News Flash: It’s the How, Not the What When it Comes to Transforming Schools

A little over a year ago, I posted about starting my dissertation journey. I’m pleased to announce that on Friday, September 16th, 2011, I passed my final defense without any modifications! The defense was a great experience for me. I had a supportive committee and was excited about my topic and results. As I immersed myself in my research and in the study, I became fascinated by the literature. I delved into teacher versus student centered learning, 21st century teaching and learning, professional development, professional learning communities and networked learning communities.  I got lost in the forest of research, found a clearing and LEARNED.

To be honest, what I learned surprised me.  The purpose of my study was to explore the relationship between teacher participation in a networked learning community devoted to transforming schools in Hawaii and teaching innovation.  And although I found that teachers who participated more often had higher levels of digital fluency and utilized more student centered practices, what I really learned was that relationships must be at the heart of any school transformation effort.

I know this isn’t exactly front page news but I think it’s something those of us on the front lines of school improvement efforts often overlook. We spend far too much time on strategic plans, project charters, standards, curriculum and data analysis. I propose we move the conversation from the “what” to the “how”.  How are the relationships at our school? What kind of relationships are fostered between teachers, between teachers and students, between teachers and parents, between teachers and leadership, between teachers and the community?

Strong relationships allow us to focus on a whole host of other questions: How are teachers teaching? How are teachers reaching students? How are teachers being supported? How are we fostering environments that promote deep, collaborative discussion of the “how” or the heart of our practice? How well are we listening to what teachers need?  How are we tapping the expertise of our teachers? How are we balancing that with what we know from the research? How are we ensuring that our teachers are focused on what matters and not overwhelmed with too many initiatives?

So although the final defense was an ending of sorts, I find myself thinking that it’s also actually a new beginning for me.  Besides some really great new opportunities coming my way, I am inspired and reenergized to start focusing more on leveraging relationships to better focus on the HOW of our work.  Can’t wait to get started tomorrow!

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