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Creating a school for the 21st century: Experiences of a professional community

Marian Lewis
Dorothy Andrews

University of Southern Queensland
This paper presents a case study of a secondary school involved in an innovative change process that has at its focus the enhancement of student learning outcomes. The process of change centres on the action of teachers in classrooms rather than change in organisational structures. The process is teacher centred, interdepartmental and focused on a shared understanding of the need to create new challenges and learning experiences for students. The change process has enabled the development of shared understanding within the teacher group that has at its focus a definition of authentic pedagogy. The study illustrates that the reconceptualising of their work and across-discipline sharing of new knowledge and new actions has changed significantly the way teachers work. This new learning has impacted on the teachers' classroom action and has generated new initiatives that have impacted on student learning outcomes particularly in middle school classrooms.

Whilst the study has recorded the history of a school revitalisation process, this paper relates, in particular, the history of the process that has built the professional community. It is a history told from the perspective of many voices and therefore relates the dynamics of the individual and group learning process. The study documents how, through a process of group learning, the individual's assumptions and beliefs about classroom practices and student learning have been challenged and changed. It has been this learning process that has resulted in teachers creating a new image of teacher and developing new relationships between the teacher and the student learner. The other voices related are those that exist outside the professional community. These voices relate their relationship with the group and the impact the group's work has had throughout the organisation.

The study also explores the developing relationship between administrative decision-making and teacher driven change. It illuminates the importance of aligning teacher and organisational decision-making and understandings if a school improvement process is to enhance student learning outcomes. This study has found that it is the alignment of these groups through a process of shared understandings that has resulted in school improvement where the improvement is in student learning outcomes

The study also illustrates new research partnerships. The researchers have gained valuable insights into individual, group and organisational learning while providing professional development opportunity for the participants. The individual interviews and the group interview were conducted in a manner to enable the researched to reflect on their experience and their practice. This has provided feedback that has enhanced professional understandings and provided the opportunity for further reflection. The insights gained by the researchers have also provided new knowledge and support for ongoing development within the organisation.

The main learnings from this study illustrate how an innovative process centred on classroom outcomes has created a professional community. The researchers found that shared understandings through professional learning can impact on action in the classroom. However, the sustainability of this community and action within the organisation will depend on the established professional community's ability to create a broader across-school understanding of these new relationships and new understandings about the image of teacher, student and their workplace. The development of this image underpins the process of creating a school for students of the 21st century.

Background to the School Revitalisation Process

White Rock SHS is a secondary state high school of four hundred students and thirty-seven teachers located in a prosperous rural community in Southern Queensland. White Rock SHS has used the Innovative Designs for Enhancing the Achievements of Schools (IDEAS) Framework (Crowther, 1999) as a process of school revitalisation. The two major components of IDEAS are a Research-Based Framework and a four-phase school-based implementation strategy known as the 4D process. The Framework is grounded in the work of Newmann and Wehlage (1995) and the 4D process was developed by Crowther and the IDEAS project team (1999) drawing on a range of conceptual sources including appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987; Cooperrider and Whitney, 1996 and action learning (Argyris and Schon, 1974; Kolb, 1984; Zuber-Skerritt, 1990).

IDEAS is based on four principles that distinguish it from most other school revitalisation approaches:

  1. It assumes equivalence of teacher leadership and administrator leadership in school development processes. Strategic leadership is viewed as the role of the principal while pedagogical leadership is seen as a professional responsibility of teachers (Smylie, 1999; Crowther et al., 2000).

  2. School revitalisation is viewed as encompassing both school-wide operational planning and the creation of a shared approach to pedagogy. It is through the creation of a contextualised "school approach to pedagogy", and alignment between the school vision and its explicitly agreed approach to pedagogy, that significant improvement in student learning outcomes is made possible. (Crowther et al., 2000; Peterson et al., 1996; Louis & Marks, 1996).

  3. The management structures include a school IDEAS management team, a facilitator who is attached to the school and access to external (University) consultants.

  4. Schools manage their own time and resources, with maximum flexibility assured.
This process is about building organisational capacity (Scribner et al., 1999; Crowther et al., 2000; Newman & Wehlage, 2000 in press). As Crowther notes:
The latest Wisconsin research makes clear that when the professional community of the school engages collaboratively in school improvement, a value-addedness can be created that transposes into enhanced school identity and ultimately into enhanced student achievement. (Interview - December 1999)
Underpinning the IDEAS Research-Based Framework are the concepts of professional community and shared leadership (King, 1996; Hord, 1997; Louis & Marks, 1996; Marks & Louis, 1999). It is a framework that requires the organisation to re-image itself (Morgan, 1997). This requires teachers to reconsider their role and relationships with each other and within the organisational structure in which they work. The new image of teacher that emerges relates to developing a professional community of collaborative individuals (Limerick et al., 1998), which is underpinned by the concepts of collaboration, deprivatisation, reflective dialogue, and taking a pedagogical leadership role. It also requires teachers to accept the proposition that development of a professional community can enhance student learning outcomes.

The question is how do you achieve a professional community where the group shares a common value and vision for enhancing student outcomes? Walker (1975) clearly demonstrates the process of developing a common understanding thorough the exposure of educational platforms, the development of a shared system of working principles and beliefs and through 'deliberation' which enables people to share assumptions, values, beliefs and mental images. In the case described by Walker, common understandings and a shared platform were developed through the process of deliberation. This came with a mixture of compromise, new knowledge and new ideas. He states:

Agreement on a platform principle...was only the starting point of a process of particularising, clarifying and extending shared knowledge and perceptions of the group's goals and standards (Walker, 1975, p108)
Whilst common purpose is formulated, the development of professional community within the IDEAS process both views and values the individual. It adopts the concept of collaborative individualism (Limerick et al., 1997) where the individual maintains their preferred expertise in performance but meet group or organisational goals. In a loosely coupled system in a tightly coupled organisation (Handy & Aitekin, 1986) this concept is appealing to teachers - deprivatisation does not mean common practice.

Cooper (1998), reporting on the reasons for successful implementation of a project, noted that the most effective implementation occurred when both teachers and administrators took responsibility for the program and it was seen as "...a collective opportunity to improve educational experience of children". Cooper added:

Educators must be empowered prior to adoption of the program, as well as during the change process. Establishing a stable, committed cadre of teachers is the first step to successful program implementation (1998, p13)
Cooper also found that a school site facilitator, with strong interpersonal, organisational and communication skills, was the linchpin that holds the implementation together.

The IDEAS implementation process (known as 4D) reported in this study is an organisational learning process where a school management team, with the assistance of an internal facilitator and an external facilitator (University), moves the learning group through a non-linear (4D) processes of discovery, dreaming, designing and destiny (refer Appendix 1). At White Rock the management group, once formed, commenced with the discovery phase using diagnostic inventory scanning developed from the planks of the Research-Based Framework (refer Appendix 2). The reporting of the process at White Rock SHS from discovery to designing captures the experience of teacher leaders within the professional community and the resultant perceptions of change on individual and group learning as they create a school for the 21st Century.


The purpose of the study of the IDEAS school revitalisation experience was to illuminate the situations and events in the process. The data were used to inform further development of the IDEAS framework and process at White Rock and in other schools where IDEAS teams work. This paper relates, in particular, the history of the 4D process that has built the professional learning community. The research data collected covers the stages in the process from the initiating to the designing phase (Appendix 1).

The study has captured multiple voices through retrospective interviews of participants in the process and focus group discussion. These qualitative data have enabled a story to be told from different perspectives both as an individual and group experience. These data have been supplemented with extensive documentation made available from a close monitoring of the process through the use of a school management team scribe and from the external facilitator's documentation of the process. This documentation has been used to enable the validation of events or incidents which the informants agreed provided defining moments, which enables the project to continue and develop.

Data were also collected on the initial impact of the work of the IDEAS group on the broader teacher community and of the subsequent impact then this group began to spread its learnings and understanding throughout the school. These data have been captured again through individual interview, observation, external researchers' field notes and documentation.

White Rock SHS: The context

White Rock SHS, located in a prosperous rural community, experiences only a small number of staff movements each year. The staff are relatively experienced and some are well established within the community. The town is geographically isolated, has low unemployment and there is a tendency for some parents to send their children to boarding school for their secondary education. The school community considers itself innovative and related experiences with initiatives in rural education, the development of across-school action such as: middle schooling investigation; performance review lead by the Heads of Department (HODs); and an action research model considering site-based best practice. For our purposes, the story begins in 1998 when White Rock State High School was working with yet another initiative, this time related to site-based management. It was this initiative which flowed into IDEAS.

Our account in this paper may be seen as a chapter of THE STORY SO FAR providing glimpses of how events may continue to unfold. This paper focuses on one aspect of the story, that is, the development of a professional learning community. It is the story of a remarkable achievement, illustrating what can be achieved when a group of people work together to forge new professional understandings, to create a school for the 21st Century.

The first stage of the journey

The first stage of the process commenced at the discovery phase with data collection. Diagnostic inventories, constructed from the planks of the IDEAS Research-based Framework (Appendix 2), were administered to teachers, parents and students in August 1998. These surveys explored perceptions of how successfully the school was operating in relation to both student achievement and a range of contributory elements. The data were collected and analysed by the external facilitator. The news was not all good, as one teacher recalls:
The actual receiving of the data was shocking... when we got the survey results back I was really shocked at how negative it was... I think we looked at the survey and thought well, if all these things are wrong what about all the other things that have haven't been asked about. There's probably a minefield of other things out there that we haven't addressed.
The data indicated: The following month, a staff workshop was run by a second external facilitator. Its aim was to assist the staff to develop an agreed definition of teaching excellence. This was not a success. It was an exercise resisted and, to a certain degree, disrupted by some staff members. There was one very positive outcome, however - a group of people (unhappy with the behaviour of their colleagues and wanting to make a contribution to change) volunteered to work as an action group (school management team) to continue the process of developing a vision statement and formulate an action plan for 1999. This was how the IDEAS management group came into being. It was this group who later became the core of the professional learning community.

The IDEAS Group: Composition

Due to the incident that led to its development, the composition of the IDEAS group meant it had not been constructed along any principles of representation. The ten volunteers represented a whole range of experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs. There was a mixture of experience and inexperience, of youth and professional maturity, and of positions of responsibility within the school. This was to prove a significant factor in their development of professional community. The composition was, it seems, an illustration of serendipity in action.
Brilliant, it's been best mix. Had we handpicked, we probably wouldn't have handpicked the group that got together so the fact that people voted with their feet and joined was excellent [internal facilitator]
The younger teachers were valued by their more experienced colleagues for their up to date theoretical perspectives and for their "energy and enthusiasm and different view of the world" (HOD). The less experienced teachers valued the depth of professional knowledge of their senior colleagues, and their ability to articulate a vision for the school. One young group member suggested that the involvement of teachers with no positional power demonstrated that IDEAS was not a 'top-down' initiative, which helped to give the group credibility among the rest of the staff.

Having volunteered, the members of the group began a rich and rewarding professional journey. While everyone had initially had the option of volunteering, the fact that this window of opportunity had opened and then closed caused some disquiet. One teacher not involved referred to the group's 'secret meetings' and 'secret business' and another commented on the 'lack of consultation' in its formation. One IDEAS group member observed:

I think sometimes maybe there is even a little bit of resentment by people outside of that group because it's "that group" that works together. We really need to sell to them that it is not just a close-knit community with a secret handshake...why don't [they] just see the learning! [Paul]

The IDEAS Group: The deliberation begins

In November 1998, the IDEAS group began to work with the data from the diagnostic inventories. For the remainder of the school year, in consultation with the staff and supported by the external facilitator, the group continued to work on the development of a vision statement and plan of action for 1999. The year ended on a high note with the draft statement and plan of action being endorsed by the staff. As the internal facilitator recalled:
We had this really productive whole staff meeting where people were talking enthusiastically and energetically about the school and I just kept thinking, we've captured something here, it's the hearts and minds stuff that I feel so strongly about.
By the middle of 1999, the IDEAS group was working on a vision statement supported by a series of concepts and questions designed to guide practice (refer Appendix 3). The experiences related with its use capture the effect this process had on their learning.

Individual learning

The IDEAS group members indicated that they had, as individuals, experienced considerable learning though their participation in the process of developing the school vision, concepts and questions. One member described the experience as "an awakening". However, the members of the IDEAS group identified different individual learnings. These included: a recognition of "the importance and value of combining theory and practice"; a refocusing of attention on the value of participating in professional dialogue and reflecting on practice; learning new ways of approaching teaching and learning and new ways of reflecting on individual classroom practice; new learnings which made "a wonderful base" for professional growth; developing the ability to refocus on the positive aspects of teaching in times of stress; and developing tolerance and understanding of how other teachers think and how they approach teaching, making it easier "to accept difference without getting frustrated".

For some, growth involved letting go. The internal facilitator (and deputy principal) acknowledged she had learned to go to meetings with no pre-determined ideas rather than with "the big picture" and "the road to get there" in mind. It is perhaps not coincidental that other leaders emerged. IDEAS group members reported that one young teacher whose leadership potential had not previously been recognised, "...came forward as a real leader right from the start" while the "enormous potential" and readiness for increased responsibility of another inexperienced teacher was recognised. The comments of one of these young teachers illustrates the positive nature of her increasing confidence:

I think I see myself as continuing to grow as a professional teacher in terms of critical discussion and also teaching and learning and developing my skills in that area and I see myself as really participating in the overall direction of the school and our role with the community which I think is changing. [Michelle]

Sharing and deliberation

The sharing and deliberation that went on within the IDEAS group wasn't an easy process, and could be quite stressful. While the group had come together because of shared concerns, individual members had different ideas about what should drive their planning, teaching and learning. Reconciling different views could be like "working in a mine-field where you want everyone in the team to feel that they have participated in the process and you want to come up with something, which is valid, and something to be proud of". [Elizabeth]

The process was messy, and often the way forward was not clear. The group had to deal with ambiguity and uncertainly - there were times that they did not know where they were going. Progress came through professional dialogue, which was energising for the group. Being able to "talk about what [we] were doing in the classroom with absolute enthusiasm" helped to build the type of cohesiveness where all views were valued. The group operated in an environment where differences were explored and all contributions valued:

...we were very open to the fact that everybody had the right to say whatever they wanted was good to see everybody's different point of view and... see where those differences were and why they were different. [John]

Group learning and the development of professional community

The learning did not stop with the individuals. As a result of working through the IDEAS process, the group learned together and in doing so, developed into a professional learning community. Member of the group talked about the collective learning which grew out of the common factors - the shared purpose, shared experience and professional dialogue. This involved connecting as a group, being tolerant and respectful of each other. One group member perceived that "...working as a team was our greatest learning" especially given some of the dominant personalities. There was a recognition that a diverse group of individuals had created something of significance, something that they owned and cherished. They had created a vision, a dream that they were committed to living. The difference between that and the experience of being handed a vision "created top-down by the boss" struck one of the group members as highly significant - when the vision is handed down, "the flavour, the essence, the true meaning of what is said [doesn't] actually come through". [Paul]

The following are examples of what various participants described they had learned as a group:

There is little doubt that the IDEAS group at White Rock SHS had developed into a professional learning community. This is clearly illustrated in the following extract from an interview with the internal facilitator (and deputy principal):
...all the stuff that I've read about for years I'm actually seeing enacted and the thing about professional learning communities - the dialogue, the shared dialogue, that was happening in that group. [It] was really quite significant [with]...people genuinely having to think and reflect and draw on the inner professionalism that they hadn't had to think about for a long time....we were happy to listen to each others ideology and belief systems and it even got to the point where we could argue and challenge what each other thought and felt and how that impacted on the school. [We]...had a really clear idea of what we stood for and, and what our common and shared beliefs and purposes were.

The White Rock Way: Shared beliefs in action

The IDEAS group shared ownership of the concepts and questions that they had created. They believed them to be an appropriate guide to practice at White Rock. The concepts and questions represented agreement forged out of difference and their very nature allowed them to be interpreted and used in a wide range of different ways.
...because of that shared ownership of understanding...those concepts can underpin practice and whether it's about...evaluating a leadership camp or whether it's about planning a unit or assessing a unit, the shared belief in those concepts can be powerful in what you're doing [internal facilitator]
Each of the IDEAS group members chose what they were going to do to trial what they had created. Some used the concepts and questions to plan units, some to inform their classroom practice in an explicit way, and some to evaluate units of work or specific projects.

The effects were very encouraging. The success felt by the group members is illustrated in the following extracts:

It has certainly changed my practice...using the concepts and questions to take a structured approach to changing my teaching - in order to be able teach in ways that allow disconnected kids to reconnect with school. [Anne]

I have recognised the need to change to a facilitator of learning but I've also learned that the more you ask kids, the more they'll do...I've just realised there is really probably not much limit to what they can do if you provide the right sort of support. [Margaret]

It's definitely changed my teaching - it's an awakening of stuff we should be doing but don't have time to...I've changed what I believe is important in terms of what kids can do and can't focus has changed more to where I think the kids should be has given me the confidence to say well now I know what is important rather than always doing what you have always done. [John]

I find that my teaching has improved, I find that I understand more about what I'm doing, why I'm doing things and I find that's been an improvement...and I think okay I'm not going to teach this unless I'm really sure it's what I want to teach or it's the right way that they want to teach it and I just think that it just justifies my position, I make sure I can justify my position before I walk into the room. [Jackie]

The questions like the enriching community concept and future direction really helped me direct and focus my attention...really opened up my mind...I think you get into a system where you are teaching to the assessment and you move on to the next assessment piece. I think with these concepts, we are still teaching and producing assessment pieces but I feel we are teaching more in terms of a whole package I don't know, I don't know how to verbalise it, but teaching them the skills that they will take on to the next grade, the next grade and then out into the community and to get a job and be worthwhile, participating members of the community. [Michelle]

In the meantime: The Initial Impact of IDEAS on the rest of the school

From the perspective of the IDEAS group, information was regularly disseminated to the whole staff and teachers were consulted at important junctures in the process. In general, IDEAS group members believed that their work was beginning to have some impact across the school. Group members were themselves motivated and, to a degree, affirmed by interest shown by teachers outside of the group. Some, however, noted a degree of negativity amongst some staff. Interviews with teachers outside the IDEAS group revealed a range of perspectives. The responses may be roughly grouped according to the following:

Group 1: Busy with other things group: one of these informants noted:

I have been heavily involved in curriculum development in my area and have not had an interest or time to be involved. However, even though I am busy, I still have the right to be informed. [Andrew]
Group 2: Don't know much about all of this group: commentary indicated that information was given out at staff meetings and workshops but this was disjointed.
You would hear something and then not hear about it again for quite a while. While it was mentioned quite a bit...unless you're directly involved in it, it doesn't affect you too much... and unless you use it frequently, you forget it. [Sandy]

I know very little about it the 4D. I do know that it is related to effective learning and teaching but that is as far as I know. [Geoff]

Group 3: I am doing a great job group: People in this group believe that they are "...already doing a great job and we should get on with teaching kids in classrooms" (not being away from classrooms) and would like to see "less 'innovation' and more energy consolidating what we have already got".

Group 4: Checking up to see what is happening group: They are interested to know what is going on, and may confirm that it is "what I have been doing for years". People in this group are supportive of change but consider they are already doing what is being suggested and are "incredibly busy so I have not got time anyway to write programs that way".

I mean it's being able to put into practice things that I have thought for a long time that I have got to start letting students have more choice and more freedom in their actual curriculum to negotiate a lot more with how they do things. [Julia]
Group 4: Feeling excluded from the inner club group: This perspective suggests confusion about how you actually got to be part of the inner group and, particularly in the initial stages, feelings of exclusion:
...until a pupil free day in June it seemed like secret business - after June I realised, it is no little secret business or anything like that, it is something practical and it is something we can all do and it is something to be involved in... in my opinion, there were definite barriers between the initial group, or the initial team, and the rest of the school, up until that point. [Penny]
Group 5: those who appreciate the work and want to know more group: Interested in what has been produced as a way of viewing their own practice from a different perspective. Not necessarily linked to change in practice though.
[I've noticed a] gradual change in the culture of the school, more willingness to talk about change because people are out there trying different things - more of a culture of ...looking at doing something more to improve student outcomes. [Tony]

The ripple effect: Spreading the learning across the staff

Following their own successful trialing of the questions and concepts, the IDEAS group faced the challenge of spreading their learnings through the staff, without diluting the meaning of what they had achieved. Also this group felt a deep sense of commitment to what they had created, again, something not easily passed on the others who have not been through the same process of creative deliberation.

After the IDEAS group had trialed the concepts and questions, they shared their experiences, first with each other and then with their colleagues. The group reported back to the whole staff, explaining what they had done and how they believed it had made a difference to their teaching and learning. After that meeting, held towards the end of 1999, teachers were invited to participate in an extended trial. This involved members of the IDEAS group each working with one or two volunteers to trial the concepts and questions in a relationship described by the group as 'mentor/mentee'. A number of teachers volunteered to take part and indicated which of the group members they would like to work with. Some discussion did occur between then and the end of the school year, but looking back early in 2000, the IDEAS group agreed that little of substance had been achieved.

This was an important issue because it is the aim of the group that, in time, a majority of people on staff will actually use the concepts and questions to guide their practice.

...This is really how we are presenting it 'at this school, this is what guides our practice' and I would will become part of what we do at this school and why we do it. [Anne]
It was decided to continue the extended trial model in 2000 to test whether the IDEAS group's findings from the first trial held true with the broader teacher community. 'Mentor/mentee' relationships were re-established (some continuing from 1999, others beginning in 2000). After a relatively slow start, the process picked up pace during Term 2 and the experiences of the expanded group were reported to the whole staff in May. That reporting back session indicated that the mentoring had been successful in a number of ways. Twelve different teachers spoke about how they had successfully applied the concepts and questions and it was significant that no two uses were the same. The flexibility of the framework created by the IDEAS group was clearly illustrated as teachers variously described how they had used it to plan, assess, evaluate, guide practice, change teacher/student interaction, and generate deep discussion (in very different contexts). It was also clear that the intended 'ripple effect' was actually occurring with more teachers beginning to adopt the framework that had been developed by the IDEAS group. Many more teachers are still to be engaged but the aim that "...we're all pointing in the same direction and that we can all articulate the same set of beliefs about the school and what it represents and what we think is important to us here" [internal facilitator] appears to be gaining ground.

The contribution of the facilitators

While all members of the IDEAS group made significant contributions to the development of professional community at White Rock SHS, the special roles played by the internal and external facilitators warrant further comment. The internal facilitator could potentially have been any member of the IDEAS group, however, in this particular case the role was taken on by a member of the administration. One clear advantage of this was that she was able to provide release time for group members, allowing them to meet during school time. This was of very practical benefit and recognition of the importance of the process. The internal facilitator provided the structure and the impetus for the group's meetings and played an important role in communicating with the rest of the staff. She would also liaise with the external facilitator passing on the thoughts of the group, and relaying his suggestions and questions back.

She variously refers to herself in this role as 'linchpin', 'referee' and 'sheepdog' and reflects: It was really important for me not to take over but to be the organiser, to facilitate them getting together, to ensure they got together, to ensure that the meetings had some direction... and then report back and it just kept the flow of information going...This meant I had to liaise and facilitate rather than tell. Every member of the IDEAS group recognised the importance of the contribution made by the external facilitator. They recognised: his ability to "build a non-threatening environment' where people felt able to express their thoughts; his skill in "keeping the group together" despite the range of personalities and "making people's contributions feel valued and worth while"; his high level of credibility with the staff which enabled them to cope with the 'fuzziness' of parts of the process; and his role as a critical friend offering a different (and inherently neutral) perspective. While the group felt that they owned the process and the statements they had developed, they acknowledged that the road would have been a lot more difficult had they not had the support of the external facilitator. The external facilitator from the University had forged a learning partnership with the school community.

What have the researchers' learnt from the experiences related?

  1. The model for school revitalisation that has used a small group has developed this group into a professional learning community. The impact of their learning has changed the way they teach and their understandings of best practice. Teachers in the group have taken leadership roles in developing and making explicit a shared view of authentic pedagogy. The internal facilitator (and deputy principal) also demonstrated strategic leadership.

  2. This group have packaged their definition of authentic pedagogy and decided to spread it into the rest of the school, through a mentoring program. The original members have developed a shared understanding that can only come with deliberation - professional conversation and professional learning experiences. While understandings have clearly been conveyed to those being mentored, some of the original depth of meaning has been lost.

  3. In the outsiders group, most teachers in the sample indicated a strong commitment to their work and the enhancement of student learning and well being. Many have been involved with innovation and change within their discipline areas. The ripple effect has not as yet reached all groups within the organisation. Whilst many do not want to be involved, they want to be kept informed.

  4. Whilst there have been spasmodic attempts by the group and the internal facilitator to "educate and inform" the staff about their experiences, there is evidence that the type and the timing of these information episodes has not been effective. There is a need for the group to clearly reach out to other to keep them informed.


The original impetus for the work of the IDEAS group came from the results of the diagnostic inventories. To reiterate, the results indicated: Following their engagement in the 4D process, the IDEAS group appears to have made significant progress with these issues - and their achievements have gone beyond this, bringing about actual change in classroom practice.

Within the school:

A diverse group of individuals have:

The School in its Broader Community:

All agreed that there has been an improved relationship with the school's broader community. All the teachers talked about the importance of good community relations. Many spoke of the initiatives and efforts that they have made to improve these outcomes. Some acknowledged the difficulty in such a community of relating the achievements and positive impact of what the school has been doing. All those interviewed believed that the ability of the school to gain public/external acknowledgment that the school is an "innovative school" has changed their perception of the school. They consider it a great place to work they believe it has had a positive influence on all the community.


The main learnings from this study illustrate how an innovative process centred on classroom outcomes has created a professional community. The researchers have found, illustrated by this case study, that shared understandings through professional learning can impact on action in the classroom. However the sustainability of this community and action within the organisation will depend on the established professional community's ability to create a broader understanding of these new relationships and new understandings about the image of teacher, student and their workplace. The development of this image underpins the process of creating a school for students of the 21st century.

The study also illustrates new research partnerships. The researchers have gained valuable insights into individual, group and organisational learning while providing a unique professional development opportunity for the participants. The individual interviews and the group interview were conducted in a manner to enable the researched to reflect on their experience and their practice. This has provided them with feedback that has enhanced their professional understandings, and has provided the opportunity for further reflection. The insights gained by the researchers have also provided new knowledge and support for ongoing development within the organisation.

Appendix 1: 4D - A four phase approach to innovative school design

Appendix 1: 4D - A four phase approach to innovative school design
(Crowther, 1999, p23 Figure 4)

Appendix 2: Major Planks of the IDEAS project Research Based Framework

Crowther, 1998

Strategic Foundations

  1. The school's vision a source of pride and identity in the school community.
  2. Significant leadership opportunities are available to the school staff.
  3. Funding and assets are built upon to create a unique, value-added school identity.
  4. Decision processes relate to resource management are transparent and participatory.
  5. School policies are equally applicable to all students rather than to select groups.

Cohesive Community

  1. The school staff engages in serious critique of the school's vision and daily practices.
  2. Teachers assume collective responsibility for individual students and student learning.
  3. The wider school community actively supports and promotes the school vision.
  4. Teachers consciously tailor their individual skills to complement the school vision.

Infrastructural Design

  1. The school's work space is conducive to excellence in teaching and learning.
  2. The organisation of the school day is conducive to excellence in learning.
  3. Teachers' ideas for improved workplace design are responded to efficiently.
  4. Technologies are used to facilitate teachers' work.

Authentic Pedagogy

  1. The school possesses a shared definition of pedagogical excellence.
  2. Teaching, learning and assessment clearly support the school vision.
  3. The school's approach to pedagogy is based on sound educational theories.
  4. School outcomes are reported in ways that parents and students perceive to be meaningful.
  5. The school measures student achievement against agreed predetermined standards.

Professional Supports

  1. The school's professional development goals reflect the school vision.
  2. Internal networks at the school nurture innovative practices.
  3. The school is networked' to a range of external professional development agencies.
  4. School successes and achievements are built upon to develop advantageous alliances with external agencies.

Appendix 3: The White Rock SHS Vision Statement

White Rock SHS: A school community for the 21st Century

Together we Achieve:

  • life-long learners
  • an enriched community
  • flexible pathways to the future
This vision statement was supported by the following series of concepts and questions designed to guide practice:
Concepts/Questions which guide our practice:

SELF-AWARENESS:What does this experience tell me about myself?
CRITICAL REFLECTION:Why am I doing this?
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT:How has this contributed to my development?
COMMUNICATION:How could I demonstrate what I know?
COOPERATION:How does this experience enable us to learn from each other?
APPLICATION:How can this be applied now or later?
ENRICHING COMMUNITY:How does this enrich our school community?
FUTURE DIRECTION:What will this be like in the future?


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Contact details: Dr Dorothy Andrews, University of Southern Queensland
Phone (07) 4631 2346 Fax (07) 4631 2828 Email

Marian Lewis, University of Southern Queensland
Phone (07) 4631 2330 Fax (07) 4631 2828 Email

Please cite as: Lewis, M. and Andrews, D. (2001). Creating a school for the 21st century: Experiences of a professional community. In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 402-419. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA.

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