August Kickoff Event: Creating a Shared Vision for Teacher Learning
Many teachers begin the school year by asking their students to reflect on and share their hopes and dreams, their goals for learning and personal growth, and their ideas about what kind of classroom community will best help them learn. At the Mills Teacher Scholars Principal and Teacher Leader Network Kickoff event on August 16th, our partner principals and teacher leaders came together to develop their visions and goals for their inquiry work in the coming year and to reflect on how to nurture the conditions at their schools that help teacher learners thrive.
Three key messages framed the evening’s work, reminding both new and returning participants of the core elements of the Mills Teacher Scholars ethos:
- The inquiry space is teacher driven, non-evaluative, and safe to explore uncertainty and engage in genuine learning.
- We hold space for our colleagues to move their thinking forward by listening attentively to teachers through collaboration and to students through data.
- The inquiry space drives equity by giving teachers the thinking space and support to name student assets and make plans for meeting student needs.
While principals met in a nearby room, teacher leaders explored in small groups what it means to be a public learner who models these key messages for his or her colleagues. One experienced teacher leader reflected:
We’re in our third year [of working with Mills Teacher Scholars] and it’s still a really hard thing for people to engage in this kind of listening. Knowing how to ask the right question at the right time is an art. It’s really effective when done right, but really hard to do.
Principals, meanwhile, along with principal coach Eve Gordon and Mills Teacher Scholars Executive Director Carrie Wilson, reflected on their unique position as leaders of schools and district groups committed to teacher-led, collaborative inquiry. New and returning site leaders discussed the “delicate dance” required to bring their teacher leaders into shared ownership of decisions even while ensuring that those decisions are aligned to the school’s vision, values, and goals.
During the second half of the evening, principals and teacher leaders crafted goals particular to their school sites for the coming year’s inquiry work. These goals varied depending on the needs of each community. One site, entering their first year with the Mills Teacher Scholars, decided that developing a positive, safe learning community in which teachers can become comfortable with the inquiry process is their highest priority:
Our teachers will collaborate with positivity, hope, and support and with the understanding that being vulnerable and open helps all of us become more successful teachers.
Another site, beginning their fourth year with the Mills Teacher Scholars, also incorporated an academic focus into their inquiry vision for the year:
Our belief is that PD should facilitate sharing amongst the faculty so that the students experience continuity across disciplines and are able to flexibly apply their knowledge.
Each administrator and school leader also set a personal intention for how to help make the key messages of safety, listening, and equity come alive at their sites this year:
“I will remember what my colleagues say to me so that I may inquire further when we meet again.”
“Less talk, more listening.”
Both the Mills Teacher Scholar Principal Inquiry Network and the Teacher Leader Network will meet again in October to continue to explore how to foster the conditions at their school sites that lead to transformational change.