(This is the second of two parts on professional learning. You can read the first part here. It is based on the visual below that was created by Sylvia Duckworth and adapted from “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom“.)
Rationale: The opportunities for learning in our world today are immense and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us. We not only have access to all of the information in our world today, but we have access to one another. This has a major impact in our learning today. What I have started to notice is that you can see some major benefits of being connected in the classroom for the learning environment of our students. Access to one another can accelerate and amplify powerful learning opportunities.
Alec Couros, shared the following image on the idea of “The Networked Teacher”;
Although the technologies in the visual can change and how we use them can always be altered, the most important part of this visual, in my opinion, are the arrows that go back and forth. More and more, educators are becoming both consumers and creators of information, which is accelerating the opportunities for our students.
Idea: The idea for this is simple. If we see connected learning as something that is having an impact on the learning of our students, we must embed time into our work day and professional learning opportunities to help educators develop professional learning networks (PLN’s) and leading them to resources such as the “Edublogs Teacher Challenges” might help them get started, but face-to-face support is also crucial. To be honest, the technology to connect is simple once you get the hang of it, but it is developing the habits to think about connecting in the first place that truly make the difference. Differing between the time when you “google” something versus asking the same question on Twitter can not only help you get better results, but in the long run, save time (which no one has enough of). To be successful in helping people develop professional learning networks is to narrow the focus on the tools that are being shared with staff. It is not to limit staff on what they can use, but spending professional learning go deep into the process. We need to do less, better. Taking the time to connect can make a major difference in the learning of your staff, and ultimately, your students.
Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation
Opportunities for Innovation
Rationale: If we want innovative students, we need to focus on becoming innovative educators. It is not that “innovation” is new in education, but the opportunities that exist in our world today make innovation more possible. To help develop the “innovator’s mindset”, schools and organizations have to embody certain characteristics that create an environment where innovation will flourish. Again, as in all elements shared for professional learning, it is essential that time is provided to help develop this mindset.
Idea: My good friend Jesse McLean has promoted the idea of “Innovation Week” for his students, but knew to really have this to be successful, educators would have to partake in this type of process. He developed the idea of “Educator Innovation Day”, to give educators the time to tinker and develop innovative ideas both inside and outside of education. This goes to the idea of developing “intrapreneurs”, and as Jake Swearingen has stated, these intrapreneurs are essential to driving change within an organization.
Chris Wejr also shared his ideas on how to actually embed time through “Fed-Ex Prep” for teachers to encourage time is taken to create innovative ideas within education. There is also the opportunity to adapt Google’s famous “20% Time” into learning at our schools, for both students and staff. None of these ideas have to be taken “as is”, but can be adapted to tie into the communities we serve. What is (again) essential to the success of developing educators as innovators is both the priority and time being put into the process. In a world where developing innovators and entrepreneurs is essential to the forward movement of our schools, we need to create professional learning opportunities that see “innovation” as a necessity, not a luxury.
“If something is missing, we need to create it. In this case, if there are no entrepreneurs, we need to make some. And to make some is to instill the entrepreneurship spirit into our children from the outside through education.” Yong Zhao
Other elements that could be incorporated: Critical Thinking, Choice, Connected Learning, Problem Finders/Solvers
Rationale: School has been set up in a way that we have become dependent upon someone else telling us how we are doing in our learning. It is not only in our report card system, but also our evaluation process of educators. Students will encounter bad teachers, teachers will encounter bad principals, and principals will encounter weak superintendents. If we create a system that becomes dependent upon someone above else to tell us “how we are doing”, this quickly falls apart when that someone is not strong. Having your own understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, is hugely beneficial not only in education, but in all elements of life, whether it is personal or professional.
Idea: Blogs as Digital Portfolios are an opportunity to not only showcase learning, but an opportunity to take time to reflect and grow from the process. Having my own digital portfolio for the last five years (this blog), has helped me grow more than most professional learning opportunities that have been given to me. I have collected and developed resources on both “how” to create a digital portfolio, and the power of learning through this type of self-assessment. I feel that there is more growth in this type of process because I own my learning; it is not graded by someone else, but also documents my learning process over time so that I can easily see my own growth.
Although there may be “guidelines” that must be done for teacher evaluation (three visits into the classroom, etc.), having educators their own ongoing portfolio is a great opportunity to shift the conversation from the “evaluator” to the “learner”. For example, the traditional conversation that has happened in evaluations is that observations are shared from the viewpoint of the administrator, to a teacher. Conversations can be started from these types of evaluations, but from my experience, the focus is far too great on the evaluator than it is on the teacher. By using a digital portfolio process as part of the (self) evaluation, the conversation can simply be started by asking the questions, “Where are you strong and where do you need to grow?” The shift in this process is to the learner, and as Dean Shareski has stated, blogging is a great way to develop better educators. Putting an emphasis on this type of self-assessment is not only beneficial to the individual learner, but when shared openly, can help drive change. The more we are able to see and understand the learning of other educators both inside and outside our organizations, the more we can tap into one another to drive positive change.
Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Voice, Critical Thinking, Connected Learning
Rationale: In this video on “Critical Thinking”, this visual is shared to help us better understand elements of the process:
In a world where information is in abundance, it is important for our students to be able to take information, understand their own thoughts and biases, as well as develop criteria to evaluate information, while developing questions to challenge conventional wisdom. The image below shares what developing “critical thinkers” moves us towards;
Although this is something that we are looking for in our students, do we promote this in meaningful ways with our own professional learning? Not just by learning about “critical thinking”, but pushing our own organizations by encouraging this within our organizations. If we are ever to move forward as schools, we need to have leadership open to people asking questions and developing what we already see. A flattened organization is the only place that this type of thinking will thrive.
Idea: There has been a lot of information shared throughout this document, and I think that this gives us an opportunity to challenge our conventional wisdom of professional learning. As I stated earlier, these are not “prescriptive ideas”, but my own thoughts on how we can revamp professional learning. This is not “black and white” but grey. Is it possible with staff to develop criteria on what successful professional learning looks like, and then develop new ideas on how it could be implemented.
What I would love to see in our schools is this process being implemented on an individual basis where staff share what they believe to be successful personal learning, and provide a plan on how this could be implemented at a personal level. Is it possible to develop individual learning plans for ourselves to really take ownership of our learning? Can we take what we know, and apply it to better professional learning for ourselves?
Other elements that could be incorporated: Opportunities for innovation, Voice, Choice, Problem-Solvers Finders
Professional learning in many places, needs an overhaul. I see educators go to places like EdCamp and share how excited they are about the opportunities for learning that happens at those types of events, yet it is rare that I see people sharing how excited they are to attend their own PD days. We need to change that mindset by tapping into the different types of learning opportunities that are present today.
It is not about doing everything that I have suggested, or to be honest, any of it. Really, it’s about contemplating why we do what we do, and then thinking about how we do it. If we do not change the way we do our professional learning, nothing will change in the classroom.
(If you want to read both part 1 and 2 as one piece, here it is on a Google Document.)