Canadian principal George Couros spent last week sharing his ‘connected’ learning with our teachers and leaders. Several school leaders said they felt ‘inspired’ after hearing George talk so passionately about his students, profession and his professional learning.
The workshops with George and our Principals Masterclass may look like ‘stand-alone’ or ‘one-off’ events but they are actually part of a learning continuum that began seven years ago. The mere fact that our leaders have an opportunity to collectively engage in deep conversations on learning is powerful learning.
At the start of the 2012 school year, we set our collective focus to ‘learning by inquiring’ – how we could engage in the inquiry and knowledge building cycle within schools and across the system. It builds on the work of Helen Timperley by responding to the emerging needs of ‘our class’ – whether it be school leaders, teachers or learners. It requires a commitment to engage in continuous learning through collective problem solving and data analysis to improve the learning outcomes for each student.
For me, the principals masterclass was a high point in this journey to improve learning and build capacity. When we started we relied heavily on outside experts but last week we had our own leaders sharing their learning. Although the context of the school communities may be different, there is a shared vision that transcends physical and virtual borders.
As I listened to the keynotes, three things became clear. The first is we are beginning to get the language right – we are crafting a new narrative shaped by the best of what we know when it comes to improving learning and teaching. The second is we are developing greater precision around the work by getting rid of the ‘noise in the background’. We are focusing on the things that make a difference – the high effect strategies to drive change where it counts most. Thirdly after listening to our school leaders, we are now seeing tangible evidence of building teacher capacity and its impact on student engagement and learning. It’s starting to make a difference.
All of this leads into new areas for discussion and new ways of working but we are doing this together. In the past we’ve “intellectualised” the process of improvement but ignored the implementation process. Competing narratives haven’t led to sustainable change – the discussion was broad and shallow. Yet what I saw and heard last week was a significant shift at the point of delivery – system leaders working with school leaders working with teachers – everyone as George said ‘elbows deep in learning.’
If there is one thing that resonated with me when listening to George it was the importance of modelling the what, how and why of what we do. It challenges us to lead in the way we ask our leaders to, teach in the way we ask our teachers to and learn in the way we ask our students to.
I’m not sure if you have had this experience, but the last thing I expected while travelling in Greece on a pilgrimage with Catholic Education colleagues was to be approached by two fellow Australians who recognised me from my Twitter profile.
A 21st century encounter with my colleagues developed through social networking.
It was a powerful moment to connect ‘face to face’ with people who had become my professional colleagues in a very 21st century kind of way. Social media is a phenomenon that’s here to stay and one that has made it possible to connect with people outside your physical sphere on a daily basis to share thinking, learning and ideas. This chance encounter helped me realise that the professional learning community we are a part of via Twitter or other online tools might feel mostly ‘virtual’ but it is real. It’s not just a world of ideas, it is a community of educators who share a common interest to improve learning and teaching. What we share online has the potential to encourage, inspire and stretch us to improve the work we do and the way we go about it.
Recently George Couros (@gcouros) wrote about the importance of using Twitter to not only share information, but to listen and to engage. He made the point that it’s not good enough for schools, organisations and businesses to just ‘be online’ and share information alone. They must listen to those they serve. If we don’t use the tools effectively to engage, to collaborate and participate in the conversation, we risk using a ‘Web 2.0 tool in a Web 1.0 way’ and never take full advantage of its capabilities. Online tools shouldn’t be used as a monologue stream, because the technology is designed for dialogue.
For myself, tools like Twitter and Bluyonder allow me to be part of a global professional learning community and is an opportunity to share my own ideas and engage with the ideas of others for my own professional improvement in the work I do as a system leader.
Bumping into my colleagues in Greece demonstrates the power of this online community and is a good reminder that what we share and do in the virtual world does have an impact in the physical world.
Last week I attended a “learning and leading conversations” workshop at Ravenswood School for Girls with Canadian educator George Couros. George and his brother Alec have developed a significant professional learning network on Twitter and it was good to see the physical and virtual connections converging. The more this happens, the greater the drive for principals and teachers to become a part of it and learn from it. George shared this open letter to educators – very Bueller-esque.
We spent the day working in groups on some of the big questions such as what would we change about schools/classrooms? There wouldn’t have been anyone in the room who wasn’t convinced that schooling needs to change. But in my experience, it often falls over in the next stage when people go back as lone change agents.
This is the change gap. Too often the “change gap” terrifies people and they respond with inertia or take the first up solution. I see the change gap as a great opportunity to focus discussion and collaboration. I think this is why Twitter and other social networking tools are becoming a critical part of teachers’ learning. The change gap could become our wikipedia experience. A place where we invite the wisdom of the community to help us work through the complex processes of schooling. It will also help build a culture that says we’ll find ways forward when we listen to the voices around the education table be it here or around the world.