Lambert et al Constructivist Leadership
Lambert, L., Walker, D., Zimmerman, D. P., Cooper, J. E., Lambert, M. D., Gardner, M. E., Szabo, M. (2002). The constructivist leader (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press, and Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council.
Chapter 1: Constructivist Leadership: Standards, Equity, and Learning - Weaving Whole Cloth from Multiple Strands
By Deborah Walker
• Education is/should be a social equalizer that will bridge the gap between minority and majority students. Standards were designed to be a tool or a means to achieving equity but have not resulted in the intention of their design.
Changing Context for Leadership
• Standards, Accountability, and the Achievement Gap
o The focus of conversation for leaders has shifted away from the process of improvement to one of producing achievement on standardized tests.
o The disparity continues despite the current political agenda of the standardized movement to close the gap.
o Thought - It seems like urban education is always a focus and the quest to find the grail of solution is endless. It seems like a parallel could be drawn between basic needs of children with regard to learning to the basic needs of teachers to teach. So...what are the basic needs of teachers?
• International Comparisons
o The current standardized movement in the United States continues to cultivate a shallow curriculum focusing on breadth rather than depth and promotes the traditional practice of student as passive learner.
Definitions and Dilemmas
• Standards and Constructivist Leadership
o "...learning is more than recitation; it is instead the process of making sense of new knowledge (p. 5)."
o "When standards are misapplied, they limit the ability of students and teachers to engage in meaningful learning (p. 5)."
o Definitions of standards are vast and do not necessarily have consensus.
o "The consensus in the literature is that standards are useful when they provide guidance about commonly agreed-upon goals without robbing teachers and schools of the autonomy needed to help their particular students (p. 6)."
o It is important for the constructivist leader to remain true to constructivist principles while attempting to make sense of the role and numerous definitions of standards.
• Constructivism as Learning and Knowing
o Definition - "Constructivism has become a theory of learning that has emerged from a theory of knowing. It is an epistemological concept that draws from a variety of fields, including philosophy, psychology, and science (p. 7)."
o Biological processes
• Piaget - people have cognitive structures called schemas. When discrepancies occur with regard to current schemas, the individual assimilates (or adjusts) the schemas to accommodate (or allow for) the addition of the new information. These schemas are constantly changed and are informed by personal beliefs, values, sociocultural histories, prior perceptions, and experiences.
o Psychological and philosophical processes
• Discrepancies cause cognitive dissonance and create cognitive growth and the construction of knowledge.
• Bruner, Vgotsky - learning is social by nature
• Vgotsky - what we know is negotiated and mediated
o The construction of knowledge is a combination of biological, psychological, philosophical processes coupled with reflection, mediation, and social interaction.
o "In the process of encountering new experience and applying reflective interpretation within social contexts, the individual learns and comes to know (p. 8)."
o The developmental nature of learning as a psychological process
• Kegan - meaning is a physical, social, and survival activity
• Meaning is motion, the beginning of evolution.
o Learning is situational.
o Learning needs to be applied. It should be rooted in meaningful context, thereby becoming, as Dewey would suggest, an authentic experience.
The Evolution of Contemporary Educational Thought
• "While educators are influenced by social, political, and economic trends, and sometimes the funding attached to these priorities, they tend to formulate their notions about education according to those theories and styles of instruction that fit their own learning patterns and experiences and their own world views (p. 9)."
• Thought - The purpose of education is to prepare students to be productive, contributing citizens in a democracy. The author argues here that case is not so. In fact, political trends and agendas have driven the educational vehicle . Could one argue that such trends are essential in the evolution and survival of a democracy? Is the idealistic purpose of preparation to be a democratic citizen a puppet of political agendas as reflective of the times or are those times and agendas merely twists and turns along the road to the preservation of a democratic society?
• Resistance enables the prevalence of tradition despite attempts to introduce new theories and ideas.
• Thought - Is tradition ever truly stagnant as suggested? Meaning, the influence of evolution created by the introduction of new ideas and theories must, at some level even at a micro level, impact the practice so that it becomes a mesh of old and new even if old dominates new.
Learning and Leading: Parallel Development
• Behaviorist principles of using extrinsic rewards to influence behavior have been applied in educational leadership.
• Figure 1.1 gives a detailed description of learning theories coupled with learning theorists while paralleling leadership theories and theorists.
Historical Antecedents to Constructivist Theory
• Traditional Approaches to Learning and Leading
o Traditional - uniform curriculum, emphasis on basic skill development, whole-group instruction, lecture and drill, standardized measures of achievement, external motivation, teacher centered, hierarchical, obedient, respectful, and loyal
o If the purpose of education is the promotion and perseverance of democracy, then traditional educational institutions do not model such principles. In fact, they are constructed in just the opposite.
o Thought - At what point does growth have to at least meet some measure of minimal competence? Why isn't minimal competence excellence?
• Behavioral Approaches to Learning and Leading
o Behavioral - predictable (behavior is), static, clocklike, quantitative, fixed and innate nature of intelligence, intelligence can be accurately measured, prescriptions for treatment of misbehavior, breaking down large concepts into small parts, parts are taught in isolation devoid of meaningful context, drill and practice, whole-group instruction, rewards will modify behavior, systems theory, input-output model, assembly-line production, efficiency
o Transactional leadership - leading where transactions occur between teacher and leader (principal), something is given in return for something else
• Grouping/Tracking and Contingency/Situational Approaches to Learning and Leading
o Ability grouping "...because teachers often lack the tools to teach in heterogeneous settings. An underlying premise of grouping and tracking remains the belief that student ability is fixed and can be accurately assessed at a young age (p. 18)."
o Students who are grouped in lower tracks never recover and actually get further behind their peers. Such an outcome is the exact opposite of the intention of grouping. These individuals then experience limitations that extend beyond school.
• Effectiveness and Instructional Leadership Approaches to Learning and Leading
o Stemmed from the Coleman report, which claimed that external factors remained the primary indicators of student achievement and that the teachers had little impact to combat such deficiencies.
o Direct instruction, purpose is basic skill acquisition, belief that all children can learn, "...the recognition that when teachers hold high expectations for student achievement and press for academic performance, students tend to meet those expectations (p. 20)."
o The excellence template, which was successful in business, was unsuccessful when applied to education.
o "Application of the template without recognition of the complexity of school improvement, the importance of context, and efforts to change existing practice, however, revealed the limitations of the effectiveness theory (p. 21)."
• The Community of Learners and Community of Leaders: Approaches to Learning and Leading
o Value is placed on growth - both individual and collective growth
o The process is valued.
o Compilation of numerous theories - the social construction of knowledge, democracy in schooling, fluidity and scope of intelligence, quantum theory, women in leadership, qualitative research, brain research, critical theory, postmodern thought
o Assumptions (p. 21):
• "The capacity to learn is not fixed or innate"
• "The social construction of knowledge actually changes 'intelligence'; therefore, learning must be an active and interactive process."
• "Student and adult learning are both fluid and linked."
• "Achievement is increased when the culture of the school supports learning for both students and adults."
• "New norms need to be developed that foster collaboration and shared inquiry."
o "...the school becomes a learning organization (a continually renewing place to live and work) (p. 22)."
o Both students and teachers engage in learning.
o Learning is active.
o Mastery, interdependence, focus on group skills, greater responsibility given to students, sharing knowledge, multiple perspectives, focus on strengthening the environment of learning, social competence, autonomy, positive, high expectations with support, participation, school as an "ecology"
o "This integrative view of schooling suggests that ecology is a complex and interrelated system that influences and supports intellectual growth (p. 23)."
o Teachers take on leadership roles because it is assumed that all teachers can lead.
o Thought - What and how are things shared with regard to leadership? How is responsibility distributed? How is this distribution viewed by other teachers? (Is this a utopian ideal?)
• Constructivist Approaches to Learning and Leading
o Educational discussions often involve absolutes, a black and white rather than the gray.
o Research on the Brain, Culture, and Learning
• School knowledge is separate from practical knowledge, indicating the fact that that which is learned in school is irrelevant, disjointed, and disconnected from children's lives.
o Principles of Constructivism (Taken verbatim from pp.26 - 28)
• Knowledge and beliefs are formed within the learner.
• Learners personally imbue experiences with meaning.
• Learning activities should cause learners to gain access to their experiences, knowledge, and beliefs.
• Culture, race, and economic status affect student learning individually and collectively.
• Learning is a social activity that is enhanced by shared inquiry.
• Reflection and metacognition are essential aspects of constructing knowledge and meaning.
• Learners play a critical role in assessing their own learning.
• The outcomes of the learning process are varied and often unpredictable.
• "Learning is not uniform and cannot be specified in advance; it is not assembled like parts of a machine but rather evolves in nonlinear ways from the experiences and attitudes of the learners (p. 28)."
Theoretical Roots of Constructivism
• Dewey and Constructivism
o "(Dewey) questioned the prevailing wisdom that education was preparation for life, holding instead that education should allow students to experience life, that authentic experience was essential to learning (p. 28 - 29)."
o Dewey preached constructivist principles but did not use such a term. His work is foundational to constructivist theory.
• Constructivist Approaches to Learning
o Piaget believed that people travel through developmental stages as they learn. Individuals have schemas, and their knowledge is composed of unique cognitive maps. Discrepancies cause cognitive dissonance and foster the construction of knowledge.
o Dewey, Piaget, Bruner, Vygotsky, and Feuerstein contributed to constructivist principles. Their work is foundational to this theory.
• Constructivism, Culture, and Learning
o American classrooms do not generally contain constructivist principles.
o Changes in practice will need to stem from changes in cultural norms and beliefs.
The Central Challenge for Constructivism