Recently our staff took part in a day long workshop focused on play based learning run by the very knowledgeable team from Longworth Education. I found the workshop very worthwhile, providing a valuable pedagogical base and framework to support what is seemingly an aspect of education that is currently having a high profile in NZ primary education.
My mind wandered as it always does during any professional learning experience to how this new knowledge can impact my role as the lead learner and principal and my school. Throughout the day, 3 wonderings rose up above the others.
- The potential of a play based professional learning approach.
- The essential element of teacher expertise in coaching guided play.
- The importance of male teachers in play based learning environments???
This post will unpack the first point, elaborated here through a question…
How can the benefits of play based learning be utilised in a play based professional learning approach?
So let’s reference the folks from Longworth in how they describe the philosophy that drives play based learning.
Now let’s change the context and think of this as a starting point for play based professional learning: thus, primarily, play based professional learning could be underpinned by it being:
- self-chosen and self-directed;
- process rather than product driven;
- contains structures or rules established by the players [learners] themselves;
- imaginative, non-literal and removed from reality;
- occurs between those who are active, alert and non-stressed.
Does it still work? Do those statements sit comfortably with you in terms of your understanding of professional learning, (or perhaps more accurately, where you see you can transform/innovate in the professional learning space)? For me all but 1 do very nicely – I can’t seem to mould the imaginative, non-literal and removed from reality statement into a professional learning context. I know that any PL needs to be centred and targeted to improving outcomes for learners, as such, it can’t be removed from reality. Maybe in a thinking too literally.
The remaining 4 points dovetail very nicely into where I see PL moving… increasingly open and directed from the individual (but underpinned by the vision and strategic direction of the school), features a replicable process that can support other teachers in improving outcomes for their learners, is designed by and personalised for those involved (but is grounded in what we know about effective PL i.e. an inquiry approach), and is a strongly collaborative, and altogether creating an environment that supports the wellbeing of the staff.
On the topic of environments, let’s head back to Longworth and see what a played based learning environment is characterised by and then reword that for a played based PL approach.
Play based professional learning is an environment where through play:
- Teachers are in control of their own learning.
- Teachers are active and fully engaged.
- Teachers take part in rich conversations with their colleagues and their leaders.
- Teachers choose and manipulate loose parts to enable them to engage in authentic learning.
- Leaders are seen as facilitators, guiding and scaffolding the learning.
- Leaders respond to the urges and the developmental stages of the teachers.
- Leaders are able to link the learning in the play to the practicing teacher criteria/school’s vision & goals.
Once again, I prompt you to consider the above. What do you agree or disagree with? From my current thinking, all but one of them sits very comfortably with me and that is only a matter of clarification. That is the point referring to loose parts – however, if I look on loose parts as being components of PL such as; external expertise, professional texts, observations, feedback, visits, coaching, mentors, reflections etc then it makes complete sense and gets the big tick from me.
So the BIG question really is what would this/could this actually look like in practice? If you have read any of my thinking before I see professional learning, performance management & professional inquiry as synonymous with each other… now throw in some other recent thinking of mine related to the personalisation of professional learning, all of which is now infused with play. I think that is a really exciting place to explore..!
But, plenty more thinking to do in designing and discussing what this space could look like. So next I am on a quest to find out who else out there is wading through this space.
A quick Google has revealed the Institute of Play where “We are committed to empowering young people to navigate their way to a promising tomorrow by making learning irresistible. Join us in creating a movement to bring the power of play and design into every classroom”. This includes “Educator Programs: Research-based educator programs that integrate design and play”. A video outlines more. This does not fit exactly to my brief/thoughts, but it certainly helps channel and clarify my thinking.
Finally, as part of our leadership PLG here at school, we recently viewed the short video Locating Yourself – A Key to Conscious Leadership. Watch the whole thing, it is great and excellent for reviewing your leadership approach and avoiding a cup half empty view… What, you may ask, has that got to do with a play based professional learning approach?Well, take note of what is highlighted at around 2:15.
What do you think?