Learning Can Be Life Changing
Everyone who has thought deeply enough about education realises that it is broken in its current state. The notion of having one teacher meet the needs of 20+ students throughout the day, every day, is beyond unrealistic. Society is increasingly demanding of what an education should entail (and rightfully so), but there is yet to be a model at scale that can be equally as responsive.
The educational system is as broken for educators as it is for students.
Education is no different to other professions in that there is a small percentage who aren’t up to scratch, it’s just that for the student (and the student’s parents) the impact can be devastating.
However, a very high percentage of educators are amazing and do an outstanding job within the current model. Remember they weren’t behind the design of schooling as we know it. Even still they are getting the job done despite all the significant barriers in place (throw in a pandemic for good measure).
Until there is an alternative that replaces the current mode of school we have to make the most of it. While there are exciting developments taking place online, until there is a version that is equitable and can reach all students, the show must go on.
The best option we have is to provide quality professional learning for our educators, and endeavour to upscale demonstrated excellence.
The more knowledgeable and skilled our educators, the better the scenario within the current arrangements of schooling.
Dylan Wiliam captures this best. “If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”
My experience with professional learning that spans my career as an educator shows that people can change and grow with time.
Early in my career I learnt to dislike professional learning, which is pretty ironic considering that delivering professional learning to educators is what I’ve done independently now for 5 years.
Why? The format.
The ‘learning’ would occur at a seminar/workshop/conference, and it was predominantly lecture style. There would be a few good ideas in there (some new tricks), but no real depth. The lectures had no direct connection to my classroom, or my students. I would be there by myself, or with a couple of other colleagues, and when you went back to school it was all forgotten about pretty quickly.
The learning experience changed for me when I was appointed as a Teaching and Learning Coach.
All of the coaches received intensive professional learning via a residential intensive at the beginning of the year. The content was high quality, as was the calibre of the colleagues I was working with.
At times I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge, particularly in terms of pedagogy. You see at that time I was regarded as a strong teacher in my school because I had strong relationships with students, and I could handle any sort of extreme behaviour. I had a lot to learn, but I enjoyed the stimulation.
The following year the learning went up another level. The newly formed Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership offered a course titled ‘Establishing Literacy Coaching In Your School’ (which ultimately had a name change to Leading Literacy).
The message from the region was that all the coaches were expected to do the course, but it was 17 full days across the year out of your regular schedule. 17 days!!!!
This was a sliding doors moment in my life as I contemplated rebelling and not doing the course. In the end I didn’t feel that I had a choice and reluctantly reconciled myself to the fact that I would be doing the course whether I liked it or not.
Now it might sound dramatic, but the course literally changed my life.
The key elements to the course were the facilitators themselves as well as the content being research based, but importantly practical.
The activities we engaged in helped us learn as adults but were also very relevant to the types of learning our students should be experiencing.
The knowledge I gained from the course was a key in factor in not only becoming a principal the following year, but also how I worked with adults in building their capacity. After 6 years as a principal, I transitioned into working for myself, which includes facilitating the very course that I’m talking about!
There are lots of offerings of professional learning in the education space. The quality can differ greatly. High quality professional learning:
Aligns with school goals
Builds both content and pedagogical knowledge
Incorporates active learning
Models best practice
Provides appropriate support
Offers feedback and reflection
Is sustained over a period of time
By engaging in learning that reflects the points outlined above, schools and educators are engaging in the high performing long game. Offerings of professional learning that don’t stack up against this list should be seen as distractions from the main game.
Given the nature of working for myself I’m constantly learning, but recently I thought it was time to challenge myself again.
Over the last 5 weeks, while Melbourne has been breaking world records for the number of days in lockdown, I enrolled in my first cohort-based course – Write of Passage. The intake had over 300 people enrolled from more than 30 countries.
What brought us all together was a desire to learn how to effectively write online, publish an article a week, and the opportunity to network with amazing, like-minded people.
The course was challenging, overwhelming, but very stimulating and rewarding.
Now writing might not be your thing, but cohort-based courses are increasing in number and there are no limits to what the focus of a particular course could be. Fishing, gardening, cricket, sewing, music, etcetera, could all work.
Think of a particular interest area for yourself, and then think about who you admire most in that field – that is who runs the course. You learn about how they think, their advice, and you must put all of that into action.
This is happening for the adults. What about our students?
Can we run cohort-based courses for students across different schools within a system, across systems, countries?
Let’s keep pushing for better solutions to the schooling experience for all students. Currently the best way to do that is to provide high quality professional learning for all educators.
Reminder: the more you learn, the more you realise there is to learn. While you’re at it, it might just change your life.