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School improvement in practice. Learnings from ongoing research


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Presentation by Jan Håkansson - Linnaeus university, Sweden


The presentation focuses learnings from principals and teachers school
based curriculum and improvement work in five compulsory schools in
Sweden. The long term goal for the schools is to improve pupils academic
achievement, and in focus for the improvement work is two different areas
of teaching: classroom management and development if language in all
subjects. The results presented pay attention to: i) classroom
observations of teaching as a strategy, ii) principals and teachers
learning during improvement work, and iii) school¹s capacity building
through different qualities of learning.

Convegno internazionale "Migliorare la scuola", Napoli NH Ambassador 14-16 Maggio 2015

Published in: Education
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School improvement in practice. Learnings from ongoing research

  1. 1. Improve the school - International comparison on methods, tools and practices of school improvement Naples 14-15 May 2015 School improvement in practice – learnings from ongoing research Jan Håkansson Linnaeus university, Sweden
  2. 2. Background • This presentation is built on empirical data from an ongoing school improvement project. • In terms of ”ongoing evaluation” researchers, in this project, study and support principals and teachers school-based curriculum development on five compulsory schools in Sweden • In focus: learnings from principals and teachers school based curriculum and improvement work
  3. 3. Purpose and research questions • The purpose is to explore how local school actors (principals and teachers) understand and handle the parallel process of, on the one hand, external pressure to improve students achievement and, on the other hand, the local school-based improvement work. • In the light of such a tension, what are the principals and teachers understanding of: - The selection of content areas for curriculum development? - Their own learning? • How can the schools’ capacity building for school improvement be understood through the concept of ”learning capital”?
  4. 4. The context of school improvement work in Sweden (I) EXTERNAL PRESSURE • Increasing focus on students' academic achievement and school results (like in many other countries). • Reform initiatives aim to improve achievements for all students and the equality between schools. AND AT THE SAME TIME • Schools are required to work with school improvement and local curriculum innovation based on scientific knowledge and proven experience. • There is acting space for local school actors to make decisions in their daily curriculum and improvement work.
  5. 5. The context of school improvement work in Sweden (II) Increasing interest in the WHAT and HOW WHAT? • Students learning and achievement in focused curriculum areas • Teachers and principals learning • Teaching qualities HOW? • Systematic data- collecting and analyze of data on student and teacher learning and teaching qualities • Evidence-informed discussions on teaching and learning • Transparency in planning, implementation and evaluation of teaching.
  6. 6. School improvement – what do we know? ”Evidence shows that schools in which teachers act in collaborative settings to deeply examine teaching and learning, and then discuss effective instructional practices, show academic results for students more quickly than schools that do not” (Darling Hammond, 2004).
  7. 7. School improvement – what do we know? • Strong evidence for local and school based learning supported by literature reading and data collection from teaching and learning. • Also evidence for learning processes including self-evaluation and investigations in school-practice supported by different types of data, e.g. official data and locally produced data. • The critical question – the movement from teachers individual learning towards collective learning in professional learning communities. • So called instructional leadership seems to be connected to (pupil/teacher) learning more than transformational leadership. (Stoll, 2006; Hallinger, 2011)
  8. 8. To understand school’s capacity building through learning • Shulman & Shulman (2004) distinguish between four different aspects of the capital concept, i.e. types of learning qualities:. 1. Moral capital – to will 2. Curricular capital – to know 3. Venture capital – to change/take risks 4. Teaching capital – to do • These distinctions make it possible to study and better understand the local school-based improvement work: - What forms of learning capital emerge in schools and what forms seem to be most important, and why?
  9. 9. Methods Different qualitative methods have been used: - semi-structured group interviews with principals and teachers - sound recordings from several planning and follow- up meetings with principals and teachers - document analysis of school planning documents Also a teacher survey at the beginning of the project – not presented here.
  10. 10. The selection of content areas for curriculum development and improved school results • Two broad areas chosen: i) classroom management, ii) development of language in all subjects. • Need for specification of content areas became gradually obvious – e.g. development of classroom questioning, classroom interaction, formative assessment, peer assessment, the use of homework to strenghten pupil’s learning et cetera • The specification of content areas a strategic choice for school-leaders to motivate teachers in the improvement work.
  11. 11. Principals leadership and learning • Successive development of confidence in leading and organizing improvement work: - Keep focus and communicate connections between different activities. - Observe relations between school/teacher efforts and pupils’ achievement. - Strategic use of personnel resources and time: ”I use my development group more distinct giving them tasks connected to these improvement efforts” (Principal 1) - Courage to run long-term school development
  12. 12. Principals leadership and learning • Extended repertoire of improvement strategies e.g. collegial observations, pedagogical discussions, literature reading, ”Study circles”. • More frequent use of classroom observations from principals. • A growing consciousness of the meaning of school improvement: ”It has been big changes in my thinking of what school improvement work is. Before I didn’t see this properly.” (Principal 2)
  13. 13. Teacher learning in school improvement work • More pedagogical discussions now than before – the relationship between teaching and learning in focus. • Collegial and focused classroom observations create the content of discussions (4 of 5 schools). • A common language is growing. • Consciousness about teaching aspects (e.g. the way of asking questions to pupils): ”You get incredibly conscious of how you ask questions. Without collegial observations you never had set eyes on that.” (Teacher 1) • Confidence in testing teaching strategies connected to content areas.
  14. 14. Collegial observations of teaching – learnings from one of the improvement strategies What is important? • Concrete and explicit focus on what is being observed (related to general curriculum area) • A short observation is enough but you need documentation (e.g. protocol, video-tape) for the reflection and discussion • A short common reflection after classroom observation • Conversation with moderator, focused on: 1. Descriptions of observed situations. 2. General knowledge and learnings from observations. 3. Pedagogical consequences (for future teaching).
  15. 15. Schools capacity building through learning capital – some learnings about change Explicit changes of schools’: Curricular capital – in terms of deepened pedagogical discussions from facts (protocols, video-tapes, literature) and curriculum. Teaching capital – from individual to collaborative learning through classroom observations and discussions. Less explicit changes of schools’: Moral capital – more of common development , BUT at the same time ongoing negociations with staff about the importance of common ground instead of individual solutions. Venture capital – from learning to action, the most difficult part in this phase of the improvement work!
  16. 16. Some general insights so far! • Differences in schools readiness for improvement work (from the survey results) • School improvement takes time • Principals learning and development during the process important • The importance of principals active participation – instructional leadership rather ”new” in a Swedish context • The importance of support in the process (e.g. from municipality super visors, ”first teachers” et al) • The need for conversations about teaching and learning
  17. 17. Some reflections for the future – summing up case studies of ongoing school improvement at the end of 2015 • Principals ability to deal with the balance between top-down and bottom up initiatives and strategies • Initially the research and development design (R&D) seem to support principals’ learning and leadership – what has happened when researchers draw back? • How can teachers’ learning from school improvement activities maintain and be part of daily teaching? (from teaching capital to venture capital) • How visible are school improvement learnings on a pupil level (teaching and learning in the classroom, national tests, grades)?