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Five Ways for Teachers To Take Charge of Their Own Learning

A principal’s P.O.V. on how PD can serve as a catalyst for deep learning
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In Manitoba there are traditionally five provincially mandated PD days per year. This year the topics for the first four of my school’s PD days were ‘Cultural Proficiency’ (a division sponsored event), an ‘EdCamp’ (facilitated by division coordinators), a day where teachers work with other teachers from around the province in their teaching area, and a school-based session on ‘Deeper Learning and Critical Thinking’ with support from a division coordinator. Our final day will be on the topic of ‘Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports’. We will join one of our feeder elementary schools, and the day will be facilitated by divisional educational support services staff.

Although these sessions have all been of great value, and have resulted in many thoughtful conversations, the days are somewhat disjointed. The topics for each day are chosen by divisional administration or school-based administrators, without the input of the teachers that will ‘benefit’ from the PD sessions. To make these PD days more valuable, teachers need to keep the conversations going on these important topics for deep learning to occur, or this ‘one size fits all’ model needs to be abandoned for a more teacher directed PD model. If teachers are in charge of the topic of their personal PD, they will be more likely to own this time and use the division sponsored PD days as a catalyst to deeper learning and connections to other professionals within their own building and beyond. Teachers need going beyond the four or five division sponsored PD days to ensure personal and professional growth.

HERE ARE FIVE WAYS THAT I FEEL THAT TEACHERS CAN MAKE THIS HAPPEN: 

1. LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY TO PERSONALIZE YOUR PD

PD for teachers need to be relevant, flexible and personalized for sustainable growth to occur for both new and experienced teachers. Technology can and should be a major driver of relevant and real time PD. There should be an expectation that teachers are in control of, and responsible for, enhancing their practice during and after the school day. Administrators can set up schedules to encourage sharing and collaboration. No longer can teachers be isolated in their own classroom and keep up with the demands of teaching in today’s world. PD needs to be ongoing, job-embedded, and connected in a significant way and happen more frequently than the four or five division or school sponsored PD Days.

Teachers, as professionals and learners, need to be in charge of, and responsible for, their own learning. Opportunities can be provided by division and school-based administrators for teachers to work together, learn together, and solve problems together. Technology is key to help connect teachers locally and globally. Using social platforms like Twitter can provide teachers the opportunity and flexibility to collaborate in real time with educators from around the world in real time.

2. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR HANDS-ON PD WITH YOUR PEERS

To foster a culture of learning in a school, strong relationships need to be built, which includes teacher-to-teacher relationships. New pedagogies for deep learning is a focus for many schools across Canada. Deep learning happens when teachers focus on skills like character education, citizenship, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, and finally creativity and imagination. The same goes for teachers too. If teachers aren’t proficient in these areas, it’s hard to expect them to teach or assess students who are expected to learn these important skills as well. According to Evangeline Harris Stefanakis, "The word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner." Teachers need to able to ‘sit beside’ the learner and model these expected skills. Connected teachers, in effective Personal Learning Communities (PLCs), are more likely to grow their practice and attain a higher level of practice. 

Using technology and social media are not silver bullets for teacher PD – it can and should happen within the school day as well. Scheduled times for teachers to meet, co-teach, visit other classrooms and schools are important aspects of professional growth. Encouraging teachers to share and collaborate will enhance teaching and learning in the classroom especially if it is done within a family of schools. This hands-on approach while working directly with colleagues encourages further development of the skills that are being taught to students in the classroom.

3. CULTIVATE YOUR PERSONAL LEARNING COMMUNITY (PLC)

For teachers entering the profession, building a strong PLC and collaborating is the best advice I can give. Getting connected through the use of social media is an easy and effective way to consistently learn and grow, stay relevant and have fun. An example is by taking part in ‘edchats’ on Twitter is a great way to build a PLC. There are so many smart people out there, constantly doing innovative things. What I’ve come to understand is that someone else is probably already doing it and seeing their ideas and adapting them to fit my situation is far more practical than inventing new ways to support and engage students.

Taking care of and engaging kids in deep learning is our job and finding ways to become a champion for their students is vital. This is a great video for all beginning teachers (and ones who have experience) as well. I suggest that this video be watched on an ‘as needed basis. It’s a great reminder of what good teachers do every day.

 

Building strong relationships with all of students is rewarding work and can be, at times, extremely difficult. New teachers need a support system to develop skills to be able to do this well. Supporting teachers new to the profession and encouraging them to build their own PLC will help them meet the demands of their important job.

4. BE 'SOCIALLY' CONNECTED WITH YOUR PEERS

Social platforms like Twitter don’t provide the PD. Social platforms provide the opportunity to build strong relationships with people, which, in turn, provide the opportunity for real professional growth to occur. Twitter is the gateway to find articles, blogs, have discussions build relationships with other professionals with like (or unlike) views on similar topics.

Learning is social. It begins when a strong relationship is formed. The quote ‘You can’t take care of the Bloom’s stuff until you take care of the Maslow’s stuff’ also applies to teachers. Learning occurs when people feel safe. A teacher who is connected feels safe and therefore will likely be more open to and adept at taking chances allowing them to navigate the confusing and often times uncomfortable seas associated with professional growth.

5. BE A MODEL LEARNER IN YOUR SCHOOL

PD for teachers should look similar to what good teaching looks like for students. It needs to be personalized, hands-on, relevant, and provide opportunities to build strong relationships with colleagues. Technology and social media can play a huge role in having all teachers build strong relationships with people within their own school and all over the world. Having a school filled with a group of connected teachers who are modelling learning, and continually sharing, helps to build a school’s culture of learning for everyone. 


This blog post is part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? Please contact info@cea-ace.ca if you would like to contribute a blog post to this series.

Lots to like. I can only wish

Lots to like. I can only wish that we find ways to convince our provinces to think more collaboratively and systematicaaly so that we can build on initial insights we might get from a PD session.