— Steven Kolber —
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom.”
As educators return to their schools across the world, we all come back with ideas of how to improve our practice. The careful, quiet solitude of holidays is crucial for teachers to reset their emotional exhaustion and allow us to raise our eyes above the day-to-day grind. It goes without saying that all teachers work during their breaks, but I hope we also have all had time to think, plan and re-orientate ourselves as professionals.
As we all head back to our schools, it is time to consider not only our own growth and development but also those of our peers and colleagues. We need to make use of our most precious resources and those that are hardest to share: our human resources.
Famously, Haim Ginott said, “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanizer or de-humanizer.”
In expanding this idea beyond the classroom, the core tenets stand; you are the crucial element in your workforce. As flipped educators and users of instructional videos, I urge you to use these tools, and your skill set to leverage your own resources for the benefit of others. By putting time into these means, you free yourself to be more human and present without sacrificing the essential instruction.
Depending on your role and position within your school, your contribution to your school may well be different.
If you are primarily a classroom teacher, your work will impact the students the most. Whenever possible, take a moment to share with your fellow colleagues your stories, your resources, but most of all your presence. Take a moment to share your expertise with a first-year, or early-career-teacher. Validate their challenges, share in their difficulties, and offer them help and support. Shift your perspective and consider the way that you can and do lead people within your existing organization, as we all lead, either students or adults. One form of leadership is not superior to any other, but the skills that underlie both are the same.
If you are an emerging or aspirant leader, don’t be bashful to apply your skillset to the work you do when working with and leading adults. Flipped Learning concepts are as leverageable in the meeting room as they are in the classroom. Active learning and active engagement are even more important for leadership teams and professional learning communities.
‘What is the best way to use the group face-to-face time?’
In my opinion, the core tenets of good leadership can be reduced to the quality of two things: conversations and meetings.
Regarding meetings, the use of teacher and staff time is the most crucial element within a system. Taking a flipped approach to these spaces is challenging but crucial; the core question to answer remains: ‘What is the best way to use the group space; the human, face-to-face time?’
Answering this question means reflecting on the many boring and seemingly pointless meetings that you have been in during your teaching career. Meetings should be places where agendas are set to one side, and key documents are read beforehand to allow for conversation and genuine, deep debate. Just as a Flipped Learning teacher becomes more adroit at selecting the best means for engaging students, building relationships, and attempting activities that most teachers attempt once or twice a career, a Flipped Learning empowered leader better uses their human resources to engage in the crucial, critical conversations as a means to build and push forward a school’s mission and vision statements.
While encouraging teachers to leverage their existing and developing skill sets fully, it is worth pausing to consider what forms this type of developing a vision of school leadership might take, which implements best practices from the classroom.
Applying the same logic of Flipped Learning and active learning to leadership frees up space for those elements that are most lacking in schools.
Exploring the research and approaches to these four elements is something I will commit to in forthcoming pieces. These four elements all draw from the same concepts: building human resources by developing your own and engaging with other professionals.
The above list of suggested foci draws from the work of prominent leadership theorist Viviane Robinson. Viviane Robinson noted that ‘Leading Teacher Learning and Development’ is the most impactful among her proposed five core elements of student-centered leadership with an effect size of 0.84. This idea is a significant factor that emphasizes the messiest, most complex element, and, therefore, an element most worth doing. Many nations suffer from high rates of turnover and attrition from new teachers within the profession; in Australia, these rates are as close to 40 and 50 percent of teachers leaving within their first five years. Superior leadership, by leveraging best classroom practices, could counter some of this early teacher attrition.
Lesson observation and lesson study are of the utmost importance because as Phillip Hallinger noted: “Despite 25 years of research and focus on instructional leadership, ‘the classroom doors appear to remain as impermeable as a boundary line for 2005 as in 1980’.” Be that one professional willing to create a permeable boundary around your classroom, or the professional willing to engage with another teacher’s classroom through observation. Doing so could catalyze a shift in culture and encourage others to do the same.
The message of this piece is clear, as we return back to school, make these elements a priority regardless of your role. Be willing to focus on the complex elements of schooling, engaging with peers and colleagues in a way that allows both to grow.