This afternoon I finished reading ‘The Global Fourth Way” by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley. I heard Hargreaves speak for the second time at a recent leadership conference.

The book examines the characteristics of a range high performing school systems around the world and tries to identify the reasons for their success. I found myself continually nodding, punching the air and being inspired by the paths many of these countries or municipalities had taken.

One of my biggest frustrations with teaching at present is the endless demand for data on student literacy and numeracy capability. I liked a quote from another educational leadership guru Yong Zhou who eloquently pointed out that “reading and writing are the floor, not the ceiling.” It is important to remember that being literate and numerate are foundation skills that underpin other learning but that learning needs to be more than this. Schools should be providing a rich, broad education with depth and opportunity for deep and relevant learning. My bug bear is that that we test and test, which ends up monopolising learning and limiting the curriculum. To make matters worse, I find that often teachers are then not given chance to fully interpret, use or act on the data they collect, rendering the whole process more about ticking administrative boxes, rather than truly informing teaching and learning. We must remember the purpose of education is student learning and ensure that everything we do keeps this in mind.

The book “The Global Fourth Way” argued that teachers need to be encouraged to innovate and inquire into effective learning for improvement. This builds the capacity of teachers, provides trust and values their professionalism. I totally concur and this is how I attempt to run my Professional Learning Team. As a team, we chose an instructional focus on improving student writing and have spent months researching, doing professional reading, attending relevant PD, sharing ideas, planning lessons and yes, looking at and acting in response to relevant student data to help kids improve. This has been our sustained focus for most of this year. Having made significant gains, we are now shifting focus to improve another aspect of our practise around using technolgy.

Some of the key characteristics of the success of my PLT have been echoed by the text :

* Give teachers opportunity to respond to the needs and interests of their students. We are dealing with people, not an assembly line!

* Give teachers input and responsibility for undertaking their inquiry. People are much more motivated when they have a purpose for their learning.

* Setting clear achievable goals and actions. As Hagreaves/Shirley state, without action, a vision is just a “fantasy.”

* Trust teachers to act professionally

* Listening to and valuing the input and ideas of all

* Providing time for sustained learning and for practises to become embedded.

* Collecting meaningful data that informs teaching and learning. Not data for the sake of it or because some administrator wants it.

* Meeting regularly and maintaining a sense of purpose and urgency about our work. Erratic opportunities to meet erodes urgency and momentum.

This book reaffirmed the path that I am on but also inspired me to speak up and protest against retrogressive second and third way principles. I am newly energised to stay true to my beliefs and fight because the learning of my students is at stake. This is what Hargreaves and Shirley call a moral imperative. And it doesn’t get more imperative than that.

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