Constructivist Administration – lifelong learning

I just recently joined the Fireside Learning Ning which was started by Connie Weber. I haven’t spent a great deal of time there yet, but I can sense that it will be another great place for networking and learning. As an administrator, I’m always looking for ways to help the staff with whom I work improve their teaching. This stems from my work as a classroom teacher where I spent 10 years developing and adjusting what I was doing. During this time, I completed my master’s degree and it was here that I began to question what I was doing and how I was interacting and teaching the students in my room.

When I began teaching, I was a typical lecture, show then have students do work type of teacher. I had success with students who were average or above but really struggled meeting the needs of other students. One year, I had a class with a number of students who needed me to do more for them but I felt I really wasn’t helping them like I should. During one of MEd classes, I was introduced to the work of Vygotsky and, wham, I was drawn in. I began to read and look for ways to move my teaching from the traditional style to a more constructivist approach. I also began to really look at the lives that my students were living which really helped me to understand better what we were dealing with in school.

Eventually, I moved from the classroom and into administration. Now, as an administrator I am thankful for all that struggling that I did trying to find my way in the classroom. My first few years of administration were trial by fire as I tried to bring what I had learned in the classroom to bare on an entire school and work with teachers in this manner. Actually, I was pretty bad at it. Looking back, I wasn’t a very effective administrator and ended up in more conflicts than I needed to be in. But like all things that didn’t start out being positive, that experience has really helped me in developing my own administrative style which definitely has its roots in constructionist theory.

At the school level, I try to encourage all the people there to remember that learning doesn’t stop but continues on. I try to support PD endeavours the best I can and look for ways to that will support the process of learning for everyone. During our Drop Everything And Read time, I encourage all people in the building to do just that. I demonstrates that this time is important and supports the idea that we all need to spend time reading. As an administrator, I try to model this through taking classes myself and sharing some of the things I’m reading with staff whom I believe will be interested.

The one thing that I really try to do is help teachers to look at different strategies for teaching. It also means that I try to visit their classrooms on a regular basis, seeing what they are doing and getting to know how they conduct their classes. This helps me when we have conversations about teaching and when I come across information that I want to share with them. Like students in the classroom, teachers are not all the same. Each one has their own style and way of doing things which are important to validate. Because learning is a lifelong venture, I want teachers to be confident knowing that I will support their ideas asking that they have a plan that involves reflecting on what they are doing. As a teacher, I found that helping students build their understanding was so satisfying and I want to continue this as an administrator. I think I’ve finally reached the stage in my administrative career where I can now focus on this much more, having become comfortable with the role that I am in. I also see that technology will be part of the learning environment regardless of how much people resist so part of my role is to bring this into fruition as painlessly as possible.

I remember as a teacher how I rarely talked about teaching and learning with my administrators. It wasn’t something that happened often. For me, I really want to encourage and grow these conversations. How best can this be done especially in the jam packed world of the teacher? How can conversations, especially around technology, best be begun so that people do not feel pressured and attacked?

I have often discussed on this blog that schools really need to approach things in a different way and one of my goals this year is to begin that walk. This will require change on many fronts which is not easy but, I believe, necessary for schools in order for students to become lifelong learners not repositories of information.

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2 responses

  1. Well, Kelly, you are doing something that my principal has never done in my three years at my current place of employ: visit my classroom. I am not sure how a conversation re: teaching and learning between teachers and administrators can happen unless these visits take place. So, I give you mad props.

    W/R/T your question re: engaging with the admin. in conversations re: teaching and learning: Unless it is a division meeting or a PD day or a discussion re: goals or a post-observation or a year-end evaluation, such conversations don’t happen as organically as they should. As teachers, we’ve been conditioned to having such conversations in prescribed ways as previously mentioned. But, as you suggest, having more organic conversations requires a cultural shift within the school.

  2. That’s too bad that these visits and conversations don’t take place in a more natural way. If we don’t start having these conversations and exploring ways to help one another, things will not begin to change. It is through our willingness to explore and discuss that new ideas are generated and assistance is garnered for them. Administrators must move away from the top down method of working with teachers and be willing to share the lead. The synergy that can be created is very powerful and leads to a much richer educational environment.

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