An Integral Analysis of One Urban School System's Efforts to Support Student-Centered Teaching

An Integral Analysis of One Urban School System's Efforts to Support Student-Centered Teaching

Shari Good (University of Calgary, Canada) and Veronika Bohac Clarke (University of Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0892-2.ch003
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This chapter analyzes the case of one urban public school district's efforts to provide coherent support for student-centered teaching across all the high schools, through the role of the Learning Leader. The Learning Leader designation replaced the previous Department Head or Curriculum Leader role. The implementation of this change of designation created numerous challenges due to various interpretations of the role. The district's efforts to provide professional development for the Learning Leaders was also caught up in the context of conflicting interpretations of the role of the Learning Leader. This chapter provides an analysis of the implementation of this change, including the use of the Integral Model (Wilber, 2006) to examine the interviews with high school Learning Leaders and principals, and the Professional Development program offered by the district. A number of recommendations are provided for enhancing the role of the Learning Leaders to optimize their work with teachers.
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The current political climate of accountability, performance, and achievement in the province of Alberta, Canada, has placed greater emphasis on increased high school completion rates as a measure of student success (Alberta Education, 2009). Today Alberta secondary schools are not only being held responsible for raised completion rates and student outcomes in compliance with government expectations, but, due to an increased public demand, for more efficient schools and school leaders as well (Wright & Marianicz, 2014). This pressure has created a shift in the core work of school leaders toward a deeper focus on high quality educational experiences that promote the development of qualities and competencies central to learning and life (Slater, 2008).

Today, the term school leader does not only refer to a principal or assistant principal of a school, but also includes those teacher leaders employed to lead the instructional and managerial work of a subject department. These teacher leaders have many titles, such as curriculum leader, department head, pastoral lead, or middle manager, but for the purpose of this study are referred to as learning leaders. The definition of a learning leader employed throughout is a teacher who undertakes formal leadership roles that have both managerial and pedagogical responsibilities, and include leading a subject area team and fulfilling expectations and goals as directed by the school principal. This definition was designed by examining and blending characterizations of similar formalized teacher leadership positions recognized within western countries (Aubrey-Hopkins & James, 2002; Busher & Harris, 1999; Fitzgerald, 2009; Turner, 2007; Weller, 2001).

Learning leaders, as formal teacher leaders, now have to manage the increasing expectations and often competing demands of a rapidly changing educational system. As a result, the scope of the learning leader’s role has expanded to include monitoring and coaching duties, contributions to school policy, the development of professional relationships, improvement of teacher practices, and the encouragement of a liaison between staff and principal. The learning leader is now expected to function as an agent of change, as the emerging needs of today’s students, school leadership and teaching strategies will require practices that are “engaging, motivating, appropriately challenging, varied and differentiated” (Stoll, 2009, p. 120).

Secondary schools in the province of Alberta, Canada, follow a hierarchical structure consisting of a principal, one or two assistant principals depending on the size of the school, and a team of learning leaders who support the work of teachers, who are typically organized by a subject, pastoral, or specialized program grouping. The formalized leadership position of learning leaders is often a one-year term, sometimes selected by a committee through a competitive formal review process, and other times appointed by the school principal. The roles and the delegated responsibilities of the learning leaders in secondary schools are diverse, often complex, and can vary widely according to country, department, school, and urban location (Weller, 2001).

Course content and subject areas dominate high school teaching, which in turn creates an organizational structure of departments staffed with teachers trained and designated to be subject experts. Harris (2000) describes the secondary school department structure as an “important missing link in school improvement” (p. 1), noting that the lack of research focused at the level of the department is unfortunate as its organization has a significant impact on teacher practice and student learning. In the high school system the department, as the hub for subject, curriculum, or program areas, requires a leader at the helm to organize and supervise the work being carried out. Learning leaders fulfil this function and, in doing so, are accountable to the school principal for the work of the staff in their specific area of responsibility (Busher, Hammersley-Fletcher, & Turner, 2007). The scope and extent of the learning leaders’ responsibility is defined and observed by the school principal (Hammersley-Fletcher & Brundett, 2008).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Alberta Education: The provincial government department responsible for K to 12 education in the province. The Minister of Education delegates his authority to run schools, to the elected school boards, through The School Act legislation and through the provision of funding to schools.

Instructional Leadership: As defined by de Lima (2008) , the ability to involve colleagues collaboratively in mutual learning and development, with the main purpose of improving teaching and learning.

Principal: As outlined by The Wallace Foundation (2000) AU44: The in-text citation "Wallace Foundation (2000)" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , the central source of leadership influence, which includes shaping a vision of academic success, creating a climate hospitable to education, cultivating leadership in others, improving instruction, and managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.

Leader: As defined by Nahavandi (1997) AU43: The citation "nahavandi (1997)" matches the reference "Nahavandi, 1997", but the capitalization is different. , “any person who influences individuals and groups with an organization. Helps them in the establishment of goals, and guides them toward achievement of those goals, thereby allowing them to be effective” (p. 4).

Professional Development: As Timperley (2005) establishes, involves the dissemination of some kind of information to teachers in order to inform and improve practice.

Learning Leader: A formal leadership role that has both management and pedagogical responsibilities, and may include coaching, leading a team, and setting up action research groups ( Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001 ).

Leadership: “An interactive dynamic process drawing members of an organization together to build a culture within which they feel secure enough to articulate and pursue what they want to become” ( Railis, 1990 , p. 186).

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