- ‘How in the world of western knowledge do we place this?’
- ‘Why does the west think its best?’
- ‘How do we undo our educational reliance on Descartes and the French Enlightenment?’
- ‘Diversity (of what we know, and now we know) is the key’.
Archive for the ‘professional learning’ Category
I’ve certainly been in a number of sessions over the last three days, many of which I’ve blogged about here, but what have I learned?
Well, the first full timetable cycle is over and schools is well and truly back. It’s always a challenge coming back after the long summer break and, in Australia, the return to school time often coincides with the hottest part of the summer and not the ideal environment to begin working with eager young minds.
This year, the dry heat has stayed away but it’s been sticky and unusually humid in Melbourne; hot, overcast afternoons getting stickier and stickier until it breaks into loud thunderstorms and tropical-like rain for an hour or so. All very odd! And it might explain that teachers and students looked a bit tired after that first cycle, getting out of the holiday routine and back into a timetabled structure that includes lots of new interactions. I was thinking about the Year 7 students especially, coming out of primary school into a new school and multiple new relationships with teachers and students. Tiring stuff, though, ironically, they seem to have the most energy of all. I’ve begun to know my new Year 12 class, and we’ve had some good discussions, but we haven’t really ‘bonded’ yet. I don’t know them well enough and they’re still mostly treading warily, not wanting to make too many mistakes too early in the year.
Teaching’s an odd profession. I speak to lots of people during the day, students and teachers. So many that, when I first get home, I often want some quiet time, a ride on the bike, or a walk down to the river, or a good read of the paper. But funnily enough, one of the most positive things for me in the first fortnight was getting together again with a network of teachers who meet two or three times a term for breakfast and to discuss and reflect on the craft and art of teaching. I never like getting up early, but this meeting is always worth it. I came back to work from that breakfast meeting, all energised, and ready to leave the summer behind.
Top: Mornington Beach, January 2011, Photo: Warrick
A little while ago I was involved in a forum convened by the Grattan Institute which was looking at teacher performance and evaluation, and how that all fits together.
So, I was interested to see a report coming out of that institute by Ben Jensen called ‘Investing in Our Teachers: Investing in Our Economy’. All economic metaphors aside, the basic premise; that good teaching is what matters most, is hard to deny. The report argues that we’ve spent too much on reducing class sizes for no good effect (have we actually really given that a go?) and argues that teacher effectiveness is the lever for real improvement.
Agree! But the next step is always blurrier and I don’t think it’s as clear cut and quanifiable as the report makes out. But the report outlines 5 ways to improve teacher effectiveness:
1. Improve the quality of applicants to the teaching profession
2. Improve the quality of teachers’ initial education and training
3. Evaluate and provide feedback to develop teachers once they enter the profession and are working in our schools
4. Recognise and reward effective teachers
5. Move on ineffective teachers who have been unable to increase their effectiveness through development programs.
Hard to argue with much of that but the word ‘effective’ is tricky, and that’s often when these things turn to standardized test results in isolation from other factors. However, this report seems to have a better handle on all that and also says:
Many of these problems stem from a lack of meaningful teacher evaluation and development. It is, therefore, ineffective (and grossly unfair) to dismiss poorly performing teachers who have never before received effective teacher evaluation and development. All teachers need to have effective evaluation that identifies their strengths and weaknesses and feeds into individualised development plans.
A development program may aim to increase the performance of teachers found to have specific weaknesses. Development steps should be undertaken so that they can raise their effectiveness to sufficient levels. Many will improve. Some will leave the profession of their own accord and some will be dismissed for not improving their performance. As shown, this will improve learning in schools and lift Australia’s students to amongst the world’s best.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the approach the Federal Government wants to take on teacher performance and performance pay.
Let me begin by saying that nobody owes anybody a free tool, and that schools aren’t always the best customers. Money is always tight and anyway the teachers don’t have their hands on the credit card; that’s down in the Bursar’s office because we’re happy to trust our children with you, but not our credit card!
Anyway, the NING experience is a salutary one. We had a good little NING network going (NING allowed you to create a mini-social network of your own) It was the Breakfast Group and consisted of a group of teachers from various schools who met twice a term to talk about effective teaching and learning. The NING was good.27 teachers all good and true. We could have groups, messages, post pictures, send out agendas and answer questions. A bit like Facebook for grown-ups. It was working.
And then it all went horribly wrong.
First NING announced they were changing their ‘business model’ and no longer offering free accounts. Please select a plan, they said. There was much outpouring of angst and much gnashing of teeth from groups who’d set up sometimes very large networks. Educators pleaded. Can you give us a free ride? I think NING agreed, but only for US based groups. The rest of the world would have to pay their way.
Which we tried to do. Ever tried to work out how to send a cheque to a website in America? They’re not used to dealing in paper facsimiles of cash, and schools don’t like giving credit card details to funnily named fly by night web 2.0 entrepreneurs. So we were stuck.
We did eventually manage to find a physical location owe could send a check, and find a well hidden page in the Ning website that explained that, and persuaded the powers-that-be at school to write and cheque, and post it.
Except that, as the weeks went by, NING kept warning us that time was running out, and I kept emailing them saying ‘we paid already!!!’ Repeat. Repeat. Until they closed it down, never cashed the cheque and never responded.
And therein lies the lesson! Or, as Mary Shelley put it in one of the Lit books I’ve been teaching this year (Frankenstein):
“Unhappy man! Do you share my madness? Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught? Hear me; let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips!”
The moral of my tale? You can’t trust the cloud! They blow away. And you can’t build a professional network on free tools and promises from a zany young web-guru from San Francisco. Attractive and shiny as those tools are.
And here ends the sermon.
Oh,oh!!! I know time is running out. Can’t you please cash our cheque?
One of my goals this year is to promote the concept of PLNs (professional or personal learning networks) as a core component of future teacher learning in the connected world. These two videos take up some of the concepts around ‘why connect?’ in very different ways.
The first is from a blog I just discovered from Shelley Terrell with the great name, Teacher Reboot Camp. She’s a promoter of PLNs and now in my Google Reader feed list! It’s a short, emotional, compelling video about the value of connection.
The second is from a blog called The Lives of Teachers by Darren Elliot. It’s a longer, more reflective piece, with audio, and sourced in some detail and talks through some of the thinking about connectivity and learning in a modern world. I recommend you watch and listen to them both!
In his always readable learning blog, Derek Wenmoth this weeks shared a NZ report on Managing Professional Learning and Development in Secondary Schools which I think is worth reading. Maybe I think that because I agree with most of the findings and recommendations, some of which are summarised below. One-off external speakers and reliance on external seminars are out, in-house teacher teams focusing on pedagogy is in.
Research on teacher professional learning and development In January 2008, the Ministry of Education released its Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES) report. This document details the nature of effective professional development for schools. PLD can vary considerably and depends on each school’s context. Despite this complexity, certain themes or principles can be summarised concerning the nature of high quality PLD. Helen Timperley, lead author for Teacher Professional Learning and Development, has synthesised 10 principles in a monograph for the International Academy of Education (IAE).6
PLD needs to:
• be focused on student outcomes, with links between classroom activity and the desired outcomes;
• be based on worthwhile content, such as the findings of established educational research, and related to the particular context of the teacher;
• integrate theoretical ideas about teaching with teaching practice;
• use assessment information about the performance of teachers and students to make a difference in the classroom;
• provide many different sorts of activities for teachers to learn and apply newly acquired knowledge;
• work with and challenge teacher assumptions about learning;
• allow teachers to work with others to explore and develop their new knowledge about teaching;
• draw on experts (including subject teaching experts) who can also facilitate teachers to develop their own understandings of new ideas;
• have active school leaders who can create a vision for professional learning as well as lead and organise staff learning;
• sustain momentum where theoretical understandings continue to develop teacher practice.
A direct link to a PDF of the report is HERE (350kb)
Ever since the Expanding Learning Horizons Conference in Lorne and particularly Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s presentation which I blogged about earlier, I’ve been thinking about the importance of professional networks, formal and informal, between schools and within, particularly in their potential in promoting change. I think it will be my big curriculum theme next year.
Those thoughts were re-affirmed yesterday when I attended the Ithaka October Conference, a one day event based around a network of about a dozen Melbourne schools. It was great to work with teachers and curriculum leaders from a variety of schools and hear what they were doing, but it was just as good to have some time to talk and work with a number of teachers from my own school, some of whom I don’t have regular daily contact with.
I’m convinced that these networks, internal and external, properly supported and facilitated, valued are where real change will come from.
Went along to a Australian Government Quality Teacher Program (AGQTP) network meeting last week and one of the documents we looked at was ‘The 9 wants of professional learning communities for sustained “long haul” culture rather than short term buzz’ by Ron Ritchart, who we’ve been working with over the last couple of years.
I’d seen this list a while ago, but it was good to be reminded of it again, and to checklist what we’re trying to do, against this set of guidelines. Here’s the list.
- Adequate time (protected, built into the schedule, sufficient, sustained)
- Facilitative structures (use of protocols, action research projects, classroom observations, professional reading groups)
- Common language (for discussion of teaching and learning)
- Visibility (documented, shared, valued)
- Perspective (cross year level, cross subjects, cross management)
- Based on student learning and thinking (focused on “something on the table”, talking to the issue of learning and thinking, rather than talking around it, focus not on what we do but on what we get from students.
- Action (must affect classroom practice and student learning)
- Challenge (push and challenge teachers thinking and beliefs about learning)
- Valuing (senior management take it seriously and participate)
I’ve been a bit of a fan of Neville Johnson’s work on the power of professional learning teams engaged in projects for quite a while, and it’s been at the back of a lot of my thinking about the way professional development and staff learning should be mainly organised: in-house and about the real work (that is, the classroom stuff)
So it was good to begin the term with Neville presenting to us about professional teams work based projects based on inquiries, something we are doing, but with a slightly different edge.
The diagram at this link, from Florahill, is very similar to the one he presented to us, though we were talking about multiple foci, leading to multiple inquiries, and building in an element of teacher sharing and observation too. You can read a little about how Neville worked with the Kew Innovation and Excellence Cluster HERE
Johnston argues strongly for the power of teams, for the room for ‘real work’ and for learning to be at the centre of it all.
I was just impressed with his continuing passion for the vision. Listening to him present, and then talking to him later, he was just the same; totally genuine about the importance of getting ‘learning’ into the conversations that teachers have together.