Saturday, August 20, 2011

Meetings, Professional Development and Learning

Like many teachers worldwide, I've started back at school again for a new school year.  The first week or so has been characterised by a number of sessions devoted to meetings, professional discussions around a book we all read over the summer, goal setting, instructions on how to do various things such as use the SMARTboards or add onto the school website, collaborative planning and some team building.  Phew - what a lot of different things we've been involved in - and the students haven't even started yet!

Towards the end of my holiday, I had participated in the Reform Symposium Conference (RSCON3).  This gave me the opportunity to "meet" many of the amazing educators that I've been following (through blogging and Twitter) and to connect with others that until a couple of weeks ago had not been part of my PLN.  I guess that many of us who were involved in the wonderful learning that was going on at RSCON have reflected on it since and compared it with our experience of traditional PD carried out in schools, through presentations, workshops and courses or at large physical conferences.  Many of us have also come to question the effectiveness of this traditional professional development.

Last week I read Edna Sackson's post about effective professional learning.  As I participated in the activities of the first few days of school, I could definitely notice some of the behaviours she mentioned in her post from both ends of the spectrum.  There were some sessions where clearly teachers were disengaged, there were others where teachers were very involved, were collaborating, sharing ideas, exploring new ways of doing things and reflecting on past experiences.  At the end of her post Edna started a list of ways to ensure effective professional learning - read through the comments for more ideas.

Last week I also read a post by Lyn Hilt, another presenter at RSCON3 entitled out with professional development, in with professional learning.  Lyn also writes about the importance of being engaged in learning in order for professional development to be successful.  She highlights the necessity of shifting the focus from development to learning.

Both Lyn and Edna have written about the importance of educators being responsible for their own learning - the need to take an active role in their own development.  Both have also highlighted the importance of differentiated learning and choice - that teachers need to determine both what they learn and how they learn.

For myself, I have come to realise through being a teacher and working with students who have auditory processing problems, that I too suffer from a difficulty in processing verbal information.  In my case, if I sit in a lecture it is very much a case of "in one ear and out the other".  Over the years I've found different strategies to help me cope with this.  For example at school I learned Pitman's shorthand which enabled me to write down everything that was being said.  By typing up these notes later I was able to process the information and learn.  At school I was channelled into the secretarial route, my teachers thought of me as being someone who would make a great shorthand typist - and of course I did that and as a result realised that in fact I wanted to do more than that and that I had now found a strategy for helping me to cope with going to university and sitting in lectures.

At the PYP Workshop Leader training I did last November we did an activity that highlighted for me the different ways we learn.  We moved to various groups around the room according to the things that helped us learn, and the things that hindered our learning.  Some of us needed noise in order to learn.  Some of us found it a distraction.  Some of us needed to be doing, some of us needed to be reading.  So while I know that for me to take in the information that is being imparted during a meeting or lecture I need to type it up, I also know that for others in the room my typing can be a complete distraction to them (I've shifted to making notes on an iPad now as it seems less of a problem) and others again are possibly put off by the fact that I seem to be paying more attention to my computer than the person talking - perhaps they think I am reading my emails or chatting.

In her article Lyn writes:
Teachers, like students, are first and foremost individuals who have passions, interests, and an inherent desire to learn.  The goal for administrators should then become how to foster the learning spirit in each and every one of our teachers through a system of learning opportunities that cater to their individual needs.  This, in turn, will ignite a true excitement for learning in our teachers, which will transfer int their practice.  The result?  Students who spend their days with teachers who exhibit a true desire to grow professionally and who model that learning matters.
In the past 2 years, being part of a PLN has given me the opportunity to discuss my learning with other educators who share my passion and vision.  Every week I am eager to see what the subject is for the Tuesday #edchat on Twitter.  Reading and writing are my ways of learning.  Writing is my way of reflecting on what I'm learning.

Lyn's post outlines the conditions needed for successful professional learning:  it involves teachers taking ownership of their own learning, deciding for themselves what they will learn and how they will best learn it.  It involves them collaborating with others and reflecting on their learning in supportive communities or networks.

Photo Credit:  Cultivate & Consider by Denise Carbonell Attribution

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