Education

Are we resolving a crisis or creating a future?

The current emergency situation has been hard on both teachers, who have had to transfer their classes to distance learning practically overnight, as well as school leaders who have had to support and motivate their employees. How can we reshape the learning process and create conditions for teacher (co)operation?

student at home desk

Schools taking part in Tallinn University's Future School development programme attempt to answer this question based on their own experiences, describing, among other things, changes that have taken place in their school management during the emergency situation.

At their monthly meeting, the schools of the Future School development programme analysed their experiences and interpreted them from a managerial standpoint. Solutions to new-found challenges were sought together.

A saying common to the discussions became the centre of attention – the crisis was viewed as an opportunity. Analysing the aftermath of these rapid reorganisations revealed that this is the best time to implement changes, which, up until now, had simply been words. Management that drives studies forwards, supporting teacher learning and motivation as well as their need for cooperation is becoming a reality.

Learn more about TLU Future School development programme

Heads of schools are focusing on the learning process and management culture that drives studies forwards

Distance learning has focused attention on establishing unified goals and concluding agreements. It is therefore important that everyone takes responsibility for moving towards these goals and that management is experienced as a shared and inclusive activity.

A management culture which drives learning forwards is characterised by:

  • leaders who are creative and supportive, create new changes inspired by long-term visions and changes in behavioural patterns;
  • in order to support learning, the creation of conditions for teachers to analyse and self-assess their own activities so that the planned steps are evidence-based and justified for all parties;
  • understanding that learning is a social process, work is performed in teams or networks, knowledge sharing and learning from one another is common and partners from outside the school are involved in the learning process.

What are some experiences of Future Schools?

  • The core values of the school are taken into account even during critical moments. For example, if their core value is presence, then in the current situation that means creating options for teachers and students to attend classes virtually. A suitable place for this is Discord, a communication environment that can function as a virtual school with sub-groups for classes, years and extracurricular activities.
  • The tasks of management have been reformed – every week, they meet in a virtual room with subject committees and homeroom teachers either by school level, parallel classes, etc.
  • Management must also communicate with parents and solve their problems. Parents receive interim reports on their children's progress once a week.
  • Every day, management compiles an oversight of learning processes; data is increasingly used to analyse learning processes.
  • The main developmental focus has changed to support students’ independent learning so that learners could analyse their own studies, take initiative and understand why they are learning something.
  • Earlier morning greetings in schools have been replaced by the principal’s greeting in a virtual environment/school.
MORE ON DRIVING LEARNING FORWARDS:
OECD. 2013. LEADERSHIP FOR 21ST CENTURY LEARNING. EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH AND INNOVATION, OECD PUBLICATION.

It's necessary to provide a sense of certainty in an uncertain situation – leading means developing teachers’ competencies and supporting their motivation

Teacher motivation will be put to the test now more than ever in these turbulent times. Empowering leadership (empowering leadership) that supports teachers’ motivation and readiness to contribute to development hinges first and foremost on creating a vision – how to transform the learning process for distance learning, sharing responsibilities, contributing to the development and recognising effort.

What are some experiences of Future Schools?

  • A support team consisting of a special educator, a psychologist and a social educator is ready to assist teachers with special needs that are more pressing now than ever.
  • Individual support is provided for teachers who don't feel comfortable using digital devices in their home office.
  • Both the principal and the head of studies have personal video conversations with teachers to help every one of them cope with changes and offer them the school's support.
  • Virtual distance learning environments have been created for teachers (for example, Google Drive, Google Classroom) where subjects of focus, decisions and frequently asked questions are discussed every week.
  • Awareness of mental stress in teachers and the need for emotional support is rising. Due to this awareness, everyone checks up on one another's mental health and maintains close contact to give support where necessary.
READ MORE ON TEACHER EMPOWERMENT AND MOTIVATION:
  • LEE, A. N., & NIE, Y. (2014). UNDERSTANDING TEACHER EMPOWERMENT: TEACHERS' PERCEPTIONS OF PRINCIPAL'S AND IMMEDIATE SUPERVISOR'S EMPOWERING BEHAVIOURS, PSYCHOLOGICAL EMPOWERMENT AND WORK-RELATED OUTCOMES. TEACHING AND TEACHER EDUCATION, 41, 67–79.
  • RYAN, R. M., & DECI, E. L. (2000). INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC MOTIVATIONS AND NEW DIRECTIONS, CONTEMPORARY EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 25, 54–67.

Better together – teacher cooperation has a new meaning

During big changes, sharing experiences among colleagues is an asset in itself and the changes planned together are easier to implement.

Study days and weeks must be shaped as a whole. Learning tasks must mutually beneficial and the expectations of students require coordination. Teamwork and study groups, which at times seemed to be annoying obligations, have become essential during distance learning.

What are some experiences of Future Schools?

  • Together, a bigger picture is formed – with the support of management, a system of creative solutions and long-term projects which guarantees achievement of general and subject competencies is being created by teachers.
  • Everyone understands that there is nothing else to be done under the current circumstances and cooperative planning helps create seamless study processes. Teachers feel that their workload has significantly increased; however, there is now more time for cooperation.
  • Digital teacher rooms have been created (for example on Facebook) where colleagues can support one another and discuss problems with a wider circle of people. These discussions give teachers better opportunities to co-create new study methods, share their successful practices and develop new methodologies.
  • It is becoming commonplace for teachers to share and discuss work plans together (for example in Google Drive or another environment) to make sure tasks given to students form a cohesive whole.
MORE ON TEACHER COOPERATION:
  • LP-MODEL. STUDY ENVIRONMENT AND PEDAGOGIC ANALYSIS. (2016). TARTU: TARTU MUNICIPALITY EDUCATION DEPARTMENT.
  • VANBLAERE, B., & DEVOS, G. (2016). RELATING SCHOOL LEADERSHIP TO PERCEIVED PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITY CHARACTERISTICS: A MULTILEVEL ANALYSIS. TEACHING AND TEACHER EDUCATION, 57, 26–38.
  • VANGRIEKEN, K., GROSEMANS, I., DOCHY, F., & KYNDT, E. (2017). TEACHER AUTONOMY AND COLLABORATION: A PARADOX? CONCEPTUALISING AND MEASURING TEACHERS’ AUTONOMY AND COLLABORATIVE ATTITUDE. TEACHING AND TEACHER EDUCATION, 67, 302–315.