What I’ve learned

I thought I would do a video post reflecting on what for me are the three key themes that emerged during my recent professional learning experience.

Hopefully, the posts over the past few weeks from Canada, US and Scotland capture the current challenges, ideas and trends across school systems.  Two things resonate across the globe – every educational system is facing similar challenges and the recognition that teacher learning is at the heart of improving student learning, and thus schooling.

How this understanding is addressed is the real challenge. The mainstream professional development models have passed their use by date and we need fresh ideas and approaches, ideas that involve the teacher and the learner and the content in a constant cycle of ongoing reflection and dialogue.

This means, I believe, that many thing are likely to change. We will redefine what it means to be a teacher, we will change the way teachers work, teachers will have more control of their working life and evidence of performance and improvement will be the drivers for excellence.

8 thoughts on “What I’ve learned

  1. Greg, I read and watch your blog with interest and am always challenged by your thinking. Having recently been on a study tour of the US exploring the explosion of blended learning across the country I agree that one of the key messages that I heard while there was that we have to think differently and more cleverly about education and that we can’t keep pouring money into new programs and initiatives (in fact in the States there is no money!) I am also interested in your notion of the role of the teacher. We saw some interesting approaches to blended and online learning where the role of the teacher and the teaching pedagogy had to necessarily change given the new way of delivery and the recognition of the changing needs of schools and students. I look forward to hearing more of your reflections from your study leave. The notion of curriculum design and it’s application in online or blended learning is of particular interest.

  2. Hi Greg – I had the pleasure of sitting with you for breakfast at the recent QUEST conference in Toronto. I too would like to reflect on my thinking around your comments to me there, and my own ongoing learning. You talked about teachers “crafting a learning experience”, which resontated with me on two levels. It stems from our deepening experiences around building collaboration and inquiry processes into both student AND TEACHER LEARNING. My work of the past year focused on figuring out how to better engage teachers at the PLC table. We were dragging them through professional learning, which resulted in little improvement in student outcome or teacher feelings of professional stimulation and satisfaction. This past year, we gathered a multi level team of senior admin, principals, curriculum system folk and most importantly classroom teachers. We basically said, “We cannot figure this out and we need your help.” The impact was quite incredible in terms of teacher empowerment, leadership, motivation. The learning that occured around effective teaching as well as effective professional learning processes that stemmed from this is the basis of our Board Strategic Plan for this year. As you have articulated, professional learning occurs within the building where the teaching is occuring and it is becoming more relational and inquiry driven, based on the context of the school. I’m a bit nervous in that we are “learning” how to do this work in a manner that will impact on student outcomes. In some schools I see a very focused approach; in others, teachers are less sure of “what they are doing and why”. This is where the leadership finesse of the Principal needs to come into play, but our Principals are also in different stages of learning how to do this kind of work. In your experience, have you had specific schools that have not excelled in this way of working? That required more specific direction or control “from the top”? Very interested in your thoughts! Susanne Bastable, Keewatin-Patricia DSB, Northwestern Ontario

    1. Susanne, your concerns are shared by many educators and education systems. The short answer is, across the 80 schools in our jurisdiction, we have a range of experience and expertise. We have some leaders and teachers who are doing outstanding work and the others are on a learning journey on how they respond to providing relevant 21st century learning. For me the issue is not who is where at a particular point in time, it’s more important that they are on an upward learning journey based on good theory of learning and teaching. I am confident that all our schools are on this learning journey. I don’t think it’s a matter of being top down because you can’t prescribe change. You have to be open to working with where people are at and ensure you have a strong narrative that will engage people both in heart and mind. I don’t think we’ve done enough the work on engaging the heart as we have on engaging with the mind.

      The theory and practice is crystal clear – improving student learning is dependent on quality teaching and leadership. We need to build every teacher’s capacity. Critical to this is leadership that this is how you do the work of schooling today. Richard Elmore talks about the instructional core as being the interplay between student, teacher and content. It’s the leaders role to ensure this is a major focus of the school’s work. This means that many leaders need to re-learn what it means to a principal in today’s world. I find when we discuss these sorts of things, it energises people and helps overcome the fear of letting go of past practices. I often think of it as a work in progress in which we keep coming back to and refining. There will be many responses that are legitimate because there is no one size fits all.

  3. Dear Greg,
    As a principal in the Archdiocese of Sydney I listened with great interest to your input from your study tour and the challenges confronting education today. I agree with much of your reflection on the world stage where large scale spending on education with minimal if any gain has come to an end.
    You also remind us that the focus needs to be “What does it mean to be a teacher in a contemporary learning paradigm?”
    This, I believe we are still working out today. I would also add that the whole paradigm of educational leadership has changed significantly. I’m a true advocate for the Learning Community model so frequently spoken about by Andy Hargreaves, Michael Fullen, Thomas Segiovanni and Patrick Duignan.
    I am keen to ensure that my own leadership follows this paradigm because, where schools embrace this fully, improved learning outcomes for our students are at the centre of our work. What are the qualities as leader that I contribute to this philosophy?
    Instructional leader : I teach and I include technology in my teaching.
    I promote Team Structures: I hand over the money and decision making to teams. No individual makes a decision on their own, the team makes the key decisions on behalf of all. I would only intervene on a team based decision if it was educationally unsound, against the teachings of the Church or illegal! I take back accountability through focused base line data analysis and professional conversations with team leaders that are focused around strategic school based outcomes.
    Team meetings are held in school time through releasing teachers once per term to engage in professional conversations about strategic base line data collected, strategic intervention methods and plans for implementation(reflective practice).
    Coaching and Mentoring: This is a key part of my work with executives and class teachers. The teams form up much of this work done by the Executive.
    Professional Development through in class support: All executive work with teachers as they implement an inquiry based research question about their teaching.
    Teams report back to the whole staff about their work as they are making decisions for the rest of the staff about pedagogical practice, professional learning and teacher accountability.
    This model has built a focus on what Thomas Sergiovanni calls “covenantal relationship”. That is, those core fundamental beliefs that bind teachers in their work, the student as learner, improved learning outcomes for students, the teacher as learner and therefore: “WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A TEACHER?”
    My thoughts are something fo you to consider. 21st century technologies are important, student results and performance are critical and a modern paradigm for learning needs to be embraced, but it needs to be scaffolded by a learning community framework. Therefore I would argue one also needs to reconceptualise our leadership frameworks if we are to bring such a vision to reality. THIS IS JUST AS IMPORTANT!
    Michael Reardon

    1. Michael, couldn’t agree with you more. From what you’ve said in your comments, you are living out what we know to be good instructional leadership. I would also add that school leaders need to continually ensure there is a precision and focus around what is important. Everyone person in the school from the teacher to the office secretary needs to understand what the goals of the school are. Communicating and delivering on the plan is critical to the success of each learner. Too often we slip back into language and action from an industrial paradigm. I agree with your last comments, however I don’t think it’s a matter of understanding today’s world BUT having a scaffold. For me it’s a “BOTH/AND” proposition. You can’t have one without the other. All good learning as Elmore et al points out happens when teachers are focussed and frameworks are in place.

  4. Greg, three very nuanced points that resonate with my experienced. In regards to the question “what’s it mean to be a teacher in today’s world”, it has a corollary question…”what’s it mean to be a student in today’s world.” The answer to this question will certainly inform the previous.

  5. Greg,
    This is an great article by Stephen Downes on the role of the teacher; -published in the Huffington Post this week. It gives a different perspective to the role of the teacher in 21st Century education systems, and offers insights as to how to meet the specific needs of learners in today’s world. The article provides another dimension to the questions about teacher learning and professional development.

    1. Thanks for the professional reading over summer Frances. Stephen Downes is well regarded by the education community around the world. Systems and governments to some extent are beginning to see how critical teacher capacity is in improving learning outcomes. Thanks for your contribution and the contribution of all those who have posted comments on bluyonder in 2010.

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