Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

A Constructivist Pathway to Teacher Leadership

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

A Constructivist Pathway to Teacher Leadership

Article excerpt


Creating lasting top down educational reform to date can be summarized as, at best, problematic. In this article we report progress on an alternative path to sustainable reform. Specifically, we share results of a longitudinal study of a two-year long professional development program grounded in constructivist principles of teacher leadership. Transformations in teacher thinking and professional identity observed in the study suggest strong promise for structuring long-range constructivist professional development practices that facilitate development of identity and problem solving as a teacher leader.

The Case for a Constructivist Approach

Recent U.S. policies associated with the "No Child Left Behind Act," especially the propensity to view large-scale externally imposed reforms as the model for educational reform raise a critical question. What role should teachers play as leaders and researchers in translating reform policies into the reality of "best" practices within their own school cultures?

As stated earlier, this article reports one segment of an ongoing programmatic self-study within a two-year professional development program designed to prepare teacher leaders. The program uses a constructivist framework for teacher leadership outlined by Lambert, Walker, Zimmerman, Cooper, Lambert, and Slacker (1995) and Lambert (2003) as guiding premises supporting teacher development. A foundational constructivist premise in this approach to teacher leadership argues teachers need to develop their capacity to use reciprocity in problem solving as collaborative inquirers. Specifically, the program reported here is structured to facilitate the development of reciprocity in thinking along dimensions of collaborative problem solving, inquiry, and action. The program promotes development of teacher use of reciprocity in thinking as a means of flaming problems and engaging in action research as a problem-solving tool in their own schools.

The purpose of our ongoing programmatic self-study is to track teachers' thinking about collaboration and inquiry while they participate as members of an inquiry-based learning community. A primary question guiding this programmatic study was and continues to be as follows: How does participation in opportunities for sustained action research, collaborative learning, and dialogue within a sustained community of inquirers impact reciprocity in teacher thinking within problem spaces related to teacher leadership?

Current national policies guiding educational reform reflect the human tendency to oversimplify the change process, emphasizing large-scale uniform mandates over support for ongoing and locally responsive research supported through professional teacher development and teacher driven inquiry. Wheatley (1999) and Senge (2000) move us beyond the notion that change is a linear top down process, providing a more realistic understanding of change as a complex process. Their reframing of the nature of organizations as open systems suggests positive self-organizing change occurs by creating the conditions for persons to engage in dialogue and collaborative inquiry, developing the capacity to use ideas to create locally transformative solutions. In the educational reform process, Fullan (2001), Barth (2001), and Lambert (2003) call for educators to move beyond reliance on top down, quick fix, one size fits all models of reform. They contend that if the potential for meaningful reforms are to be realized, contextually sensitive inquiry by teacher leaders engaged in the complex process of developing effective teaching practices must also be a powerful component in the change process. Dufour and Eaker (1998) extend this idea, contending that teacher inquiry/action research within individual schools needs to be systematic and ongoing if we are to realize the goals of continuous improvement.

Lambert et al. (1995) make the case that if systematic and ongoing inquiry is indeed to become a part of school cultures, a theoretical approach embracing constructivist premises applied to teacher leadership offers a promising framework for developing school communities where dialogue and collaborative inquiry can thrive and transform thinking within individuals and the collective culture of a school. …

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