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Course One: World-Class Schooling: Vision and Goals
NISL Course One, World-Class Schooling: Vision and Goals, introduces participants to a research-based vision of high-quality teaching and learning for all students and a methodology that will allow them to work strategically to bring about that vision. The course analyzes global trends affecting local economies and educational systems and looks closely at the design principles that research has found are commonly shared across the top-performing systems. Participants examine a rigorous conceptual framework for strategic thinking, adapted from professional military education, which firmly ties strategy and decision-making to a vision relating to teaching and learning that emerges from and responds to context. Participants evaluate a theory of action (the "ways and means") through which they will achieve the ends described in the vision. Finally, the course looks at the school building as a high-quality aligned instructional system—the primary system affected by strategy.
Action Learning Within Course One
During Course One, NISL participants and stakeholders from their schools complete a contextual analysis for the school using the Context Analysis Tool and guidance provided. The course offers several opportunities to revisit and revise participant and stakeholder responses.
In Unit 1, The Educational Challenge, participants explore why fundamental changes in the international economy have resulted in significantly higher educational requirements for all citizens in advanced economies as well as why social development and ethical behavior are just as important as high academic achievement.
The unit is designed to help participants realistically assess the challenges schools must meet to achieve high standards. It also addresses the corrosive effect of pervasive low expectations for many poor and minority students. This unit helps participants accept and embrace the goal of getting every student ready for college or career by graduation.
In Unit 2, The Principal as Strategic Thinker, participants look closely at a conceptual framework for strategic thinking and examples of its application in both business and education contexts. Case studies drawn from both the business and education sectors allow participants to adapt and apply their knowledge to new situations.
Unit 3, Rigorous and Adaptive Learning Systems, rounds out Course One's focus on the education context—including globalization and the urgency and challenges it implies for education—and the use of strategic to address that context. It also serves as a bridge to Course Two, which lifts the "hood" of the learning system to explore the current research- based understanding of how people learn, the meaning of student-centeredness and its implications for equity, and related aspects of student motivation and engagement that are introduced in this unit.
Unit 3 is designed to help participants build an understanding of the concept of a learning system by means of a comparative study of the learning systems of Massachusetts, Estonia, and a choice of Hong Kong or Victoria, Australia. A case study, Shaping a Standards-Aligned Instructional System Through Formative Assessment Practices, Executive Development Program Case Study #1, of a school's implementation of formative assessment practices provides a close description of some elements of the learning systems in a school setting, with a focus on the role of leadership in ensuring the coherence and focus of the learning system toward a goal of equity. The comparative study of learning systems combined with the study of learning system leadership sets the stage for participants' investigation of a series of questions with direct application to their own learning systems. The unit guides participants as they continue to lay the foundations for action learning. Participants conduct an analysis of their faculty members' input to the Context Analysis Tool and consider implications for identifying a focus for action learning.
Course Two: The Research on Learning and the Implications for Teaching, Leadership, and School Organization
NISL Course Two, The Research on Learning and the Implications for Teaching, Leadership, and School Organization, closely examines current research around learning, with a deep dive into the National Research Council's decades-long study, How People Learn (2000, 2018), that will equip participants to organize and lead their schools for the highest levels of student learning.
Course Two takes us from the wide-angle view of Course One to focus closely on learning and related aspects of teaching, curriculum, assessment, and school organization. Within this, participants will study a range of essential topics including how people learn; students' engagement and motivation in learning; the learner at the center: culture and learning; language and learning; deeper learning; formative assessment for learning; and professional learning. These are all considered from both the perspective of the learner at the center and the perspective of school leadership. The course is designed to build the capacity of school leaders to leverage current research and practice to lead development of the rigor and adaptability of their learning systems and strive for equity, excellence, and efficiency.
Course Two is organized around several key questions that more deeply explore the elements of coherent and aligned learning systems introduced in Course One:
- What does it really mean to be truly learner-centered and how does this drive equity?
- How can we support students' motivation and engagement with learning?
- What is the role of language in learning?
- How can we improve the capacity of our curriculum and approach to teaching to prepare our students for success in 21st century society?
- How can we build formative assessment in ways that inform teachers' decision making and learners' capacity to be self-regulating?
Action Learning Within Course Two
Across units 4–8, participants explore the research on learning and related aspects of teaching, curriculum, and assessment through a set of research probes for use back in their school environment. The probes offer opportunities for participants to extend and deepen contextual analysis and contribute to determining an appropriate focus for their action learning. Research probes are small-scale investigations into school context, designed to explore aspects of the unit content and stimulate data-based discussion about the unit content in the context of the participant's school environment. Data from each research probe is then shared for feedback and reflection at the beginning of each subsequent unit.
Unit 4, How People Learn: Implications for Teaching, Leadership, and School Organization, Part 1, serves as the introduction to Course Two, The Research on Learning and the Implications for Teaching, Leadership, and School Organization, during which participants focus on teaching and learning and the school environment. Throughout Course Two, participants will explore the research on learning science, covering topics including deep learning, social-emotional learning, and ways in which the learning environment (both the classroom and the school) can be established to support the social and cultural nature of learning.
Unit 4 begins with a deep dive into the foundations of how people learn, including engaging learners' preconceptions; supporting disciplinary understanding for transfer; and supporting students' ability to develop metacognitive strategies in support of learning. The unit then turns its attention to what might be considered the other side of the coin of learning: students' motivation and engagement to learn. Participants uncover the psychological mediators of student engagement and review ways in which schools can act to promote engagement, as well as the relationship between social and emotional learning and engagement and motivation. Participants then take these understandings into a discussion of racial and gender disparities in school discipline, and connect these findings to the idea of the school environment and how best to support learning in equitable ways. This unit also initiates participants into a process of conducting mini-investigations in their schools that relate to the content of Course Two and will yield data that can inform participants' ongoing work on their contextual analyses.
The focus of Unit 5, How People Learn: Implications for Teaching, Leadership, and School Organization, Part 2, is the concept of the learner at the center of the learning process, specifically, the relationship between culture and learning and between language and learning. Participants build directly on the research examined in Unit 4 to consider the implications of centering the learner on teaching and learning at the classroom level as well as for the design of curriculum, the preparation of teachers, and leadership of the school as a whole. Participants will examine how culturally-responsive pedagogy provides a frame for a systemic approach to leveraging the relationship of culture and learning to support equity and excellence, and examine the pervasive nature of bias and its impact on students and the notion of asset-based learning.
The second part of the unit, focused on language and its inextricable connection to learning, provides a second lens through which to center the learner. It focuses attention on the ways in which language is required for an individual to process ideas, synthesize them into their current schemas, and try out and rehearse new ideas. Participants will consider the important role of exploratory talk in learning and activities that engage learners in writing to learn, and contrasts these with the common expectations for learners to produce finished oral and written presentations.
Unit 6, How People Learn: Implications for Teaching, Leadership, and School Organization, Part 3, continues the focus on research on how people learn. It focuses on implications for practice in two areas of learning: the concept of deeper learning and the practice of formative assessment. The work on deeper learning in this area connects to what are commonly known as 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. This is combined with the understanding about deep structures of knowledge that has emerged from research comparing the ways experts tackle problem solving compared with novices. The unit draws on the work of Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine, which concludes that opportunities for deeper learning are located at the intersection of mastery, identity, and creativity. These offer a productive framework in which to think about ways of building authentic student engagement.
Formative assessment—the process of continually monitoring students' learning towards established goals and which involves both teacher and student in active roles—can and should be leveraged to support deep learning. The unit draws on the formative assessment framework developed by Dylan Wiliam and his colleagues to introduce a comprehensive approach that is highly consistent with research on how people learn. The connections between formative assessment and deeper learning are highlighted through a consideration of James Pellegrino's argument for the importance of a coherent theory of learning in achieving a coherent learning system.
Unit 7, Promoting the Learning Organization, continues the focus on learning, but pivots from student learning to teacher learning. Participants will explore the central role given to professional learning in high-performing learning systems by reviewing two reports from NCEE's Center on International Education Benchmarking in order to identify critical success factors and leader behaviors that support these systems. Using this analysis, participants will conduct a gap analysis of their own learning communities to identify specific opportunities for changing practice at their own schools. In addition to this gap analysis, participants will engage in an exercise in envisioning conditions in which non-teaching time is comparable to the average available in OECD countries. This exercise will give them an opportunity to think creatively and practically about how they could use time differently in their school schedule to realize at least a part of that vision without adding resources or reducing students' learning time.
The unit includes a major focus on action learning, drawing together participants' work on research probes and their contextual analysis and working toward defining the problem and theory of change that will drive their action learning going forward.
Unit 8, Leadership for Effective Teaching, expands the conversation to target the larger systems of school organization and management as defined in NCEE's Blueprint for a High-Performing Education System. This unit develops school leaders' capacity to create equitable outcomes for all students through a focus on strategic decisions that drive effective teaching.
This unit probes the instructional leadership implications (leadership team behaviors) relating to applied critical leadership. Participants will examine those behaviors in light of educator effectiveness systems, using research-based frameworks for teaching and learning. They will be introduced to the NISL program's Performance Analysis Framework (PAF) for looking at root cause analysis of a range of factors that can improve—or impede—performance. In an educational context, this framework provides a systematic, holistic approach to defining the right performance and identifying gaps. It can help school leaders identify the coaching, professional development, and technical assistance that support school improvement.
The unit continues with a focus on the metacognitive aspects of decision making, employing a set of well-researched, hidden "decision traps." As in all other units, participants are provided ample opportunity for bringing the concepts explored in this unit to the emerging action learning plans that they are developing.
Course Three: Sustaining Transformation through Capacity and Commitment
NISL Course Three, Sustaining Transformation through Capacity and Commitment, concludes the program by weaving together major themes relating to high-performance organization and management. Participants reflect on their role as instructional leaders and examine how to play that role effectively, alone or in combination with other leadership team members. This course challenges participants to examine their roles as leaders as they create and nurture an ethical culture in their schools. Course Three presents the moral principles of a just, fair, and caring community, and participants use these principles to guide their discussions and decisions about the course's case studies.
Action Learning Within Course Three
In Course Three, participants collaborate with their school-based action learning teams to perform two or three cycles of action learning between units. These cycles are also supported within units by the facilitator and cohort peers. Cycles of action learning include the design and leadership of a school-based action learning team to refine the area of focus and to plan for action, the use of a formal inquiry process by the action learning team, and feedback processes with cohort peers during NISL units in order to refine the cycles of action learning.
Unit 9, Teams for Instructional Leadership, expands the theme of building teaching capacity within a school by introducing the use of leadership and teacher teams to support distributed instructional leadership as well as opportunities for individual growth and development. The unit argues that effectively using teams for continuous improvement in this manner allows a school to create a culture of "peer-to-peer" accountability, a hallmark of excellence in instructional leadership.
The unit connects to the earlier discussions in the NISL program by looking at strategic thinking, alignment of standards-based elements, and the structures for high-performance management and organization as the levers of instructional leadership. Participants will study the role of leadership and teacher teams in employing those levers.
Participants also challenge the rationale, charge, composition, and authority for existing teams in their schools. They examine the need for creating new teams or restructuring existing teams. Throughout these discussions, they will concentrate on results, with a focus on improved instruction leading to higher student achievement.
Finally, participants closely examine the execution of strategies and action plans within their action learning.
Unit 10, Culturally-Responsive Leadership for Equity, drives the belief that every child should have the opportunity to achieve at high levels, with the goal of making students fully prepared for careers and college without remediation. This is not only a moral imperative but is essential to economic success and societal well-being. Ensuring equity is in everyone's best interest. When society is equitable, democratic institutions are strong and economies flourish. When pervasive inequity festers and class mobility becomes impossible, social, economic, and political systems begin to unravel. Achieving an equitable public-school system is in the best interest of all our students, and indeed, our economy and our entire society.
In this unit, participants critically self-reflect through the lens of an autoethnography (a cultural autobiography). They examine the research around learning through the leadership behaviors described in the Culturally Responsive School Leadership (CRSL) framework developed by Khalifa, Gooden, and Davis. Participants then apply the CRSL framework to a case study (Montgomery County Public Schools). Finally, they continue action learning planning with a consideration of how the action learning team embodies these same CRSL behaviors.
This unit, Driving and Sustaining Transformation, completes the content work for Course Three, Sustaining Transformation through Capacity and Commitment. In this course, the NISL program emphasized a variety of basic supports for a transformational school: developing team approaches to leadership, focusing on ethical considerations, providing job-embedded professional growth, understanding and engineering change, and embracing the resistance that change brings with it.
In the first part of this unit, participants focus on the change theory and practices of John Kotter as articulated in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World (2014). Specifically, participants apply Kotter's principles and Accelerators to analyze two school-centered case studies by identifying the concrete leadership behaviors and actions that supported the changes and brought about transformed schools. In the second part, participants grapple with decision making relating to strategic leadership grounded in a change process and apply these ideas to the case of Montgomery County Public Schools, as described in Leading for Equity, as well as their own action learning.
In Unit 12, The NISL Program: Inquiry, Reflection, and Closure, school leaders are asked to explore how their participation in NISL has impacted their thinking around what it means to have students who are truly College and Career Ready and the mechanisms and tools for helping students get there: applying strategic thinking to their school context, crafting and applying a clear vision for making decisions and setting priorities, improving the quality and alignment of their schools' instructional systems, high-quality teachers and teaching, and the organization and management of high-performing schools.
Each unit in the NISL program is designed to prepare school leaders to be key participants in redesigning schools to meet the challenges of a demanding future where all students can succeed and thrive. This path toward change involves several steps. First, in Course One, participants engaged in an analysis of educational challenges in their own context. A deep understanding of context grounded in data and analysis allowed participants to collaboratively set forth a clear vision of increased student achievement and high performance of the system that is their school building. Participants then looked closely at strategic thinking in decision-making processes. This was followed by an examination of the elements of a High-Quality Standards-Aligned Instructional System. Course Two moved participants to a closer focus on the system of the classroom. An exploration of effective learning based on the latest research around how people learn preceded an appraisal of the leadership necessary for instruction in core content areas. This included the importance of coaching in the development of high-quality teaching. Finally, in Course Three, an understanding of the learning organization itself—and the ways in which teams for instructional leadership can serve as a lever for improving instructional practice—helped promote the ways leaders can integrate and capitalize on the knowledge of others. Subsequently, the role of ethics and equity in this process were analyzed so that the creation of a just, fair, and caring environment is created for all students to be successful.