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Pedagogical leadership and reflective practice
Pedagogical leadership has been defined as a model of leadership that invests in capacity-building by developing social and academic capital for students and professional capital for teachers (Harris, 2005; Morrison, 2009 & Sergiovanni, 1984). Given the changing environment in response to new challenges in schools, pedagogical leaders should take an active role in ensuring professional development that is continuous and lifelong to provide different requirements that go in parallel with these changes(Darling-Hammond, 2010). In this paper, I discuss a pedagogical leadership practice currently in use in the primary school where I work and make a case on how it might be improved.
Teachers in my station use reflective practice as a way of professional development. However, despite their efforts, the practice does not yield much fruit because the manner in which it is conducted. Ideally, reflective practice as argued by theorists such as Dewey (1933) should begin with some sort of experience and preferably a problematic experience which calls for a critical inquiry into the experience. Thus looked at in this light, it follows that reflective practitioners use their experiences to interrogate their practice, identify their own bias and become more open and accepting of new perspectives about their practice. Peters & Gray (2007) validate this notion by stating that reflective practice skills prompt teachers to deconstruct classroom experiences and reconstruct a new meaning in a way that transforms understandings to change practice hence impacting on their performance.
However, Hoban (2002),a major critic of individual reflective practice challenges this idea by claiming that reflective practice is a necessary but not sufficient condition to produce effective practitioners. Therefore, he advocates for a social nature of learning in which practitioners engage in collective reflections which eventually helps teachers make sense of their own teaching. In order for this to occur, teachers systematically study teaching strategies through regular time together to talk, and cooperatively compare ideas with each other. This creates the essential conditions for a constructive spiral of professional learning which does not stop during a teacher’s career (Keay, 2007)Thus, it can be argued that the success of such professional learning lies not just in any reflection, but a critical reflective approach in which classrooms become an open and safe non-judgmental place where teachers’ work can be positively critiqued. This eventually deals with the extreme levels of professional isolation which are inherent in the culture of teaching hence substantive gains in student achievement.
A more recent research by Ashraf & Rarieya ( 2008) identifies reflective practice not only as the route to deeper understanding of the teaching practice but also as a way to afford opportunities for active learning. However, potential challenges are bound to occur during collective participation- that is, the participation of teachers from the same department or subject. Such challenges are a barrier to effective implementation of reflective practice in my context. Although subject panels are used to systematically bring together subject teachers to study effective teaching practices and examine students’ achievement, this program is faced with numerous challenges thereby less effective.
First, the activities of the panel members are limited to approving of schemes of work, checking syllabus coverage and reflecting on the examination results. While this may seem a good practice, it limits any learning opportunity which is the hallmark of reflective practice. As an effort to improve the situation, other activities such as co-planning, team teaching, reading articles and reflecting upon classroom experiences can be in cooperated in the meetings, which research shows they enhance the range of teaching strategies and constructed knowledge as part of teachers’ on-job learning (Stoll & Louis, 2007).
During panel meetings, teachers are advised on how to handle certain topics that seem difficult to teach and the members offer suggestions on how to teach such topics. However, mere theory on how to teach a topic may be less effective(Kuit, Reay, & Freeman, 2001). To improve the practice, I will lead the members to share a critical incident in the classroom, which could be presented as an object for discussion. By critiquing this incident in a reflective manner, teachers would learn to improve their pedagogy which is an underlying aim of reflective practice. Similar views have been observed by McGrane (2010) who posits that a critical incident would help to promote reflection on the teachers’ practice which would further prompt self reflection on teaching and learning.
The situation is further compounded by the fact that the panel meetings are scheduled to take place only once in a term. This is because such meetings are viewed as extra work which interferes with teachers’ routine work. Although the idea of scheduling of meetings may seem a good practice, it is arguable that by simply allocating time for supposed panel activities believing that teachers are reflecting is less effective (Ashraf & Rarieya, 2008).This suggests that in order for reflective practice to be part of the teachers practice, they need to be structured into the schools culture and not made as extra activity through creating time for frequent panel meetings. Therefore, the administration and the teachers need to look at reflective practice as a continuous learning activity and not a fulfillment of an obligation from the ministry of education. Only then shall substantive gains in the panels be experienced.
To improve further on the way reflective practice is done in my context, opening classrooms for team teaching in pairs could improve the kind of reflections made. For instance, the collaborating teacher may perhaps ask probing questions that will make the partner to think of alternative ways of presenting the lesson. This will also improve on the comments teachers make in the self evaluation section found in lesson plan. Although this section is used by the panel members to determine the success of lessons, most of teachers are usually unable to question themselves by problematizing their teaching. Thus, they only comment by saying the lesson was taught as planned. In as much as this may appear as a good observation, it however fails to identify the strengths of the lesson or those areas that needed improvement. The implication for this could be that a teacher was intend at completing their lesson as planned and not on critically looking at what happened during the lesson and why it happened.
Finally, to achieve effective reflective practice, feedback of a change effort is important (Wadhwa, 2008). The few panel meetings in my context do not bear much fruit since after the meetings; there is no follow-up to ensure that what is agreed upon is being implemented. It becomes difficult to determine whether progress is being made or not. However to improve on the feedback, teachers could use data from their own students which determine the success or failure of their effort. As Hoban (2002) asserts, to be critically reflective teachers, means to identify and scrutinize the assumptions that underlie how teachers work. One way to do this is to seek feedback from students. This can be done by encouraging them to use students’ portfolios, questionnaires and by actively seeking their honest comments. Although implementing reflective practice in my context is challenging, the growing evidence of its success in other contexts makes it a feasible way of teacher learning. Therefore if done in the correct manner; it is likely to have a long lasting impact in the school as one of the areas of pedagogical leadership practices.
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Wadhwa, S. (2008). A handbook of teaching and learning. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons.
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- MRS MARY ANYIENDAH (Author), 2014, Pedagogical leadership and reflective practice, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/345048