Sunday, 15 June 2014

Rethinking professional learning and development



It is well passed the time that we rethink professional learning and development for educators.

We have made great strides when it comes to refashioning teaching methodology, especially at the elementary level, but we seem to be frozen in time when it comes to how we train and develop educators, especially educational administrators.

Most of what we experience in the area of professional learning for school administrators is ineffective. There are some good moments when we are introduced to leading thinkers in education, but there is no plan to this learning, the good moments happen almost by accident.

While most administrators are critical of the learning provided to us, we have been silent on what the alternative could be. I would say that our silence has allowed the current situation to continue with our implicit approval. If we see the current system as ineffective, we need to be able to propose a different way of doing things.

Where can we look for more effective models? I read a very interesting article on this topic today by Thomas Handcock in Workforce - A Network Rethink for Learning and Development. There are some important points in this article on how we really need to rethink professional learning. To me, the essential problem is that we play no active role in our professional learning. We passively accept what is being offered at a time when we should be active participants in our learning.

The pervasiveness of social media in employees’ personal lives has set an expectation of instant access to information and connectivity. And it’s not just Generation Y. As Fast Company notes, the fastest-growing age group on Twitter is 55 to 64; on Facebook, it’s those aged 45 to 54.
 To bring about meaningful change, need to introduce a "culture of continuous learning". This can be done by implementing Handcock's suggestions:

Developing bite-sized learning — making learning resources smaller and more consumable.

Betting on technology — deploying enterprise collaboration platforms, mobile-learning and upgraded LMS functionality.

Creating push learning — attempting to push out targeted learning resources to employees “just-in-time.”

I really suggest you take a look at this article - there is some much in here that speaks to what we need to do if we really want to instill a culture of learning amongst our educational leaders.

What would such a culture look like? I think we would have to start by developing learning groups or peer coaching teams of three to four administrators. Each would be responsible for setting up a personal learning plan for the year. The learning partners would then play the role of supporting and critiquing the learning of the others in the group. The learning would have to be structured in such a way that each group member is accountable both for their learning and for supporting the learning of others.

When done correctly, peer coaching circles not only teach employees valuable learning behaviors but also build employees’ ownership of development by reinforcing the idea that learning is more about engagement and discourse and less about the provision and consumption of content. 

Time would be set aside each month for these learning groups to meet and work together. The time would be found by replacing the current model of PD delivery which no longer is effective.I have seen this system in place in other school boards in Ontario.  Learning partners have presented as part of the annual LSA conference in Toronto. What always struck me about these presentations was the level of excitement and commitment administrators felt about their learning projects.

I want to learn more about this. Given the social media tools we can use right now, there is no question that we can design more effective professional learning experiences for ourselves. If we don't suggest a change in this direction we will continue to be served up PD that may have little relevance to the work we do in our school.

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