If you could design professional development, what would it look like? This was a question posed by Richard Wells (@eduwells) in his book titled “A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand Is Reimagining Education”. It is a question I have been pondering for a long time. Most professional development in my experience is mud thrown up against the wall with the hope of a few items sticking. It is professional development done to teachers instead of with teachers. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great professional learning conferences and workshops out there with some really interesting structures and discussion but there is a lot of filler out there. The logistical and financial cost of conferences and the like are huge and so schools need to know they are getting bang for their buck and teachers need to feel that the value was there. In his book, Wells lists a range of options that have really supported New Zealand teachers to develop as learners. At the core of the sessions is teaching as inquiry. Teachers driving their own learning with questions from their own classrooms and it is this skin in the game that is developing fantastic teachers all throughout the country. Each teacher is also expected to reflect and document their learning through any form they see fit, whether it be blog, portfolio or notebook. This isn’t as a layer of accountability but as an expectation from all learners that reflection plays a key part in their learning.
This year I spent a considerable amount of time analysing the professional learning options that were available to our staff and their preferences for the structure. The conversations and insights were really interesting. Staff largely wanted to leave the campus for PD and their rationale was immersion. They felt that if the session ran on site then they could still be pulled back in to their normal duties. Being off site gave them a feeling of immersion. I’m here and ready to learn. Pretty valid point. They didn’t want to travel far as time was such a precious resource that they didn’t want to spend it all in transit. The size of the workshop was also important. Small enough to ask questions but large enough to have a range of different perspectives. We are a two campus school and many staff mentioned that the best sessions were often sharing sessions across our campuses. Staff felt that this was really valuable because the context was the same and so the approaches shared had been road tested in our school already. They also then had a person to connect with if they had any questions. Many staff also talked about wanting to send a team of staff to conferences so that the conversation and momentum of ideas would continue. All schools would like to do this but cost and logistics often rule it out.
All of the conversations throughout the process were really insightful and are feeding into the decision making process of professional learning at my school. One way we have tackled this is by partnering with the team at TeachTechPlay to bring the conference to our school. In April this year, Ivanhoe hosted the TeachTechPlay conference during the school holidays. The lineup of keynotes and educators speaking was outstanding but most importantly we were able to send as many staff as we wanted. We had Year level teams, Senior Leadership teams, Faculty teams attend and it has allowed the conversations and impact to continue long past the end of the conference. It was so succsessful that we have signed back up again and those staff members who were sitting and waiting to see how it went have already expressed their desire to attend. Technology conferences would not normally make the professional learning list for some of these staff so it will really start to bring new perspectives to the teams at our school.
Moving forward I really see teaching as inquiry being the way forward for teachers. We are all learners, curious to find out more. We all have questions that we are seeking answers to. Inquiry promotes voice and reflection and if schools build in informal sharing sessions like TeachMeets, Techie Breakies, Tinkerspaces into the professional learning program then the expertise grows in house. In my opinion a school where the teachers are some of the best learners is a school that is doing great things.
So over to you, if you could design professional learning, what would it look like?
image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/ariscommunity/5782144176