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Five Dispositions of Effective Teaching and Learning Teams

By Yujiro Fujiwara
09-Nov-22
Five Dispositions of Effective Teaching and Learning Teams


The role of curriculum coordinators and instructional coaches, known in some schools as the teaching and learning team (TLT), is misunderstood and frowned upon by some educators, particularly veteran teachers (Kane & Rosenquist, 2018). International schools are not the exception. While mandated curricular tasks are sometimes necessary, ineffective TLTs downgrade themselves from being the sentinel at the lighthouse for drifting ships to the smashing rock at the shipwreck site. For example, ineffective TLTs may spend their time solely e-mailing teachers reminders about completing curricular maps, asking for purposeless data on assessments, requiring useless lesson plans, posting dull lists of professional development opportunities, and leading in-school teacher training via lifeless lectures, ironically, on innovative instructional practices. The list is extensive, but these are only some practices that erode teacher trust in TLTs.

Nevertheless, with regard to sustaining and implementing change in a school, the leadership of TLTs becomes a decisive factor in achieving success (Maulding et al., 2012). Furthermore, while their job is critical for the successful implementation of new initiatives as well as the long-term learning goals of the school (e.g., instruction, assessment), expertise in their educational leadership role is not a sufficient condition to succeed. Effective TLTs must possess some dispositions vital to the role, as they guide teachers in interpersonal and technical skills such as adjusting new instructional approaches within the classrooms and sustaining effective curricular change (Kane, 2016; Kane et al., 2018).

This article addresses the dispositions displayed by effective TLTs (i.e., curriculum coordinators and instructional coaches) and may serve as a guide for superintendents and principals in screening and assessing TLT performance. Furthermore, the following five dispositions are based on research and observations and may also provide guidance for TLT members to maximize long-term results in a school:

  1. Effective TLTs possess a high level of emotional and social intelligence. They are authentic.

Since the leadership role of TLTs is not that of the traditional leader (e.g., superintendent, principal), it is not easily accepted by teachers. Thus, in such a professional environment, TLTs must break ground by demonstrating high social and emotional intelligence. For example, Maulding et al. (2012) found that influential school leaders possess emotional and social intelligence attributes, including being good communicators, listeners, and empaths. In particular, when leading change, TLTs will fail to promote it when they cannot build genuine interpersonal relationships with colleagues. As a result, ineffective TLTs will, at best, sustain working tolerance and fail to connect with their teachers and principals to promote change.

TLTs with high social and emotional intelligence communicate effectively by defining clear curricular and instructional goals, performing progress checks, and sharing the responsibility for results. Furthermore, in terms of listening skills and being empathetic, effective TLTs have the ability to appreciate, respect, and learn from diverse viewpoints that strengthen collaboration to achieve goals. In short, effective TLTs are authentic human beings, leading to the subsequent disposition.

  1. Effective TLTs understand their colleagues as professionals. They know their colleagues.

In addition to being authentic human beings, effective TLTs know their colleagues as professionals. First, for TLTs to be effective, they would need the support of the principal. Studies on the effectiveness of TLTs (i.e., instructional coaches) suggest that TLTs have greater access to teachers when principals actively support their role (Gibbons, Wilhelm, & Cobb, 2017;  Kane & Rosenquist, 2018). Second, while having public and explicit support from the principal is not enough, effective TLTs must know that, most importantly, teachers are professionals. Effective TLTs will serve as consultants or mentors. TLT members are not evaluators of teachers’ performance. It is important to note that although TLTs must provide professional development and coaching, which could be aligned with performance evaluation, they must not act as judges of teachers’ performance. Any remark seen as an evaluation may jeopardize the mentee–mentor trust relationship built (Goldstein, 2006). In such cases, teachers may resist coaching sessions and become less likely to seek support on instructional matters (Woulfin & Rigby, 2017). Additionally, any tension between teachers and principals could hinder coaches’ efforts to serve as drivers of instructional change. Thus, effective TLTs must know and work as a team with good rapport with principals to have greater leverage in accessing teachers. Furthermore, they should know the teachers as professionals to create an enduring trust bond (Woulfin & Rigby, 2017).

  1. Effective TLTs are aware of their student body’s cultural and curricular needs. They know their school.

The job of TLTs, particularly coaches, becomes more effective in attaining long-term instructional goals when they are given more time to train teachers and less on short-term goals attending to student needs such as working as substitute teachers or helping meet learning support needs (Kane & Rosenquist, 2018). Instead, TLTs should spend most of their time attending to the instructional needs of teachers, implementing curricular directives, working on scope and sequences, and demonstrating exemplary engagement through their own professional development. Concurrently, since TLT members will be engaging directly with teachers, they must have a broader perspective of school goals, including the curricular needs of the student body. Thus, while effective TLTs must be abreast of innovative advances in curricula and instructional strategies, they must navigate through their student body’s diverse cultural intricacies. The cultural aspect becomes more challenging in international schools, where culture plays a central role in the school’s curriculum. Cultural idiosyncrasies and nationalities differ widely. For example, a particular school may decide to implement a math program designed to serve public schools in the United States without considering the school’s student needs. In this case, TLTs will have difficulty trying to justify the decision’s rationale while developing the course of action to assist teachers in its effective implementation. Thus, being knowledgeable about their student body must be taken seriously when serving as agents who drive change. Engaging with students in and out of school in curriculars and co-curriculars must be part of the effective TLT’s engagement with the student body.

  1. Effective TLTs have skin in the game. They are held accountable.

The aphorism to have skin in the game is borrowed from the successful investor Warren Buffet to refer to someone who invests in high-risk endeavors while achieving a high-stakes goal if successful or having much to lose if not. Similarly, TLTs have delineated publicly explicit goals and responsibilities given by the superintendent or principals. Such delineation includes how TLTs will be held accountable for achieving instructional outcomes and sharing responsibility with teachers. Having skin in the game strengthens collaboration with teachers and positions TLT members as partners. Moreover, a large body of literature supports the personal and professional benefits of the informal and formal evaluations of TLT members (Boston et al., 2016). Thus, having skin in the game solidifies the needed collaboration between TLT and teachers.

  1. Effective TLTs walk the walk. They lead by example.

No one should become a general if they have not been a soldier first. They must know the battleground and, most importantly, their fellow soldiers. Effective TLTs demonstrate expertise as highly effective teachers. Being a curriculum coordinator or an instructional coach is often considered a desk job. These positions are thought to be filled by teachers who do not enjoy teaching or lack expertise. On the contrary, TLT members, including instructional coaches, are and have a reputable track of being effective core teachers who know the nuances of the teaching landscape.

It has been made clear through every disposition that TLTs cannot be passive providers of information. Instead, effective TLTs must engage in scholarly discussion and professional development. Another critical aspect that connects to social and emotional intelligence is that TLTs are passionate leaders focused on learning (Maulding et al., 2012). Suppose TLTs have the directive for teachers to engage students in learning. In that case, they must walk the walk by being passionate educators who engage teachers in learning and change.

Conclusion

Effective TLTs are not job posts that can be filled after earning a degree in curriculum and instruction. As stated, effective TLTs must be master teachers, engaging facilitators, passionate leaders, empaths, organizers, and many other roles. The high number of competencies and high degree of knowledge is to be filled by the expert teacher, who can navigate through complex curricular directives while facing resistance to change. School leaders must be aware when appointing TLT members, supporting them in their endeavors, while holding them accountable for their goals.

 

References:

Boston, M. D., Henrick, E. C., Gibbons, L. K., Berebitsky, D., & Colby, G. T. (2016). Investigating how to support principals as instructional leaders in mathematics. Journal of Research on Leadership Education. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177/1942775116640254

Bucha, A. I., & Ferreira, A. (September 3, 2020). The role of the department coordinator: Leadership and supervision. EMAN 2020–Economics & Management: How to Cope with Disrupted Times, 149.

Gallucci, C., Van Lare, M. D., Yoon, I., & Boatright, B. (2010). Instructional coaching: Building theory about the role and organizational support for professional learning. American Educational Research Journal, 47, 919–963. DOI: 10.3102/00028312103714

Gibbons, L. & Cobb, P. (2017). Focusing on teacher learning opportunities to identify potentially productive coaching activities. Journal of Teacher Education, 68(4), 411–425.

Goldstein, J. (2006). Debunking the fear of peer review: Combining supervision and evaluation and living to tell about it. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 18(4), 235–252. DOI: 10.1007/s11092-006-9022-3

Kane, B. D., & Rosenquist, B. (2018). Making the most of instructional coaches. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(7), 21–25.

Kane, B. D. (2016). Design conjectures for preservice teachers’ concept development about rigorous and equitable writing instruction. Teaching/Writing: The Journal of Writing Teacher Education, 5(1).

Kane, B. D., Cobb, P., & Gibbons, L. (2018). Supporting ambitious instruction at scale: The role of instructional coaching. In P. Cobb, K. Jackson, E. Henrick, T. M. Smith, & the MIST team. Systems for instructional improvement: Creating coherence from the classroom to the district office. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Maulding, W. S., Peters, G. B., Roberts, J., Leonard, E., & Sparkman, L. (2012). Emotional intelligence and resilience as predictors of leadership in school administrators. Journal of Leadership Studies, 5(4), 20–29. DOI: 10.1002/jls.20240

Woulfin, S. L., & Rigby, J. G. (2017). Coaching for coherence: How instructional coaches lead change in the evaluation era. Educational Researcher, 46(6), 323–328. DOI: 10.3102/0013189X17725525

Originally published, in part, in International School Network.

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Yujiro Fujiwara is an international science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educator and international school consultant in STEM education. He has specialized in curriculum and instruction in STEM. He currently is the head of STEM and high school mathematics at Concordia International School in Shanghai.




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