Leadership Practice Communities: Improving Teaching and Learning: Participants in LPCs Wrestle with Real Dilemmas That Arise in Their Work. In-the-Moment Problem Solving Builds a Shared Vision of What Good Classrooms, Schools and School Leaders Look Like

Article excerpt

The need for effective professional development for educational leaders has increased in recent years, as superintendents, principals and central office staff face mounting pressure to change the ways they lead. In addition to their previous management responsibilities, these leaders' roles have become more complex as they work to improve teaching and learning for an increasingly diverse student body, skillfully facilitate adult learning, and negotiate the pressing political context at state and federal levels.

Many leaders have not been trained in how to manage and make sense of these multiple demands and thus can be overwhelmed with the commitments required of them. Yet, professional development opportunities for these leaders to learn new ways of understanding their roles and acquire skills still tend to be quite limited.

As designers of a professional development program for educational leaders, we have helped educational leaders in the state of Hawaii form a new type of school leader professional development--the Leadership Practice Community (LPC). LPCs are teams of school and district leaders that regularly work together with the purpose of supporting participants' professional capacity to improve teaching and learning within all schools in the district.

An LPC is not a typical administrative team in that LPC meetings are not devoted to managerial issues. Instead, members collaborate to develop their individual and collective leadership practice. When school leaders take responsibility for their own learning and professional development, they can focus on addressing the specific problems of their work and on meeting their students' needs. Outside expertise, in the form of research and coaching, is used in combination with and on behalf of leaders' own practice to expand thinking and introduce new ideas, where needed.

In our work with Hawaiian educators, we have seen how high-functioning LPCs can contribute to profound changes in participants' individual leadership practice and to improved teaching and learning within their respective schools.

Our professional development work with educational leaders is based on the belief that creating a system focused on the ongoing improvement of instruction must be the central aim of any education improvement effort. For students to learn more and achieve higher standards, teaching must first improve.

Without a focus on how to develop the teaching practices required to help all students meet more rigorous standards and master the curriculum, student achievement is unlikely to improve more than marginally. The goal for district leaders is therefore to learn how to create a system for continuous improvement of instruction. Developing the new knowledge and skills to lead in dramatically different ways is no simple task, highlighting the need for good professional development for school leaders.

A second premise of our work with district leaders is that good professional development should be primarily on-site, intensive, collaborative and job-embedded. Many renowned educators have documented and promoted the concept of teacher collaboration as a key strategy for improvement.

Rick DuFour, Ann Lieberman and others advocate that teachers form "professional learning communities" to share ideas and to learn (DuFour and Eaker, 1998; Lieberman, 1995). The Coalition of Essential Schools, the National School Reform Faculty and Harvard's Project Zero promote the formation of Critical Friends Groups within schools for teachers to work together to improve their practice (Dunne, Nave and Lewis, 2000; Blythe, Allen and Powell, 1999).

In the lesson study process, described by James Stigler and James Hiebert in "The Teaching Gap" (1999), teams of teachers meet regularly to discuss the learning challenges of their students and collaboratively develop and refine lessons that more effectively meet their students' needs. …