facilitators fostering these ways of working; most can also be used by teachers working individually. The sections look at the process of enquiry, from finding a focus through evidence gathering and analysis through to changing practice. Teacher-led research is presented as integral part to improvement and as a foundation of inspiration, understanding, involvement and expansion.
Chapter 5: Makes explorations into relationships and structures within schools through the experiences and quandaries of three teachers who used an enquiry approach to their leadership of change. These stories illustrate that power and authority used inappropriately can lead to people's incapacity to lead change and the stifling of learning at every level of an organization. On the other hand active support for teachers' leadership can lead to improvements in practice and important cultural change. Internal and external opportunities and limitations are examined. The chapter concludes with a suggested model for shared leadership of mutual learning inside schools and across school boundaries.
Chapter 6: Authors, in this chapter, have concluded that it is not usually realistic to remove what is there already and start again. In the vast majority of cases practitioners have to find ways of building upon what is good in each school. They do not usually need bulldozers, but where individuals carry on to cultivate their own small plots, there will only be insignificant change. Landscape gardening is needed, but not of the 'Ground Force' variety, where only a few celebrities create a sensation in the course of two days, presided over by a film crew, and then leave. That is just cosmetic change; it does not build capacity. In order to inculcate sustainable capacity for improvement those for whom the garden is part of their everyday lives have to learn to be the landscape gardeners, designing, cultivating, nurturing and appreciating the environment in which they live and learn. They not only learn in such an environment, but can also learn about it and from it, so matter is how they can appreciate to shape and use it to meet their needs. Teachers and head teachers, working with students and other members of the school community, can change the landscape of their schools. Authors contend that in order to do this, we must move towards school cultures that promote more consistent support for shared leadership, inclusive learning relationships and human affirmation within a community working and growing together.
This book is not a manual or a textbook for teacher research. There are many contemporary and decisive texts that fulfill that point commendably and the authors have not attempted a synthesis of these or tried to offer a replacement. What they have done is to draw upon the teacher research and action research traditions that have been built up since the 1970s through the work of authors like Lawrence Stenhouse, John Elliott, Bridget Somekh, Helen Simons and others. They have brought into use references to some well-established texts that they have found helpful, providing a rich source of inspiration. Connecting with the language of self-discovery and emancipation is always refreshing. However, the authors lays stress on the connections that need to be made between this work, often applied to individuals or small collaborative groups, and the broader understandings about school improvement elucidated above which involve capacity building to enable schools to preserve momentum and enact their values and purposes. As the authors suggest in Chapter 3, schools that learn to work with evidence can become more successful and effective self-critical learning communities. If enquiry is an engine for change, evidence fuels the fire. Teachers working with evidence are confronted with the direct questions and challenges that inspire them to make improvements; amidst high-stakes external responsibility they themselves are often the most self-critical. Evidence indicates directions for change but also, through involvement in research and leadership, individuals grow and learn. They develop confidence going beyond their research theme or project, leading them to add to their influence, their role in decision making and the shaping of school structures and cultures. Head teachers and teacher leaders working in parallel can use evidence and enquiry for the formative phase and effectively to build capacity for institutional and systemic change. Teacher leadership through enquiry is a means by which commitment to children and young people and their learning finds ardent expression. The teachers, head teachers and colleagues with whom the authors work are passionately involved, highly motivated, extremely hard working and provide much inspiration to them as they seek to offer support through Higher Education and the Local Education Authority.