Contextualizing Teacher Leadership for Sustainable School-Based Improvement in the Arab Region
This paper presents an alternative model for building teachers’ leadership capacity to promote sustainable school-based improvement grounded in the context of the Arab region. The model counters dominant ineffective approach to professional development delivered through top-down and large-scale reforms in this region. Professional development is mostly short, neglects teachers’ professional learning and emotional needs, focuses on decontextualized and disconnected technical skills, lacks any form of follow up and institutional support that ensures the transfer of new knowledge to practice, and treats teachers as passive executors rather than leaders of reform. As a result, most of the teachers in this context are dependent learners who lack agency as well as competence to implement and lead improvement initiatives. The grounded and contextual leadership capacity building model was developed through the TAMAM Project (www.tamamproject.org); a research and development initiative launched at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon in 2007. The project aimed to design a capacity building model that promotes the leadership capacities of teachers and empowers them to lead and implement sustainable school-based improvement. It has received large and long-term funding that allowed for the cumulative production of knowledge and the development of a network of professionals, including teachers, policy makers and researchers who are engaged in its research and development activities. The contextualized capacity building model was developed after several iterations of research and development, responding to the local professional needs and challenges of participating teachers and schools. It builds the leadership capacity of teachers in a way that links their individual professional learning goals with school-wide improvement priorities. The model focuses on a set of competencies integrated in a job-embedded professional learning experiences delineating the process of school-based improvement. They include reflective dialogue and practice, de-privatization and collaboration, inquiry, knowledge production and documentation, evidence-based decision making and evolving design planning. Teachers acquire leadership capacity and are provided an extended experiential learning opportunity where they plan for and implement school improvement initiative. As such, teachers develop their system understanding and view of learning and leading, while sustaining their motivation to learn and commitment to change. The model and its approach can be used to enrich pre-service teacher training programs. Its preliminary impact invites those involved in school reform in the region to include it as part of any capacity building program, supplementing the technical focus of these programs.