Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Coaching, collaboration and professional learning

Last weekend we started with the 4th cohort of our Teacher Training Programme at ASB.  At the same time, as I have some workshops planned both for the PYP and for tech integration and coaching, I thought I'd have a good think about the sort of professional learning that is most meaningful for adults.  Over the past couple of months, I've also read posts that have been shared on Facebook by teachers I used to work with in previous schools.  These are mostly about the type of professional learning that is most meaningful to adults, in particular coaching and collaboration.

The first article, published earlier this month by Chalkbeat, is about how the majority of professionals, when asked about how they became good at their jobs, talk about having a mentor. You almost never hear someone remark that they became great at what they do by attending workshops or training, by being observed by a boss and then getting feedback, or by analyzing data that measured their results.  Despite this, the vast majority of teachers do rely on these as the most common forms of professional development.  In particular this article talks about the value (or lack of value) of using data:  pre-assessments, goal setting, reassessments.  The authors write, "We are losing hours, days, weeks of valuable time when students could be doing engaging work and teachers could be collaborating on improving their craft.  Other professions recognize that data is not, itself, a mechanism for improvement."

The article goes on to discuss what it calls "adding a Band-Aid".  This involves weekly training sessions after school, and weekly meetings to discuss data.  The argument is that adults sit together to do this and it is often labelled as "collaboration" yet it rarely involves any lesson planning.  Instead, the authors argue, "We foster greatness everywhere by working closely in small groups that include someone whose work is great."  They conclude that "Schools need to stop adding more work for teachers to do in newly created groups and partnerships in an artificial attempt to create "collaboration" and instead reorganize the real work teachers already need to do every day, creating authentic teams."

The second article, which appeared at the end of June, is written by Karen Johnson and sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  This article is about what PD should look like.  In summary teachers want professional learning that is:
  • relevant and personalized
  • interactive, applying learning through demonstrations, modeling and practice
  • delivered by someone who understands their experience - someone who is still in the classroom
  • sustained over time - for a semester or a year
  • treats teachers like professional
The two forms of professional learning that most fit with these criteria are coaching and collaboration.  However although teachers values these types of professional learning the most, experience shows that most PD in schools lacks engagement and is poorly planned and executed, so ends up feeling like a waste of time.

I feel proud to work in PYP schools that seem to get the combination right which have strong models for collaboration.  These schools have collaborative planning time built into their schedules, shared responsibility for instructional planning, and grade level or subject area teams that work well with each other.   In these schools coaching and collaboration combine to produce really impactful professional learning.

(Thanks to Rebecca and Lesley for sharing these articles that started me thinking about adult learning)

Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu via Compfight cc

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