In September 2018 the first cohort of the professional learning community 'Educational leadership for educational improvement' started. Participating school leaders worked together with educational scientists of the Teacher Training Program on the problems that existed in their schools. The first cohort just finished the trajectory, the second cohort is well underway, and the reactions are positive.
No hypes, but science-based
Among Dutch secondary school leaders there is an increasing desire to not blindly follow educational hypes such as personalized learning, but to do what actually works. Preferably innovations that are evidence-based (innovations that have been extensively evaluated) but in any case innovations that are science-based (innovations with a solid scientific basis).
Klaas van Veen and Ester Moraal, educational scientists from the Teacher Training Program at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, saw this need and founded the professional learning community 'Educational leadership for educational improvement'. The purpose of this learning community is to narrow the gap between educational practice and science and to learn from each other.
Within the learning community, school leaders from secondary schools work together with educational scientists. During a two-year trajectory, they meet regularly to discuss the problems that the participating schools encounter and to think about possible - scientifically supported - solutions.
Before the trajectory begins, the school leaders prepare thoroughly. They conduct interviews with teachers and students in order to detect potential issues. They do not do this at their own school, but at the school of someone else from the learning community. As an outsider you will notice different things is the underlying idea.
“Think before you act”
Based on the interviews, the participants make a problem analysis and formulate which goals they would like to achieve. These goals in turn determine the form and content of the innovations, also known as 'backward design'.
Moraal: “Some innovations in education lack a problem analysis before the innovation is implemented. That rarely improves the situation. One of the participants summarized our approach in the learning community after the first year as: 'think before you act.' I found that very good summary.
Behind the scenes
Despite the fact that covid-19 made the evaluation of some implemented innovations difficult, the first cohort of the learning community is positive about their participation. Dorien Dusseldorp-Pranger, director of the Gomarus College in Leeuwarden: “We needed scientific knowledge. You don't just want to do something, you want it to work. I have experienced the learning community as very refreshing. We learned a useful and fast method that gives insight into the areas for improvement in your school or classes.”
In addition to the scientific element, Dorien really enjoyed exchanging experiences with other school leaders: “We had a look behind the scenes in other schools and we were able to question and help each other. What I found really special is the way in which there was space to be vulnerable, to admit that you do not know or enjoy what you are currently doing. ”
The second cohort of the professional learning community will complete the trajectory in the summer. Moraal: “We plan to continue with the learning community. On the one hand because we noticed that the participants really started to think more about what is needed to improve education, on the other hand because the visits to the schools and the interaction with the school leaders are extremely valuable to us as scientists.”
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