Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken. ~ Frank Herbert
I recently completed the Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar during which some of Garmston and Wellman’s foundational ideas really resonated with me in terms of school change (these are outlined in the course and in the source book The Adaptive School: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups, 2nd ed., 2013).
1. Centrality of identity, beliefs and values
The Adaptive Schools book and course place emphasis on the importance of being conscious of teachers’ identities: their core beliefs, values and senses of self. These, rather than being set aside, are acknowledged and drawn upon in collaborative school practices. Graceful disagreement is seen as a path to developing group cohesiveness, empathy and shared identity. The teacher as person is honoured as an individual within the school, and a part of the school group.
2. The importance of talk
How we talk in schools, say Garmston and Wellman, influences our schools and our personal and collective experiences of them. Talk creates reality. This is why at my school we are using the Danielson Framework for Teaching (to provide a common language for talking about teaching) and Cognitive Coaching conversations (to provide a common way of encouraging teachers to think about their own teaching, in a way which allows the coach to facilitate the development of a teacher’s thinking, while at the same time getting out of the way of that thinking).
3. Tiny events create major disturbances
This is Garmston and Wellman’s third underlying principle of what they call ‘nonlinear dynamical’ systems, like schools. This principle affirms my experience of the unexpected, chaotic butterfly effects of incremental changes, which are sometimes unnoticeable or unmeasurable.
Teachers involved in our coaching cycle have commented that seeing another teacher’s lesson impacted their own practice in the following days; that reflecting on their teaching against the Danielson Framework brought foci and deliberate intent to their subsequent lessons; and that coaching conversations sometimes impacted their thinking long after the conversation had finished. Teacher coaches have noted that their Cognitive Coaching training has shaped the ways in which they communicate, not only with colleagues, but also with students and even with their own friends and families.
The Cognitive Coaching course has also impacted on my thinking around teacher growth and school change.
The notion of ‘holonomy’ is not from Adaptive Schools, but is from Costa and Garmston’s Cognitive Coaching (see Cognitive Coaching: A foundation for Renaissance schools, 2nd ed., 2006). It is the conceptualisation of the bringing together of individual (teacher) and organisation (school). The teacher is both influenced by and influencer of the school, involved in a continuously responsive relationship. The teachers as parts, and the school as whole system, work organically and symbiotically together.
For me, this notion of the interdependence between human individualism and organisational systems should be a key focus in school change initiatives. For my school, part of our approach has been designing a professional learning cycle based on the school’s strategic vision, and then having teachers pilot, drive and design the change. For us, the importance of honouring both organisation and teacher in a slow and deliberate process has been more important than fast change.
This coming week I will be at the Australian Council For Educational Leaders conference, sharing our story with other schools and departments who are working to develop the capacity of their teachers. And this time next month I will be in the middle of my visits to New York educators and researchers. I’m looking forward to having face to face conversations with those with whom I have connected via email and online, and seeing how they negotiate the tensions (and connections!) between teacher and school.
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