Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to describe a school reform program grounded in the theory of mechanistic and organic systems and teacher leadership development, mentorship, and collaboration between foreign teachers and teachers in the UAE who work together to bring about curriculum and pedagogical reform.
Design: This is a qualitative study that uses content analysis to analyze 11 middle level (Grades 6-9) teacher leader weekly reports of their work, successes, and struggles. The analysis follows the characteristics outlined by Burns and Stalker (1961) of attributes of the two types of organizations.
Limitations: This study is based upon 11 teacher leader reports written over the course of a year in 11 schools in the UAE and is limited in its generalizability to all communities.
Practical implications: The outcomes of this study provide necessary information to program developers who will create multinational teams to work in a system steeped in local culture and heritage, yet existing in a very rapidly developing global environment. This research will inform the development of well structured orientation programs for new employees in these and future systems, as well as support mechanisms to foster understanding and collegiality
Social implications: This research describes a new phenomena to this country, the introduction of Western and Non-Muslim expatriate educators into the government system. Findings describe the interactions and collaboration strengths and challenges to the development of multicultural teams in schools.
Value: This paper provides new information about the nature of multinational teams of educators working in the UAE schools and it's impact on learner-centered instruction in the schools.
This paper describes and analyzes a teacher leadership program that is a component of a larger school reform project in the United Arab Emirates that is grounded in a leadership and teaming approach earlier described as the theory of mechanistic and organic systems by Burns and Stalker (1961). Foreign teachers from English speaking countries were hired to work with the local educators to develop English language curriculum and pedagogy, and develop learner-centered school environments. The paper will describe the challenges found by both groups of teachers, as well as their descriptions of their work, their understanding of the role of teacher, and stereotypes brought to the experience in order to understand the interplay between mechanistic and organic organizational forms.
The UAE, just under 40 years old, realized that it's K-12 educational program was falling short of the needs of a country thrust into sudden oil wealth and determined to be a global economic hub. When few students pursued education outside of the country, they were easily accommodated by sending them to foreign universities for training and upon their return they took roles in business, government, and higher education. As the UAE grew and prospered it was quickly understood that an imported workforce had to be brought in to staff the multinational companies that were coming to support modernization of the UAE as a hub because UAE citizens were leaving their secondary schooling being under-prepared for the workplace or tertiary education. The resources used for remediation of students knowledge and skills after grade 12 limited the funds available for higher education, continuing today to be a drain on resources. Educational reform has become more urgent over the past ten years as earlier plans for education had fallen short of expectations. If the workforce is to become Emiratized by qualified citizens of the UAE, which is the desire of the country, KG-12 educational reform must prepare students to be successful as tertiary students, part of the workforce, and contributing members of society. The educational program that was developed for the 1970s requires innovation and reform.
Contextualizing Madares al Ghad Educational Reform Program
The Madares al Ghad (MAG) program, comprised of 50 schools encompassing all levels and all 7 of the Emirates, is made up of 18 elementary schools, 13 preparatory schools, and 22 secondary schools with some schools operating at two levels. The program, created as a joint effort between the Ministry of Education (K-12) and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research was a joint systemic reform program related to teacher and principal development, school environment development, policy and planning development, and public relations development. This case-study focuses on the teacher leadership development aspect of the program and the path to acceptance of teacher leadership and teacher leaders in a very mechanistic and bureaucratic organizational environment.
Experienced English language and primary educators from English speaking countries became part of the educational system as mentors and support personnel to local teachers for the purpose of facilitating educational change and developing the type of teacher leadership skills required in 21st century schools. Implementation of learner-centered educational programs that engage students in experiential and problems-based activities requires more complex planning as well as changes to the way teachers perceive their work responsibilities. Development of this type of capacity for leadership becomes much more important and requires the support of a community of learners to ensure that old habits of low level thinking skills and rote memorization are replaced by a variety of strategies that put students into active learning environments. The MAG program draws heavily on the use and development of teacher leadership and serves as the venue for this research.
In the initial year of the program, Learning Coordinators (LC) were placed in regions and worked with a cluster of schools to provide technical assistance and support implementation at the school level. These individuals were highly qualified in the area of language acquisition and teacher preparation and facilitated the implementation of language curriculum and professional development. In schools, two types of MAG personnel were employed: the School Level Team Leader (SLTL) and the Teacher Mentor (TM). The TM worked inside of classrooms with local colleague teachers as a team teacher or mentor, while having a group of students that they taught full time (6 lessons per week). The fulltime teaching component provided an opportunity for a demonstration classroom and gaining “street credibility” among the other teachers. Their work inside of the classrooms of their colleagues was to provide support for experimentation with learning centers, differentiated activities, and development of learner-centered teaching methodologies. The SLTL worked with TMs to design and orchestrate the best and most appropriate professional development for teachers in the school, to identify the best use of professional development time that was scheduled, and to organize collaborative team planning time for instruction and professional discussions related to teaching and learning. The SLTL also served as a link to the principal and typically met weekly to provide an update on how things were coming along and encouraged the principal to visit classrooms with the SLTL to learn about what teachers were doing and how classroom activities were becoming different.
The Madares al Ghad program is currently in it's third year and has encountered some changes in staffing, but still retains the TM and SLTL roles.
Teachers and Schools in the UAE Context
The needs of individual communities yielded to the needs of the emerging country in the 1970's and efforts were made to standardize schooling across the Emirates by the development of prescribed curriculum and assessment frameworks. Until recently, schooling has remained focused on literacy, computation, civics and religion to serve the needs of citizens in day to day life. Today, the more economically, politically, and socially complex UAE requires content knowledge and skills contextualized in UAE issues of importance to the sustainability of the country.
The workforce in Kindergarten and primary schools is largely comprised of female Emirati teachers, but the expatriate workforce makes up more of the Middle Level and Secondary schools. Men teach boys in Middle and Secondary Schools and Women teach the girls at these levels. Throughout the region, women most often elect to prepare as teachers if they desire to work in schools and do so by entering a College of Education. They can, however, find a way into education as a math, science, English, or Arabic teacher if they have a baccalaureate degree and teach in upper grades. The women who have completed a teacher preparation program understand the nature of child and adolescent development, pedagogy, and assessment. Men, are rarely prepared as teachers and typically do not have any teacher preparation courses after their Baccalaureate degree. Although some have good intuition, the men typically have little understanding of developmental stages as children grow or the pedagogy that supports particular stages. Even though both men and women arrive in education through different paths, they have similar needsthe men need support in learning about learner-centered experiences and the women need support in implementing what they've learned rather than what they've experienced. Regardless of the path to teaching, few teachers have access to ongoing professional development and a professional community of learners at the present, but school reform programs are working toward these ends.
Teaming and Leadership
Conley and Muncey (1999) describe the trend of educational agencies toward deficiency models for school reform based in the belief that teachers are unmotivated to improve their teaching. This phase is followed by the teacher professionalization movement when reformers realize that even the most highly motivated teachers fall short of their goals in poorly organized schools and where their professional judgment is not considered (Lieberman, Saxl & Miles, 1988). More recently there is an emphasis on the professionalization of the school organization and management. From this emphasis emerges two schools of reform: The first school is oriented toward creating change through enhanced teacher roles (Berry & Ginsbert, 1990) and the second being oriented toward enhancing teacher teaming to support change and diminish isolation(Kruse & Louis, 1997). The first approach changes roles of individual teachers while the second changes teachers' roles through new organizational configurations that draw upon “teams” of teachers. The Coalition of Essential Schools recommends engaging in reform that promotes both teacher leadership and teaming as strategies for change. They are encouraged to embrace and use skills, beliefs, and activities that increase the collaboration and draw upon their professional responsibility to participate as leaders in the school.
Portin (1999) presents a triadic model of leadership that describes leadership as more to push thinking toward complex than the authority of position. The triadic model describes the interplay between transactional leadership (leader-centered, rational decision-making, and focused on efficiency of the organization), transformational leadership (elevate the motives and goals of institutional members), and critical leadership (emancipation of organization members and power that is measured by the capacity of members involved in an interaction). Transactional leaders are often referred to as “benevolent dictators” who engage in heroic and charismatic efforts. The organizational culture is tacit and hidden under the control of the leader. The leader seeks an exchange from the followers to approach the organizational vision. Transformational leaders encourage others to lead in areas where they are ready and prepared to do so. Critical leaders are not established by traditional titles of authority and emerge and follow as the situation unfolds.
Teaming and leadership can seem at odds with each other unless viewed in the context of Burns and Stalker's (1961) distinction between “mechanistic” and “organic” organizational systems. Mechanistic systems emphasize a hierarchy of control and authority, as well as the vertical interactions of superiors and subordinates. Organic systems emphasize a network structure of control and authority, including a lateral direction of communication that consists of information and advice rather than instructions and demands. Burns and Stalker (1961) recognized that while organic systems are not hierarchical in the same way as mechanistic systems, they remain stratified. Both teacher leadership and teaming emphasize task variety and professional learning (Kruse & Louis, 1997; Pounder, 1995; Smylie, 1994).
Identification of Teacher Leaders
The Madares al Ghad Model expands the influence of experienced and expert teachers, both local and foreign. Teacher Mentors and Instructional Leadership Coordinators were identified using the qualities of successful teacher leaders, drawn from the literature of Danielson (2008), which include such characteristics as having :
Challenges to teacher leadership
The literature describes a variety of challenges that plague teacher leadership that are rooted in school culture. Obstacles such as autonomy, egalitarianism, and deference to seniority can make the work of teacher leaders difficult. Teachers with 4-10 years of experience, referred to as second stage teachers by Danielson (2008), are often called upon by their principals to take on specialized roles in working with their colleagues, such as instructional coach, lead teacher, mentor teacher, and data analyst because of their experience and the trust the principal places in their work.
Research on this stage of teachers find that this opportunity is perceived as intriguing (Donaldson, 2005; Johnson & the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, 2004) as their experience and success leaves them feeling competent and confident in their work, and they want to share their acquired expertise with others. Becoming a teacher leader promises to reduce the isolation that many teachers feel and vary their responsibilities, and expand one's influence. Many second stage teachers want to have a hand in making decisions about how their school operates; they welcome the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues, learn, grow, and expand their influence.
Although these teachers are initially enthusiastic, they encounter unforeseen challenges.
Lack of formalization of the role. To benefit from teacher leadership, school administrators need to provide formal support structures and build leadership roles into the structure of the school. The role also requires principal acceptance and inclusion in a level of discussion that is appropriate to input required for decision making.
Egalitarianism. The belief that all teachers should be similarly treated in the school organization makes it uncomfortable for teachers to take on roles of mentorship in an official way.
Seniority. Colleagues may resist teacher leaders' work because they see it as an inappropriate intrusion by a teacher who may be perceived himself as being more expert than the teacher leader, particularly when the teacher leaders are younger than the teachers they are to mentor.
From these obstacles may grow equally ineffective coping mechanisms on the part of teacher leaders.
- Teacher leaders may determine it's safer to work only with willing teachers.
- They may actually reinforce egalitarianism by insisting that they are in the school to work alongside the teachers and support them, rather than to fully mentor or advise.
To determine the ability of the teacher leadership model used to take on more organic traits and to identify the obstacles that this new concept would face in entering a very mechanistic system at the school level. Teachers, principals, principal advisors and school-based MAG personnel will serve as the subjects and informants of this study. Data will be collected that address the following research questions:
- Which attributes of teacher leaders are most important in the UAE context?
- Which obstacles do teacher leaders encounter and find most difficult to resolve.
- What roles do the teacher leaders identify as most difficult?
- Which strategies are the most productive in dealing with obstacles and in addressing the difficulties of roles?
- How do others (local teachers and principals) perceive the most important attributes of teacher leaders?
- Can organic organizational traits be developed by teacher leaders in a very mechanistic organization?
The informants for this paper are eleven SLTLs who responded weekly during Year 2 of the MAG school reform program about activities conducted in their school, struggles that they experienced, and successes or improvements that were being noted. In addition, data about teacher and principal perspective were drawn from the field notebook of the Academic Program Coordinator for the program who worked consistently over two years with the eleven schools. These schools were spread across the UAE and all included Grades 6-9. In these schools, Grades 6 and 7 were a part of the MAG program and Grades 8 and 9 were preparing to become part of the program the following year. Most staff were Western educators from the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and one each was from Lebanon and the UAE. All students were regular government school pupils attending school in their neighborhood. These comments were reviewed, coded, and analyzed for frequency of content in response to the research questions identified.
SLTLs submitted a weekly report of activities on a provided template (Appendix A) that included day-to-day work accomplished, professional development experiences and workshops provided and/or participated in, identification of difficulties in mentoring or leadership roles, requests for training/problem solving assistance. TMs used the Daily Planner Template (Appendix B) to identify activities they were responsible for daily, along with identifying concerns, successes, notes regarding calls/e-mails to make, and questions that support reflection on the day's events. These documents provided feedback that was used to answer the research questions.
The complex environments of UAE schools are highly political and communities that are sensitive to Emirati and Islamic culture, as well as a culture of school that was minimalist in nature. Teachers were used to being told rather than stepping out to make recommendations for doing things different unless it was to their personal benefit.
Which attributes of teacher leaders are the most important in the UAE context?
The foreign teacher leaders (TMs and SLTLs) consistently referred to the importance of patience, “thick skin”, and the ability to anticipate potential issues. When foreign teacher leaders talked about patience and “thick skin” they explained this as the need to say things more than one time and the frequent reminder that others had tried to change things but the system was unchangeable. Change was not immediately embraced and certainly not change the required more effort, focus, and accountability for commitments to the group.
One of the social norms of the region is to not disappoint others. It's best not to say no to anything so as not to disappoint the asker. Foreign teacher leaders would often confuse the use of inshallah (if God wills) to mean yes, particularly when they were new to the region. In fact, this is the meaning that Islamists would ascribe to the phrase: Yes, absolutely, unless there is some unforeseen intervention by God which keeps me from doing the task. The phrase has been adapted by some to mean something comparable to let's see or maybe and in time, foreign teachers often grew to understand that the use of this phrase meant no, not likely or I don't want to. The issue of thick skin related to perceived lack of responsiveness to commitments of work, as well as the bare honesty that comes from people learning to work together and using a developing common language. The use of sometimes hurtful adjectives was a function of language limits of the local teachers. They did not have a Western perspective on the “politically correct” use of such adjectives as fat, skinny, old, lazy, etc. There was never an intention to offend the foreign teacher leaders; the local teachers were using the language that they had and most often it was very descriptive, just not always appreciated.
Even though the foreign teacher leaders were working with local English teachers in the common language of English, every language and culture has its idioms, word play, and nuances that are lost in translation and are not easily understood by a person speaking a second or third language. The use of metaphor was often a source of misunderstanding. Foreign teacher leaders had to think about the language that they wanted to use and consider how it would be interpreted when spoken and no longer retrievable. In time, the local teachers also learned a variety of adjectives that were embraced more enthusiastically.
After the issue of relationships can the importance of teacher leaders with well grounded knowledge and skills in teaching English in an ESL/EFL environment. When the pleasantries concluded, local principals and teachers wanted to see that the foreign teacher leaders had brought with them the skills necessary to make language learning more efficient and ways to make the school environment more efficient. There was also very little tolerance for teacher leaders who were not able to engage and work a group. In the early phase of the program, a number of English teacher leaders were hired from among the ranks of Institute teachers. They were used to small groups and a much prescribed curriculum which left them without the skills to manage 25-30 young students at a variety of levels and with boundless energy. These teachers lasted for a short period of time and it became very evident that this context really needed teacher leaders with classroom experience.
The Teacher Mentors had a classroom assignment where they had a group of students assigned to them as their teacher. Their class periods were open for observation and they invited their local colleagues to observe them at work, particularly when they were using a strategy or method that they were teaching to their colleagues. This role was very important at the school level, particularly as it related to classroom management. The program required that they not engage in corporal punishment or verbally abusive methods, which was often perceived by the local teachers as ensuring their demise. Particularly in boys' schools, there is a perception that boys must be hit, spoken to sharply, or punished in order to control them. While the policy doesn't allow this treatment, it is quite prevalent. For those teachers who really understood how to manage a classroom and keep several activities going at once, they were admired; for those who didn't have this expertise, they were dismissed as not credible by their colleagues rendering their leadership potential moot.
The advice given to new teacher leaders transitioning in became that of developing relationships with their teacher colleagues in the schools and learning about them as people and teachers and letting them learn about the teacher leader as well. Both local teachers and foreign teacher leaders had a tendency to misunderstand with a negative spin making it very important that a grounded relationship develop that could bear the confusion of misunderstanding and press towards resolution. Teacher leaders were screened in following intakes for classroom experience and their ability to manage groups as this was part of the change that had to occur at the classroom level. Another attribute described often, particularly in the beginning year, was to stay true to desired outcomes of the program and recognize alternative routes to the outcome when they could lead to a highly productive result. In schools where there was a willingness to embrace the phrase, in the best interest of the student, as the measure against which all innovation was considered, the teacher leaders found a means to limit unproductive discussion.
Which obstacles do teacher leaders encounter and find most difficult to resolve?
The most frequently stated and persistent obstacle that teacher leaders cited was the inability of some schools to define and use a consistent schedule of classes. Tradition in the UAE public schools is that single cohorts of students remain together all day in a classroom and the teachers come and go. Students do not have a consistent day to day schedule, but generally one week is scheduled like the previous. In this case, the students remain in a single classroom all day and all together and teachers periodically enter and exit. This kept students from being regrouped into meaningful cohorts of students for skill-oriented classes or the opportunity to mix with a variety of different people throughout the day. It was not unusual to observe classrooms without a teacher as the schedule had not been finished or no teacher had been assigned leaving the students unattended and without instruction during that class period.
The random nature of scheduling classes left a feeling that instructional time was not the most important part of schooling and that getting each teacher to have a schedule that pleased her was, in fact, the driving force behind scheduling. The opportunities to regroup students for meaningful instructional experiences periodically were frustrating to the teacher leaders as a part of their mission was to help teachers learn to prepare differentiated experiences and instruction that was meaningful for a variety of student levels.
There is sporadic technology availability and each individual school is responsible for paying its own utility bills, which vary significantly. Principals frequently let these things slide when money is short or a holiday is coming. In schools where the principal doesn't understand the role of Internet in instruction and learning, the teacher leaders found this to be a significant obstacle to surmount. When the teachers could not count on the resource being available they did not want to take the chance on being dependent with a room full of students who might ultimately have nothing to do. Incorporation of IT into classrooms was very difficult in these schools and follows on the previous obstacle and the issue of determining what's important in schools.
A number of teacher leaders complained about the lack of an systematized plan for substitution when teachers are away from school. Most schools reassign other teachers who are not teaching to take over the missing teachers' classes making it easy for teachers to be called out of collaborative meetings or professional development programs when they are in the building. While some schools reassigned teachers from the same subject area, many teachers draw from all subjects ensuring that students will not proceed with instruction. The scheduled planning and professional meetings are still frequently perceived as “free” time in school schools by the principal and other teachers. Most schools are over staffed by teachers who were likely sent to the school to fill a substitution role in years gone by. Over the years, these teachers have been absorbed into the regular staff workforce cutting the workload for all teachers, but then making all teachers responsible for substitution when someone was absent, whether or not substitution materials were available. The effect is that teachers had become complacent with teaching to 2/3 time and were now resenting the workloads that teachers were asked to teach in MAG schools, which were the government standards.
The obstacles cited by the teacher leaders all relate to the chaotic nature of the school environment and its lack of predictability for students or teachers.
What activities or issues do the teacher leaders identify as most difficult?
The areas that teacher leaders cited as the most difficult parts of their job were related to local teachers being unhappy with their assignments to full teaching loads, helping teachers to identify the needs for differentiated instruction and then how to provide it, and working with teachers on issues of behavior management. The previously described issue of excess teachers given the numbers of students turned out to be a problem at a number of levels. Teachers, by policy, were to teach 21 lessons per week in a 35 lesson week, but had been teaching from 12-18 lessons per week and were not happy to be asked to teach their full load without an increase in their salary. Teachers would frequently complain of being to tired to collaborate or engage in a professional development activity. The local teachers working with the Madares al Ghad program would compare themselves to other teachers in the school who were still allowed to work partial loads for full salary and complain.
The local teachers had very little experience with the concept of differentiated instruction as they were used to moving to a class where they dealt the same lesson and activity to every student and then move on to the next class. They were not in the habit of seeing students as individuals with individual needs. Teacher leaders were required to engage in numerous observations with individual or small groups of teachers to observe differences in students and what they thought was needed. Once teachers were able to recognize the differences and consider them as teaching problems to solve, they then would work on how best to orchestrate the differentiated classroom. Early in the project, the local teachers spoke often of not wanting to hurt the children's feelings or let them feel different from the others. Once it was established that they were well aware of their strengths and limitations and would be more pleased to have meaningful instruction, the teachers became more comfortable in dealing with this issue in a matter of fact way.
Which strategies are the most productive in dealing with obstacles?
A focus on relationship building and the implementation of an orientation program that addressed the natural and common cultural issues, as well as issues of teaching English in the UAE environment has been particularly helpful in limiting the misunderstandings from both sides. Inclusion of bilingual teachers in the MAG team has also been helpful as they can provide contextualized explanations of programs or issues for principals, parents, and colleagues. Interestingly, there was a focus on native English speakers in the first intake of Madares al Ghad personnel which was replaced over time with an interest in either native English speakers who also spoke Arabic or native-like speakers of English and possibly Arabic native speakers. Absolutely an excellent grasp of the English language was important, but the value in being able to fully understand both languages was a great support with parents and principals, and sometimes children.
Teacher leaders originally felt responsible for working on everything that needed attention and they either wore themselves out or realized that they had to choose the most urgent and productive issues first. Once they came to this point, teacher leaders could target what they perceived as most important or most doable in the time span available and focus on these issues, keeping an eye on the issue of student achievement. The previously described issues of the randomness of schedules and what seemed to be a lack of concern for the importance of instructional time are immense and complex issues that require long term intervention and that these long held traditions will require long-term interventions. When teacher leaders understood that they could target a small piece of the great issue and be focused on small steps toward success, the stress of the enormity of the job became more manageable.
SLTLs found that when they could offer something of themselves back to their school that the teachers and principal valued this effort. Some offered free English language lessons to teachers, work on TOEFL and IELTS exams, and specialized workshops in an area that they were interested in for the teachers in their school. A consistent ability to recognize small victories was highly valuable to the teacher leader in being able to see progress and was appreciated by the principal who was often dealing with more complaints from staff due to changes in the way of doing things and raising expectations of teachers.
Which are the most important roles of the teacher leader?
All teacher leaders cited professional development (PD) as the most important role as a teacher leader. They had a collective understanding that they were a part of this program to share what they knew and help the local teachers develop skills and that the needs would be different by individual. Many teacher leaders perceived the more formalized workshops that they did approximately weekly as the PD work. In some cases, although they saw their role much wider than workshops, the principals and Ministry saw the PD as those times when there were formal workshops that could be visited and counted. Their role as embedded PD providers was not clearly understood by local educators and sometimes was not perceived as important by the teacher leader.
The second most frequently cited role was that of encourager. For many of the teachers, they were perceived by colleagues as having to do more work for the same payment. However, in addition to the PD provided, they also received a laptop for use in their planning, preparation, and instruction as well as more teaching resources and supplies. The local teachers valued the opportunity more as the time went on and they began to see the effect of their new approach to work and instruction show in student achievement. Teacher leaders held an especially important role as encourages in the early phase before student achievement change was measurable.
The teacher leaders identified the importance of supporting teachers in trying something new, to be the extra hands and eyes available to allow the teacher to experiment with more complex strategies such as centers, differentiated activities, or reading circles. This support came more in helping the teacher learn to relinquish some of the control of the classroom to students with clear expectations and accountability for work. Teachers grew over the years in their ability to manage classrooms with multiple activities going on and became more comfortable in working together in teaming situations than they had originally thought they would be able to.
What do others (local teachers and principals) say are the most important attributes of teacher leaders?
The local teachers and principals opinions of what makes a good teacher leader was not so different from the teacher leaders. The local educators most often cited the most important attribute as being hard-working for the school. They explained further those teacher leaders who work hard for the teachers and the betterment of the whole school were very much appreciated. They were not complimentary of teacher leaders who spent a great deal of time in their office or were not active in the life of the school.
The second most frequently cited attribute was a positive attitude and the willingness to work with others' ideas. They appreciated when the teacher leader considered what teachers and principals wanted and discussed why certain arrangements were required and the outcome desired. The consistent and focused attention to the outcome desired while working with local culture was much appreciated. This did not always mean that local habits and customs won out, particularly when they were not in the best interest of students.
The third most cited attribute was that they appreciated teacher leaders who knew what was going on and who kept themselves informed. The principals were particularly responsive about teacher leaders who had taken the time to know the community and know parents and local businessmen. Communication structures are not well established in the education sector and meeting notices are often sent at the last minute. The principals appreciated when the teacher leaders shared their calendars and materials with them, giving them the opportunity to ask about upcoming events before being informed.
What is the interplay between mechanistic and organic characteristics in teacher leadership?
The role of teacher leadership is an emerging role in the UAE schools. The tradition has been very much hierarchical and supervisory in nature and mostly non-collaborative. The concepts of collaborative planning, shared responsibility in professional development, and professional communities of learners were very foreign and most uncomfortable in the early stages. There is something very freeing about having your line supervisor tell you something you want to do is unimportant or in not suggesting it in the first place. Local teachers and principals had become very comfortable in not doing things that they knew were in the best interest of students because they had not been told to do them. Prior to the Madares al Ghad program there was a clear understanding of leadership as a mechanistic and hierarchical set of rules and protocols that explained everything. It didn't meet the needs of educators or students, but it was in place and well established. As such, it was important that the teacher leaders honored the positional power of the Principal and his local expertise.
When the teacher leaders worked with the local teachers, they quickly learned about not trying to establish rigid mechanistic structures too quickly or without the input of their local colleagues. The importance of a give and take relationship with local teachers made allowances for planning that allowed flexible ways of accomplishing necessary tasks and committing to collaboration and sharing the development of weekly plans. Allowing leadership roles to shift, particularly in the support of colleague teachers, through continuous observation and feedback with a focus on professional improvement as teachers is one example of a more organic approach to leadership. While there was some mechanistic structure (the teacher leader was responsible for providing the school's lesson plans on a particular date for feedback from the program coordinator), the manner in which these plans were prepared for submission was different by school. Some schools produced them entirely collaboratively, sitting down and writing them as they talked through the materials and activities, while others doing some initial collaborative planning to talk through the generalities of chunks and then distributing the formatting and elaboration among colleagues.
The hierarchical structure that is prevalent in the Ministry system makes the concept of teacher leadership somewhat uncomfortable for fear that it adds another layer to bureaucracy when meaningful teacher leadership is a give and take operation with a variety of actors over time. By the end of the second year we were beginning to see some emergence of shared leadership roles between principals and teacher leaders related to curriculum issues and teacher development.
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