Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Canadian Educator's Association Blog Post - Five Ways for Teachers To Take Charge of Their Own Learning

IN March I was asked to write a guest blog post for the Canadian Educator's Association Blog about Five Ways for Teachers To Take Charge of Their Own Learning. If you are interested you can find the blog post here:


Feedback is good!

A less fancy version is here:

What is Effective Teacher Professional Development?  

Schools across Canada have a small number of days devoted to professional development throughout the school year that are facilitated by guest speakers, division personnel, school based administration, or teachers. In Manitoba there are traditionally five provincially mandated professional development days per year. This year the topics for the first four of my school’s professional development days were ‘Cultural Proficiency’ (a division sponsored event), an ‘EdCamp’ (facilitated by division coordinators), a day where teachers work with others teachers from around the province in their teaching area, and a school based session on ‘Deeper Learning and Critical Thinking’ with support from a division coordinator. Our final day will be on the topic of ‘Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports’. We will join one of our feeder elementary schools, and the day will be facilitated by divisional educational support services staff.

Although these sessions have all been of great value, and have resulted in many thoughtful conversations, the days are somewhat disjointed. The topics for each day are chosen by divisional administration or school based administrators, without the input of the teachers that will ‘benefit’ from the professional development sessions. To make these professional development days more valuable, teachers need opportunities for further discussions on these topics for deep learning to occur, or this ‘one size fits all’ model needs to be abandoned for a more teacher directed professional development model. If teachers are in charge of the topic of their personal professional development, they will be more likely to own this time and use the division sponsored professional development Days as a catalyst to deeper learning and connections to other professionals within their own building and beyond.

Personalized Professional Development
Professional development for teachers need to be relevant, flexible and personalized for sustainable growth to occur for both new and experienced teachers. Technology can and should be a major driver of relevant and real time professional development. There should be an expectation that teachers are in control of, and responsible for, enhancing their practice during and after the school day. Administrators can set up schedules to encourage sharing and collaboration. No longer can teachers be isolated in their own classroom and keep with up with the demands of teaching in today’s world.  Professional Development needs to be ongoing, job-embedded, and connected in a significant way and happen more frequently than the four or five division or school sponsored ‘PD Days’.

Teachers, as professionals and learners, need to be in charge of, and responsible for, their own learning. Opportunities can be provided by division and school based administrators for teachers to work together, learn together, and solve problems together. Technology is key to help connect teachers locally and globally. Using social platforms like twitter can provide teachers the opportunity and flexibility to collaborate in real time with educators from around the world in real time.

Hands On Professional Development
To foster a culture of learning in a school, strong relationships need to be built which includes teacher to teacher relationships. New pedagogies for deep learning is a focus for many schools across Canada. Deep learning happens when teachers focus on skills like character education, citizenship, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, and finally creativity and imagination. The same goes for teachers too. If teachers aren’t proficient in these areas, it’s hard to expect them to teach or assess students who are expected to learn these important skills as well. According to Evangeline Harris Stefanakis (2002), "The word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner." Teachers need to able to sit beside the learner and model these expected skills. Connected teachers, in effective PLCs, are more likely to grow their practice and attain a higher level of practice.

Using technology and social media are not silver bullets for professional development for teachers.  Professional Development can and should happen within the school day as well.  Scheduled times for teachers to meet, co-teach, visit other classrooms and schools are important aspects of professional growth. Encouraging teachers to share and collaborate will enhance teaching and learning in the classroom especially if it is done within a family of schools. This hands on approach while working directly with colleagues encourages further development of the skills that are being taught to students in the classroom.

Relevant Professional Development
For teachers entering the profession, building a strong PLC and collaborating is the best advice I can give. Getting connected through the use of social media is an easy and effective way to consistently learn and grow, stay relevant and have fun. An example is by taking part in ‘edchats’ on twitter is a great way to build a PLC. There are many smart people out there and coming to an understanding that someone else is probably already doing it will help new teachers find new and interesting ways to engage students in their learning and find ways to become a champion for their students. Taking care of kids is our job. This is a great video for all beginning teachers (and ones who have experience) as well. Building strong relationships with all of students is rewarding work and can be, at times, extremely difficult. New teachers need a support system to develop skills to be able to do this well. Supporting teachers new to the profession and encouraging them to build their own PLC will help them in all aspects of their job and meet the demands of their important job.

Opportunities to Build Relationships
Social platforms like Twitter don’t provide the PD. Social platforms provide the opportunity to build strong relationships with people, which, in turn, provide the opportunity for real professional growth to occur. Twitter is the gateway to find articles, blogs, have discussions build relationships with other professionals with like (or unlike) views on similar topics.

Learning is social. It begins when a strong relationship is formed. The quote ‘You can’t take care of the Bloom’s stuff until you take care of the Maslow’s stuff’ also applies to teachers. Learning occurs when people feel safe. A teacher who is connected feels safe and therefore will likely be more open to and adept at taking chances allowing them to navigate the confusing and often times uncomfortable seas associated with professional growth.

Teachers as Learners
Professional development for teachers should look similar to what good teaching looks like for students. It needs to be personalized, hands on, relevant and provide opportunities to build strong relationships with colleagues. Technology and social media can play a huge role in having all teachers build strong relationships with people within their own school and all over the world. Having a school filled with a group of connected teachers who are modelling learning, and continually sharing, helps to build a school’s culture of learning for everyone.

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