Evaluation Case Study. Enhancing teacher leadership through targeted professional development

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1 Australian Government Department of Education and Training More Support for Students with Disabilities Evaluation Case Study Enhancing teacher leadership through targeted professional development MSSD Output 7: Leadership to strengthen teachers capability Catholic Education Commission of Victoria

2 Enhancing teacher leadership through targeted professional development Abstract The Lead Teacher strategy developed by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria (CECV) is the cornerstone of its approach to enhancing teacher capacity and leadership in Catholic schools to support students with disability. The strategy provides targeted whole of school professional learning combined with opportunities for lead teachers to study at postgraduate level. The objective was to create opportunities for leadership teams, lead teachers, and school staff to work collaboratively to ensure appropriate adjustments and inclusive practices for students with additional learning needs. It also involves the provision of training for lead teachers to enhance collegial access to specialist knowledge and relevant policy and legislation and to develop teaching programmes that support the participation and learning of students with disability. Key elements and actions The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria (CECV) programme for school leadership is designed around the Australia Institute for Teaching and School Leadership framework focus on knowing how students learn. The CECV strategy is underpinned with the proposition that inclusion of students with disability in mainstream classrooms requires a highly skilled teaching workforce with skills in making evidence-based assessments of students, programming activities in language and speech development, behaviour management, intervention and cognitive learning. CECV aims to create a new and different leadership role in schools (the Lead Teacher) with teams of school leaders gaining a formal qualification to improve their understanding of the learning needs of students in conjunction with their activities to improve learning for students with disability. The responses of two schools in this case study illustrates the ways in which the initiative evolved. The first is a regional P-10 co-educational college located in a small town in Victoria with a relatively high number of special learning needs students; the second is a primary school in an outer Melbourne suburb with a large number of students from families who are refugees, many of whom commence school with severe language disorders. Professional learning at postgraduate level CECV activities are intended to result in leadership that is fundamentally different as a direct result of a skill-based and evidence-based course work provided by a University of Melbourne coursework programme, the Master of Educational Intervention. The degree comprises: three core subjects ( Promoting positive outcomes, Using data to build learning pathways, Literacy intervention strategies ; a subject involving the implementation of interventions in the school ( Design-based research ); and two electives from a pool of related subjects. A practicum (internship) is offered as an alternative to the design-based research for teachers Page 2 of 7

3 who wish to meet AQF requirements for tagged pathways in hearing impairment, inclusion (Special Education) and autism. Over the life of the MSSD initiative CECV has provided support for 75 lead teachers to access teacher release to attend professional learning at postgraduate level or equivalent. Lead teachers have been encouraged to share the knowledge gained from their participation in the master s degree to build capacity for school improvement. The role of project leaders Each of the 50 schools in the first cohort of the CECV programme (organised around six clusters) provided a single set of role statements for the participants that describe the objectives of the MSSD funded positions, the time allocations and duties of the individuals and nominated measures of success. Both case study schools used the MSSD initiative as an opportunity to support the appointment of an additional teacher as MSSD project manager or coordinator. The role descriptions are focused on finding effective ways to respond to assessment data around student performance to achieve improved outcomes. The schools have taken slightly different approaches to suit their contexts. The regional college project manager played a significant role building on the structures and processes in place helping staff make changes through: teacher-led research on the effectiveness of targeted learning programmes using the data to focus on specific learning needs investigating the impact of teacher-student interactions on student learning reflecting on the impact of distractions of school routines on student learning. The primary school adopted a team leadership strategy to manage and coordinate efforts to improve the learning outcomes of targeted students identified with learning disabilities. The key objectives set by the MSSD coordination team are to: develop a consistent evidence-based approach to identifying students with additional needs through the gathering and analysis of data establish appropriate learning pathways support teachers to use evidence-based strategies to improve student outcomes ensure maximum growth of all students in the areas of literacy and numeracy. Whole of school team involvement The key elements at the regional college are embedded in the normal operation of the school. It includes making use of the teacher team structures and meeting times already in place to re-focus the discussions. Team meetings are used to review new data on student learning and discuss the implications for action to be taken: the focus on student learning through discussions in these meetings gives them greater confidence to assess student needs. Added to that was the readiness and willingness of the teacher team to embrace the renewed focus on effective learning, the capacity of the group of teachers to come together as a self- Page 3 of 7

4 supporting (almost) collaborative team, and the capacity to then deliver the outcomes of the training to their students with learning disabilities. An evidence-based approach Having evidence available to focus attention on the main challenges enabled the regional college to set clear priorities on the basis of identified learning needs. With a well-managed collection of data to support their assessments teachers are able to articulate improved learning outcomes for each student and encouraged to set higher expectations for students with learning disabilities. The primary school engaged the services of a data analysis expert to assist the teacher teams to gather and analyse data and to make the most effective use of the evidence collected. The approach has led to a programme of intervention where teachers engage in: teacher-led research around the effectiveness of targeted learning programmes using diagnostic data as the basis for determining student learning needs setting high expectations for the targeted students and the belief they can learn at a more advanced rate given appropriate support. The school follows a cycle of assess, intervene, and evaluate. Teachers develop individual learning plans which are consulted at weekly planning meetings using collected data. These meetings are facilitated by the co-ordinators who participated in the MSSD project. The school decided to collect data through the following programmes: Early Reading Intervention Knowledge (ERIK) Fountas and Pinnell levelled literacy intervention Swan South West support for students with Autism Numeracy Intervention Research Project (Southern Cross University). Building capacity through collegial networks CECV provided a network structure to enable the Lead Teacher initiative to be shared beyond the participating school sites and to be incorporated into future professional development planning for teachers. The MSSD cluster schools participated in activities involving changes to the professional roles and responsibilities of school leadership teams to develop and implement professional learning. In October 2013 the MSSD initiative supported a conference Celebrating Diversity in Contemporary Learning Symposium. The two-day conference extended the impact of the professional learning strategy to 96 schools with 232 participants of teachers and leadership teams. The conference provided presentations from allied health, education, technology and the higher education sector and included keynote presentations from experts. Other teachers in the regional cluster of schools shared ideas and experiences at the cluster meetings. Page 4 of 7

5 Lessons learned Key observations Focused professional growth The on-going professional development of staff at both schools has been focused and deliberate with strong leadership provided by the principal. Staff acquired the knowledge and expertise to be able to articulate learning needs and goals, knowing what learning is important to them and whether improvement has occurred. Likewise, teacher capability at the regional college has accelerated in significant ways through the work of the MSSD project manager. The end result has been better learning outcomes for the targeted students, demonstrated by their development shown through progress charts from the diagnostic tools in use. Impact of study on school practice The three core units of the Master of Educational Intervention has changed the approach of classroom teaching and assessment practices in both of the case study schools. The focus has shifted from a teacher-focussed general learning programme to a team-focussed targeted learning programme. All four teachers enrolled in the full Master of Educational Intervention course completed the three core subjects and were awarded a post-graduate certificate. They have decided not to continue at this point. One lead teacher has continued, choosing a specialised pathway of gifted education while on family leave from the school. Notwithstanding their discontinuation of the full Master of Educational Intervention programme, each of the lead teachers believes that their learnings from completing the core units has changed the focus in their schools. Each has moved from a teacher-focussed general teaching programme to a team focused intervention programme personalising instruction based on carefully selected data. Using the results from this suite of intervention programmes has enabled the lead teachers to demonstrate to teachers across their schools the impact of their changing practices on student achievement levels. The evidence has changed practices. Both case study schools report that all staff are now focused on providing a personalised learning programme for each student to meet their learning needs, which includes the setting of smart goals, selecting appropriate materials to achieve the goals set and assessing progress through both informal and formal assessments. Using data to raise expectations In the regional college, asking teachers to shift from a high care/low expectations framework to a high care/high expectations position created significant challenges, but the effective use of data clearly made a difference. Staff at the primary school observed that lifting the expectations of both staff and students was crucial to the improvement of learning outcomes, and also that the involvement of a data analyst consultant helped drive the changes. They reported that all students made gains beyond initial expectations and moved from very low levels of literacy to participating and communicating more effectively with the broader school cohort. Page 5 of 7

6 All students had progress tables that showed results that were trending upwards, and no student in the programme could be identified as not making at least good to very good progress from the perspective of classroom teachers. Reflecting the general approach of the CECV, these students with potentially long-term learning difficulties have been caught at the early stage of schooling as an outcome of the intervention strategies and the school continues to work to improve their learning. Evidence-driven improvements The primary school also demonstrated evidence-driven improvements in student learning. Some students have reached the point where they have moved beyond their non-programme peers. A range of factors has come together organisationally to have an impact on the learning progress of the group of students identified as being learning disabled. Overall, the MSSD initiative has been a catalyst to bring these factors into place including: having teachers with high level classroom skills and expertise in the diagnosis of student learning needs leading other teachers linking their expertise with other experts in the field of student interventions through an action-research based study accessing quality tools to identify needs accessing external consultants with specific expertise when needed high levels of commitment from the classroom teachers to work as a collaborative team where the open sharing of information is the norm having strong support and further guidance from the principal and school leadership team (and as confirmed in the staff morale survey) as being in place. Sustainability Both schools are now committed to personalised learning, a concept many schools claim and/or aspire to, but these schools have clearly developed a level of leadership confidence through the University of Melbourne coursework that has made an impact. The key issue for sustainability is whether the MSSD project manager and coordinator are able to position staff to continue their involvement over the longer term. The model is based around supporting teachers to become more aware, more knowledgeable and more able to address the learning needs of students with particular learning disabilities. The focus on the lower years at both schools is appropriate for the targeted group of MSSD students. However, the real impact of the changes need to be tested across the upper years of schooling to ensure the interventions can be maintained. Potential for adoption in other contexts There is potential for the actions of these schools to be adopted in other settings, assuming the following are in place: committed, able, and supportive leadership by the school principal staff receptive to working together in cooperative and collaborative ways willingness to using carefully selected and implemented assessment tools to provide evidence of improvement. Page 6 of 7

7 The broader issue is whether the gains can be sustained without release time for lead teachers to undertake a formal programme of postgraduate studies and have a sufficient reduction in classroom commitments to provide time for the guidance and support needed. Notes The case study involved interviews with CECV officers and analysis of related documents. Site visits were conducted at the schools, in December 2012, and again in December The site visits at the regional college included interviews with the principal, the MSSD project manager, and three teachers representing the junior and middle primary school students of the school, as well as observations of teachers and students in the classroom. Both site visits at the primary school involved interviews with the principal, deputy principal and three MSSD coordinators. Telephone interviews with the current lead teachers covered developments at the schools in November Page 7 of 7

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