Professional Learning Networks


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.

The 9 wants of professional learning communities

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.

  1. Adequate time (protected, built into the schedule, sufficient, sustained)
  2. Facilitative structures (use of protocols, action research projects, classroom observations, professional reading groups)
  3. Common language (for discussion of teaching and learning)
  4. Visibility (documented, shared, valued)
  5. Perspective (cross year level, cross subjects, cross management)
  6. 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.
  7. Action (must affect classroom practice and student learning)
  8. Challenge (push and challenge teachers thinking and beliefs about learning)
  9. Valuing (senior management take it seriously and participate)

Professional Learning Teams

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.

Thinking mathematically

I spent the last day and an evening working with a group of Maths teachers, mainly listening and supporting because a lot of the time I was pretty much out of my depth with the things they were working on. The emphasis though was on thinking in mathematics, and building tasks that require thinking and creativity, not rote application of learned processes.

At one stage we broke into groups, went outside in the crisp Dandenongs air, were given a bunch of tools and gadgets and told we had to work out a way to teach a concept (in our case: Gradient) Somehow I found myself involved and I learned a lot.  Maths was never my strong suit, but I understand a little more about the language and the thinking now.

Photo: Warrick

Summer school for teachers

The renewed emphasis on education, in terms of funding, was refreshing to see in the budget this week. In the small print though, I was disappointed in the scrapping of the Summer School for Teachers Program. I know three teachers who were involved in that program last year, who gave up considerable parts of their vacation to improve their professional practice. They all spoke highly of the experience.  More significantly perhaps, they’ve all brought that experience back to the school in a positive way, leading to further, broader change.  The extract below is from the AISV Bulletin this week:

The Australian Government obtained the funding for the National Action Plan by scrapping several programmes that had been introduced by the Howard Government. These included the Summer School for Teachers Programme, which will be scrapped immediately, the Even Start – National Tuition Program, which provided tuition vouchers for children who failed to meet literacy and numeracy benchmarks and which will be scrapped from 2009, and a scheme to reward schools that were able to improve their students’ literacy and numeracy results, that was due to commence in 2008. The Budget also indicated that the Australian Government would reduce funding for Teaching Australia by 40 per cent in 2008-09, and that funding would be further reduced in future years