Learning is the work.

I am constantly amazed by the amount of commercial professional learning available to educators these days. My email inbox enjoys a constant flow of invitations, flyers and advertisements for ‘MUST SEE’ international speakers. It has become a huge industry which makes millions of dollars each year from educators thirsty for more knowledge. My problem with this type of professional learning is that I don’t believe it often has a significant impact on student learning. I can’t recall attending a conference which has led to major changes in my leadership actions. They are very nice and often quite entertaining but rarely offer more than superficial thought provocation.
Learning is the work. What do I mean by this? In short I position the notion of professional learning as being an ongoing process that is usually best done in the context of the school environment. It is not about sending people to ‘one off’ workshops or training courses and expecting it will be brought back and ‘implemented’ across the school. High-impact professional learning is about staff working collectively to interrogate data, gather evidence of learning, going deep into the research about pedagogy, implementing what has been discovered, sharing new learning with colleagues and providing authentic opportunities for reflection, coaching and development of teaching practice. In essence it is the work. Call it a Professional Learning Community, Action Learning Teams, study groups or whatever else you like the critical thing is that it builds the collective capacity of teachers and results in improved learning outcomes for children. It doesn’t have a start and end date but rather presents as a continuous part of our weekly work in schools.
Learning is the work.

8 thoughts on “Learning is the work.

  1. Thanks Jason! Good reflection! However, my belief is that classroom teachers are agents of educational change – in their classrooms and within their school community. My experience as a PL facilitator indicates that if teachers take away two things from my seminars – 1: A goal to make one professional change to their way of working; 2: A goal to influence new practice at their school, change will happen. Deputy principals who have attended my seminars set goals as above plus some! My work involves literacy development for atypical learners and students who are gifted – which is best practice anyway for all students. Happy to forward evaluations if you would like to read them.

    On the other hand, I agree that in-school, on going PL with follow up support will produce what you advocate. It has to be principal initiated with support for all classroom teachers, data informed and resources supplied. All the research supports this notion. But it takes time. My first paragraph also takes time and support, and is influenced by how teachers see themselves as agents of change.

    • I agree that teachers can certainly take action from PL sessions like your Rob but unless the action is ongoing and sustained within the school context it rarely makes a significant impact on student learning. the most powerful PL in my school occurs between teachers, in each others classrooms and via professional dialogue and reflection. I’m not saying external PL has no value just that the PLC on site approach has greater impact IMO.

  2. Helen McGrath https://theconversation.com/profiles/helen-mcgrath-9808 had some stats from a few years ago. If you want to create change in schools, you have to influence 23% of staff. Helen says: At one end, 8% of teachers are ‘carnivorous omnivores’ who will grab new initiatives and run with them. At the other end, 12% of teachers are ‘stone-age obstructionist’ who resist change of any kind and can be threatened (masked by anger). They are usually noisy at staff meetings! In the middle, are two groups, one of about 35% will acknowledge and try new initiatives as long as there is (as you say) on-site, on-going, support and appropriate resources and planning with colleagues. The final group of about 55% will go with the flow! So, working with the 23% (that includes some of the 35%) there is no stopping change! A wise leader will make sure the support and resources are there. By your reflections and tweets, you are in that category! Keep up the good work!

    Sometimes a starting point can be a one-off PL!!

    • Whilst I respect the research and data I’m talking about my experience in my school which may not be the same as others. Thanks for your feedback Rob I really appreciate it.

  3. A great post, Jason. This is something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently and you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  4. Thanks for the reflection Jason – it is absolutely all about the perspectives and understandings that are brought to a learning community and shared. If you never broaden your perspective through experiencing other people’s understandings; it is very difficult for lasting professional learning to take place.

    I did some similar reflection recently, if it is of any interest… http://tonymack.edublogs.org/2015/08/27/down-the-garden-path/

    Thanks for the thinking!

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