How to Create the Conditions for Learning: Continuous Improvement in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts
reviewed by Danielle V. Dennis — May 16, 2018
Title: How to Create the Conditions for Learning: Continuous Improvement in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts
Author(s): Ann Jaquith
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1682530825, Pages: 224, Year: 2017
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In How to Create the Conditions for Learning: Continuous Improvement in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts, Ana Jaquith sets out to describe the way teachers, principals, and district leaders attempt to develop instructional capacity. Jaquith shares findings from multiple research studies and overlays these with the instructional capacity building framework she designed based on the work discussed throughout the book.
In the Introduction, Jaquith establishes the purpose of the book and describes the organization of each chapter. The introduction ends with three questions that are addressed in the heart of the text: Under what conditions do instructional strategies introduced in professional development get taken up and used by teachers in their classrooms? What can principals do to improve the quality of teacher collaboration in their schools? And finally, how can district administrators help principals become more effective instructional leaders?
Part One of the book defines key terms that undergird the development of the instructional capacity building framework. Instructional capacity is defined as the collection of resources for teaching that a district, school, or team has available to support instruction, and the ability to use these resources to teach in a manner that enables students to learn and be successful (p. 14). Chapter One then defines instructional resources and outlines the different types of instructional resources districts have, including technology resources, knowledge resources, relational resources, and organizational resources. Technology resources comprise methods, tools, and materials, which Jaquith then breaks into the categories of hardware and software. Knowledge resources are those in which stakeholders have expertise, including content and pedagogy. Relational resources focus on indicators of quality, and organizational resources are broken into structures, formal roles, and practices and procedures. In Chapter Two, combined understandings of these instructional resources are placed within the instructional resourcing cycle and then situated in different contexts.
Jacquith fits the instructional resource cycle within a context by defining the purpose, participants, content, and structure, and explaining how those four components impact and are impacted by resources, schemata, and actions. The author then overlays a sociocultural paradigm, guided by Wengers communities of practice, as a way to theorize the use and purpose of the instructional resource cycle across contexts. As part of this, Jaquith provides readers with a resource use spectrum, which she then uses throughout the book to illustrate the success of instructional resource cycles in the various contexts described in the remaining chapters.
Part Two of the book, Integrating Theory and Practice, includes five chapters, each outlining an example of instructional capacity building. Chapter Three focuses on four teachers at the classroom level and the types of support that were available to guide their enactment of an instructional plan. The teachers came from two different middle schools and had spent anywhere from one to seven years at their school. The four teachers all participated in the same professional development provided by the school district. Jaquith describes how each went about enacting (or not) the concepts introduced as part of the professional development, and the support structures in place to ensure their success. The cases of Maisey, Molly, Will, and Pat offer the reader deeper understandings of how the enactment of professional development is stymied by lack of support and follow-through at the school level. As with all of the chapters in Part Two, Jaquith highlights the importance of continuous, intentional, job-embedded professional development that offers educators opportunities to enact, problematize, and then practice what they learned through the experience.
Chapter Four broadens the focus to the two middle schools, Cedar Bridge and Liberty, where the teachers from Chapter Three taught. The purpose of this chapter is to explore institutional instructional capacity to gain understanding of how learning can improve. Jaquith suggests, the improvement of teaching and learning is defined as the intentional and observable changes to teachers instruction with the overall aim of strengthening learning outcomes for students (p. 67). The chapter outlines the way each school approached professional learning communities. Perhaps the biggest (and least surprising) conclusion drawn in this chapter is that leadership matters, and purposeful approaches to staff development and collaboration accelerate institutional instructional capacity in measurable ways, whereas leaders that encourage autonomous approaches to collaboration rarely build the capacity to support teacher learning. Jaquith ends the chapter by confirming that continuous feedback loops are essential when attempting to build instructional capacity at the school level.
Learner-centered approaches to professional development are only as successful as the leaders that intentionally plan and facilitate the learning experiences. Similar to the school-level findings, in Chapter Five, Jaquith shares findings from a district-level initiative with principals. Although the school district placed importance on these opportunities, district leadership anticipated the principals would know how to interact and learn from one another without deliberate scaffolding of the conversations. As Jaquith points out, this form of professional autonomy is not conducive to increasing capacity for instructional improvement nor does it boost instructional leadership capacity (p. 116). Missed opportunities and myriad challenges (e.g., structural, relational) are discussed, and the author offers suggestions for building a more effective network for principal professional learning.
Chapter Seven provides a helpful overview of the research-practice partnership that formed the basis of the book. Jaquith outlines the way in which researchers and district personnel interacted and problem-solved in order to more thoroughly investigate learning opportunities for all stakeholders. She offers suggestions, both for top-down and bottom-up approaches to leading and learning, and acknowledges the constraints that research-practice partnerships are likely to encounter. Throughout the book, the reader would benefit from Jaquith more explicitly connecting the experiences discussed to the instructional capacity building framework, which has the potential to support leaders at all levels as they consider how to approach learning opportunities for their staff. This book would be particularly useful for research-practice partnership teams. Stakeholders in these teams may benefit from reading the book as they build their relationship in order to consider benefits and barriers of the work and practices that promote instructional capacity building.