February 2018 archive

Well, this is it.


Well, this is it. The final post of my Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) and this first part at least is being written going 100 Kms an hour on the Northern Highway heading to my home in beautiful Echuca, Victoria. My amazing wife has let me smash this out while on the way home from a weekend in Melbourne. This is a small glimpse into the incredible support she has offered me while I’ve undertaken this course. So, first and foremost; thanks to her.

To be honest, I have mixed emotions upon finishing this subject and my course. The past three years have allowed me to explore fascinating concepts of knowledge networks and digital innovation including design thinking, game-based learning, digital citizenship, classroom technologies and knowledge networks. As you’d expect, it is incredibly broad! When I began the course, I was actually hoping to find something that would resonate with me and lead me down a very specific path to become a niche expert. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t happened. The phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind. Thinking about that more critically, I’m happy with what I’ve learned and accomplished. I’m looking forward to letting the dust settle and allowing me to reflect on a more focused area of study. I’ll let you know when I know 😉

But allow me to ruminate for a brief moment…

If I’ve completed my Masters, without feeling quite like a Master… what were the gains?

As I said before, it’s been amazing to explore and thrive in the subject areas, but in my opinion, the most important thing has been expanding my personal learning network (PLN). This is the one thing that won’t be forgotten and has proven invaluable over time. I’d like to thank broadly, all those I’ve connected with at CSU for their generous support and encouragement and for their inspirational fearlessness, publishing and sharing their work with a global audience. In particular, I would like to thank a crucial node within my PLN, Jacques du Toit who has helped me learn and grow as an educator/leader over the last three years. Weekly Google Hangouts to discuss readings and assessment have characterised this period.



Reflections on Issues in Professional Learning

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this subject and in particular, combing through the course materials! There was a wide range of resources that helped me gain a solid understanding of the subject area.

In the beginning of the subject, Susanne asked us to identify our goals. I indicated that I was “ hopeful that this subject will help identify best practice and enable me to implement it with my staff in the future.”

Susanne responded by pointing out that “best practice is a term that has been used for a while – but it can be misleading. See her point below.



My second assessment allowed me time to explore not only the research behind professional learning communities but the contexts and conditions in which my school’s model works the best. It’s been great to sort out which versions of this model are more successful and as a result, begin to think about how I’ll draw from the research and lead change within my school community. Providing increased time, creating an environment that endorses rigorous debate and cultivating leadership are all places I’m looking to start. Despite having done a crazy amount of research on the topic, it’s still important to build with flexibility in mind. Huffman, Hipp, Hord, Pankake, Moller, Olivier, and Cowan (2003) caution that PLCs “cannot be prescriptive or expected to follow a linear course” (p. 68) There are too many factors moving within school organisations that can force you to augment your plans. So to reiterate Susanne’s point, it’ll be more about playing with the elements and finding out what works best within my context.

In terms of participation in the subject, I was able to utilise the discussion forum, blog and Twitter to enhance my experience.

Reflecting back, I found it difficult keep track of discussions on blogs. When I first posted to the “blog” section on the CSU learning management system, I was surprised that no one else had utilised the Think Space blogs or a free alternative platform to track their learnings/musings within this subject.



When comments were posted to the “blog” page here, no notifications were directly sent to the author of the post. This impeded potential conversations as I would often tire of checking. It was nice to connect with other students via my Thinkspace blog.


Obviously, I would have loved to participate more but unfortunately, these holidays, the family came (as it should) first. Now that my official study is finished, I’m looking forward to spending more time with them!




Hyperlinks to all previous posts:


Post 1

Post 2

Post 3

Post 4

Post 5

Post 6

Post 7

Post 8

Post 9

Post 10


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Huffman, J. B., Hipp, K. K., Hord, S. M., Pankake, A. M., Moller, G., Olivier, D. F., & Cowan, F. (2003). Reculturing Schools as Professional Learning Communities. Lanham, United States: R&L Education. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csuau/detail.action?docID=1058098




Evaluating Professional Learning


CC0 Creative Commons



Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s (n.d.) ‘The essential guide to learning: evaluation’ for provides a powerful framework to use when conducting professional learning. It correctly seeks to measure growth in terms of impact on the student, organisation and individual teacher (p. 3). While Hattie (2011) stresses the complete focus on student improvement, I believe that improvements to the organisation and individual are undervalued.


The most important aspects of evaluating professional learning are establishing the processes whereby growth will be measured. The guiding questions on the initial page of the AITSL’s (n.d.) ‘The essential guide to learning: evaluation’ provide a starting point for those planning professional learning. These questions include:


  • Is the evaluation of professional learning driven by clear and measurable goals for improvement?


  • When will the evaluation of professional learning take place?


  • How will you determine which qualitative and quantitative data will be gathered for the evaluation of professional learning?


  • How will the results of the evaluations be used to inform ongoing planning for professional learning?


Without having clear methods of evaluation, your/a school’s progress will be difficult if not impossible to measure. Based on these readings, the main learning is to rigorously plan and incorporate these points of data collection and analysis into your professional development timeline.



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Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (n.d.) The Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Evaluation. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/essential_guide_evaluation714a8891b1e86477b58fff00006709da.pdf?sfvrsn=25a2ec3c_0

Hattie, J. (2011) Maximising the dividend of professional learning. Presented at AITSL conference Promoting a National Professional Learning System: a call to action. Retrieved from https://visible-learning.org/2013/02/john-hattie-presentation-maximising- the-impact-video-transcript/

Broader debates about professional learning: Owen (2014)

In your blog, discuss which of these readings is of most value to you in your own professional context?

Owen, S. (2014). Teacher professional learning communities: Going beyond contrived collegiality toward challenging debate and collegial learning and professional growth. Australian Journal Of Adult Learning, 54(2), 54-77.




As a leader responsible for a professional learning community (PLC), Owen’s (2014) work ‘Teacher professional learning communities: Going beyond contrived collegiality toward challenging debate and collegial learning and professional growth’ seemed to be of most value within my professional context. In case, you’ve missed a previous post where this was outlined, I’m currently working within Catholic education at a secondary school in regional Victoria.



Owen’s (2014) work focused on addressing the question “ In what ways are characteristics of PLCs evident in the professional learning processes occurring in significantly innovative case study school contexts and what are the learning impacts for those involved?” (p. 60). By examining the research presented within Owen (2014), I’m able to apply the findings within my context.


Leadership is one area that Owen (2014) addresses. The idea that leadership should be distributed and that a focus should be on developing the team’s leadership skills within the group was really impactful (p. 58-59). I now find myself thinking about how I can adapt this within my context. As a starting point, rather than consistently finding/providing professional reading for my group, I’ll now allocate major tasks and be sure to open a forum for greater debate and decision making. Less significant, I can suggest that group members share their own readings within the group on a rotational basis. These small alterations may improve the effectiveness of my PLC.


School culture seems to be something that is connected to PLCs. Owen (2014) writes that “the key is building a culture which goes beyond the work group and is open to new ideas and guarding against insularity (p. 59) My experience indicates that where an open culture of learning is embraced, the PLC thrives. Voelkel and Chrispeels (2017) seemingly connect culture to collective teacher efficacy (CTE). They assert “a positive and high correlation between PLC implementation and teacher collective efficacy” (p. 520). Lee, Zhang and Yin (2011) also draws connection between school culture and CTE identifying that “when teachers were in a friendly and trusting school culture… strong collegial relationships in a PLC would make teachers feel that they were not professionally isolated but interdependent in the community” (p. 827). If CTE is as critical to school improvement as suggested by Hattie (2012), I need to focus on how to cultivate it more regularly. And, if it is a byproduct of a PLC as suggested by Voelkel and Chrispeels (2017), I need to put greater emphasis on making mine more effective.  


Owen (2014) stress that “robust debate” (p. 73) is something that also improves PLC practise. Within my context, I think generally, teachers have a difficult time with debate. Emotions can run high when peoples fundamental pedagogical beliefs are challenged. Debate isn’t a skill that’s taught but one that needs to be developed. School leaders need to help create an environment where respectful debate and discussion is encouraged.  


A final point that I’ve drawn from Owen (2014) was the importance of “time for collegial work, funding and clear expectations are an essential part of the supports and nurturing for these professional growth-oriented PLCs to evolve and operate at the most mature levels” (p. 73). A challenge for me will be to help create time for teams to meet.



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Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers : maximizing impact on learning. Milton Park, England: Routledge.


Lee, J. C., Zhang, Z., & Yin, H. (2011). A multilevel analysis of the impact of a professional learning community, faculty trust in colleagues and collective efficacy on teacher commitment to students. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(5), 820–830. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2011.01.006


Owen, S. (2014). Teacher professional learning communities: Going beyond contrived collegiality toward challenging debate and collegial learning and professional growth. Australian Journal Of Adult Learning, 54(2), 54-77.

Voelkel, R. H., & Chrispeels, J. H. (2017). Understanding the link between professional learning communities and teacher collective efficacy. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 28(4), 505–526. https://doi.org/10.1080/09243453.2017.1299015

Professional learning and student assessment


Timperley’s (2011) ‘Using student assessment for professional learning: focusing on students’ outcomes to identify teachers’ needs’ brings to light many issues that are relevant to professional learning today.


Here are 2 things that I took away from the reading.


  1. The pivotal role of leadership.


Timperley’s (2011) contextualises their involvement noting that “leaders have an important role to play in shaping this context if professional learning is not to become a series of events with little impact on practice or student outcomes” (p. 24). Here, her proposed ‘cycle of inquiry’ eliminates the idea that professional development is a one-off thing. The cycle can be observed below.


(Timperley, 2011, p. 25)


In order to have an impact, teachers can be involved in a broad range of activities. They may include:


identifying the needs of students and ensuring they are priority needs for the school; working with teachers to unpack the current levels of knowledge and the skills they bring to their classroom practice; ensuring implementation in classrooms; and assessing the impact (p. 24).


              2.  The Teacher inquiry and knowledge-building cycle to promote valued student outcomes


Timperley’s (2011) framework is based around five stages that begin with assessing what ‘knowledge and skill students need’ below, then repeats after asking ‘what has been the impact of our changed actions?


What knowledge and skills do our students need?


What knowledge and skills do we as teachers need?


Deepen professional knowledge and refine skills


Engage students in new learning experiences


What has been the impact of our changed actions?


Timperley’s (2011) identifies “that assessment information is central to the cycle and includes both assessment of student learning and the effectiveness of their own teaching practice” (p. 5) I think that one of the vital components to her model. From my experience, the further you get from using tangible data, the harder it is to quantify results.




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Timperley, H. (2011). Using student assessment for professional learning: focusing on students’

outcomes to identify teachers’ needs. Retrieved from http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/research/timperleyassessment.pdf

Approaches to professional learning: PLCs and the Charter


The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s (2012) ‘Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders’ identifies the characteristics of quality professional learning as being relevant, collaborative and future-focused. Based on scholarly research as well as personal experience, it’s clear that development model, professional learning communities (PLCs), encompasses the aforementioned characteristics.

Before unpacking how PLCs are relevant, collaborative and future-focused it’s important to explore what PLCs are and what are their key features.

AITSL’s (n.d.) describes a professional learning community (PLC) as a “group of leaders/teachers who collaborate regularly with a focus on achieving continual school improvement. The group comes together to share and critically interrogate their practice, and together, learn and apply new and better approaches to enhance student learning” (p. 6). Some keywords and phrases present in this definition include: collaborate, continual improvement, enhance student achievement.

According to Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace & Thomas (2006), there are five generally accepted characteristics of a PLC that include: shared values and vision, collective responsibility, reflective professional inquiry, collaboration and where group, as well as individual learning, is promoted (p. 226-227). More recently, Vangrieken, Meredith, Packer, & Kyndt (2017) stress the importance of leadership, group composition and dynamics, and trust and respect in an effective PLC (p. 57).

In order for a PLC to be effective, it must be relevant. AITSL’s (n.d.) definition indicates that the professional learning has a focus on continuous school improvement. This means that it’s direction or mandate is on an area that would benefit the school. Taking it down to the individual, DeLuca, Bolden, and Chan (2017) assert that teachers value choice of their own topics to study. This autonomy makes their learning relevant.

Stoll et al. (2006) claim that “learning can no longer be left up to the individual teacher” (p. 221-222). AITSL’s (n.d.) definition highlights the need for teachers and leaders to collaborate regularly. In terms of collaboration, PLCs will fail to function if collaboration does not occur. It’s also important to realise that “skills of collaboration are not necessarily automatic or natural but need to be practiced and refined” (AITSL, 2014b, p. 8). It seems as though collaboration is one of those skills that is often assumed but rarely developed. Schools need to realise its importance and target teachers capability in this area. Effective PLCs rely on this attribute and thrive as a result.  

Reflecting again on the AITSL’s (n.d.) definition of PLC, it’s apparent that this form of professional development is future focused in its inclusion of continual school improvement. This means that there is a concerted effort to constantly look for areas where improvements can be made.

Continual school improvement as relating to a focus on the future is highlighted by this PLC group.




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Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2012). Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/australian_charter_for_the_professional_learning_of_teachers_and_school_leaders.pdf?sfvrsn=53c3ec3c_0  


Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2014b). Disciplined Collaboration in Professional Learning. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/dcpl_summary_report.pdf?sfvrsn=59baec3c_0


Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (n.d.) The Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Collaboration. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/the-essential-guide-to-professional-learning—collaborationce4a8891b1e86477b58fff00006709da.pdf?sfvrsn=86a2ec3c_0


DeLuca, C., Bolden, B., & Chan, J. (2017). Systemic professional learning through collaborative inquiry: Examining teachers’ perspectives. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67(Supplement C), 67–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.05.014


Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). Professional Learning Communities: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Educational Change, 7(4), 221–258.


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