Since yesterday, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about Professional Development – and so have a few other people. I read Dean Shareski’s latest blog post about the time he’s spent at DENSI 2013.
I’ve participated in a number of wonderful in person events over the past several years. Unplugged was a brilliantly crafted experience that focused on community storytelling. DENSI is a larger event with about 150 educators gathering for a week. It’s a great mix of people who know each other and people who’ve never met. … One thing about the DEN community I’m most proud of is the fact that our members are not chosen based on their skills but on their passion and desire to share.
I have always enjoyed Dean’s posts as they prod me along – making me think about what I’m doing. His reference to a blog he wrote earlier – Should Teachers’ Own Their Learning? peaked my interest. Honestly, my first thought was “Don’t they?” As I read along, I saw what Dean was saying about teachers’ PD and them not “owning” it.
Teaching and Learning
I think that we too often refer to teacher learning as being separate from what they do in the classroom. Somehow, what they do as teachers isn’t learning – it’s teaching – while there is this separate time for learning and, most often, it’s directed by someone else or because someone has a new program or a new piece of software for the new initiative or….
I’ve had a few questions about the fourth point of my last blog – 4. Learning requires time – specifically
First, I’m not sure what “all” is but I think it relates to the increasing expectations being placed on teachers.
My tip for “fitting it all in” is quit trying to fit it in. That is part of the problem. One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that this learning thing isn’t an event or adding a new strategy or tool or app or getting “connected” although these might be a part. It isn’t for administrators to find the “Five best ways to lead in a time of change” and it isn’t to “gather more things”. But as more educators jump to share on social media sites there is this “Wow, look at all I can do! Look at the cool tools! Look at the way I can change my room, the way I can do this and that and that and this.” Prodded on by the “10 best Apps for …” and “5 best sites for…” and “The 5 things all great 21st C Teacher must do.” teachers are in a frenzy. This is followed by the “I need to attend all these conferences or workshops or….” – which then brings along the question – “How do I fit it all in?” – to which they begin to frantically search for a new method to do all, be all, see all, experience all – to be, to be, to be what? On the other end, there’s those overwhelmed by the amount of “all” coming at them, they’re, well, not engaged. I once read, somewhere in a book long lost, this idea
It’s not that teachers don’t care. They are overwhelmed by all they are being asked to do and do not know how to cope. It’s not that they don’t care but, the opposite, they care too much.
No, that’s not the case all the time but, having worked with 8 staff in 12 years in 5 communities, what I have seen is that teachers care – deeply – it’s at their core. They do want to improve but they are overwhelmed.
Passion – Lust or Love
My love of learning has been growing over these past 47 years. I didn’t really fully understand this but I began to recognize that I liked to learn, the process itself, somewhere in highschool but it was more a pre-teen kind of passion – I liked it but I couldn’t really explain it and it confused me and I really didn’t want to tell any of my friends as it was an unspoken thing that “learning wasn’t cool.” But it developed and grew through 10 years of university, 7 years of online classes, multiple online learning opportunities and a library of books and magazines. I’ve found that this learning passion falls into two categories – Lust and Love.
Lust Learning – in the moment, hot, frantic and fills an immediate need. Learning to play a new game with my boys – I’ve learned so many new games, dropping one and moving on as a new game comes along since they master it and can kick my butt – they have way more time to practice; learning Transformer transformations, names of PetShop Pets and all the other necessary things as a parent of 8 children; the “wagon of the week” – AD, RtI, DI, MI, PBIS , FL, UbD, … – learning about them because I believe it is necessary as an educator to delve deeper than any “day or two” can give me, see how they fit and challenged my own teaching, how to improve but only to move on to the next one as it came along; apps – games, ed, health, reading, photo, etc The wow factor!
Love Learning – Star Wars – since I saw the first movie, learning about characters, names, places “Do or Do Not, There is No Try”; wood restoration – what works best for particular woods, how to refurbish items, how to repair particular wood items; improving my teaching and improving school culture- safe and caring schools, school dynamics, classroom setup, grading, assessing; technology integration – improving the learning opportunities “Wow” be darned.
Owning Your Learning
Teachers’ do need to own their learning as Dean suggests but they don’t need to wait for anyone to let them or attend a conference of their choice or …. In fact, they need to stop waiting for someone else. Instead, they need to take a look at where they are right now and then begin to plan where they want to go. Places like twitter and Pinterest can provide ideas and help with resources and ideas, to build a connection with other people with similar passions and seek out opportunities that challenge you as a learner. This is a key – having a PLN that only thinks like you doesn’t help you grow. The #edcampHOME event was the next step, I believe, in bringing teachers together to share their passions, connect and learn in a wondrously different way. But it won’t be for everyone which is okay and we can’t expect it to fit everyone’s needs.
But, without a direction, a vision of what they want to do, learning will continue to be directed by others – it’s just the “others” will change. I believe that we need to evolve to a Professional Learning mindset where teachers see learning “as the cool thing”. Embrace that it can’t be done in a day, weekend, week…. and then let it go. Embrace learning as something that will be year long and not during the summer conference time or during those PD days but, instead, will be a part of life as a learner.
I haven’t been to a major conference, ever. I haven’t been to a minor conference in years. I’ve not shared much over the past 2 years because of circumstances. No one invites me to special gatherings or events. But my learning hasn’t stop. In fact, it continued to grow more these past 3 years because it was necessary, especially around community engagement, parent engagement, assessment, technology integration, inquiry, problem based learning, Design Thinking, student behaviour/classroom management, new teacher mentoring, administration, educational-leadership and a host of other things. Why? Because it was essential to doing what’s best for students – in our school! It was essential to helping the parents and teachers. It was essential for me.
Where to Begin?
Seriously examine what you want to do as a teacher/administrator. What is your vision for you as a teacher/learner? And yes, beginning small is okay. Plan out your learning – resources, people, expected outcomes, reflection time, refinement, celebration. I would encourage you to do a SWOC – your strengths, areas of weakness, opportunities and challenges you will face and plan for them. Sometimes finding a partner/learning buddy helps. Someone to work with you, get through those rough seas. Having taken part in several online courses, having an online coach to prod and push was good and provided me motivation at times when I really didn’t feel like it.
I have worked with a number of people on staffs where I have been an administrator who, once they began to decide to learn, became leaders for others. My learning at these times? To be a better administrator because really, I wasn’t a very good one at the time. I did know that by developing leaders around me, it would help me to learn and grow, something I learned from a very wise superintendent when I was a very young administrator. Over time, I became more adept at sharing my love of learning – less “in your face” which really does turn people off and more a “really? That’s interesting. Did you ever think about….., hear about…., consider….” or “That’s a great idea. Really. How would you make it work for you? What support can I give you?” That’s how our school-wide ePortfolio initiative evolved – two teachers with a desire to learn and help their students learn. From paper to digital in two years – all teacher directed (with support as needed.)
Why to begin?
So you can enjoy the swing – when you want, however you want!