Two weeks of planning are upon me. At the moment, that means a strong focus on our school’s professional development program.
I fell into a really great article thismorning as I read through my bloglines account. This article, Learning Ecology, Communities, and Networks Extending the classroom came up via Will Richardson and then following the link over to Mr. Kuropatwa’s blog which brought me over to one of my favorite thinkers, George Siemens. Phew. Nothing like falling through a few good posts.
I really enjoyed reading Siemens’ article. I think it was the first time I’ve seen a balanced look at learning, where various sides or approaches are examined fairly.
Planning for a Balanced Learning Ecology
“What we know is less important than our capacity to continue to learn more. The connections we make (between individual specialized communities/bodies of knowledge) ensure that we remain current. These connections determine knowledge flow and continual learning.” (Siemens Par.2)
I think this sums up what should be happening to our PD program. At the moment we are following a course based model - everyone working the same topics of study, following the same material, working towards the same certification.
As a result of the things I’ve been reading and studying recently, I have been thinking about how to begin deploying alternative methods, towards a more independent and self-directed scheme of growth.
Marco Polo and EFL GEEK have really given me great food for thought as I ponder my way through this stuff. They helped hit home the idea that PD must be something that is done by the teacher, not something done to them.
But this raises a big question. I totally agree with the idea of “by you” not “to you.” I’m sold on it. But how do you help your peers adapt a similar posture? How can you help create a culture of self-directed learning and development?
I was thinking through this in between coffees today and this thought hit me: Self-directed is not clickable. It grows. It develops. I think we often don’t remember that. We think, self-directed is good. It’s what we want to see happen. But maybe we tend to think instant. Point and click. Note to self: it’s not!
I thought of how my son learned how to walk. At first, he didn’t even care about it. He was happy to be carried around and taken places. Then as time went on, he started to notice that the real fun was had by those who moved on their own. Just look at all the places I could go and explore if I could just move around like the big people could! (I’m no human development expert, but I gotta bet that curiosity and exploration are huge motivators.)
Walking, and this isn’t new info, is a process. You don’t just flip a walking switch on and off you go. You start with getting on your belly and pulling. You crawl. You crawl for a while. Then you’ve got to figure out how to grab stuff to help you stand. Then you start using this stuff to help you take steps, much of the time that “thing” is a helping hand from one of the bigger people. Walking also involves falling, and getting back up again. It’s a process, not a click.
Then you have the big step. When you let go of your support - that big person’s hand, the coffee table, the sofa, and you step out on your own. I remember that my son took his longest free steps in order to go after his favorite ball. He’d go out, take a few steps, and sometimes quickly return to the safety of the sofa or waiting hands. It was a little by little thing. With each attempt, he would sometimes take more risks. Go a little further. Stay “out there” for a little longer before coming back. Then the day came when he did it all himself. No support. No hands. He saw the ball, wanted it, and off he went. The kid was walking.
Nice story. We all know it. But I didn’t realize that I’m dealing with a similar situation with our teachers. It’s easy to talk about self-directed, free learning. We all agree that it’s what we want to see happen in our classrooms. But how do you get there? How do you help people get out of the “I like being carried around” concept, to walking around on their own? It’s not clickable!
That’s my first lightbulb. Just because I am including the phrase “self-directed learning” somewhere in our staff’s professional development program, doesn’t mean it will magically happen. I need to remember that this is not clickable, but a growth and development situation.
Lightbulb two: Self-directed, life-long autonomous learning will follow a similar path of development to learning how to walk. 1. I’m happy being told what I need to know.(taken places). 2. Curiosity and Exploration are great motivators - but someone has to show me and model how cool it could be to explore and find stuff out. How could curiosity and exploration be cultivated? I think a key to successful -autonomous- professional development is awakened curiousity. 3. Structure is good, as long as it is a means to an end and not the end. You need support to get up and moving, but as soon as you can, you need to move on your own. Less and less support. Less structure. In PD I see this as maybe having some base courses available. A groundwork from which to grow from. At the moment we have our teachers all preparing to take the Cambridge Teaching Knowledge Test. I am seeing this course like our big sofa or coffee table. It’s something to lean on and move along with. A way to spike curiosity and open doors for future exploration. It’s structure, but to awaken self-directed learning, it must not become the future of our Professional Development program. Only a launch pad not a train track.
Lightbulb 4: My son really took his first solo steps in order to go after his ball. He loves balls. If professional development is not done to teachers, but done by them, a good PD program should be quick to help teachers identify things they love and are curious about. Then it should step back and say “Go for it!”
As always, the floor is open to you. I eagerly await your ideas on this.
If I write nothing before, I’d like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas! God bless.