Pedagogical Influence: How School Leaders can Support Their Teachers

During my six-year stint as a Head of Department (HOD), the number one thing I wanted to achieve was to have pedagogical influence over my staff. Being passionate about quality pedagogy—about the need to truly engage students, to utilise formative assessment, to foster metacognition and to impart conceptual understanding—there definitely existed the potential within me to have a pedagogical impact on the teachers under my care.

But it never actually happened!

This was partly due to a lack of time. Mostly, however, it was because I lacked the necessary ‘power’ required to exercise pedagogical influence. Sure, I was well respected and liked as a HOD and cultivated a healthy level of cohesion in the team. BUT—and this is a big BUT—as a HOD I was not seen as someone who had any particular pedagogical expertise to impart. I simply had insufficient power in this area.

I find this particularly ironic because having left the role as HOD I now devote all of my time to running pedagogical based courses for teachers. The irony is that I now exert quite a deal of pedagogical influence with teachers who, compared to those who were under my care as a HOD, I spend very little time with.

So why did I lack the power required to influence the teachers who I worked with every day as a HOD?

What is Pedagogical Influence?

Let me make myself clear, I am not talking about the pedagogy of a traditional approach to teaching. I’m not talking about a leader schooling a new teacher on ‘keeping the class quiet’, ‘being a better disciplinarian’ and ‘creating fear in students so that they will complete their work’. The sort of pedagogical influence I’m referring to is where the HOD has a better understanding than most of their staff of well researched, quality teaching practices and would like to lead the team into embracing them.

I have spoken to other HODs about this issue and many concur with my experience. The common consensus appears to be this:

Teachers don’t want to listen to their HOD about pedagogy.

Not that this is an impossible task for a HOD. Indeed, some school leaders do manage to earn themselves significant ‘pedagogical power’ and exert pedagogical influence over their teachers. What I’m suggesting is that this is not particularly common.

What is Pedagogical Power?

I’m using the term ‘pedagogical power’ to describe a HOD, or school leader, who is viewed by their team of teachers as someone who has pedagogical expertise worth listening to, as someone from whom they are prepared to receive influence. In other words, the opposite to my experience.

Now I’m no psychologist, but I put it to you that when a group of teachers assembles around a HOD, the collective being called ‘a department’, two things occur:

  1. The HOD begins with very little pedagogical power.
  2. The HOD finds it difficult to attain pedagogical power.

Why?

I’m proposing a major reason for a HOD’s lack of power to affect sound, pedagogical change is a general defensiveness of teachers, a defensiveness which runs a little like this:

My methods work, who are you to tell me yours are any better?

The above may be a crude summary of the dynamic at play, but I know this is close to the mark. I’ll also add that this attitude is neither intentional nor necessarily conscious. Simply put, if I’m a teacher then I’m likely to have a mindset towards my HOD of “Lead me through the logistics of being a teacher but don’t expect me to teach the way you teach”.

Are you a leader? Do you resonate with the message here? If so, I’d love a comment below.

An Effective Way to Gain Pedagogical Power:

If you are a school leader seeking greater or current pedagogical influence, then consider the suggested path, from Learn Implement Share, or any pedagogically-based, change-inducing course offered by a different provider, outlined below.

  • Choose one of Learn Implement Share’s guided learning journeys. These are long-term, online courses.
  • Have your teachers, as well as yourself, enrolled into the course. You will be ‘a TEAM‘.
  • You will be the facilitator of learning for your TEAM at your school. The presenter will support you in making the most of the onsite collaboration. The better you facilitate your TEAM, the greater will be the gains made by the teachers under your care.
  • In this way you’ll be exerting pedagogical influence over your teachers because the ideas will not be seen as yours. You will only be facilitating the process, a role with which your teachers are comfortable.

Let me state that again.

You will be exerting pedagogical influence over your teachers BECAUSE the ideas will not be seen as your ideas.

Leaders tend to lack pedagogical power when they say “Here’s one of my strategies, I’ll show it to you and then I want you to adopt it.” However, in the Learn Implement Share solution explained above, or indeed any similar opportunity offered by a PL provider, you collectively engage in the course. The course dictates the requirements. However, you, as the school leader, facilitate. You encourage the on-site sharing and collaboration. You fan the success. It will be the successes experienced by inspired colleagues that help ease the ‘resistive teachers’ out of their resistance!

What If I Don’t Resonate with the Principles of the Course?

There is always the option to do the course on your own first and then to enrol your teachers as a TEAM during the next occurrence, assuming, of course, you feel aligned to the course principles and believe the course to be worthy. Naturally, you will be re-enrolled with your TEAM the second time around at no cost.

The Main Point… 

I suggest that the easiest way to gain pedagogical power as a school leader is to enrol your team into a long-term, online, guided learning journey and become the onsite facilitator of change by supporting your teachers in adopting the quality strategies and principles. This I maintain through my own experiences.

From Individuals to TEAMS:

All Learn Implement Share courses are delivered to both individuals and TEAMS. All courses are endorsed by the hundreds of past participants as courses which bring about significant, positive classroom change. The courses work exceptionally well for individual teachers. However, the advent of the TEAM approach has taken the potential for change to a collegiate level.

A TEAM Video Testimonial: 

In the Skype video below Brett Donohoe explains how the TEAM approach worked for his department.

 

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Wendelin Jacober.

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