New Visions Charter High Schools Promote Learning at All Levels

At a recent meeting, educators from New Visions schools got together to discuss topics familiar to any classroom teacher: learning styles, stages of development and group work. The subjects of these conversations were not students, however, but the adults themselves.

Adult development has been a focus area this year at New Visions Charter High Schools, stemming from a recognition that schools flourish most when they have positive environments in which adults can develop professionally and personally and can model continuous learning for students.

To guide adult learning, New Visions partnered with Eleanor (Ellie) Drago Severson, a renowned scholar of adult learning as well as a leadership coach for educators. Severson has written extensively on the ways that adults learn, and how the growth of teachers and leaders affects student development.

The workshops that Severson leads are based on her theories of adult development, which are grounded in four elements of learning. These elements, or “pillar practices,” provide a common language and understanding of the areas that school leaders must address to help adults in their schools grow. The four pillars include: 

  • Teaming underscores the importance of forging relationships to encourage learning; these connections take form in student-teacher, teacher-peer, teacher-principal, and network leader-principal relationships, among others.
  • By providing adults with leadership roles, a school challenges adults to apply knowledge and skills in a new capacity.
  • Engaging in collegial inquiry centers on reflective dialogue and self-analysis in pairs or larger groups.
  • Mentoring is the final component for growth, through which adults can share and broaden their perspectives.

Over the past school year, New Visions charter high school principals and network leaders have come together to discuss their individual stages of growth, challenges they face and ways to improve themselves and others. These convenings are a way to promote strong individual school and network-level communities across the six New Visions charter high schools.

Severson’s group activities included identifying personal goals and the barriers to reaching those goals (stemming from theories on immunity to change). For instance, one area where a leader may struggle is providing constructive criticism to a teacher. To build the skills necessary to overcome this challenge, one must address the growth areas of inquiry and teaming.

Another topic of conversation among the educators was “ways of knowing,” which is derived from Robert Kegan’s hierarchy of how people understand themselves and their relationships. According to Severson, understanding an individual’s way of knowing is important to supporting his or her growth. The group discussed how to understand teachers’ ways of knowing, and how this understanding can guide teamwork. Types of “knowing” include rule-based knowers, who are most interested in fulfilling their needs and interests, and relationship-based knowers, who are most interested in meeting expectations and receiving approval.

According to Jon Green, director of school leadership at New Visions, one of the biggest challenges in embarking on this work was simply taking the risk to do it. “I’ve been pushed to be the most self reflective I’ve been in recent years,” says Green.

One outcome  envisioned from these exercises is to build capacity for leaders to effectively coach, give feedback and differentiate for individuals at various stages of growth.

“Ellie is a masterful facilitator, so she’s modeling coaching techniques that we can apply in schools,” says Kami Lewis Levin, director of curriculum and instruction at New Visions.

One of the lessons that Severson imparts is the importance of considering the needs of individuals and groups at particular points in time. For instance, teachers may have challenges in engaging with a professional development seminar after a long day of teaching, and a PD leader should consider and address those needs. This parallel process translates to all levels of school learning, down to the ways that teachers engage with students’ learning needs.

According to Levin, making adult development a central focus in schools has the potential to positively impact teacher attrition, school stability and student growth. 

“If teachers are in a supportive school environment where they have strong relationships, growth potential and feel comfortable taking risks, they are less likely to burn out.”

An underlying aim of this work is for schools to support adult learning in similar ways that they support student learning, so adults can model what every teacher knows: that learning does not stop outside of the classroom.

comments powered by Disqus