Leadership through a disposition of inquiry


Minakshi Balkrishna has a teaching and administrative experience for over 30 years. She has vast experience in teaching in international schools in India and abroad, and has implemented the International Baccalaureate PYP programme. She has also conducted the evaluation and self-study for the school she was working with. Her last tenure wasat an international school as Executive Director.

She has attended workshops at Harvard Graduate School of Education for the Future of Learning programme. She has attended several workshops to get insights of teaching and learning and trickled it into her school domain. She is now an educational consultant for several schools and is also on the advisory committee and board of some schools in Ahmedabad. She is pursuing her PhD in education and management from the Academy of Human Resource, Ahmedabad.

 

Across the world, teachers work together to bring forward evidence from student learning to improve classroom practice and learning, they tap into the most important source of instructional improvement in schools, teacher-to-teacher professional learning and collaboration.


Some of the most important forms of professional learning occur in daily interactions among teachers- whether it's improving lessons, deepening understanding of content, analysing student work or examining student performance. Some of these instances are shared in corridors or staff rooms or over a coffee break. All along, the greatest challenge teachers face is to create situations that promote teacher learning about teaching practices that make a difference for students. This becomes an important part for school leaders and teachers to collaborate together to this kind of knowledge-building work.


One approach to building knowledge could be to help teachers learn how to diagnose the learning needs of individual students and how to teach them in specific ways, together with finding out why particular approaches and strategies are more likely to work than others. This type of knowledge building is very specific to the students and the task at hand. At the same time, the knowledge is developed in ways that teachers could use it with other students and situations. When professional learning is focussed on cycles of inquiry into students' needs, then making changes in students' learning environments becomes an integral part of building knowledge. Helen Timperley provided the inquiry cycle for teachers and leaders.


Teachers and leaders are central to well-functioning schools. School improvement and improvement in student learning succeeds only when these relationships have trust and respect as core values. Listening to others, being empathetic, having a willingness to extend beyond what is formally required, and believing that colleagues have the knowledge, skills and capacity to deliver on intentions and promises, all go a long way in both teachers and leaders feeling respected and acknowledged. In this environment, when everyone has the same goals, teachers need to think more about student outcomes, their practice, and what is needed when change needs to happen.

Teachers need learning leaders who can provide the right support, so that they in turn, promote their students' learning. These leaders care about and focus on the learning needs of pupils and the professional growth of teachers, and work hard to enhance the role of the schools as an agent of social change. The quality of leadership matters in creating, developing and broadening intellectual social and emotional capital within and beyond the school and providing optimal conditions for resilience, commitment and effectiveness amongst staff. Supportive organisational communities don't happen by chance. They happen with intentions of good leadership.

When leaders and teachers engage in ongoing inquiry and knowledge building cycles, inquiry habits of mind become part of how things are done. These are habits of using inquiry and reflection to think about where you are, where you are going, and how you will get there- and then turning around to rethink the whole process to see how well it is working and make adjustments. It means things are focussed, but sufficiently flexible to meet individual teacher and student needs as they are identified. This becomes opportunities for professional learning to reflect the structure and rhythm of what typically happens throughout the academic year.


Engaging in inquiry and knowledge-building cycles is seen as core to professionalism-leaders and teachers become deeply knowledgeable about both the content of what is taught and how to teach it and create the structures, situations and thinking routines to develop it further. The thinking routines involve being constantly vigilant about the impact of leadership and teaching on students' engagement, learning and well-being.


School leaders need to engage in ongoing inquiry into the impact of their policies and practices. They need to identify personal learning goals and seek the appropriate response to achieving them. The question posed is when professionals have practice based on deep knowledge, but are contradicted by approaches in brief workshops about how to teach something. The school system can create the chemistry of widespread improvement to develop and implement a journey to improvement and to achieve success. Leaders must take a snapshot of a moment in time. Where do we stand today? Decide on interventions to improve performance and adaptation to the interventions while considering the cultural milieu in which they operate.

Finally, it is about sustaining and ensuring improvement is over the long term and school systems that have learned how to navigate the challenges and have been able to accomplish it by a strong pedagogy are supported by practices that are collaborative in nature. These collaborative practices shift the drive for charge to the front lines of schools, it causes system improvement to become self-sustaining.

Learning leadership can be nurtured of which instructional leadership is a subset, to flourish and with it, teaching, and then system-wide school improvement will be seen. Along with it a culture of creativity, which gives space for innovation and a system that adopts communication and understanding to ensure success, becomes a reality.


To end, continuity in leadership and teacher team is also an important sustaining factor. The most successful school systems actively foster the development of the next generation of system leadership from within. How can we ignite the necessary conditions that allow a school system: to embark on its reform journey? The starting point for every school system embarking on improvement is to decide just how to overcome any present inertia.


This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine November 2021 edition.