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Dr. Jim Parsons, a professor at the University of Alberta and director of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI), and Kelly Harding, associate director for AISI.

Dr. Jim Parsons, a professor at the University of Alberta and director of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI), and Kelly Harding, associate director for AISI.

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  • For the past eleven years, we have collectively been privileged to work with one of the most robust, longitudinal research databases on teaching anywhere. Started in 1999, the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) is a grassroots educational research program funding Alberta teachers’ research projects that promote student learning and school improvement. As part of AISI, teachers create research projects that include designing research methods, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting findings. Our purpose is to (1) summarize eleven years of research data from AISI school improvement projects and (2) consider how AISI findings might inform post-secondary teaching.
  • I want to start with the most fundamental point – this is about children’s learning!
  • Three points:Children try to hard to please adults – and sometimes don’t understand what is going on. The child’s face went back and forth with confusion and insight.Adults – even when they love children – do stupid things. This mother obviously told this child about a monster in the room – why? The adult saw it as cute – went to get the camera – but the child was afraid and trying to figure it out! If a monster comes into this room there is going to be some serious butt-kicking – and given the alternatives, I want to have the upper hand – or foot as it were.Children are willing to learn and accept – use a better word. Ahhhh.
  • Now in its fourth 3-year cycle, AISI documents eleven years of site-based, teacher-led, action research. AISI was implemented in all Alberta school districts in 2001/02 and provides funding to K-12 Alberta school jurisdictions for “projects that address local needs and circumstances to improve student learning.” Several characteristics make AISI unique. It is grassroots site-based action research where teachers create and direct research, design research methods, collect and analyze data, and report findings in a third-year final project report. These final reports constitute a powerful data set for researchers, where teachers speculate about what they have learned as they have researched school improvement together.
  • Big Conclusions
  • Big Conclusions
  • Big Conclusions
  • AISI findings have shown the efficacy of project- or problem-based learning. AISI findings suggest that active student and teacher engagement using differentiated instruction highly correlates to student learning. AISI findings have shown the power of constructivist teaching and learning principles. Problem-based learning promoted motivation, learning, time on task, and student achievement. The active engagement of students and teachers based on differentiated instruction improves motivation.
  • AISI has shown that student learning (and not teacher teaching) should fundamentally ground teachers’ work. Students learn as they are active. Our research synthesis suggests that successful, student-engaged classrooms usually combine: Learning that is relevant and intentionally interdisciplinary – at times moving from the classroom to the community.Technology-rich learning environments – not just computers, but multi-media resources and diverse communication technologies.Positive, challenging, open, and transparent learning cultures that encourage risk-taking and guide learners towards co-articulated high expectations. Students are involved in both assessment for learning and assessment of learning.Collaboration in respectful “peer-to-peer” relationships between students and students and students and teachers (horizontal organization models). Learning occurs where communities plan, research, develop, share, and implement new research, strategies, and materials.A change in the culture of learning emerged from AISI. Teachers are learning with and beside other teachers. Teachers have re-positioned themselves in classrooms. Being in front of students is replaced by being beside students. Educational language, activities, and resources focus on engaged learning first and achievement second. Not surprisingly, achievement follows learning.
  • Parental involvement is important to student engagement. The school is a community that works best when everyone who should be involved is involved. AISI findings suggest that we have not yet begun to involve parents as we could.Welcoming the community into our classrooms as more than visitors is an ongoing challenge.
  • AISI findings suggest that technology works best when it supports critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and problem solving. Technology is NOT the curriculum, but is curriculum support. Specifically, technology aids problem-based learning; helps teachers locate captivating illustrations of concepts; allows global connections; and introduces perspectives, activities, and resources otherwise unavailable. Technology is a tool in the hands of those who understand its specific applications and significant impacts.
  • AISI has shown classroom teachers to be both competent researchers and leaders. Given their proximity to educational issues and challenges, teachers are perfectly situated to innovate and implement positive actions, track how these actions impact classrooms, and improve future actions. Our synthesis of AISI research found three central concepts key in AISI research: (1) Community The active building of teacher community has been powerful. First, multiple heads are better than one. Teachers who work together employ multiple and individual skills, experiences, and insights. Second, teaching can be lonely, and building relationships with others is socially and professionally valuable. Community relationships occur both between teachers and students. Rather than fostering individualism and competition, communities privilege the growth and success of all learners – teachers and students included. Finally, schools are communities within larger neighborhood and can reposition themselves as ‘hubs’ that connect larger networks. (2) AgencyAISI research has allowed teachers to successfully practice agency. AISI positioned teachers as ‘action researchers,’ which helps them both build and locate themselves within ‘theory.’ Teachers have come to believe they “can make a difference,” have grown to see “knowledge as both power and action,” and have gained the ability to lead change. AISI fostered “site-based empowerment.” (3) ServiceAISI has shown that good work motivates and helps build positive relationships. Helping others revitalizes teachers as people who like children, who help them learn, who understand children as citizens who make decisions based upon values, and who connections education with society.
  • AISI has shown the power of collaborative, teacher-led professional learning. AISI grassroots leadership has more successfully developed teacher professionalism than expert-driven, external professional development. Site-based professional learning works when teachers discuss effective pedagogy in their contexts and work together to solve real problems. The best professional learning occurs on-site, as teachers discuss effective teaching and learning.
  • AISI shows that key changes are cultural – “the way things are done within a community.” Key cultural changes include moving from isolation to collaboration, from hierarchy to shared leadership, and from expert-based to inquiry-informed decisions.Shared learning helps teachers develop “cultures of collaboration” that focus on co-creating and co-acting on school improvement goals.In short, lasting school change is cultural change.
  • Research Finding Eight: Leadership and teacher empowermentAISI findings suggest that collaborative, horizontal leadership supports student learning better than hierarchical leadership. Shared leadership motivates and supports change, empowers actors to share expertise, and encourages responsibility. AISI research shows that, when teachers become school and curriculum leaders, student learning increases. The effective use of lead teachers is an AISI success story. Shared leadership improves student learning.
  • Professional learning grows as teachers and administrators share their learning and address specific challenges. The literature suggests that five attributes encourage professional learning: (1) supportive and shared leadership; (2) collective creativity; (3) shared values and vision; (4) supportive conditions; and (5) shared personal practice. Teacher professional learning effectively increases teacher professionalism and emphasizes links between practice and student learning.  Many school authorities have adopted lead teacher models as part of their AISI work. A lead teacher/coach provides expertise, training, or coaching to other teachers or school personnel. Teacher/coaches conduct research and workshops, set goals, and establish communication. Teacher/coaches model how schools might develop and hone collaborative activity, teaching and research skills, interpret data, build consensus, and discuss aspects of teaching and learning.
  • AISI findings recommend a number of effective, sustainable professional practices: (1) Discuss how professional learning supports student learning. (2) Keep professional learning goals focused: too many goals dilute efforts. (3) Build comprehensive strategies that support and measure student learning. (4) Recognize that comprehensive, ongoing professional learning requires time. (5) Engage in formative discussions about experiences. (6) Work to develop leadership skills that build everyone’s knowledge and skills.
  • Our synthesis of AISI research suggests that, for professional learning to succeed, its nature must change. Intentional, imbedded, ongoing, and systemic professional learning grows when teachers work to solve site-based problems.
  • The problem is that achievement is easier to see – but poorer in action. A process is more difficult to envision that a “thing at the end” – but don’t settle for cheaper goods!
  • Transcript

    • 1. Research Informed Educational Change:Teacher - Researcher InsightsResearch Forum: University of Prince Edward Island  April 27, 2011Jim Parsons and Kelly Harding Faculty of Education, University of Alberta
    • 2. Prolegomenon
      “a formal critical introduction to a lengthy text.”
      A child draws a teacher
    • 3.
    • 4. What does the AISI/Instructional Leadership research inform us?
      Applied Researchers work with three questions:
      What? {What is there?}
      So What? {What does it mean?}
      Now What? {What should we do?}
    • 5. Research Base
      ATA sponsored case studies of five of the best elementary schools – by reputation – in Alberta.
      [1] I asked everyone there two questions: (A) What makes this school such a good place for teaching and learning? (B) What does the administration do to make this so?
      [2] Gathered data, analyzed, wrote up, and shared the findings.
      Eleven years of crunching AISI data – 1500 final research reports.
      Fifty interviews with teachers for Little Bits of Goodness (2011)
    • 6. Part One: 11 Years of AISI
      Cycle 4
      Cycle 3
      Cycle 2
      Cycle 1
      Alberta Initiative for School Improvement
    • 7. Teacher Engaged Learning
      Activities: action research, site-based research, teacher professional learning, communities-building, teacher networks
      Conversations: critical and reflective; research and data informed
      Resources: technologies, teacher-coaches, time
    • 8. Student Engaged Learning
      Activities: inquiry, project-based learning; choices and relevance
      Conversation: assessment, metacognition, personal interests, community
      Resources: technologies, peers, relevant and skill/capacity enhancing
    • 9. Products of Engaged Learning
      Creative, responsive, and innovative cultures
      Whole staff leadership capacities
      Sustainable, purposeful, and value-driven change
      Student Achievement
      Educator Career Longevity and Satisfaction
    • 10. Background Research Findings
      When 1500 teacher-researcher final research reports…
      address educational challenges…
      for over a decade…
      This is what they’re saying:
    • 11. Research Finding One: Participatory Learning
      Project-based, inquiry learning/teaching (assessment for learning, differentiated instruction) promotes student learning.
    • 12. What is Participatory Student-centered Learning?
      Relevant and intentionally interdisciplinary – moving from classroom to community.
      Positive, challenging, open, risk-encouraging and transparent learning cultures;
      Collaborative relationships: communities plan, research, develop, share, and implement new research, strategies, and materials.
    • 13. Research Finding Two: Parental and Community Involvement
    • 14. Research Finding Three: Tool – Curriculum Alignment (Technology)
    • 15. Research Finding Four:Teacher Engagement
      (1) Community
      (2) Agency
      (3) Service
    • 16. Research Finding Five: Talk About YOUR Practice
    • 17. Research Finding Six: Culture is ‘made’ and ‘maker’
      The Most Sustainable Changes are Changes in culture
      (1) isolation to collaboration;
      (2) hierarchy to shared leadership; and
      (3) expert-based to inquiry-based.
    • 18. Research Finding Seven: Horizontal Leadership
    • 19. Research Finding Eight: Everyone is Empowered
    • 20. Research Finding Nine: Non-Negotiables for Professional Learning
      (1)Link teacher and student learning.
      (2) Keep goals specific and focused.
      (3) Give change time.
      (4) Engage in Dialogue - constantly.
      (5) Build everyone’s knowledge and skills.
    • 21. Whole School Capacity Building
      Increased teacher learning greatly impacted student learning. Teacher quality and improved teacher expertise promoted student learning.
    • 22. Sustainability Connection
      School-based professional learning was highly effective and had lasting impact when it became connected to innovation and problem-solving.
    • 23. Create a Shared Vision
      Professional learning worked best when it was timely, targeted to needs and interests, job-embedded, and when it became a habit that changed culture.
    • 24. In-house Expertise
      The success of AISI projects hinged on professional learning. The best professional learning included teachers coaching other teachers. Professional learning contributed to successful AISI projects and grew in response to distributed leadership and growing teacher leadership.
    • 25. Professional learning aligns with student learning by focusing on:
      (a) learning and learner needs;
      (b) high standards;
      (c) individual and organization change that supports on-going professional learning;
      (d) small changes guided by a larger vision
      (e) professional learning embedded in the daily work of educators.
    • 26. The involvement of principals was key to supporting student learning. Staff ‘bought in’ when leadership grass roots emerged. The importance of establishing shared leadership cannot be overstated.
      Who’s Responsible?
    • 27. PART TWO
      Crestwood School, Medicine Hat
      (We Are Family)
      West Meadows School, Claresholm
      (The Power of Big Vision)
      Acadia School, Calgary
      (The Complexity of a City)
      Glenbow School, Cochrane
      (Strategic Professionalism)
      Our Lady of the Rosary School, Sylvan Lake
      (The Little School that Fell from Heaven)
    • 28. Old Wisdom
      “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will say: We did it ourselves.”
      Chinese Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu (600 BC – 531 BC)
    • 29. New Wisdom
      “It don't take a whole day to recognize sunshine.”
      from the Hip Hop album Like Water For Chocolate ["The Light" was the Grammy-nominated second single off Common's 2000 album Like Water for Chocolate.]
      “The Light” by Common, (2000)
    • 30. Lessons
      1) Sometimes the simple things trump everything else – even if that everything else is loaded with all the bells and whistles.
      2) Just when you think you have it all figured out, you don’t.
    • 31. The Leadership Literature
      I believe there is a poverty in the leadership literature: it is too much about identity and not enough about relationships.
      Jim Parsons
    • 32. Ten Themes
      1) The Principal is Knowledgeable.
      2) The Principal is Caring and Safe.
      3) The Principal Trusts and Respects.
      4) The Principal is Positive.
      5) The Principal communicates well.
      6) The Principal is Disciplined and Decisive.
      7) The Principal helps build a family/community.
      8) The Principal has High Expectations.
      9) The Principal helps us speak the same language.
      10) The Principal is aware of innovations.
    • 33. Knowledgeable
      Thirst for Knowledge
      Contained within a single dewdrop tear is a world of education. Mother nature dips her hands into the pool of learning, and as she opens them a mother is revealed bestowing the most precious of gifts to her child – knowledge. The young have a thirst for information which must be fed, and lessons that we learn in youth will map our route through life.
    • 34. Knowledgeable
      They teach - take over the classroom for us.
      They know the kids’ names and backgrounds. You can mention any child’s name and they know the story.
      They haven’t forgotten what it means to be a teacher.
      They teach even though they don’t have to.
      They know how to help when we ask.
    • 35. Caring and Safe
    • 36. Caring and Safe
      They listen, ask, and personally care for us.
      They are there for us in our personal lives as well as in school.
      If they care, I feel safe. If I feel safe, then I have the freedom to do what I know is best for kids.
      Personal issues come with us to school. They understand and help! They demonstrate that I have value as a person.
      No matter what is happening in life, I can go to them for anything.
    • 37. Trusts and Respects
    • 38. Trusts and Respects
      They trust and respect us, our work, students and parents.
      We feel valued!
      They believe in us as teachers. They assume the best.
      They believe we will do a good job, and we do!
      I am given freedom to do what I do best. They don’t interfere.
      We are trusted to do our jobs as we see fit – we are not micro-managed.
    • 39. Positive
    • 40. Positive
      Positive means fun, celebration, a sense of humor, and enthusiasm.
      They focus on the positive. They look for ways to help students achieve – and don’t use threats.
      They have high energy! They are confident leaders.
      They support our emotional needs. We balance academic with affective learning.
    • 41. Communicates well
    • 42. Communicates well
      They communicate openly, honestly, and often.
      We have good meetings. They follow up with email.
      They check in often. They talk to the kids. They walk around and engage.
      They get us information as soon as they know.
    • 43. Disciplined and Decisive
    • 44. Disciplined and Decisive
      They collaborate and consult.
      They are strong and confident. They are not wishy washy!
      They get things done! If we have a problem, they attend – now! They go to bat for us. They find the resources we need.
      They hire the right staff!
      They are authentic, genuine, confident leaders. What you see is what you get. There is no game playing.
    • 45. Helps build a family/community
    • 46. Helps build a family/community
      A school is a small village - filled with joys and tears.
      The walls between personal and professional are permeable.
      We share stories. We share resources.
      Diversity is allowed.
      It’s like family; it’s a great place to work. Every staff member cares about each other – we are a family!
    • 47. High Expectations
    • 48. High Expectations
      Leaders are not hesitant to express expectations or goals.
      They have high academic goals; we expect the best.
      We strive to do the best for kids.
      Professional development is expected, encouraged, and supported.
      They hold us to high standards and we WANT to rise to them. They won’t let you stagnate or bog down.
      They let us know what’s expected, but they give us leeway about how to practice our craft – it is win/win.
    • 49. Speaks the same language
    • 50. Speaks the same language
      Common vision and goals are shared.
      We have a shared mission statement that is actually lived. Everyone knows it.
      We are all about the kids!
      We have only two goals: (a) learning to read and (b) having fun.
    • 51. Aware of Innovations
    • 52. Aware of Innovations
      Leaders know the “Big Picture” and give us the freedom and encouragement to take risks, innovate, and try new things.
      They stay up-to-date so we can focus on teaching.
      They keep us aware. They communicate changes.
      They make my job easier.
    • 53. The “Now What?”
      Pulling together this research, what advice dare we give school principals?
      What specific actions might they engage?
    • 54. Specific Actions for Principals
      #1: Empower teachers.
      Believe teachers will do a good job and give them space to do it! Assume the best.
      When teachers need resources – find them. If there is a problem, attend! Provide support, interventions, and resources.
      Give teachers freedom to take risks, innovate, and try new things.
      Build hard shell structures with soft, gooey insides.
    • 55. Specific Actions for Principals
      #2: Principals – be relevant
      Spend time “in the classroom.” Teach though you don’t have to. Don’t forget what it means to be a teacher. Offer specific feedback. “It is not flattery when the feedback is specific.”
    • 56. Specific Actions for Principals
      #3: Move from professional development opportunities to professional learning cultures.
      Professional learning is local and led by teachers. Expect, encourage, and support professional learning.
      Share and create opportunities for teachers to lead.
    • 57. Specific Actions for Principals
      #4: Be strong leaders – but move to the background.
      Do not hesitate to have expectations or set high academic goals. Lead towards doing the best for kids. [The new iconic leader has earned trust and respect – one has to be big to become small].
    • 58. Specific Actions for Principals
      #5: Focus on student learning!
      The one thing everyone agrees on is that teaching is all about “the kids!”
    • 59. Specific Actions for Principals
      #6: Establish a culture of belonging.
      Schools are communities and families - small villages. The wall between personal and professional is permeable.
      Personal issues come to school. Work together. Support each other. Share stories and resources. [People will love coming to work!]
    • 60. Specific Actions for Principals
      #7: Hire the “right staff.”
      Make the staff you have the “right staff.”
    • 61. Specific Actions for Principals
      #8: Celebrate successes.
      Focus on the positive. Look for ways to help people achieve then celebrate that achievement.
    • 62. Specific Actions for Principals
      #9: Build a common vision and goals.
      Share and live a mission statement.
    • 63. What NOT TO DO
      #1: Do not micro-manage
    • 64. What NOT TO DO
      #2: Don’t be negative. Hard work does not kill teachers – negativity does!
      [“They hold us to high standards and we WANT to rise to them.]
    • 65. What NOT TO DO
      #3: Don’t be wishy-washy!
      Be authentic, genuine, confident leaders. Be forthright. Say what needs to be said. Be collegial, yet decisive. “Make it so!”
    • 66. The “Now What?”
      Pulling together ALL this research, what advice dare we offer schools?
      What specific actions might schools engage?
      #1: Make formative assessment the dominant assessment system and a way of living in classrooms and schools.
      #2: Ask students to talk more about what they have learned: (1) talk more about the content of their learning, (2) talk about what their learning means to them, and (3) talk more about the processes of their learning.
      #3: Concentrate on student learning – not on “achievement.” “Engagement for learning” and “engagement for achievement” are different.
      #4: Move from professional development to professional learning.
      Professional learning is local and led by teachers.
      Work together to solve your own problems – ACTION RESEARCH.
      When teachers work together on real educational issues, positive change happens.
    • 71. #5: Build a culture of caring.
      Student engagement is linked directly to relationships.
      All people flourish from good relationships with caring others.
      #6: Construct a “learning culture.”
      When Schools Work Well they build a space conducive for learning. Build positive cultures.
      #7: Expand the classroom past the classroom.
      Technology allows students and teachers to engage and share the world – use it!
      When Schools Worked Well,” technology was a curriculum tool, not a curriculum topic.
      #8: When building curriculum, focus on process and pedagogy not on content.
      #9: Engage in “Conversational Pedagogies.”
      Assessment for learning, differentiated instruction, and inquiry-based/problem-based learning are key ways to promote student engagement.
      #10: Share leadership.
      Schools work best when teams of educators in each school can share the leadership load.
    • 77. Final Thoughts
      Our research reinforced how dedicated and how ready teachers are to sacrifice so students might learn.
    • 78. Final Thoughts
      The best work principals can do is to create spaces where teachers can teach.Teachers are not so interested in politics or mind games or anything else but teaching children!
    • 79. Thank you