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Leading pedagogical change at Kelston Girls' College

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Carol Jarrett discusses how her department uses teaching as inquiry to investigate "problems of practice".


I think the really important thing with leading change is to actually talk about the change process. You need to be explicit. You need to talk about what the change is, why the change is being made, and why that change in practice, in system, why that’s being prioritised over all the other changes that could or should be made.

So when teachers have a clear understanding that change process becomes explicit, they’re more likely to take ownership of it, less likely to see it as something that’s being commanded from senior leaders or from external pressures outside of the school.

A really important part of understanding the change process came through a book called Weaving Evidence, Inquiry and Standards to Build Better Schools, which was edited by Judy Parr and Helen Timperley. There’s a chapter in that written by Deidre Le Fevre, which is called ‘Changing tack’, and in that Deidre explains that change process really clearly, and the processes that you need to go [through]. It’s kind of something that we do but I think it’s the explicitness, and I guess really naming and identifying all the different elements of change.

I think the teaching as inquiry model in the NZC is the best tool. It fits in with everything. The idea of inquiry being nestled, so it happens at a school level, it happens at a faculty level, department level, it happens in the classroom, and it’s part of the students’ processing as well. I think when we see that the same tool can be used for a range of different purposes then also the links between different change initiatives become clearer.

We think about our practice in terms of problems of practice. Not as a problem in a negative sense or a pejorative sense, but as a problem to be solved, a challenge. Then suddenly the conversation changes. So you’re moving away from ‘I’m failing, I’m not a particularly effective teacher’ into ‘Well this is quite interesting isn’t it? So how can we get around that?’

My approach to lead that change has been to model it. So I’m very open about problems of my own practice. So when I’m working with teachers either as a group or individually, when they’re coming to present problems of practice, we reframe that conversation - so what’s a problem of practice? What are some of the possible approaches we could take? Let’s give that a go and then let’s evaluate its effectiveness. What change did you notice and let’s come back to it again.

The benefits for teachers, when you look at problems of practice in a positive way, is that it actually then becomes safe to try things. It also surfaces what’s going on for them in their practice. They don’t have to hide things. They don’t have to revert to practice that perhaps isn’t effective. They can actually try things knowing that if it doesn’t work out, that’s OK, they’re gonna have a safe conversation, it’s gonna be about their learning, and then we look at solutions to how we move it forward.
I think the big challenge is balancing a sense of urgency. Every student, every cohort is incredibly important. So you want the best teaching and learning experiences for every single student, and you want them now! We don’t have time to wait for us all to catch up. But change takes time and you have to be patient - it’s not gonna happen overnight, it comes through trial and error. So that’s a real tension. Students benefit because they can see their teachers actively seeking change. They can see that there is a response to what’s going on for them. So the students should be seeing teachers changing things, constantly looking for ways to improve their outcomes. We need to prioritise the change that’s going to have the best outcome for students, so that teachers will see that there’s a purpose in that change, and support them through the trial and error process, and encourage them to keep experimenting and to become better teachers. 

Published on: 18 Jul 2011