Category Archives: PLD

Play based learning… played based professional learning?

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.

http://www.longwortheducation.co.nz/

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 I am 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.

http://www.longwortheducation.co.nz/

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?

Thoughts on implications for variability in teacher effectiveness…

hattieThis post is an initial reaction to a recent read of Hattie’s What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise and some conversations at my principal PLG.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, would have been great to have this publication in my hands when I was completing the lit review for my final masters paper, never-the-less I have found it a thought provoking read that I am still fully understanding all of the implications and takeaways for my situation.

For me, the main purpose of the piece is to suggest a set of conditions i.e. collaborative expertise, to counter the known variability of teacher effectiveness within schools.

There are many causes of this variance within schools, but I would argue that the most important (and one that we have some influence to reduce) is the variability in the effectiveness of teachers. I don’t mean to suggest that all teachers are bad; I mean that there is a great deal of variability among teachers in the effect that they have on student learning. (Hattie, 2015, p. 1)

I really like the grounding concept discussed which clearly sets out that the effectiveness ‘measure’ of the teacher is progress made by students, not simply students meeting standards of achievement. This is a great reminder and reinforcer especially in the era of line-in-the-sand achievement milestones where learning progress is not always seen, or maybe overshadowed by a tick in the Below or Well Below column.

Other highlights, there are lots and I am not doing them justice here, but here’s a snapshot: importance of moderation, high expectations, the use of smart assessment tools, discussion about assessing more than just the basics but also the how-to aspects of learning, the role of the school leader in creating an evaluative climate, use of student voice to evaluate impact of teaching, that if students are not learning we need to change the way we teach and of course the underlying principle of using the expertise of effective teachers to lift teaching across the educational community.

Anyway, my train of thought went off on a tangent and began exploring what this meant for teacher appraisal, performance management, professional inquiry and professional learning and development, especially after this discussion:

Yes, the essence of many teachers’ sense of professionalism is their autonomy to teach as they wish. But they do not have a right to such autonomy if they are not systematically teaching in a manner where the majority of their students gain at least a year’s progress for a year’s input.

So this got me thinking, that with a variety in teacher effectiveness, that amongst other things, there must also be a variety in the way teachers are appraised and monitored, variety in what professional learning and development they receive, variety of expectations surrounding their professional inquiry, and a variety in the length of the “leash” of professional trust. These thoughts are not new to me, but reading this publications has brought them back to the top.

Of course in my mind this mirrors what we should see happening with our students, that learning is personalised to their needs, they know where their strengths and weaknesses, set goals and critically reflect on their progress, to have a growth mindset, the list goes on..

So what could this look like for me, relatively fresh into the current school I am leading?

Currently, for better or for worse, there is generally a one size fits all approach where teachers have them same expectations and checkpoints, and opportunities for PLD as each other. The is the same minimum expectation for collecting assessments – the key word is consistency. Some of the thinking behind this is that a lot of this has come about to establish some norms and expectations to a new way of thinking and new approaches to building teacher effectiveness. Teacher inquiry is still in its infancy, there is a new assessment regime, and a clear focus on our priority learners. In establishing these the strategy has been a consistent one.

The only real opportunity for teachers to have choice and direct their learning is within the approach to teacher inquiry where there is scope for them to determine the focus and plan the interventions. I guess this happens though within quite a tight structure. However the intent here is to take in a gradual release of responsibility approach i.e. pull in the reins before letting them go, over time, full stem ahead, but only if they demonstrate their participation and understanding (effectiveness?). We have also budgeted for teachers to have a PLO (personal learning opportunity), where they are released to engage in their own choice of PLD such as a school visit/observations, talking to experts, engaging in professional reading…

Some questions though arise the more I think, for example:

  • How will teachers react when some receive more PLD than others, based on their effectiveness as a teacher? (think equity vs. equality debate)
  • How so when some get ‘appraised’ more often than others?
  • When some get the own PLD budget to utilise, while some are ‘required’ to attend certain PLD opportunities?
  • Is my thinking being constrained by my mental image of what PLD looks like? By what appraisal looks like?

I would hope that a purely professional viewpoint would be taken by everyone as they acknowledge that everyone has different needs (and as mentioned above, just like the learners in their class).

Where to next is the closing ponder. It was suggested to me today that the future of PLD is in 1-1 coaching, personalised to each teacher. This conceptually fits with the direction my mind is going in. I am committed to exploring this further, finding schools who have a personalised approach but also ones that haven’t lost sight of the power of collaboration. Thus any future design would still need to incorporate opportunities to come together for dialogue and that collective problem solving and sharing of expertise, all within a personalised approach first and foremost. I find the thoughts quite exciting and the future direction full of possibilities. Who out there has already started the journey – I would love to connect with you…