Weaving threads of understanding into school culture

When faced with the challenge of implementing new practices, often organizations go through an implementation dip because previous expertise no longer suffices in the new programme.

The organization can support teachers through some processes, which when combined provide what Drago-Seversen (2009) calls “holding environments” for professional learning. Holding environments are specific structures and processes, which help practitioners feel safe as they experiment, innovate, and create to enact implementation goals.

Support functions for teachers in implementation

MYP schools are fortunate to have teachers remain. Having knowledge and understanding of the MYP remain within a school as schools grow is a benefit to the overall culture of a school. How might a pedagogical leadership team provide support functions for teachers, as they grow and develop their MYP practice?

How might we support teacher thinking as teachers implement their plans in their classrooms?

The four support functions available to pedagogical leaders have inherently distinct purposes and ways of communication, and they each use assessment in very specific ways.

Evaluation as a support function

Evaluative Support is a more direct form of supervision. This is most familiar to us in many of the traditional appraisal systems, where the supervisor provides a formal process and criteria for teacher evaluation; there is a formal set of conversations that accompany the evaluation, and the teacher is bound to provide a formal, documented response to the evaluation. Evaluations are often useful when teachers are perceived to be not meeting expectations in a school, and the communication between the supervisor and the teacher consists of judgments of the teacher’s practice.

Evaluation as a support function usually comes from the supervisor. The assessment stance of evaluation comes from the formal appraisal system and its purpose seems to hinge upon a transactional contract, specifically the transactional contract between the teacher and the school as employer. The limitations of the evaluative support function lie in its inception; since the assessment is from a point of view outside of the teacher’s identity, the teacher’s default response to the evaluation is compliance. The response may take on more in-depth self-assessment, but this may not be an inherent element of the evaluative support function, unless it is specifically spelled out in the process itself.

 Consultation as a support function

Consultation as a support function is more two-directional in that its initiation can come from the supervisor or the teacher. Consultation means the direct instruction of aspects of practice, for which the consultant (often the supervisor) has expertise, which he or she transmits to the teacher. Either the supervisor can provide the consultation by directly arranging instructional meetings with the teacher, or the teacher can ask for consultation from the perceived expert. Whether the start of a consultation is from the consultant or the teacher, consultative conversations have a more flexible transactional contract than evaluation; if the teacher is the one asking for a consultation, there is an implication of prior self-assessment that has led the teacher to seek advice.

In both evaluation and consultation, the relationship between the two parties is not collegial, in that one party is providing the instruction for changes necessary to practice, and the other party receives or responds to this instruction.

Collaboration as a support function

Collaboration as a support function is collegial in nature. In a collaborative situation, colleagues gather to engage in dialog or discussion. Dialog has the purpose of reaching a shared understanding, while discussion has the purpose of reaching a decision together (Garmston and Wellman, 2013). Both of these conversations require that colleagues equally participate in meaning-making, and they use collaborative norms to contribute to the shared outcomes.

Because collaboration helps group members to contribute to shared outcomes, collaboration might be less stressful as a support function and more engaging. Each colleague contributes, each idea is honored and acknowledged, and all have ownership of the outcomes. Successful collaboration involves active listening, and norms, which when practiced make for effective, powerful work (Costa and Garmston, Ellis and Hayes, 2013).

Collaboration is multi-transactional, in that each person independently finds his or her contribution, but the group also finds its collective co-constructed contribution. This support function increases interdependence, or what Costa and Garmston (1994) term holonomy. Collaboration might also be transformational, in that the process and outcomes of collaboration increase a sense of agency and efficacy in individuals and groups (Brody & Hadar, 2010).

By Zarood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Zarood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Coaching as a support function

Finally, coaching as a support function shifts the focus of the relationship in the support structure. Whereas collaboration requires that “we pay attention to self and others” (Costa, Garmston, Ellis and Hayes, 2013), coaching is wholly other-centered. Coaching is being attentive to another person’s thinking, and helping the person’s thinking move from one state to another, desired state. A coach conveys the person, through reflective paraphrasing and mediative questions, from a state of pondering into a state of knowing and understanding.

These support functions help teachers in implementation, and the pedagogical leadership in a school can thoughtfully apply each of these support functions in a range of situations deliberately assessed and provided the support to help teachers develop and grow their MYP practice, and embed understanding of the MYP within the cultural fabric of the school.


  1. Thank you for your insightful blog. It is time to think about the implementation dip given the number of things IB is unloading in the MYP Changes. It is nice to be able to read your research and thoughts.

  2. Hi Fran, Many thanks for your comment. The changes in MYP have been very thoughtful in aligning the IB continuum, I’m happy there is useful content for you and your colleagues in the Toolbox. All the best for your implementation! Kind regards, Aloha

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