Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The IB Learner Profile - Finding the time to be Knowledgeable, Inquirers and Thinkers

In an IB World School, everyone who is part of the community is a learner and should be modelling the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.  Recently I've been thinking about how teachers can model being knowledgeable, being inquirers and being thinkers.  How do we find the time to be learners, as well as being teachers?

Last week I wrote about a staff meeting that took place at our school where we did an activity based on a chapter from the book Becoming A Learning School, from the National Staff Development Council.  I was really pleased to receive a comment from one of the co-authors of this book, Joellen Killion, who suggested reading Chapter 5 about developing a school schedule that allows for collaboration during the school day on a regular basis.

Chapter 5 opens with a statement that I think we should aspire to, but which I don't think is true yet of our school:
The most effective professional learning experiences are job-embedded collaborative, and connected to the real world of teaching and learning.  Collaborative professional learning occurs during the workday, in the workplace, is connected to the real work of teaching and student learning, and includes all the teachers all the time.
Wow! What I fantastic school we would have if only this were true.  Unfortunately for us this is nowhere near being true because of the lack of time.  Chapter 5 therefore goes on to look at how schools can create more time for this professional learning to take place and it is something that I hope our school can take on board eventually.

Chapter 5 also goes on to explain what being part of a learning team involves, for example  meeting every day, taking collective responsibility for all students in the grade/department, using standards, developing lessons and assessments, critiquing student work and observing or coaching in one another's classrooms.  At lunchtime today I was talking to a colleague about this and she was saying she would love to look at how other students across her grade are doing, for example, with their spelling programme.  This team is not yet at the stage where they are comfortable looking at students' work across the grade and seeing how the students are doing in the different classes.

Another very important point made is:
This kind of professional learning requires time within the workday.  NSDC advocates that 25% of an educator's work time be invested in professional learning.
When I read this statement my first reaction was that this is extremely high.  Currently out of a 7 period day, 35 period week our teachers meet for collaborative planning for 4 sessions, one extra session after school and one staff meeting, where PD can take place, each week.  Clearly we are nowhere near the recommended 25% of our work time devoted to learning, reflection, sharing, planning and analyzing student work.

Our school is like many others, we need to adjust the schedule to accommodate more collaborative learning.  In the past I worked at a school that had a dedicated day each week as a late start, giving the whole school time for professional development.  Apparently at my current school this used to happen with an early release day, but this time disappeared a couple of years ago as the number of German lessons students had each week increased.  As it seems there is a clear connection between teacher learning and student learning, I would imagine that reducing the amount of time teachers have for learning together will have a negative impact on student learning.

Joellen Killion outlines 9 steps to help educators gain support for new schedules:

  1. Form a task force which can include parents and students and generate recommendations.
  2. Explore current beliefs about time and how these are impacted by the culture of the school.
  3. Analyse current time use - see if existing time could be used differently to allow more collaborative professional learning.  For example use just one staff meeting a month for "business" and have the other three meetings as collaborative team meetings. (I think this would be a great idea!)
  4. Establish and prioritize criteria for the whole community - for example maintaining the same amount of instructional time for students or retaining a minimum amount of individual planning time.
  5. Study other schools' solutions.
  6. Form recommendations for the key leaders in the school to review.
  7. Present the recommendations the the community for feedback.
  8. Revise the recommendations and draw up the final recommendations.
  9. Draw up an action plan to implement the decision.
After all this it is very important that the teachers use their extra time well - for job-embedded professional development - and that this extra time must have an effect on improving teaching and learning.

While last week I disagreed that the best professional development I had received had come during the workday and in my schools, I can now see that this is a result of our meetings not being devoted to collaborative professional learning - instead many have been devoted to "business", paperwork, completing planners and so on.  Adopting the suggestions contained in Chapter 5 of Becoming A Learning School would certainly lead to more PD taking place during the workday and at school and would be, I think, for many of our teachers very valuable professional learning.  Using our collaborative time productively in this way would definitely lead to us as teachers becoming more knowledgeable, more inquiring and better thinkers and therefore developing these attributes of the IB Learner Profile.

Photo Credit:  Tunnels of Time by Fdecomite


  1. Maggie,
    That that 25% recommendation surprises most people. Yet it is not actually that far off. Teachers actually have the capacity to learn while they are teaching, and many do. They learn when they are planning, sadly done too often alone so they are not stretching their own knowledge and skill. They learn, or can, in meetings as you suggested in your last blog. They learn while interacting one-on-one with parents, students, colleagues, and administrators. What prevents these daily interactions teachers have each day from becoming learning opportunities is the intention to learn and goals for learning. When these everyday experiences are shaped by a teachers desire to learn how to listen more fully, to seek to understand the interests and needs of others, to expand one's own content knowledge, to increase one's instructional expertise, etc., and they are followed by conscious reflection, a commitment to implement what was learned, and to reflect on what happens, they become powerful learning experiences. I have long called this type of learning "reading the textbook of our lives." Yet it is not the mere experience alone that constitutes the learning. It is the combination of the experience, the reflection, and the implementation followed by additional reflection. This is how a teacher can actually reach 100% of his or her work day as learning. The value of seeking 25% is to have at least 25% of that learning occur collaboratively with professional colleagues who can expand what we observe, think, and feel about our experiences.

  2. lovely maggie
    alas i feel we've really lost our momentum with pd here and that it's become very individual and less collaborative.
    the majority of our friday morning slots are now taken up with (being talked at) meetings, as a whole school we only meet together once a trimester and as upper school once a month.
    how can we re-gain this? well we are trying with the t'itter group and maybe better communication will help too (at the moment it's difficult to share anything other than by email).
    ideas on a postcard to our admin please...

  3. 25% is not being reached by the majority of schools. I wonder how much of a transformation would be seen if 25% was the norm in schools? I suspect that those who don't seek out professional development outside of school on their own, might begin to see the value in it.