Fall 2018

Coding & Computational Thinking: The Principal’s Role in Supporting Teacher Leaders

Across Canada, computational thinking (CT) and coding have been gaining momentum in curriculum areas beyond Technology Education. More schools and teachers are recognizing the benefits of including CT and coding within many areas of the prescribed curriculum. Computational thinking can often be misinterpreted as computation, but CT in and out of the classroom refers to the way in which we approach everyday situations, break tasks into steps and problem decomposition (Buitrago Flórez et al., 2017). The skills gained from the inclusion of coding and CT in the day to day learning of students from K-12, such as problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, questioning and communication, will be vital to the success of our students in the future. School leaders play an important role in supporting teachers who are leading the way in the use of coding and CT in student learning.

My experience with Coding and Computational Thinking

I first started using CT and coding in my Grade 5 Early French Immersion classroom through a lot of my own research, interest and trial and error. I came to learn that trial and error is one of the big ideas behind coding and CT. The successes of making mistakes were something that my students and I were learning to appreciate and celebrate, rather than hide and dismiss. One of the reasons that I felt as though I could make mistakes and explore beyond the traditional idea of teaching and learning, was because I had an extremely supportive administration team on my side. I was not a designated technology teacher but I was encouraged to take on an informal teacher leader role within my school focusing on the potential uses of technology within the prescribed curriculum. Along with a supportive administrative team, the successes, engagement and confidence growth from my students encouraged me to forge a new and innovative teaching and learning path and invite others along on the way.

School Culture

School leaders have a large role in helping to create a school culture. This not only affects students in the school, but also plays a large role in how teachers participate in the school community. Incorporating coding and computational thinking into the classroom requires a school culture that promotes making mistakes, hands on learning, collaboration, open communication and thinking outside of the box to problem solve. This may look different than the traditional view on learning, but it allows teachers and students to be open to new ideas and willing to try new things, which helps foster a positive learning environment. Teachers who are new to coding and CT benefit greatly from collaboration with colleagues to support one another. School leaders have a vital role in modelling and demonstrating effective collaboration and communication with teachers within the school. This will help to create a collaborative culture across the school with all staff members, including emerging teacher leaders (Viczko, 2014). This type of structure then helps build capacity within the school. As well, a positive school culture will promote sharing from teachers which can help pass on strengths and problem solve around weaknesses. Johnson and Donaldson (2007), found that schools in which teachers remained quiet, keeping their strengths and weaknesses to themselves, were not able to grow and remained static. This leaves a great pool of knowledge, innovation and experience untapped. It is important for administration to encourage sharing to allow teachers to work smarter, not harder.

Teacher Leaders

Exploring new ways of learning through CT and coding requires teacher leaders who are willing to take on the task of trying something new and paving the way for other teachers and their students. A positive school culture set forth by school leaders can help encourage teacher leaders to emerge and support overall school goals. “Although the importance of teacher leaders is recognized, teacher leaders are seldom effective in their roles without the support and encouragement of their administrator” (Virginia, Shelton & Headley, 2006, p.89). A supportive administrative team can encourage teacher leaders to lead with innovative practices, that they may have otherwise been apprehensive to try. Building leadership roles into the structure of the school will help encourage the emergence of teacher leaders and build a positive support for them with other staff. Teachers who become leaders have opportunities for more varied responsibilities and a greater influence on school operations. Teachers must feel as though they can collaborate in these areas to have the drive to take on lead roles. Stifling this type of teacher involvement can limit the possibilities for the bigger picture of school operations and student success. (Johnson & Donaldson, 2007). Overall, teachers will be more likely to take on leadership roles if they feel as though there is a mutual respect between school leaders and teacher leaders. In establishing this, administrators expand the opportunity for innovative ideas and solutions which ultimately focus on student achievement (Virginia, Shelton & Headley, 2006).

Support for Teacher Learning

Computational thinking and coding can be overwhelming for teachers who are new to this approach to learning. It is important for administrators to remember this when encouraging teachers to take on the adventure of incorporating CT and coding in their teaching and learning. Support for teachers can be vital to creating a positive outlook on bringing CT and coding into the classroom. Principals can provide professional learning opportunities for teachers that are practical and allow them to see the connections between CT and coding and their specific teaching areas (Yadav, Hong, Stephenson, 2016). As well, teacher collaboration and sharing will help develop connections within the curriculum and create a culture of sharing and collaboration. Johnson and Donaldson’s research (2007), found that the “principal can make or break the role of the teacher leader” (p.13). Support from the principal in areas such as; professional learning, providing necessary resources, planning time, and support and guidance in building relationships with colleagues can encourage teacher leaders to innovate and persevere through obstacles. Incorporating coding and computational thinking into my own teaching has made my classroom a more exciting place where my students are eager to learn and are engaged. They have become creators rather than consumers of content. Colleagues have followed my lead after seeing success in my classroom and the school is building capacity for CT and coding in all grade levels. With existing challenges, it is unrealistic to add CT and coding as separate areas into a growing list of responsibilities for teachers. Instead, it is important that we support teachers in incorporating CT and coding within the pre-existing curriculum. (Yadav, Hong, Stephenson, 2016). Instead of an additional thing to teach, CT and coding is just a different way of to engage students in learning or for students to express what they have learned. I encourage principals to support teachers to take on CT and coding, start small and start somewhere, make many mistakes along the way and become learners along with the students.

Buitrago Flórez, F.,Casallas, R., Hernández, M., Reyes, A., Restrepo, S., & Danies, G.(2017). Changing a Generation’s Way of Thinking: Teaching Computational Thinking Through Programming. Review of Educational Research. 87(4), 834-860.
Johnson, S. M. & Donaldson, M. L. (2007). Overcoming the Obstacles to Leadership. Educational Leadership. 65(1), 8-13.
Johnson, S. M. & Donaldson, M. L. (2007). Overcoming the Obstacles to Leadership. Educational Leadership. 65(1), 8-13.
Viczko, M. (2016). A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning , by Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy. Leadership & Policy In Schools, 15(2). 231-233
Virginia, D. B., Shelton, M., & Headley, S. (2006). An administrator’s challenge: Encouraging teachers to be leaders. National Association of Secondary School Principals.NASSP Bulletin, 90(2), 87-101.
Yadav, A., Hong, H. & Stephenson, C. (2016). Computational Thinking for All: Pedagogical Approaches to Embedding 21st Century Problem Solving in K-12 Classrooms. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning. 60(6). 565-568.

Melissa Lee is an Itinerant Teacher for Coding with the NL English School District. Her B.Ed and M.Ed degrees have focused on Early French Immersion and Information Technology. She has also worked as a Grade 5 EFI teacher.

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