Thoughts on Professional Learning

Whenever we talk about professional learning, we must keep in mind its end goal, which is to maximize student learning. We learn so we can be better teachers, better educators, better mentors for our students.

In this sense, here are some ideas that I have extracted from the articles I have read this week, and which could be applied successfully in my school:

  • Establish PLC to connect with colleagues and share good practices across departments (Stewart, 2018).

I am personally in awe of the amazing Maths department at my school. This is a school where kids love Maths and Math Week is an engaging event for the whole school, with guest speakers, fun activities and deep learning taking place. Unfortunately, at the moment there is no communication between our departments, so PLC’s could be the answer to that. Every department has a set weekly meeting hour, so for next year we just need to make sure that these hours are chosen in such a way as to allow collaborative meetings. Pushing it a little bit forward, we could use tech to connect with other departments through shared learning platforms or social media.

  • Use Twitter to connect with fellow educators from around the world (Laskowski, 2018); use Youtube to share ideas and videos of effective teaching practice

After reading the article by Laskowski, I have started to reconsider Twitter as a professional learning tool. While I have a Twitter account and I follow a few discussions about education and learning, I have never been too keen on this medium, because I find it very noisy. However, according to the article, you can turn down some of the noise and filter the information, so that you receive the tweets you are interested in and follow the conversations easily. I have yet to find my voice in this medium, but I can see its value and influence on spreading ideas and good practices to teachers around the world.

As for youtube, I use it to peek into other people’s classrooms. A school youtube channel could be a powerful learning and marketing tool, if well curated.

Using online tools is a chance for teachers to exercise initiative and have their voice heard, as well as create collaborative cultures where learning can thrive (Tomlinson, 2018). This links in well with the idea of flexible and customized PD that has a concrete outcome, such as working towards a google certification (Jones, 2018).

  • Flexible, teacher-led PD + dedicated PD days (Jones, 2018).

We do not have any PD days as such at my current school and professional learning takes place throughout the school year, though not in an organized way. However, the school does sponsor teachers who undertake PD at their own cost and we are expected to take part in the annual Teachers’ Conference in Istanbul and present our learning from the conference to our departments.

I believe that dedicated PD days would work well in my school and would provide an opportunity for teachers from different departments to come together and share strategies and experience. Stewart (2018) talks about the Singapore model, where teachers create and fulfill a professional learning plan and can be involved in educational research with the National Institute of Education, and I like the idea of teachers being involved in research and in touch with current research, because this is where new ideas and strategies are tested.

I believe that the best professional learning happens when there are clear expectations in place (Tomlinson, 2018) and there is accountability too.

  • Peer observations and mentorship to combat professional isolation (Stewart, 2018)

Collaborative planning is a requirement of IB programmes, as is moderation of assessment and forging connections between subject groups and core elements, such as the MYP Personal Project or DP TOK essays or the Extended Essay. Reading this article on program coherence by Aloha Lavina made me wonder what true collaboration would look like in my school and what its effects might be on student learning.

Stewart (2018) quotes the OECD’s 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey, which showed that teachers work in isolation, feel unrecognized and supported and a large percentage of them (46%) do not receive feedback on their teaching. Progress in this context is difficult and slow.

While my school is in a better situation, in that we have a clear appraisal system in place and we get regular and useful feedback on our teaching, the peer observations, while encouraged, are not formalized, and there is no concept of mentorship. It is true that mentorship happens anyway, because people naturally look for mentors and some teachers are better mentors than others, however this is just a happy occurrence.

To sum it all up, a good professional learning plan for my school would be to start with a school-wide goal, then have teachers work in collaborative communities (PLCs) to set individual goals and map out strategies for reaching them. PL should be, as much as possible, individualized and personalized in order to be relevant. It should serve to develop the individual teacher, as well as the community and the school and, ultimately, boost student learning. A good PL plan is integrated, collaborative and flexible. Resources are used from various types of media and teachers can set their own pace, within a given timeframe. It integrates teacher-led PD, research study and discussions in the PLC, peer observations to promote good practices.

In terms of the various models for technology integration, we could use the SAMR to assess teachers’ level of integration in their classrooms and the TPACK to plan for comprehensive PD, where technology, content and pedagogy meet. Andrade (2018) offers “5 Tips that Foster Collaborative Professional Learning” and talks about telecollaboration with the Google Suite or connecting with other professionals through Skype. Undoubtedly, technology can enhance our learning and help teachers create support networks all over the world.

“Leaders of nations with very different systems all recognize teachers as the single most important in-school factor for improving student achievement” (Stewart, 2018) If this is the case, then school administrators should do everything in their power to motivate teachers and keep them up to date with the latest trends in education.

Two questions, as usual, in the end:

  1. What are some options out there for collaborative, meaningful, flexible professional learning?
  2. Does your school have an allocated PD budget?

References:

Andrade, D., (2018, May 25). 5 Tips that Forster Collaborative Professional Learning. Retrieved from EdTech Magazine.org. 

Jones, B. (2018). An Insider’s Perspective on Transforming PD. Educational Leadership, 76(3), 36-42. 

Laskowski T. (2018). Secrets of the Edu-Twitter Influencers. Educational Leadership, 76(3), 44-58. 

Stewart V. (2018). How Teachers Around the World Learn. Educational Leadership, 76 (3), 28-35.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2018). One to Grow On / Help Teachers Become Master Learners. Educational Leadership, 76(3), 88-89.

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One thought on “Thoughts on Professional Learning

  1. Great reflection on professional learning and how the articles relate to your specific school. In answering your questions I’d start with question 2 first, which is NO. Unfortunately, my current school doesn’t have an allocated PD budget. However, it is something we have worked on over the last 2 years and in the 2019/20 SY we will have one. Without this budget our PD has been very sparse over the last 3 years I have been at the school. Generally, it is the admin or other teachers that have led PD sessions.

    Thinking about your first question is something that many of the department heads and I have been looking into for the past year. We are consistent thinking of ways to make professional learning collaborative, meaningful, and flexible for all staff. At our school we do PD generally at the end of the year over 2 or 3 weeks, along with wrapping up, packing up, and preparing for the following year. In your first section you talked about establishing PLCs to connect with other departments. This is an idea we have had also. However, what we came up with was having our departments video record their weekly meetings and then share them with others. Even if it is not the whole meeting but only the part about lesson strategies, plans, ideas, and activities. Then other departments would do the same so that information about best practice was being shared with all departments without everyone meeting together. It would take some time to get it running smoothly, but I feel it would be beneficial for all involved.

    Keep up the great work Christina and I look forward to reading another post soon.

    Dane Satchell

    Like

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