Reflective groups for school principals have been operating in New Zealand for a number of years. This story follows a year-long trial in three Wellington primary schools that incorporated a new initiative into their Principals' Professional Learning Community (PPLC). The trial involved three primary principals and a mentor from the New Zealand Principal and Leadership Centre.
The group designed the terms and structure of the trial at a two-day workshop. Over the two days they defined each of the issues they wanted to observe in each of the schools, spent time reading and discussing educational theory, and developed their plan and structure for the trial.
The learning visit
– The key elements of this PPLC were to remain a major focus for the group.
– The new initiative was to include a visit to each of the principal’s schools to gather information about an issue related to their own professional leadership.
– The visit would focus on agreed-upon observations and discussions based on the wonderings and issues each principal brought to the group.
– The focus of the group was on the professional development for each of the members.
– Members of the group were learners. The school visits were designed to assist the principals in arriving at some alternatives for their wonderings and in providing peer support for any subsequent changes to their practice.
ICT focus – The school was two years into an ICTPD [information and communication technologies professional development] contract, and the principal wanted to understand the achievement and implementation from the point of the view of the teachers.
Exploring the effectiveness of the independent learning activities that promote literacy and numeracy
Exploring the effectiveness of a new model of indirect support for students with literacy needs
Purpose of the visit
– To focus on the wonderings each principal had defined at the two-day workshop
– To spend time observing in classrooms and interviewing staff to gather evidence
– To participate in the feedback sessions with trusted colleagues
Participants in the visit
– The learning host
– The learning visitors
– The staff and students of the host school
– Morning tea with host staff, informal discussion
– Formal feedback held on the day, immediately after the data gathering
– Open discussion focused on the wonderings
– Group ideas, suggestions discussed and recorded
These were an opportunity for the principals to focus their attention on their initial wonderings and to share their thoughts and ideas with colleagues. They also provided an opportunity to bring new questions seeking further clarification to the group. They explored alternatives, taking into account possibilities brought to the group from different educational theories. Examples of changes in thinking were evident.
Throughout the discussion, the principals consistently expressed the view that:
– engaging with peers in this kind of activity provided an opportunity to clarify thinking
– this resulted in much clearer and precise action in each school
– the impact of the facilitator was crucial.
The group concluded that there were a number of elements that led to the success of their professional learning community:
– a high level of trust between group members
– the feedback given is considered and thoughtful and relates to the wonderings
– the feedback is valued
– genuine interest in one another’s learning focus and school
– a highly skilled facilitator
– a commitment to the process, making meeting together a priority.
Published on: 19 Dec 2007
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