The overall purpose of this module is to help aspiring and practicing school leaders build capacity to organize learning and learning environments in service of students of color and/or students situated in poverty. The three PLEs in this module are designed to engage aspiring and practicing educational leaders in inquiry examining the structures and processes by which learning is organized within a school. Particular attention is paid to teacher learning. As such, the module’s overall design is based on the claim that student learning is dependent upon teacher learning (Darling-Hammond, 2006, 2008, 2010). Thus, each of the three PLEs in this module is designed as inquiry rather than a “how to” or training exercise. When experienced together, the PLEs that constitute the module provide a frame for learning that focuses educational leaders–and the teachers whom they lead–on building a collaborative and sustainable process of critical inquiry.
The overarching goal of the module is to enable aspiring and practicing educational leaders to envision and develop professional learning environments that serve students of color and students situated in poverty.
By “professional learning environments” we mean environments that focus, more generally, on teacher learning and, more specifically, on critical inquiry that takes the form of the scholarship of teaching and learning. We will speak to the scholarship of teaching and learning–and the moral obligation it contains–in the Theory of Action section that follows. Before describing that theory of action, we identify the learning goals that attach to each of the three PLEs in the module:
To enable aspiring and practicing educational leaders to inquire effectively into the professional learning environment of a school as it bears on the learning of students of color and those situated in poverty.
To enable aspiring and practicing educational leaders to inquire effectively into the cultural and historical context of a school’s professional learning environment and how it serves students of color and those situated in poverty.
To enable aspiring and practicing educational leaders to inquire effectively in order to identify a problem of practice that can focus a school’s professional learning efforts on the needs of students of color and those situated in poverty.
The theory of action that animates the module and the PLEs it comprises is briefly summarized in the next section.
Theory of Action
If schools are to eliminate the disparities in learning opportunities and achievement from which students of color and students situated in poverty suffer disproportionately, then leadership preparation programs must prepare educational leaders who have the capacity to argue the following claims:
Arguably, the most critical contribution that a school leader can make to her or his school is the establishment of a culture of professional inquiry: one that is collaborative, sustainable, and focused–like a laser beam–on student success. Such a school culture expects, supports, and demands that those who teach are scholars in the practice of teaching and learning (c.f., ProDEL, 2011).
The scholarship of teaching and learning is “a concept of moral action, aimed at cultural change” (Shulman, 2002, p.vii). Over the past two decades or so the scholarship of teaching and learning has evolved into the bedrock for serious investigations of the teaching-learning process (see Boyer, 1990; Huber, 1999; Huber & Hutchings, 2005; Hutchings, 2000, 2002; Huber & Morreale, 2002; Hutchings, Huber, and Ciccone, 2011). The work of the Carnegie Foundation–in particular the work attached to the Carnegie Academy for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL)–draws “the line between excellent teaching and the scholarship of teaching,” the latter of which requires faculty to both “frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning” (Hutchings and Shulman, 1999). The moral claim that underlies the scholarship of teaching and learning is what Shulman (2002) called the pedagogical imperative, an obligation that comes from engaging in the practice of teaching. When we teach–when we think and act with the intention to facilitate learning in others (McCown, Driscoll, & Roop, 1996)–we are obligated morally to determine the effects of our teaching on those whose learning we target. Having committed to teach others, we are obligated to make what we learn from our teaching efforts “public and thus susceptible to critique. It then becomes community property, available for others to build upon.” (Shulman, 2004, p. 43).
Our definition of scholarship is adapted–if only slightly–from Lee Shulman’s work on the scholarship of teaching and learning (2004). According to Shulman, work that qualifies as scholarship meets three conditions: (1) learning is shared, made public; (2) learning is shared in a form that is susceptible to critical review; and (3) learning is shared in a form that allows others in the field to build on what has been learned and shared.
In order to organize the processes of learning and to structure the learning environment that will influence those processes, the principal teacher in a school must facilitate the professional learning of the other teachers. Thus, the principal teacher in a school is morally obligated to follow the pedagogical imperative: to inquire and to share the results of that inquiry with others so that they may, in turn, advance that inquiry. The PLEs that follow are designed to support inquiry that focuses on the obstacles that prevent students of color and students situated in poverty from succeeding in school.
Standard 2: Candidates who complete the program are educational leaders who have the knowledge and ability to promote the success of all students by promoting a positive school culture, providing an effective instructional program, applying best practice to student learning, and designing comprehensive professional growth plans for staff.
The module addresses Standard 2 by focusing on how educational leaders can understand and facilitate teacher learning focused on the obstacles faced by students of color and students who are situated in poverty.