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TEACHING on PRINCIPLE: How CGC Builds Learning Cultures in Every Classroom

November 11, 2020

In previous articles in this series we looked at the first two elements in the CGC Learning Ecosystem: Define and Design. Now we turn our attention to the Deliver element, asking, ‘How do we teach for learning and create a shared, schoolwide, learning culture?’.

The search for consistent quality of learning, and therefore consistent quality of teaching, is a long and winding road. The usual markers on that road seem to focus on developing ‘standards’ for teachers, and then ‘evaluating’ teachers against those standards. It’s all very compliance-oriented and rule-bound. Even the language around it smacks of the factory floor. In what other profession are we the ‘supervisors’ of our colleagues?

In CGC, we take a very different approach. We believe that schools are learning cultures and that cultures are framed by principles, not constrained by rules. We define a principle as ‘a shared truth that brings order and freedom to a system’. To us, common sense alone dictates that, as professionals, we are more likely to follow a ‘shared truth’ than to attempt to comply with the mind-boggling number of standards that seem to over-populate evaluation systems.

So, where do our Learning Principles come from? We believe that a well-crafted, co-created set of Learning Principles will be a practical synthesis of our shared learning experiences and the most reliable research. As always in CGC, we also believe in simplicity over complexity, so we generally work hard to synthesize our collective wisdom into 4-5 Learning Principles, and we find that this is plenty to guide learning, teaching and leading.

Of course, a set of Learning Principles has no value on its own. Just another wall adornment to nail up by the Mission Statement. The real learning impact comes when Learning Principles are translated into Learning Practices, then into the necessary Teaching Practices to support the learning, then Leading Practices to support the teaching. It’s basic logic, a simple if-then syllogism: If we are living this principle, then here’s what we’ll see our learners doing, here’s what our teachers will be doing in support and here’s what our leaders will be doing to sustain this culture of ‘learning, teaching and leading on principle’. For example, if the Principle is about Self-regulation, then learners, guided by teachers, will be able to set their own learning goals, and teachers will be able to set their own professional learning goals. It’s a system, and the system shapes the culture.

So, that’s the simple idea. A school-wide culture shaped by a few deeply-held shared learning principles that drive practices for learning, teaching and leading, including practices for Self-directed Professional Learning. When it comes to improving our practice, it seems obvious that we learn to improve our practice, so we should be following learning theory not out-moded evaluation practices. 

A final point. In our member schools, we have seen rapid transformation by simply working together as a faculty on one collective annual goal of high learning impact for all students. It’s a simpler, more effective use of time and energy than the annual ritual of scatter-shot multiple personal goal-setting by each faculty member, a process we have labeled, somewhat irreverently, ‘Letters to Santa’. It’s one of many Energy Vampires that we would best be rid of. But that’s another story…

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme, and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.