Get Involved in Professional Learning!

Welcome to a new academic year (for southern hemisphere people anyway!).

My regular reader(s)…I’m not assuming I have more than one of these!!…will know that I am quite passionate about the importance of professional learning in the life of a teacher. I came across the phrase: “Learner not leaner” from  Twitter feed and it appealed to me very much.

How do we make our students more independent learners rather than dependent ‘leaners’? How can we encourage more teachers to also be continual learners and adopt a more proactive approach to professional learning?

This same tweet sent me to a blog posting by David Warlick called “10 Ways to Promote Learning Lifestyle in Your School”. I quote directly from this posting below:

So, what does that culture look like?  What do we see in the school and classroom where learning lifestyle pops to mind?  I think that we see is conversation — and not just conversations between teachers and students.  There is a much broader conversation that permeates the entire building and beyond, about new learning and about learning new things.  It is a school that says, out loud,

“We go beyond the basics.”

“Standards are the starting place for what’s exciting here, not the end goal.”

“This is where learners of all ages are not just memorizing facts and mastering skills — but working with new knowledge, constructing new knowledge, and impacting others through their work.

Here are just a few suggestions for promoting these conversations:

  1. Hire learners. Ask prospective employees, “Tell me about something that you have learned lately.” “How did you learn it?” “What are you seeking to learn more about right now?”
  2. Open your faculty meetings with something that you’ve just learned – and how you learned it.  It does not have to be about school, instruction, education managements, or the latest theories of learning.
  3. Make frequent mention of your Twitter stream, RSS reader, specific bloggers you read.  Again, this should not be limited to job specific topics.
  4. Share links to specific TED talks or other mini-lectures by interesting and smart people, then share and ask for reactions during faculty meetings, in the halls, or during casual conversations with employees and parents just before the PTO meeting.
  5. Include in the daily announcements, something new and interesting
  6. Ask students in the halls what they’ve just learned. Ask them what their teachers have just learned.
  7. Ask teachers and other staff to write reports on their latest vacation, sharing what they learned – and publish them for public consumption.
  8. Ask teachers to devote one of their classroom bulletin boards to what they are learning, related or unrelated to the classroom.
  9. Include short articles in the schools newsletter and/or web site about research being conducted by the teachers – again, related or unrelated to the classroom.

       10. Learn what the parents of your students are passionately learning about, and ask them to  

              report     (text, video, Skype conversation, or in person to be recorded).

         11. Find ways to be playful at your school — and perhaps feel less grown-up.

At the start of the school year, my school has 3 ‘staff days’ where we hear from the Principal, listen to a guest speaker talk on broad issues that affect how we educate and we hold various staff meetings to set the year in place. This year, our guest speaker was Waleed Aly. Waleed Aly is a lecturer in politics at Monash University, where he also works within the Global Terrorism Research Centre. A former commercial lawyer, he also has experience in human rights and family law.

His argument was based around the idea that our identity is a fundamental social resource. He maintains that how we fragment into groups (and that this fragmenting was almost impossible from which to refrain) is based on the identities we believe we have. Each one of us has multiple identities (a teacher of mathematics, a Catholic, an independent woman etc) . These identities will be formed from our upbringing, our experiences, how we want others to see us, how we want to be seen and the beliefs we have.  Aly made the point that these identities are expressed most sharply at points of threat in our lives, moments of vulnerability. And, when we feel threatened, we generally respond first in a hostile, defensive manner. He spoke of how we generate aspects of our identities in order to ‘securitise” ourselves…aspects that make us feel safe, give us a sense of being OK…and how these aspects can become a reason for our existence, sometimes to an extreme. Something to hang onto, something to justify our existence.

Waleed went onto say that, when people are given an ultimatum, that doesn’t give them a choice that allows them to retain an identity which gives them a sense of who they are, they will invariably make a decision that you won’t like. The advice is to give people choices so that as many identities as possible can be sustained and without too sharp a decision point ever being forced upon them. A striving for multiple authenticities, if you like.

So…the messages I got from this session were:

  • With students, aim for opportunities to allow students to develop multiple views of themselves and that there is not just one way of being a successful learner. Develop and reflect on ways of treating students and methodology in the classroom, and in assessment, that will allow students to maintain positive self-identities yet, at the same time, move their learning forward.
  • For my colleagues, I think that some teachers may not participate more fully in professional learning because it is seen to threaten their idea of who they are as teachers. Many teachers hold very strong identities of who they are as educators. Criticising their work, and their way of doing their work, can be very threatening and the response can be hostile and defensive. This has the effect, usually, of locking people into patterns of behaviour. This is not helpful to moving forward in one’s professional knowledge. The quest is to offer professional learning in such a way that affords access and reflection in an open-minded way. To view professional learning discussions as opportunities for looking at things differently, perhaps, instead of seeing it as a threat to an identity deeply held…and held ever so much strongly when teachers are felt to be under threat from external testing measures, parental complaints etc.

Waleed Aly also made a comment on the difference between Australian and American societies – that America seems to say to immigrants: “participate”, rather than “fit in”. Maybe that’s the key to professional learning too. Just get in there and participate. Try it and see. It’s not necessary to feel as if anything needs to change to ‘fit in’ to some other view of who you are as a teacher.


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
This entry was posted in Systems, The profession, Things that engage, Vision. Bookmark the permalink.

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