Choose one of the Essential Guides to Professional Learning above and consider how a school or adult education organisation you are familiar with addresses the issues raised in the Guide.
The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) recognises that collaboration is a powerful professional development tool. Its publication, ‘The Australian Charter for the ‘Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders’, underscores that it “has a powerful effect in magnifying and spreading the benefits of professional learning and adds a new and valuable dimension to the learning undertaken by individuals” (2012, p. 5).
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AITSL’s (n.d.) ‘The Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Collaboration’ highlights a multitude of factors and issues that relate to collaboration. One of the key questions highlighted on the first page of the document asks: What support is provided to teachers to facilitate collaboration? In my experience, time is the most crucial. DeLuca, Bolden, & Chan (2017) identify this as a factory that impedes group collaboration and professional learning communities. Without being allocated and supported with time, I’ve found it difficult to be effective with collaboration. Teaching teams can easily fall into ruts where they’re ‘too busy’ to meet or one member of the group will do all the work.
Another question from AITSL’s (n.d.) asks: how is an effective culture of collaboration developed and maintained? Snow-Gerono (2005) also see this as vital, positing that it’s not enough to come together and collaborate, the practice must be reflected upon, analysed and criticised in order for it to be effective for those involved (p.254). AITSL (2014) points out that “skills of collaboration are not necessarily automatic or natural but need to be practiced and refined” (p. 8). My experience with developing an ‘effective culture of collaboration’ is that it’s not something that people external to the group have focused upon. Other leaders in similar positions to mine have remarked that it’s something that they want to build, but not something they’ve developed a clear plan for. The barriers and enablers diagram highlighted on page 4 of the diagram effectively showcases both factors which can affect collaboration.
In terms of enablers or barriers, it seems as though school culture cultivates either poor or strong collaboration. Schools with poor school culture can often be filled with teachers hesitant to share, are characterised by a lack of enthusiasm or trust while schools with strong collaboration have a shared vision, high level of trust and collective teacher efficacy.
The publication suggests learning walks, professional learning communities, instructional rounds, peer observation and instructional coaching as activities relating or encouraging collaboration. My experience within PLCs is that their success is predicated on having support from leadership. This view is in line with Timperley (2011) opinion that strong leadership is crucial for the success of the professional development.
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Price (2013) identifies that “because information flows faster and more freely than ever, and because we are better connected than ever, the barriers to learning are being dismantled” (p. 6). This shift has resulted in a massive disruption within education. Courses from reputable universities are being offered free of charge to massive amounts of interested students. While Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs) effectiveness can be debated, their potential is something that scholars must take note of.
The case study explored in this post “highlights a U.S. based provider whose platform supports teachers to get the best of the opportunities created by online and digital learning” (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2013, p.11). EduPlanet21 was created out of a need to extend conversations outside of professional development sessions where ideas and motivation often stagnated (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2013, p. 12).
Here’s a quick video that outlines it further.
The framework for the program is of four steps essentially consisting of a presentation, activity or stimulus reading material, collaboration with other users and reflection section. So essentially schools will purchase this program for staff and they’ll use it to track and encourage learning. Once a member, you’ll have access to a global resource with a vast number of educators to collaborate with.
An interesting aspect of this platform is the encouragement of rewards through monitoring staff’s progress and the potential for live video conferences with ‘virtual speakers’ (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2013, p. 13)
The case study notes:
While there is a cost for the platform – a necessary move in order to be able to pay the authors and content creators who work hard to communicate and present their ideas – EduPlanet21 is most definitely open to global collaboration and the creativity of users. (p. 13)
It seems as though the designers have stopped short of the “open” principles which they profess to embrace. Although no prices were listed on the EduPlanet21 website, it’s apparent that cost is a limiting factor to the use of this product. I’d advise a try before you buy senario. It the open and collaborative culture wasn’t flourishing when used, I’d advocate steering clear of it.
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Module 3’s readings and stimulus material were well designed to help us consider our place on a professional learning continuum.
Feiman-Nemser’s (2001) article explores her thoughts on the central tasks of learning as they relate to the stages of a teachers development. In this case, her work focuses on preservice, induction and early professional development. She explains that “the notion of ‘central tasks’ suggests that each phase in a continuum of teacher learning has a unique agenda shaped by the requirements of good teaching and by where teachers are in their professional development”(p.1014-1015)
The following table (included in the article) identifies these central tasks.
(Feiman-Nemser, 2001, p.1050)
Thinking about my own preservice teaching phase, I can definitely relate and think back to all the central tasks identified by Feiman-Nemser (2001). Despite these tasks being something that was considered, I’m not sure I can quantify the depth at which they were covered. Developing a repertoire was something focused on during practicum while the others were largely explored academically. The first task listed in the induction phase is arguably among the most important learning that needs to be done when you begin working at a new institution. Learning the context allows you to ‘get on the same page’ as colleagues, community, and students. A key difference here might be an extension of this context. What are your school’s expectations for assessment and reporting? How/when is feedback given? How do you operate the learning management system? The continuing professional development section is also characterised by tasks that are familiar to my experience in secondary education. It seems as though Feiman-Nemser (2001) central tasks are general and can incorporate a wide spectrum of the task. As this is the case, it’s difficult to generate further differences.
It is interesting to explore how different education systems provide for a continuum of professional learning. This article looks at three successful education systems – Finland, Ontario and Singapore – and discusses the policies in place to create an effective educator workforce.
In a previous post, I described how I was from Canada and have since immigrated to Australia and have been teaching here for the past ten years. I’m always interested in exploring new education models and in this case, one from ‘back home.’
It’s incredible to hear of the diversity within their education system. 27% of students in Ontario were born outside Canada (Darling-Hammond, & Rothman, 2011, p.23). That statistic would lead me to believe that there ranges of abilities within a classroom could be more pronounced. On account of this, the education branch of the provincial government recognises that teachers are “the single most important factor in the improvement of student achievement, and teacher professional development as the single most important factor in the improvement of teacher quality” (Darling-Hammond, & Rothman, 2011, p.24). It seems as though high standards reflected in a rigorous induction program, appraisal and evaluation, and an encouragement to pursue continued education opportunities help improve their teachers quality.
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In the nine years that I’ve been teaching at St. Joseph’s College, I’ve been part of some pretty fantastic learning communities.
Thinking about it, collectively, the school culture underwent a significant shift in my first year and emphasis was placed on us (teachers) as learners. A principal that arrived in the same year was chiefly responsible for this shift. 2010 marked the first inception of a PLC that I would participate in. While this version was not what I would call a highly effective rendition, we did work collaboratively to improve our practice. This was based on several prominent books within education. Teams would read sections of the book and have discussions and seek ways to implement it in our practice. While this was not as focused on specific student improvement using their data, anecdotally, we agreed that it was positive and brought with it some new metaphorical tools for our teacher tool bag.
Other versions of the PLC at St. Joseph’s have followed a process where a leadership member (part of the four-person team of Assistant Principals, House Leader or Learning Leaders) run the team of teachers with similar learning goals. These goals are based on the AITSL Standards and are driven by areas teachers would like to work on. It was in this version of the PLC where peer observation was implemented. This was either really embraced or feared by staff. As teachers refined this practise, generally speaking, the majority of staff seemed to gain a lot of insight from these discussions.
More recently (2017), teachers have been given a list of topics and were asked to “sign up” for the one that most interests them. They were then able to refine a research question and collaborate while they undertook an inquiry process. Again, one of the school leaders was placed in charge of a group. This seemed to be one of the more successful versions of the PLC it created a rigid focus on this inquiry rather than being able to be distracted by the whims of other group members.
It also important to note that group dynamics seemed to play a factor. Vangrieken, Meredith, Packer and Kyndt (2017) also identify this as a key when forming a PLC (p.57). When working with a group of motivated educators, the group was more likely to be productive. When working with educators that seemed to be disinterested or didn’t buy into the PLC, it seemed to have a larger impact on the group and impact the output negatively. In some PLC groups that I’ve observed it almost seemed like an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Philpott and Oates (2017) suggest that some group members might perceive the presence some form of leadership within the group as “surveillance by the group on behalf of authority” (p. 212). I wonder if this may fester into the negativity presented in the groups that I’ve observed.
I’m looking forward to helping shape what PLC version is in store for 2018.
Philpott, C., & Oates, C. (2017). Professional learning communities as drivers of educational change: The case of learning rounds. Journal of Educational Change, 18(2), 209–234.https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-016-9278-4
Vangrieken, K., Meredith, C., Packer, T., & Kyndt, E. (2017). Teacher communities as a context for professional development: A systematic review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 61, 47–59.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2016.10.001
One of Module 2’s readings, Schon (1991) highlighted the importance of ‘reflection in practice.’ The powerful analogy of a baseball pitcher adjusting his tactics while in the game (p. 54), allowed me to reflect on how I adapt my lessons or actions while in the lesson.
One such example occurs when I’m delivering content. Are the students’ eyes glazing over? How long have I been speaking? Do I need to give them a break? Should I emphasise this more? By thinking about these factors (while actively teaching), I’m able to make the alterations necessary to be more effective when delivering content. Schon (1991) asserts that this reflection in action process “is central to the “art” by which practitioners sometimes deal well with situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflict”(p.50). These mid-lesson alterations may help to improve the overall quality of the learning experience.
Reflection on learning, which Naylor and Bull (2000) simplify and define as “evaluation and learning after the actions have taken place”(p.57-58) is also equally important. One of my previous blog posts highlights a moment where I really began to adopt this practice in a more systematic way. As described in the post, Spillane “reinforced the importance of reflective time. He said ‘a high performing person’s mind grabs all the information it can and makes personal sense of it’ ” (Grant, 2015, para 4). This became the impetus for me implementing a ‘meeting with myself’ (as explained by Spillane) at the end of every teaching day to quickly document what worked well, the even better ifs and broader thoughts. This has helped me to not only keep a record of my successes but help me articulate problem issues so that I can systematically work towards fixing them.
Without reflection in or on learning, little progress could be made in terms of professional development.