December 4, 2012

Self reflection, basic for educational improvement

Educational governance.
Is it a hype or does it indicate that the governing bodies all over the world want to have more influence on the quality of education?
Educational governance is not only in the Netherlands a hot item.
Educational governance seems to be an international eclecticism.
At one hand the individual schools (or is it better to say the directors of the schools?) have got more responsibilities but on the other side they have to justify more and more to governing bodies. New regulations and measures are sometimes confusing.
In this context I’ve red a kind of verdict from a Canadian professor Ken Leatherwood : School leaders can be excused for feeling that they have been pulled in many different directions simultaneously.
Why ? Because they have been pulled in many different directions simultaneously.

In the trend of decentralisation, (and in a certain way it is an example of a top – down construction), one thing is very clear : it shall not reshape the educational process at all.

If the health care system produces outcome data on the health of the patients, what exactly is the outcome of the educational system ?

The results of the final examination ?
A good social – pedagogical climate ?
Social integration in a multi cultural society ?
A strong financial management ?
Transparency of the account ?
A healthy personnel policy ?
A satisfied inspector ?

Educational governance can be an instrument to have influence on the quality of education. And the most important question is : who is responsible for the quality of education? My simple answer is : the teacher in the classroom.
Those are the professionals, the facilitators, the pedagogues, the coaches, the quality makers.

But in the daily practice in the school, a heterogeneous group any team of quality makers is still not a guarantee for good education.
Such an heterogeneous group of teachers look like a beautiful archipelago, nice isles but a lot of water in between and very complicated to connect.

When a director of a school wants to have influence on the educational quality of the whole school, he/she must focus on the task of educational leadership.
There must be a professional division in two main tasks : the management (how complex it may be) and the educational leadership.
If the director of the school wants to be a quality maker too, he/she must leave the office frequently to observe the processes and to work on the floor.
Sitting in his office the profession of an average manager is not adventurous.
The problems are predictable and almost the same every year.
This manager is pursuing the ‘status quo’.
By preference no problems, no changes, no development.
This manager is in his authority focussed on average results : a financial balance, not too much non-attendance of teachers and he prepares properly the visit of the inspector.
Every year the manager utters a breath of relief when summer holidays are fetched without accidents.
Much happened, nothing changed.

But the educational leader is part of a dynamic process. He can adept new situations and recognizes valuable initiatives on the floor.
If the director of the school is only mastering the management problems, it will have at last a negative effect on the quality of the education.
Educational leadership is stimulating the human power, is making a team out of a group of quality makers and stimulate them to be involved with the future of their students.

By the way I’ve got the very interesting brochure from Stuttgart ‘Leitfaden zur Selbstevaluation an Schulen’. Stuttgart is one of the partners in Eurocities, together with Utrecht and Brno.
That brochure gives a lot of criteria to use self evaluation in order to improve the quality of the education. The starting point here is : QUALITY MANAGEMENT.
The same term ‘Qualitätsmanagement’ is used in Austria.

Director and teachers has to think about the innovation of education. It can be done in the own school, but even better in contact with other schools. International exchanges make that process more attractive and valuable.

In Dalton education we are still able to make innovative new steps thanks to the fact that the basic concept is so clear.
Some schools formulated their ‘mission statement’.
At least the school has to explain the educational mission.
But an educational concept is much stronger than a mission statement.
The educational reformers of the last century constructed the fundament of student centred education.
Perhaps you can say that “Respect the child” was Helen Parkhurst’s mission statement.
But she worked it out in a complete concept that promotes adaptive education.
And because Helen Parkhurst didn’t prescribed regulations, we are able to actualize the Dalton concept.
Dalton has proved to be suitable to the movements society made the last hundred years.

New visions on differentiated education, recognizing learning stiles, multiple intelligences are suitable to the new generation of students.
Teachers has to adapt the attitude of the ‘multi tasking’ Homo Zappiens’.

But the question is are teachers competent to work with the new generation of students.
In Holland I work with teams of teachers and together we investigate their competences.
As you know from the well known model of Spencer & Spencer, competences are recognizable like an iceberg. We only see 10% of the competence of our colleagues.
Teachers always talk about what they do and how they do it, but never about why they do it.

How can a team of teachers work together on the improvement of the educational quality?
The technique I use with school teams in Holland, is to formulate the basic / kernel competences which are necessary for Dalton teachers.

Four main frames are relevant :
o A: giving students responsibility
o B: stimulating the development of self reliance
o C: arranging co-operation
o D: respecting differences between students

Several small groups of teachers must formulate in common discussion three most relevant competences in each category to fulfil the Dalton premises.
After this first round we connect the outcome and must find an agreement for five relevant competences.
It is very nice that teachers discover that it is much easier to formulate the competences for co-operation than to bring it into practice during the discussion.
After this procedure every individual teacher must make an own ‘personal development planning’.
It means that every teacher can write down the own strong competences, but can also indicate the weaker competences.

It is the start of an active process, because the individual differences in competences can be used as a team development process.
Professional consultancies, class visits and common topics for further training with external experts is the direct effect.

Finally I want to say that the procedure of self evaluation is the most important strategy to make the quality of the education more transparent.
Self reflection is a good way to motivate students, but also teachers to grow in their profession.
Teachers must learn to formulate their professional experiences in order to help each other by exchange of these experiences.
The success of innovation depends on the exchange of thoughts.
And if that happens on an international platform it always give more inspiration, is more effective and is it suitable to one of the main ideas of Helen Parkhurst: co-operation.
Dalton International stimulates these initiatives of the exchange of thoughts.
The Dalton concept was never isolated as the intellectual property of private persons or institutes.
The Dalton concept is too valuable to restrict the development and expertise can only maintain as long as it is shared with others.

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