Mid-level leaders driving school innovation

Assigned by their principals, learning leaders take on the challenging task of helping other teachers design learning to meet the needs of diverse students. In their schools, these learning leaders often facilitate teacher professional learning designed to improve student learning, teaching effectiveness, and the use of contemporary pedagogies.

Supporting these learning leaders was the focus of a project collaboratively designed by Galileo Educational Network, Calgary Board of Education, and Drs. Barb Brown and Sharon Friesen. Understanding what these learning leaders need to promote school improvement – helping them activate other teachers’ learning and improving student learning – was central to the design and theory of action that guided the professional learning. The leaders required support in understanding contemporary teaching and learning processes, and in developing their own leadership capacity.

Designing learning for leaders

A group of 500 learning leaders participated in an ongoing professional learning series designed by a team involving members of the Galileo Educational Network Association, faculty from the Werklund School of Education, practitioners and school leaders from the school jurisdiction. The series was designed to be authentic to the leaders’ experiences, reflecting its complexity and opportunity for ongoing learning. The professional learning sessions adopted design-based professional learning as a way of assisting learning leaders to build upon the design-based research for improving student learning as well as building capacity in instructional leadership.

The research team collected data from the participants throughout their year-long learning, which helped the design team shape the series as it evolved. The researchers used surveys, observations, and collected learning artifacts from the participants to influence the structure and topics in the sessions. The survey was completed twice during the year; this allowed the team to gauge the learning leaders’ progress on their practical knowledge, and perceptions of pedagogy, student learning, and teacher leadership in their school.

The participants showed clear growth between the two surveys in a number of key areas. The responses indicated strengths in their disciplinary knowledge, making assessment criteria explicit, and in teacher-student collaboration. It also highlighted areas for growth – particularly in designing authentic learning, attending to emotional and intellectual engagement, and using research to inform their practice.

The participants brought forward evidence of their learning to each of the sessions.  Using criteria, they discussed and analyzed their work.  This helped them develop an evidence-based leadership practice. By improving their ability to lead professional conversations, to be more confident in leading learning, and expanding their resource access and networking opportunities, these leaders were able to better drive and sustain change.

Initiating school innovation

The participants appreciated the ways in which the learning sessions evolved out of their ongoing inquiries and how the structure and topics continually emerged, responsive to their own needs. Continuing to build on their knowledge, skills, and leadership capacity can be significant for initiating school improvement.

Overall, the project reinforced how design-based professional learning can promote a collective approach to school improvement and student-centred leadership. By focusing on practical knowledge and developing expertise for leading teacher learning, these leaders can be important agents in making and continuing change within schools.


See more from Dr. Barb Brown on her profile

See more from Dr. Sharon Friesen on her profile


Connected Citations

Brown, B., Friesen, S., & Marcotte, C. (2017). Mid-level learning leaders driving innovation in schools. Paper presented to the American Educational Research Association (AERA), April 27-May 1, San Antonio, TX.