Evolving Learner: Shifting from Professional Development to Professional Learning From Kids, Peers, and the World by Lainie Rowell, Kristy Andre, and Lauren Steinmann

Honor the Learner: Peers

  • Most professional development still features a passive one-size-fits-all approach. This fails to recognize that each teacher has their own unique needs. It also fails to recognize the principals of how adults learn best (andragogy), which are 1. Being involved in the planning and evaluation 2. Having hands-on experiences including mistakes to learn from 3. Immediate relevance and impact on their jobs 4. A problem-centered approach rather than a content-oriented one. If you ask teachers what they want, words like engaging, collaborative, relevant, choice, personalized, and fun frequently appear. There is also a need for constructive feedback and reflection that support continuous improvement. Certainly, our kids need teachers who never stop learning and never stop improving. It’s time to now focus on how we shift from professional development (PD) to professional learning (PL).

Workshops That Work: Renovating the One-Size-Fits-All Model

  • One survey found that only 18% of teachers have voice and choice in their professional development. Since the goal of PD or PL is to meet the teachers’ needs, you have to start by finding out what those needs are. One way is to ask, and one way to find out what they need is to ask them to share stories. You can also ask what they need to better support their students. Teaching can be lonely so one thing workshops can do is to help them connect and share what they see as their best practices. In the end, there needs to be time for reflection, which can also involve sharing. Ideally, you can find out how they felt prior to the event and how they feel after.

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

  • The main principle is that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators. It’s about leveraging relationships with peers in a cycle of inquiry to improve practice in order to improve learning for all students. They are lead by a coach or a lead teacher. They set attainable/measurable goals, teach, observe, and record data. Then they meet to analyze the data, refine their goals, and repeat. Teachers need to be vulnerable to accept that there may be a better way to do something and trust is vital. Once teams Form they spend time Storming to create behavioral Norms that they will use to Perform before they Adjorn. There is detail here about these five stages. Principals also need their own PLCs as their job can be a lonely one. In all cases, coaches or leads need to be skilled and want the job.

Coaching Principles and Practices

  • Without coaching/mentoring there is little chance of a teacher’s new skills and knowledge transferring into the classroom. Pre-observation meetings are used to set goals. Here you also discuss and possibly research strategies. The implementation also includes a classroom observation or a video recording. The reflect stage focuses on what worked and what can be applied to other areas. This cycle never ends. Exceptional teachers of children should become coaches, but they will need professional learning to become exceptional teachers of adults. They should focus on relationships, communications, evidence, the feedback process, and how to match coaching supports with each individual. Using videos may be better as they allow the teacher to see what the coach saw. As they watch together, the coach can give affirming feedback and ask questions.

Practices in Action: Feeling Connected, Seen, and Heard

  • Vulnerability is the prerequisite for learning from peers. For peers to learn from each other, there has to be a connection, a vulnerability, and an allowance to be seen by someone else. This takes risk. The authors suggest a number of ways that teachers can connect. All involve adult learning theory mentioned earlier. Examples include making group podcasts, sharing lunch or short meetings that discuss just one thing (JOT), book clubs, using restorative practices with staff and students, and using the idea behind Google’s 20% time to turn teachers loose to innovate. Teachers can also connect beyond the building using social media.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

  • This is something that should be explicitly taught. It includes self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. SEL promotes collaboration and should be consistently modeled by teachers. We need to beware of our thoughts and actions and avoid making up stories about what other people are thinking. Here the authors discuss zones of regulation and offer tips for taking brain breaks, being empathetic, and affirming others. Play is also important as it can improve executive functioning, language, math skills, spatial concepts, social development, peer relations, physical development, and health.

Parents/Families as Peers

  • If students are an underused resource, parents and families are as well. Parents are the first and most constant teachers for their children and ideally, you can connect them to what’s happening in school. Many parents have had negative experiences in school and can find teachers intimidating. (Doug: This is more likely for parents of poor children.) The better you can get to know parents the better you will understand their perspective, which can help you to get them involved.

Tips: Listen, Be Flexible, Care

  • Leaders need to listen to their coaches in order to find out what is happening. They also need to be flexible as teachers will learn at different rates. Care for your coaches and support them as much as you can. Coaches should try to let teachers start conversations so they can open up and tell you what’s going on. Be sure to let the teachers select the goals they want to work on as they will be more invested and work harder. Encourage the teachers and do what you can to let them know you care. As for teachers, having a coach can make you feel vulnerable, but that is ok. Your coach wants to see you succeed. Be flexible with your coach as he or she is working with others at the same time. Be sure to return the caring that your coach shows you.
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