Posts tagged ‘Professional Learning’

It’s a small ‘virtual’ world

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.

Make learning the work

Our system has been very fortunate to have been working with Michael Fullan over a period of five years. Given Fullan’s vast experience and the demands on his time, it never ceases to amaze me how generous he is with his time when he is present. To sit around the table and explore issues in depth is a privilege we don’t take lightly. It is perhaps at these times that we get some real depth in our own professional learning. I don’t think we can ever take these opportunities for granted and I hope in some small way this post is a way of sharing Fullan’s thinking.

Fullan spent time explaining how the moral imperative (raising the bar and closing the gap for all students) can be realised. For us, the moral imperative is giving every child the best possible schooling we can provide as a developed nation and this schooling is embedded in our Catholic faith and traditions.

As Fullan says:

This work is driven by the moral imperative by raising the bar and closing the gap for all students, and doing so for the whole system – not just for some schools, but for all students; not just for some districts but all districts; and not just a one level but all levels. We call this ‘whole system reform’.

In sum, the big difference between effective and ineffective school systems – and all organisations for that matter – is the ‘collaborative or shared depth of understanding among members about the nature of their work’.  You can’t get collective depth from a workshop, or from episodic team meetings.  You can only get shared depth one-way – making learning the day-to-day work.’    

Realising the moral imperative is about recognising the right and wrong drivers for change. Fullan explained that professional development is a commonly confused wrong driver. This happens when educators attend workshops, conferences and take courses, which bears little relationship to classroom and school improvement. Instead, the right driver should be ‘professional learning’ – the learning that happens ‘in between workshops’ on a day to day basis with school communities. Learning becomes the work of teachers and students.

Other ‘wrong drivers’ include teacher appraisal, merit pay and leadership competency frameworks.  Wrong in so much as they do not tackle the day to day culture within schools and systems. Fullan says the right drivers: capacity building, group work, pedagogy and ‘systemness’ are effective because they work on changing the culture of school systems whereas the wrong drivers focus on changing the structure. One works on the internal, the other on the external.

As we know, real change comes from the core – from teachers and leaders working collaboratively; critically reflecting on practice to improve student learning outcomes. Every teacher and leader has a responsibility not only to their own school community but to the system. One for all; all for one – the moral imperative in action.

Our biggest investment

I caught an interview on CNN with Bill Gates reflecting on what he would do to change the education system in America.  Gates said if he could change something about the system, he would ‘hire the best teachers’ and get them to learn from each other because the research on the influence of good teaching has ‘become our biggest investment’.

One of the biggest investments we can make is mentoring our beginning teachers.  It’s an investment that needs to be shared by universities and school systems alike.  It requires us to move away from ‘training teachers’ to taking them on a learning journey.

As soon as students enrol in education courses, they should be placed with teacher mentors and given every opportunity to practice the craft and to learn from experienced teachers. Malcolm Gladwell in his book the Outliers: The Story of Success found the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.  Teachers learn to do the work by doing the work.

You can’t blame the universities because it requires a complete overhaul of the model and I’m not sure whether we are all on the same page yet.  Linda Darling-Hammond writes in The Flat World and Education that in Singapore, teacher education programs were overhauled in 2001 to increase teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and skills, on top of their content preparation.  Darling-Hammond states that practicum training was expanded and located in a new ‘school partnership’ model that engaged schools more proactively in supporting trainees.

Darling-Hammond points out that all the successful teacher education programs she studied develop new teachers who can teach with assurance and skill of more experienced, thoughtful veterans. The programs that are effective do this by creating a tightly coherent set of learning experiences, grounded in a strong, research-based vision of good teaching, and represented both in coursework and clinical placements where candidates can see good teaching modelled and enacted.

The New York Times  reported on a new model of teacher education at the Relay Graduate School of Education which has no courses only 60 modules, each focused on a different teaching technique. According to the article, there is no campus, because it is old-think to believe a building makes a school. Instead, the graduate students will be mentored primarily at the schools where they teach. And there are no lectures and direct instruction does not take longer than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. After that, students discuss ideas with one another or reflect on their own.

This year, we began a partnership with the Catholic Schools Office Broken Bay diocese and Auckland University to start a mentoring program for beginning and experienced principals.  The program focuses on public coaching and feedback designed to embed and sustain their skill set. The first cohort consisted of five beginning principals and ten experienced principals who entered into an intensive professional learning program which includes participation in workshops, in school and shadow visits, practising in teams and homework.

The more mentors we have in schools, the smoother the transition for beginning teachers and the quicker they move from routine expertise to adapative expertise.

Touching the future

Last Friday,  Australia celebrated World Teachers’ Day.  As much as it is important for us to acknowledge the work of teachers, I still believe teachers themselves are the best advocates for their profession.  There is much good work happening every day in classrooms around the country and too often we never hear about.

Teachers are often reluctant to promote themselves or their colleagues but as more teachers share their practice and wisdom via traditional channels and now social media, we begin to build a stronger and more skilled profession which is esteemed by the wider community.

Finland for example became an educational leader because they made teaching the most highly esteemed profession – not the most highly paid but the most highly sought after.

In celebrating World Teachers’ Day, I thought I’d ask Rosana Ingrati from St Canice’s Primary School Katoomba to reflect on what teaching means to her.

Why did you become a teacher?

I have been a teacher now for around 17 years. I chose to become a teacher because I wanted to make a difference to the greater community, and make a different to our future generation.  I also love working with children, and find they are so much fun to be around.

What it means for you to be in the role?

I feel responsible to continually learn about the changes in technology and teaching practices. I work in a Catholic school so I also feel responsible to help the children grow socially and morally, as well as academically.

What challenges and opportunities do you experience?

I think keeping up with the pace of change in technology has been both a challenge and opportunity.  The other thing I find challenging is finding the time to put all the excellent professional training into practice and to be able to read all the great resources I am given.

I think this is also an opportunity because it means there is so much room for professional development as a teacher.

What do you find most rewarding?

Making an impact in the lives of the children is most rewarding.  I think of one story of a boy I am teaching who waited until all the other children had left the class to specially thank me for teaching him about a lesson on ‘time’.  It is so nice to be appreciated like that.

I also love that I am a valued member of the whole school community, and know that the parents, colleagues and children appreciate what I (and other teachers) do.

I’m always mindful of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher on board the Challenger space shuttle who when asked about her career said ‘I touch the future, I teach.’

Teachers have significant responsibilities and they need to be proud of the work they do.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be reflective and open to change.  They are not opposites, they are different sides of the same coin.  As a society, we need to recognise the valuable contribution made by teachers everywhere because without them we don’t have a future.

Creativity crisis

There has been a lot of discussion around the topic of creativity.  Educators and society in general seem to agree on the importance of creativity – but do our schools provide a fertile ground for our teachers and students to develop and cultivate this attribute?

In Will Richardson’s blog, he argues that on the whole schools do not do a very good job at cultivating creativity.  He refers to behavioural therapist, Andrea Kuszewski‘s article The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience in which she argues that children are taught from a young age at school to pay attention, watch the teacher, imitate what the teacher does, stay in your seat, don’t question authority, and receive praise. This, Kuszewski argues is not teaching children to think; we are teaching them to memorize – instead of encouraging them to innovate (or create), we expect them to follow the outline and adhere to rules.    

Kuszewski refers to findings from researcher, Alison Gopnik​ who found that too much direct instruction—showing a child what to do, rather than letting him figure out the solution himself—can severely affect his ability and/or instinct to independently and creatively solve problems, or to explore multiple potential solutions.

America is experiencing a creativity crisis as noted in Richardson’s blog and Thomas L Friedman’s That Used to be Us. In Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s article The Creativity Crisis, research is showing that students’ creativity levels have been falling since 1990 – particularly among those from kindergarten through sixth grade.

According to Bronson and Merryman, American teachers are overwhelmed by curriculum standards and don’t have room in the day for a creativity class. University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls this “art bias” – the age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. The following paragraph taken from Bronson and Merryman’s article highlights an important point about integrating creativity into the classroom.

Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way.

Earlier this year, Rupert Murdoch spoke at the G8 Forum about how there has been innovation and progress in all areas of life except education. He calls this a colossal failure of imagination.  Murdoch provides a sobering example of how in every part of life, someone who woke up after a fifty-year nap would not recognise the world around him – except in education. Today’s classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age: a teacher standing in front with a textbook, a blackboard and a piece of chalk.

Rupert suggests that in order to excite the imagination of our students we need to use technology as the vehicle to personalise the learning experience.  He makes the point that technology will never replace the teacher, but it can relieve the drudgery of teaching by taking advantage of the increasingly sophisticated analytics that will help teachers spend more time on things that make us all more human and more creative.

Ken Robinson’s argues in Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative  that contrary to popular belief, being creative is something that can be learnt, and not just for a select few. Creativity, according to Robinson is a step further on from imagination.  Being creative is doing something – it’s a process of putting your imagination to work.  It is applied imagination.

The question is how can educators and students develop creative potential in schools?

Teacher shortage

Interesting study reported in the Daily Telegraph from  the University of Western Sydney and University of Technology, Sydney on a looming shortage of teachers.

We’ve known for a long time that our baby boomer teachers will retire in the next decade and this is one of the big challenge for all education systems.

The report warns that Australia will need migrant teachers to fill vacancies in specialist areas like maths, science and technology as young teachers head overseas to the UK and Asia because of higher pay and lower tax rates.

The solution should not hinge on teacher salary.  Teaching has its own intrinsic rewards and our brightest young teachers and those considering a career change will be attracted to a profession that is well paid but more importantly, one that is esteemed.

Teachers want to be acknowledged for their work – recognised as  professionals.  This is strengthened when they are challenged, when distractions are minimised and there are ongoing opportunities to collaborate and learn.

Short term fixes won’t work even if we attract more skilled migrants to our schools.  The pressing reality is around how we reconceptualise the work of teachers in today’s world.

It is all about building teache rcapacity – we will still have to do this no matter where we get the warm bodies from! Let’s hope we don’t miss the boat on this one.

Marco and company

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class conducted by visiting Apple Distinguished Educator, Californian teacher of the year (twice) and internationally recognised educator Marco Torres at one of our schools.

Although I was only there  with the primary and secondary students and teachers for 40 minutes, it was enough time to see the level of engagement from the perspective of teacher and learner.

Using the Mac application, GarageBand, Marco demonstrated how seamless it is to integrate skills with theory, and how young people learn by doing. The children not only counted beats and learned about various instruments but they also saw how easy it was to create and publish their own original content.

Sometimes all teachers need is to see what is possible and to learn from the experience of other educators before they begin stretching their professional practice and understanding.

The school leadership team will be looking at how those teachers adapt the ideas and how they share that knowledge with other teachers.

Just before I left, I asked the children crowded around Marco’s desk what they thought of technology.  ‘Technology’, what’s that?  For today’s learners – technology is their learning environment.

From PD to PL

Is there a fundamental difference between professional development and professional learning?  Can teachers be doing PD and teaching at the same time?

If we define professional development as a one-off activity that takes place outside of classrooms, the answer is no.

Professional development is a remnant of the 20th century when perfecting routines and tasks (productivity) were important than collaboration and innovation (creativity).

As part of the rollout of the national curriculum, the Federal Education Minister conceded the need for professional development to ensure teachers are ‘tooled up to teach the national curriculum’.

I believe that tooling teachers does not necessarily transform teachers.  Effective teachers are life-long learners.  They become as Bransford et al says adaptive experts who can give up ‘old routines and transform prior beliefs and practices.’

In moving from professional development to professional learning, teachers will inevitably take greater responsibility for their own and their students’ learning. School leaders take greater responsibilty for teacher-learning and systems provide the necessary support and conditions to enable this to happen systematically.

Evaluating performance, seeking feedback and asking questions of students and colleagues happens on the job – as part of the process of improving teaching.

Isn’t it time governments, media and teacher unions recognised the difference between professional development and professional learning?

Teachers learning

I recently had a chat with Rob Muscat, assistant principal at Nagle College Blacktown and we were talking about the work the staff are now doing as part of their commitment to challenging and empowering students.

It is obvious that teachers are excited about a new way of working that is collaborative, supportive and professionally rewarding.  The commitment to critical reflection and dialogue has been contagious.  It has led to a new learning narrative.

Teachers talking about teaching is critical; teachers learning about teaching is powerful.

A national curriculum

I find it interesting that just as the world is opening up to new possibilities of accessing and sharing information, connecting and collaborating globally, the government’s strategic policy focus is defining what should be learned by all students in all Australian schools today. Perhaps the new draft K-10 national curriculum is more a response to the fear that these new capabilities will only weaken the traditional transmission of knowledge.  It seems to me that there is an inherent paradox in our current situation that the more freedom we have to expand our knowledge, the more we want to protect and narrow what we deem to be valuable.

The first casualty of the initial draft is what subjects were in and what was out.  No surprise that the big winners are: maths, science, grammar and phonics. Wouldn’t it have been interesting if the first draft ignored this and opted for creative and performing arts, music, health and well-being and geography.  Do we assume here that science is more important in today’s world than music? These are the realities we face and it is no different from the ideological battles of the past 100 years in education about what should and should not be taught in schools.

Fortunately, we will have a curriculum where the devil is not in its detail. This is a broad curriculum mapping the essentials around content and achievement levels for the various key learning areas. The detail is in how well teachers deliver the curriculum to today’s learners.

The Federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard made it clear that while the government wants to ensure all students are literate, numerate and well-equipped to contribute to the world in which they live, the central issue is bringing all states into some sort of alignment over processes and procedures around schooling. The issue of children moving interstate and readjusting to a new framework has been a key driver as has been an attempt to standardise assessment processes so comparisons can be made about school and student performance.

While these are important, we need much more work on teacher practice and how teachers improve their practice within the new ACARA framework. What ACARA does with community feedback on the draft curriculum is not as critical as what teachers do with it.


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