Professional Community and School Development
The principles of practice outlined in the core curriculum point towards a learning professional community that dedicates time to collaboration, collective reflection, and developmental work. Sharing experiences, dialogue, and constructive disagreement are integral aspects of the school's operation. The school staff should collectively focus on both individual practices and the school's development.
This necessitates a holistic view of the school's democratic and dialogic structure. How can the entire school staff succeed in working together towards common goals?
“Sharing experiences, dialogue, and constructive disagreement are integral aspects of the school's operation.
School Change Processes
Change efforts in schools take many forms. Teachers who have been in the education system for a while may have experienced numerous school development programs, some more successful than others in engaging or contributing to the development of the school's practices. Often, school staff experiences "change fatigue," not because they don't want to develop their practices, but because external programs and guidelines fail to resonate with the teacher in their work.
Despite good intentions, research shows that many initiatives for school development either falter or fizzle out (Irgens, 2018). What can we learn from experiences of school change when working on prevention? What does research indicate about how we can succeed in aligning noble objectives with positive forces in the field of practice?
Some keys emerge clearly through research: motivation and the power to change are strengthened through anchoring and involvement, collegial support and collaboration, as well as holistic and systemic thinking.
Motivation and Willingness to Change
What fosters motivation for effort and change? There is no formula, but research can provide some insights into crucial factors.
Firstly, organizational research shows that leadership that enhances employees' autonomy and the sense of being competent contributors in their jobs promotes employees' intrinsic motivation. Just as the school aims to empower students, it must also aim to empower teachers. Teachers who feel taken seriously, heard, have room to suggest ideas, and the opportunity to control their work experience the greatest motivation for development and performance (Kuvaas, 2009).
The core curriculum emphasizes that "effective school development requires space to ask questions and seek answers" and that "all staff must actively participate in the professional learning community." This means that leadership must ensure that all teachers are consulted and have the opportunity to contribute their professional judgment when development work is initiated or designed. There must be room for dialogue and exploration of solutions and ways forward. Empowering each individual is strengthened through competence development and collective reflection (Fullan, 2007).
“All staff must be consulted and have the opportunity to contribute their professional judgment when development work is initiated or designed.
This aligns with research indicating that anchoring in the staff is crucial for teachers and other staff to be motivated to participate in change processes (Ertesvåg, 2012). Motivation arises when employees' own experiences become valuable contributions in initiating change processes.
“If you take any hundred or so books on change, the message all boils down to one word: motivation. If one’s theory of action does not motivate people to put in the effort – individually and collectively – that is necessary to get results, improvement is not possible.” (Fullan, 2007).
Secondly, collaboration, good communication, and support from colleagues are essential for motivation. Solutions and plans developed collaboratively, as a result of constructive interaction processes, provide a high degree of motivation and commitment to implementation (Kuvaas, 2009; Fullan, 2007; Ertesvåg, 2012).
Last but not least, it is crucial that plans, goals, and development work are placed in a context and perceived as meaningful in light of the school's overall operation. Integrated or systemic strategies, i.e., strategies understood in connection with an overall picture of the organization's goals or operations, will engage and mobilize action more effectively among staff (Fullan, 2007).
Therefore, the goal must always be to stay in touch with the meaningful and important objectives of the school, even when working on development work on a smaller scale. The school's educational mandate and values are such important objectives that provide direction and meaning to the school's preventive work.
Sharing Experiences and Collaboration
To build a staff in a school as a learning professional community, it is crucial to create a culture of collaboration and communication. This involves having open processes, good information flow, and communication between all levels of the organization. Above all, it is about creating good habits for sharing and exchanging experiences.
Lauvås and Handal (2000) describe how each professional practitioner has a rich experiential base that can be called the individual's conscious or unconscious practice theory. A practice theory encompasses both values, theoretical knowledge, and accumulated experience. Together, these constitute the justifications that one, more or less consciously, relies on for the choices made in everyday life.
The individual's experiences and justifications are essential resources for others in the teacher's collegium. However, there is often too little time for collective reflection in the professional community. The new core curriculum, however, emphasizes the importance of prioritizing time for dialogue:
The profession and each teacher bear the responsibility to exercise judgment in complex matters. Teachers and leaders develop professional, educational, didactic, and subject didactic judgment in dialogue and interaction with colleagues. The exercise and development of professional judgment occur both individually and together with others (Core curriculum 3.5).
“Teachers and leaders develop professional, educational, didactic, and subject didactic judgment in dialogue and interaction with colleagues.
When working on competence development and change processes in schools, it is crucial to incorporate individual experiences into the conversation about what constitutes good practice and why. If one manages to create a framework for collective reflection in the professional community, one can develop well-thought-out goals together, and each individual can expand their repertoire of actions.
The professional community is a democratic community where there should be room for disagreement and exchange of ideas. Each staff member should have a natural place in the professional and academic conversation, and the openness and respect for each individual's conviction and professionalism must be the basis. Also, in the teacher's collegium, it is important to value the idea of a "disagreement community." There must be room for diversity and constructive disagreement. Collaboration and communication to solve common problems are what binds the organization together.
“Also, in the teacher's collegium, it is important to value the idea of a "disagreement community." There must be room for diversity and constructive disagreement.
Teacher autonomy and the freedom to use one's own pedagogical judgment are of crucial value for many in the teaching profession. Detailed control or an excess of common instructions can be perceived as a threat to this freedom. In some cases, extensive demands for collaboration can be the same. In a professional community, respect for the individual's autonomy must be high, but at the same time, collaboration and a willingness to compromise are required to ensure that the school's staff can move in the same direction.
The curriculum renewal, with its emphasis on the professional community, interdisciplinary work, and in-depth learning, can pose challenges and require new ways of working and collaboration. In the light of the work on curriculum renewal and the implementation of values and principles in the core curriculum, the focus on developing good systems for collaboration and sharing experiences becomes necessary and important work.
Ertresvåg, S.K. (2012): Leiing av endringsarbeid i skulen. Gyldendal akademisk.
Fullan, M. (2007): «Change Theory as a Force for School Improvement.» I Intelligent Leadership. Constructs for Thinking Education Leaders. Springer
Kuvaas, Bård (2009): «A test of hypotheses derived from self-determination theory among public sector employees.» I Employee Relations. Volume: 31 Issue: 1
Lauvås, og Handal (2000): Veiledning og praktisk yrkesteori. Cappelen Akademisk forlag.