Thinking About Professional Learning

Once again, Tom Whitby has knocked it out of the park with a recent post “Poor teachers:  Who is to blame?”  I shudder at the expression “Poor teachers” but it’s a hook to get you to read on.

If you haven’t read the post yet, you really owe it to yourself to spend the moments to read it and then the minutes to ponder the messages that he addresses in the post. 

Then, think about your own professional learning.  What activities made a positive professional impact on you?  What activities were not worth the time that you devoted to it?  What activities were forced upon you because of someone else’s directive?  What activities were self selected by you?  What activities did you attend because of the hype and promise of great things happening?  What format works best for you – sitting and listening, actively doing something, actively teaching someone else, …?

Embedded in the middle of his post is a link to a document “School Technology Needs Assessment“.  There are a couple of brands attached to the document so that you can get a sense of the purpose behind the survey.  It’s focused on technology and teaching.  There’s no indication as to copyright with respect to the document but I would doubt that you’d want to use it exactly as is for your situation but it could serve as a model if you’re considering polling staff about some of the issues or just thinking about professional learning in general.  The results of something like this survey could be used to inform direction about professional learning and a way to frame plans for the future with respect to school technology.  With a little creativity, it could be modified to address any school/district burning initiative.  Does your district do this?  Does your school do this?  Or, does a person or committee determine what’s good for everyone and goes about spending the money and putting their plan in place?

I think I’ve read Tom’s post at least a dozen times now and, each time, I find something new.  It’s a really thought-provoking post.

My latest thinking about the post generates two questions:

Who’s accountable?  Considering the cost of delivery, the cost of lost time where participants could be doing something else, the value of the resources purchased, the value of the muffins purchased, was this the best way to spend the money?  Was an analysis of the event and the proposed change in practice done to ensure that the money was spent well, change in practice made, implementation successful, increase in productivity or learning achieved, done with an eye towards sustaining the learning and doing it better in the future?  Is there a plan to make sure that the learning is ongoing and has the desired deliverables?

Who owns the learning?  A tip of the hat to my friend Peter Skillen who asks this question all the time.  Typically, it’s with respect to student learning in the classroom but it would apply equally as well to teacher learning at professional learning sessions.  We know from the classroom that students learn better when they own the process and the learning.  Shouldn’t the same apply to teachers and teaching staff?

In the post, Tom makes reference to Powerpoint as a tool often used/abused in professional learning.  Of course, it’s not the tool that causes the problem.  It could just as easily been Google Slides, Prezi, or any of the tools that fall into this genre.  A really good question would be – do the facilitators really know how to lead a session?  I remember attending a hands-on session at a very well promoted and thought of event, led by someone who has a reputation as an expert in her field – the technique was just awful.  She had her notes written and in front of her as she was visibly trembling as she barked orders “Do this”, “Click here”, “Drag that” – delivered like a drill instructor with no rationale whatsoever for what was done.  So, just moving to a hands-on workshop environment is no guarantee of success.  I attended and can’t, for the life of me, remember what the topic was but I vividly remember her style.

Perhaps even a bit of wordsmithing is in order.  In Tom’s original post, he makes reference to the term “professional development”.  In this post, and in my use, I prefer the term “professional learning”.  I’ve been listening to Peter too much.

The “gathering place” form of professional learning is a model that has been around forever and it’s going to be around going into the future. So often, it’s based on the premise that there is one expert in the room and a whole bunch of empty minds.  So often, post event, the message comes through loudly and clearly – the best part was the connections made.  So, does the professional learning event allow for times of conversation and making these connections?  The event may well bring in a top speaker to motivate the troops.  Does it also allow for conversations with that speaker?  If not, why not?

Thanks, Tom, for such a wonderful post.  I hope that it gets shared widely and that professional learning events and organizers take note of the points he makes.  Addressing them will go a long way towards ensuring that teachers get the learning events that they so rightly deserve.


OTR Links 08/16/2015

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.