Dr Adrian Bertolini discusses the importance of examining pre-existing knowledge, understanding, and unconscious habits and beliefs across school leadership teams as an effective strategy for planning, delivering, and assessing new ways of teaching and learning.
As every teacher and school leader understands, when a student walks into a school to learn they arrive with a world of pre-existing knowledge, skills, and thinking, as well as a raft of unconscious habits and beliefs. Effective teachers and schools invest the time to find out what students know, are able to do, how they think, and what beliefs they have about themselves and learning.
Equally important to mention, is that every teacher arrives with a range of pre-existing knowledge, skills, thinking and unconscious habits and beliefs. These beliefs and thinking are made visible through the language the teacher uses with their students; the way that they plan, deliver, and assess the curriculum; the way they setup and structure learning in their classroom; the teaching and learning strategies that they use or don’t use; the way they interact and communicate with others; and even the way their organise themselves, or not.
“Effective teachers and schools invest the time to find out what students know, are able to do, how they think, and what beliefs they have about themselves and learning.”
So, why do so many schools attempt to introduce new educational initiatives without exploring the pre-existing understandings, thinking, and learning structures that could act as barriers to change?
Without having these rich collaborative discussions, new educational initiatives are unlikely to be sustainable. This is predominantly why educational initiatives fall apart when key people leave. The initiative is driven by individuals rather than owned by the community as a whole.
ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
When I have led these conversations with school leadership, I normally ask the team (made up of classroom teachers, middle and senior leaders, and sometimes students and parents) to reflect upon the following questions:
- What is your perception of the educational initiative and its purpose?
- What do you understand? What do you not understand?
- Whose needs are we particularly trying to address by enacting the educational initiative?
- What are the needs for each of the stakeholders
- What barriers or challenges are there to enacting the educational initiative in the school?
- What are the current experiences of students and teachers of the educational initiative within the school?
- Are there any other perceptions or concerns in the community we have not yet captured?
These questions begin the process of gaining a deeper understanding of the issues, needs and challenges that will have to be addressed as the educational initiative is rolled out.
IDENTIFYING THE CHALLENGES AND IDEATING OUTCOMES
A second inquiry allows the participants to voice issues, concerns, barriers that were not picked up in the first inquiry and begin the process of articulating a desirable future that addresses the potential causes of the current reality:
- What is the current reality at the school around the educational initiative and learning?
- What are the possible causes of it being this way?
- What would be the desired future for the educational initiative and learning at the school?
- Any further ideas or input?
The discussions are enlightening because the team comes to a deeper understanding of the entire system of factors that may influence the embedding and sustainability of a new initiative. In my experience, this clarity is a foundation
for ownership, clear communication, and sustainability of change.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Adrian Bertolini is the Founder and Director of Learning for Intuyu Consulting Pty Ltd where he coaches teachers and school leaders in curriculum planning and assessment, growing leadership and excellence in practice in schools, as well as supporting the development of STEM in schools.
For further information, and to learn about Adrian’s book, ‘Igniting STEM learning: A guide to designing an authentic primary school STEM program’ visit Amba Press.