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Leadership Insights

What Matters Most in the Classroom

By Jennifer Gunn February 19, 2019

In the ever-changing landscape of education, teachers and leaders often find themselves searching for clarity in a sea of standards, curriculum resources, and competing priorities. Think about your learning community: Are both teachers and students clear about what must be learned, why students are learning it, and how they can be successful? Are students able to determine their next steps in learning through quality feedback and assessment? Have teachers had the time and support to collaborate around clarity to ensure an aligned approach within your school system?

Dr. Lyn SharrattWe spoke with Dr. Lyn Sharratt, author of Clarity for Learning and Clarity: What Matters MOST in Learning, Teaching, and Leading and EdD internship coordinator at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, Canada, about this lack and what we can do about it.

What inspired you to write this book?

This is the fifth book that I have written as a classroom practitioner and as a school and systems leader because I believe our moral responsibility is to ensure that all students can read, write, do maths, and think critically as a literate graduate. Through my research, many approaches work better than others and this book is the “how to” learn, teach, and lead in our classrooms, schools, and systems – in the best way to ensure increased achievement of all students.

Your book is really centered around collaborative work. Why do you think a collaborative approach is so essential in schools?

Collaboration is the essential ingredient in learning, at every level, and to me, it means “to walk alongside” others. Collaborative inquiry must be at all levels of a system as well. We must model for our students how to wonder, engage, equip, elaborate on, and evaluate our discoveries of the next best concept or discovery – always as a teacher ensuring that students know how they learn best and can articulate their next steps in learning – whether it be collaborative inquiry or direct instruction. All approaches must result in leaders, teachers, and students owning their learning and their own improvement.

Can you offer a brief overview of the CLARITY model you introduce in your book?

CLARITY develops as we go, not before we go. This book is about precision-in-practice in learning, teaching, and leading and it is filled with case studies, vignettes, and photos of realistic practices that ensure student work becomes the centerpiece for improvement when teachers and leaders together work on the high-impact approaches that are found on every page of this text. No more guessing – hope is not a strategy! We must know where students are, where they are going, and how to get them there! Then they will soar beyond where we thought was possible.

One of your 14 parameters is surfacing shared beliefs and understandings. Why and how does this impact the work?

Parameter #1 is the very basis of system and school improvement: We must believe all students can learn, all teachers can teach, we must have early and ongoing interventions and high expectations, and everyone must be able to clearly articulate why we do what we do every day.

How can school leaders get this work started?

Developing a culture of learning through investigation of Parameter #1 above and of the 14th Parameter — Shared Responsibility and Accountability – to me exemplifies excellence and equity. Both Parameter #1 and Parameter #14 are the bookends that move this work from engaging to empowering for students, teachers, and leaders.

How are students involved in this work?

Students benefit from precision-in-practice in the classroom. Student voice and choice are heard often, for example, in the design of the Third Teacher (the learning space); the co-construction of success criteria (what success looks like) and the collaborative inquiries that take place during instructional time – beginning with the curriculum expectations in mind.

When can schools and educators find time in their daily work to do this kind of reflection and bigger thinking?

If CLARITY means putting faces on the data, taking action to know every face, and differentiating the instruction accordingly, then how can we not find the time for CLARITY in the classroom, in schools, and in systems?

This interview was conducted via email and edited for length and clarity.

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, a teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.

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