It is Estonia’s view that teachers and school leaders are the primary agents of educational change be that at the classroom, school, regional or national level. As such, external state controls take a backseat to initiatives that support educators in developing their own professional learning organisations.
Several nationally financed long-term actions have been instituted in order to support the development of professional learning communities that are centred around each school where stakeholders are focussed on ultimately enhancing the learning and well-being of all students. At the same time, the Ministry of Education and Research has supported existing national and regional associations, and fostered the creation of new networks which are also professional learning communities.
Actions which either directly or indirectly support the development of professional learning communities are described below.
The school leader competency model and 360° feedback mechanism. The model was developed by key stakeholders in education and is intended to first and foremost serve as a reference point for school leader self-evaluation and self-development. It is complemented by a 360° feedback mechanism that allows school leaders to obtain anonymous feedback on their leadership from groups of teachers, students, parents, colleagues, direct reports and other partners. School leaders also receive suggestions. In addition, the model itself is used in hiring, coaching, mentoring, training, recognising and rewarding, and evaluating school leaders.
The highly competent leader is seen as one who: supports the development of each student; takes a result-based approach; leads teams; leads innovation; and communicates success stories (see Figure 2). Each of those actions has success indicators. In short, highly competent leaders of educational institutions are expected to lead the development of professional learning communities.
Leadership development and support. A complex programme of actions has been instituted to support the professional development of both novice and experienced school leaders. This includes courses, improved networking opportunities, coaching, mentoring, access to literature on global best practices in educational leadership, as well as opportunities to learn together with school owners.
Coaching. School leaders can choose from a list of qualified coaches in order to obtain individual coaching to help them lead change in their schools.
Mentoring. Experienced school leaders have been trained to mentor new school leaders.
Future school leaders. There is an ongoing programme that helps teachers and other capable people to learn how to lead/manage a school. The initiative also works in cooperation with school owners.
Innovation teams. In order to create sufficient synergy for change, professional development is offered to school teams (e.g. teachers, school leaders, specialists) in leading innovation and school improvement.
Professional learning community leaders. This initiative focuses on providing professional development to teachers in leading professional learning communities.
Subject-field associations. Teachers have formed both regional and national subject associations for most subjects taught in the curriculum. There is a Ministry-financed programme to support existing subject-field associations in defining their role and responsibilities in relation to the professional development of teachers and school leaders. In particular, the initiative has focussed on building teacher and school leader capacity to effectively use existing educator networks to enhance student learning.
Financial support. All education-related associations or organisations are able to apply for financing for their own proposed initiatives to enhance learning. These have included seminars, training sessions, engagement of foreign lecturers, and diverse networking activities focussed on sharing best practices.
As learning is not only a cognitive activity, but also an emotional and physical activity the next chapter discusses how movement can extend thinking and enhance well-being.