Pedagogical leadership aims to make learning, wellbeing and growth possible. Changing the existing methods requires persistence, bravery, and genuine will to do so. Principal of Koulumestari School, Pirjo Tornberg, wants to renew the school culture to highlight the power of teamwork, and to make sure that no one is left alone. When you are surrounded by a team of people with different strengths, everyone gets a chance to shine!
The power of teamwork
Pedagogical leadership doesn’t concern only the principal of the school. It is more like a common tool of the organization – one that helps to make the most of team’s potential and offers opportunities to enhance members’ expertise. When Pirjo Tornberg was searching for a work community interested in developing new and improved working methods, she ended up as a special education teacher of Koulumestari School. The school’s principal of the time impressed Tornberg with how well the principal recognized personnel’s strengths and encouraged to use them.
Nowadays Tornberg herself is the principal of Koulumestari School and aims to surround herself with a team that is strong as a whole. One of the personnel’s common strengths is teamwork. It’s needed because in Koulumestari School teachers plan their teaching in teams. Also the students of the school often work in different groups. Goal is to help the students to get to know all peers from their grade. All teachers work with all the students in the grade too.
Principal Tornberg feels like it’s important that the school system teaches solutions and approaches that the students will need after their school years too: “School isn’t just an isolated island. It is an important learning experience when students see teachers’ interactions and encounters. Modeling after social learning gives students tools for acting in their own groups. Social learning works gradually: from the principal to the teachers and from teachers to the students.”
Travelling is known to expand people’s views of the world. That’s what happened to Principal Tornberg too regarding her pedagogical leadership. When she returned to Finland from her travels, she noticed the withdrawing character of many Finnish people. Even though own responsibilities are handled with care, attention is too rarely switched to other people. This was a thing Tornberg wanted to change in Koulumestari School:
“In our school we lift our gaze to other people – adults and children. We will look into everyone’s eyes and ask how they are doing.”
Updating the old ways doesn’t end with the teachers and the principal. “Everyone who works in the school building has a meaningful role in supporting the students’ development and enabling learning. This includes everyone working in the canteen, as a cleaner or in the maintenance too. We need to harness the potential of every individual of the school community”, Tornberg encourages.
Developing the school community requires persistence and perseverance, but the results are concrete and valuable. “After a year of systematic work we started seeing the results. The parents have been thanking us for the great development”, Tornberg says. One example of the positive progress was the school’s Open House Day. It attracted more than hundred parents to the school – many of them had taken some time off work to be part of the school community.
Trusting environment helps in developing
If teachers want to work for improving students’ wellbeing and learning, teachers themselves need to feel well too. In Koulumestari School the basis for supporting teachers’ wellbeing is letting them know that school’s leaders are genuinely interested in how the teaching is going. Even though the principal trains teachers in pedagogical matters, it’s important that everyone participates in sharing the knowledge: “We work together to find concrete ways to improve the everyday work of the teachers. If you just try to force something on your team, it doesn’t necessary work. It is better to encourage the teachers to take part in developing. If you trust the teachers to come up with ideas, their own creations inspire and encourage them to do it even more!”
In Koulumestari School everyone is encouraged to update existing conventions. “I always tell my teachers to try everything! Try it first with a smaller group and then share your experience with others too. And if the experiment goes south, we work together to improve it to make it work”, Principal Tornberg describes. Culture of appreciation is in the center of the school’s pedagogical leadership. Each member of the organization is expected to appreciate others’ work.
“We will not shoot others’ ideas down. I encourage my staff to trust their colleagues. Even if you’d prefer to do something differently, it doesn’t mean that some other way won’t be just as good as yours”, Tornberg reminds.
One example of the school’s awesome ideas is a kiosk for borrowing friends during recess. If e.g. a soccer game has uneven teams, anyone can come and ask an educated mediator student to join the game. If no one comes to ask the mediator students to join, they will head out and talk to or play with students who are alone. “I’m very proud of this innovation! It even earned recognition when the President of Finland gave us an award”, Principal Tornberg says.
Successful pedagogical leadership harnesses the full potential of the school community to good use. First step is a genuine will to start developing! Could your school make some choices that even better enable learning and wellbeing conditions?