Leadership of Learning in a 21st Century Context: Could a broader institutional perspective on ‘leadership of learning’ provide new energy in Scottish Education? – Euan Mackie

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As educators, we are engaged with the concept of Leadership of Learning, described in the General Teaching Council Scotland Standards and in Education Scotland’s ‘How Good is Our School’.  Kapur maintains that ‘leadership is the process of providing direction and influencing individuals and groups to achieve goals. It is a process which is as much bottom up than top down and less hierarchical and didactic. It is about generating collaboration and dialogue about learning.

Many institutions including Education Scotland (and inspectorate), the Scottish Qualifications Agency, and local authorities currently strongly influence the prime roles of management and teachers in all aspects of learning.

This reflects the national focus on teachers as being responsible for education and hence learning in the classrooms. Teachers lead pupils through their learning and are required to meet the expectations of everyone. This psychological perspective results in an elaborated structure of guidance and protocols, and significant teacher workload.  Perhaps it also limits a broader freedom of entitlements and opportunities for learning?

Other stakeholders – the pupils, parents, and community, are largely left out of this dialogue. However, the four capacities of the Curriculum for Excellence flag up personal responsibility for ones’ own learning. The concept of ‘Parents as Partners’ signpost that other stakeholders could be more actively involved than mere recipients of educational hierarchy. It is too easy to pass all responsibility onto teachers, who themselves become naturally beleaguered and sometimes ego-centric in their role. We place unreasonable levels of expectations onto teachers for a healthier and more educated society. Indeed, unfortunately, the Curriculum for Excellence has mystified education to the exclusion of the general public and indeed many teachers’ comprehension of its aims.

A core aspect within our understanding of the leadership of learning could benefit from a different emphasis.  From toddlers to professors, we have roles to influence, interact with, and nurture our fellow peers and colleagues in their broad educational development. We could take a more open psychological approach to view that all stakeholders in an educational institution, can be, and are indeed, ‘leaders of learning’.  

Toddlers are delighted to show their classmates simple ways of accomplishing tasks. Pupils can assist in showing and explaining skills and ways of working to others. Seniors can mentor and guide younger students. Apprentice type models can operate, as currently in youth organisations. Volunteering and coaching can become valuable opportunities in broadening understanding of ourselves and others. Even academics can be open and generous in their involvement of undergraduates.  Parents can regain their place as valued educators and take leadership roles with other parents and families. Community members of all ages and backgrounds can aspire to lead others in a variety of skills, wisdom and insight.  

There is evidence that these approaches work and that we often learn more from our peers and colleagues than from authority figures.

While the approach of peer to peer learning currently exists, it remains as a periphery activity, often associated with added intervention. How can we strategically shift a view that all participants can act as leaders of learning for their peers, and that teachers are not the sole gatekeepers of learning?  

One answer could be that quality improvement is formalised toward a collaborative community, parent, pupil, school responsibility, and discussed and reported across each group. This could refocus the teaching profession to being focused on sharing responsibility for the four capacities (Successful learners; Confident individuals; Responsible citizens; Effective contributors), and standing alongside pupil, parent, and community partners, who also hold responsibility and accountability.

This is a broader perspective of educational opportunity and responsibility suited to the 21st Century. The question arises then with every group, in every institution and every community: “How can we promote collaboration and leadership of others to assist our peers and colleagues in our work and growth?” It is a shared and adult response, bringing discussion and innovative learning to the foreground of communities.

Euan Mackie is an Educational Coach and Peace Education Researcher with Service Civil International.