By Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers
Follow these four guiding questions to improve leadership and student learning
Recent research by London neuroscientist Stephen Fleming indicates that metacognition—‘thinking about thinking’—is the forgotten secret to success across all domains. Educational leaders can use this powerful tool to question, monitor, and adjust their thinking in ways that help drive action toward achieving goals.
We believe that metacognition can be applied to school leaders’ support for teachers and teacher education and improvement. How? By providing opportunities for teachers to work together—and in effect think about their teaching and their thinking about teaching—to improve their teaching practice. By reflecting on best practices for classrooms together, teachers have a chance to become more effective educators, both individually and collectively.
During the past two decades of providing brain-based professional development and university graduate studies, we have seen that when teachers have opportunity for purposeful collaboration, they are more thoughtful, joyful, and resilient professionals.
Administrators’ Toolbox for Supporting Teacher Improvement
1) Guiding question: How can I support my teachers to share their best lessons with one another in order to increase achievement and remain focused on maximum student learning?
Shine the spotlight on classroom success stories. Encouraging your teachers to share effective strategies recognizes the contributions of all teachers to the professional learning community, and provides an opportunity to celebrate these successes. A key leadership role is advocating for outlets for teachers to share their professional expertise; possible outlets include dedicating the majority of staff meetings to presentations and discussions about effective teaching strategies and/or hosting district events in which teachers share their “best practices” in the form of positive stories, lesson ideas, action research, and favorite teaching tools. Help your teachers rediscover the joy of teaching.
2) Guiding question: How can I support my teachers when they are so different from one another, and I want to be fair to everyone?
Recognize and celebrate your teachers’ unique strengths and contributions. Teaching is a complex profession and requires a multitude of different skills and talents. Some teachers may look forward to making presentations to colleagues about a successful lesson, while others step forward to discuss how they taught an at-risk student key content, and still others prefer one-to-one mentoring with their peers. All of these contributions are valuable and deserving of recognition. All teachers need not be required to be masters of all resources and methods, but most all teachers have an area of strength to learn from.
3) Guiding question: How can I support my teachers with opportunities to learn from each other locally, using the resources we have?
Lead an environment in which teachers are confident and secure enough to offer feedback to colleagues and welcome suggestions from their fellow teachers. Peer reviews, observations in model classrooms, and visits to other schools provide potent professional learning opportunities. Research indicates that highly effective teachers, unlike less effective teachers, tend to seek out colleagues who will offer objective, new, and constructive feedback on their teaching. As the leader, you can foster this kind of supportive interaction.
4) Guiding question: How can I help create an optimistic learning culture?
Spread the word about the power of practical optimism to support learning—to teachers, support staff, parents, and other administrators in your district. Leaders can help set and maintain a productive and positive climate: We have noticed that happy leaders have an impact on everyone with whom they interact because they help motivate others to set high goals and help encourage them along the way as they begin to reach their goals.
Donna Wilson, PhD, is a psychologist, professional developer, and author. Marcus Conyers is an author, professional developer, and doctoral researcher at the University of Westminster in London, England. They are cofounders of BrainSMART Inc., and the Center for Innovative Education and Prevention (CIEP). Their latest book is Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains: Metacognitive Strategies, Activities, and Lesson Ideas.