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Distributed Leadership, Beijing style

By Kate Ferrier
Distributed Leadership, Beijing style

The International School of Beijing’s teacher leadership team: Rob Gold, Kyle Wagner, Mary Wenstrom, Matthew Merritt and Greg Thomas (photo: ISB).
At the International School of Beijing (ISB), curriculum development and student learning are placed in the hands of those who understand them best: the teachers.
For the past six years, UbD committees, strategic plan committees, and the strategic plan “Design Teams” have been comprised of teachers.
Most recently, ISB’s administration has affirmed a commitment to a more fully developed distributed leadership model through the creation of divisional curriculum-based teacher leadership positions. Each division’s Curriculum and Professional Learning Coordinator (CPL) now works with Curriculum Area Leaders (CALs) to tailor the broad curriculum message to the needs of specific disciplines and grade levels. Classroom teachers in turn work with CALs to develop their expertise on specific areas of the curriculum.
This distributed leadership model ensures that decisions reflect the needs of the staff and students in each department, division or grade level. ISB’s Curriculum and Professional Learning Coordinators come to their roles from a teaching perspective and, through their work with CALs and classroom teachers, ensure that curriculum decisions are workable within the target discipline and age group.
Greg Thomas, CPL for the high school, believes that the best ideas for a given learning environment are more likely to come from teachers: they know what is right for their students. Matthew Merritt, CPL for the Elementary School, views ISB’s distributed leadership structure as a flattening of hierarchy. Strategies and ideas are shared laterally, rather than from administrators down.
Mr. Merritt believes that roles like his allow teachers to learn from one another, and empower them to inform school leadership. In short, distributed leadership allows a school to remain committed to its vision and to continue to progress in spite of turnover in teaching staff and senior leadership. Such continuity is particularly relevant in an international context.
At ISB the distributed leadership model continues into the Office of Learning. In its strategic plan, ISB has committed to project-based learning (PBL) as a foundational approach. Mary Wenstrom, ISB’s Experiential Learning Coordinator, stresses that “learning should be exciting, connected, and rigorous in new ways.” Kyle Wagner, in his first year at ISB, is leading the development of a dedicated project-based learning academy within the existing ISB structure. The academy will be completely project-based in its approach to teaching and learning.
Through its commitment to teacher-led curriculum development, distributed leadership, and project-based learning, ISB aims to empower, develop, and motivate both students and faculty alike.

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