Experiential learning takes place when a person involved in an activity looks back and evaluates it, determines what was useful or important to remember, and uses this information to perform another activity. ~ John Dewey

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning, or learning by doing, is a critical step in the teacher leader development process. This quadrant is about leadership refinement. We liken this work to that of the stone sculptor, who systematically removes pieces of stone to create a specialized work of art. The routines and norms established for foundational training, such as book studies and case studies that can be discussed at leadership team meeting, are perfect for general leadership growth. Once established, it’s time to move forward to more specialized experiences for teacher leaders. This is not to say that they’ve mastered the foundational knowledge quadrant or that they’re experts in their roles. It just means that they need more development experiences that put them in a position to actively engage as a leader, reflect on their engagement, and use that information to improve a skill (such as feedback conversations and department meeting debriefs about findings from classroom visits).

Teacher Leader Isolation

One challenge in providing experiential leadership development for teachers is that most teacher leaders are classroom instructors, allowing very little release time to draw on experiences beyond the classroom walls. However, this is where school administrators need to be creative, since the benefits far outweigh the obstacles. Having teacher leaders join administrators, specialists, and other coaches for learning walks, instructional rounds, and other classroom visits are the only ways for them to gain access into the eye-witness accounts of what happens within the department they lead. The key to experiential leadership development is that it takes prior planning to ensure that it can happen seamlessly within the teacher’s day. Take the following challenge to support your teacher leaders.

The Three Minute Challenge

  1. Identify a problem-of-practice (POP) for a department or initiative that is being led by a teacher leader. Let’s take for example our world language department where we’ve identified the need for teachers to spend more time in the target language. Prior to setting up instructional rounds, we review this POP with the world language department head–what it looks like when done well and any other associated practices.  
  2. Next, schedule a day for the department head to get release time to conduct instructional rounds (visit as many classrooms as possible to see how often teachers are in the target language). If possible, visit classrooms across multiple schools for perspective. The idea is that the teacher leader gets to experience as many classroom visits as is feasible. 
  3. Lastly, leaders should visit classrooms together. The subsequent conversations and reflections are where the real learning occurs. The leadership lessons are what gets applied in the upcoming world language department meeting, not just the learning that takes place on the day of the rounds. Be prepared to debrief as a school leadership team but also with the department of teachers you visited. The feedback conversations are more important than anything for both teacher leadership development and growth for the teachers in the department.

Technical Tip: Don’t be bound by a walkthrough tool for giving feedback to teachers. Supervisors and coaches should be able to provide narrative feedback aligned to the overall instructional focus during walkthrough visits. That said, instructional rounds are different. Use a tool that helps the teacher leader to collect data about how often teachers are speaking in the target language.

Leadership Development Continuum Model

Leadership Development Continuum Model

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Joe & T.J.