Category Archives: Teacher Agency

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 2

Right oh, so in the last post I shared some of the underpinning thinking behind an emerging approach to professional learning for staff. To quickly summarise, I would like professional learning to:

  • is personalised (voice, choice, interests, passions, ownership…)
  • incorporates ‘play’
  • moves towards smaller self-directed groups
  • mirrors what we want to see happening for our learners
  • empowers teachers
  • provides conditions for innovation and creativity
  • aligns to our school vision.

As I started thinking about this more I started sketching out a diagram of where my thinking was headed. This is what shape it started taking.

I will attempt to explain what is going on.

  1. Central to the approach is the school vision & values. This drives everything we do.
  2. Stemming out from the vision are inquiry streams. These relate directly back to the vision and values. The streams are co-constructed by the staff and could be a new approach or idea they want to investigate further, an extension of one of our strategic goals, a passion or interest area, a hunch, known review area…
  3. Each stream has staff members who opt in to it. This group of teachers is currently referred to as a professional learning group (PLG). These are characterised by:
    • being self chosen
    • having their own budget with which they can spend as they decide (e.g. to release teachers, to engage outside expertise, going on school visits, purchasing professional texts)
    • defining their own structure/approach (e.g. the roles within the group, responsibilities, protocols and expectations, professional inquiry model, where and when they meet)
    • having a coach assigned to them to work 1-1 with each PLG member
  4. Each PLG develops a set of agreed upon expected outcomes. These clearly show how they see their inquiry impacting on the group, the members, and the learners, and will serve as a review & monitoring baseline for measuring the impact of the inquiry.
  5. It is anticipated that the members of the group will:
    • be in control
    • be active and engaged
    • highly value the professional trust placed in them
    • engage in rich professional dialogue.
  6. The coach assigned to the PLG will:
    • respond to individual and group needs
    • make links to vision and values, effective pedagogy
    • promote deeper thought and reflection
    • guide and scaffold thinking
    • not be a subject expert
    • be supported in their own development as a coach.
  7. The idea of flexible membership is explored. By this I mean the ability to be a member of more than one PLG, or the ability to drop out of one PLG and join another if you are no longer gaining anything from it.
  8. The time line for an inquiry stream is noted. At this stage this is deliberately open ended to remove any constraints of either having to start/finish within set dates. If a PLG is in the flow I want them just to keep to on inquiring to when the cycle has a natural end point.

That’s it in a nutshell. I have shared this concept with my own principal PLG, the leadership team, the staff and the Board. I have drawn it on the wall in my office so I can ponder more over the structure and implications.

In doing so what has emerged are ongoing thoughts re the place of the learner agency tool (described in Part 1) as a possible tool for supporting any measure of the impact of the streams.

When sharing the concept, there are plenty of questions thrown about and interestingly no matter what the audience the questions are the same. Some of these are shown in the image on the right. These have been great and have helped clarify how the whole approach could work.

Perhaps one of the biggest ah ha moments has been the perceptions of what leadership is all about in a school. I think that there is still a string voice that outlines how school leaders are all about managing and administration. I challenge this notion and see developing people to be the most effective they can be as the core job of a leader. Question 4 below is a reflection of this.

We are revisiting the concept as a whole staff in a couple of weeks. In the interim I have asked them to reflect and have a think re the following questions:

  1. What questions do you have?
  2. What fears do you have
  3. What development streams do you think there should be for next year?
  4. How does the concept of leadership being about coaching others first, rather than the more traditional role of admin and organisation?
  5. If you could design your own professional learning pathway, what would it look like? How would you spend your money?

The general feeling though is one of excitement and support. Looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 1

One of my goals for next year is to promote teacher agency through the implementation of a personalised approach to professional learning and development. This is an area that I have increasingly felt strongly about as I have read and reflected and had my thinking prompted by some key people.

When the goal was set we outlined the following expected outcomes.

  • PLD is personalised & involves teacher choice and voice
  • Teachers have more ownership over their own learning
  • Teachers ability to coach & facilitate conversations with each other is enhanced
  • Teacher collaboration is enhanced
  • The opportunities for teacher creativity and innovation are increased
  • Teachers articulate that their professionalism has been valued & that high trust exists
  • Outcomes from inquiry contexts will inform the focus for 2019

And while these have been set relatively recently, I am already wanting to add in another to acknowledge the relationship between classroom learning and professional learning. Something like:

  • PLD mirrors our beliefs about learning and teaching in our school.

This one is perhaps more of an underpinning philosophy, where the beliefs that drive what learning looks like for our student learners should be the same beliefs that drive learning for our adult learners.

Right let’s move on… the purpose of this post is to outline all of the influences that currently guide my thinking.

  1. The school’s vision
  2. Learner agency
  3. Personalised learning
  4. Conditions for innovation & creativity
  5. Personalised pathways
  6. Whole staff → Group→ 1-1
  7. Play based

The School Vision

Our school vision is;

Empowering agency, innovation and leadership.

This is the starting point for all that we do; reviewing, decision making, strategic direction, resourcing, budgeting, appointing staff… and as such must be a driver for and be reflected in our approach to professional learning. Thus empowered teachers, the conditions for innovation and the opportunities for for staff to lead their own learning must be present in any approach to professional learning.

Learner Agency

Our school was privileged to recently lead a Teacher Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) project  which focused on developing learner agency. One of the outcomes was the development of a learner agency self-assessment tool, derived from a matrix, which outlined the skills and dispositions of agency.

As we discussed how we could use this tool to capture data about our learners  to show progress of groups or individuals, and also review how we were providing the conditions for agency to flourish; (after all, this is critical, it is one of the key strands in our vision), I kept asking myself and then later my colleagues a question. Could this tool also be used for teachers to measure their own agency? If we change the RSS Kids in the middle to RSS Learners, would the characteristics of agency be the same for both students and adult learners?

Personalised Learning

I have found Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, WOW, Where and Why a great read. Particularly useful has been the table on the inside cover that outlines the differences between Personalisation, Differentiation and Individualisation which looks a little like this:

As a principal I don’t have a class of learners but I do have a staff of learners. So rather than looking at this through a teacher’s lens, I am looking at it through the lens of a principal. That changes it up a bit and puts me in a position where I ask myself a range of reflective questions.

For example, with a desire to personalise learning for my staff, am I providing the conditions where:

  1. Teachers are driving their own learning?
  2. Teachers are connecting learning with their interests, talents, passions and aspirations?
  3. Teachers actively participate in the design of their learning? etc

Conditions for Innovation & Creativity

Another book I am constantly going back to is George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. There is a whole lot of material in here that is influencing my thinking and personal learning. Let’s take this graphic for instance that outlines the 8 things to look for in today’s classrooms.

Once again I don my principal’s hat and ask myself a similar range of questions related to what I should be looking for in our school for my teachers;

  1. Do they have voice and choice?
  2. Are there opportunities for them to be innovative?
  3. Do I give value to and provide time for reflection? etc.

Also, recently George posted about the 4 Questions for Administrators to Promote a Culture of Innovation. The first question struck me as it is almost a carbon copy of my own underpinning philosophy recorded above.

1. Are your professional learning opportunities mirroring what you want to see in the classroom?

Often we ask teachers to do something different in the classroom, while we continue to do the same thing in professional learning. The best way for teaching practice to change in the classroom is for professional learning to look different as well. We create what we experience. If teachers are not excited about the learning opportunities that are offered, why would we expect them to create engaging and empowering environments for students?

Model what you seek.

Personalised Pathways

A recently new discovery of mine has been the work and thinking of Katie Martin who has a wealth of work been writing about a personalised professional learning approach. There is some great stuff on her blog that I encourage you to check out such as her 5 part series on the 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Shifts Practice. In Part 5 she outlines where professional learning has clear goals and allows for personal pathways:

  1. Develops skills and knowledge based on the needs of the learner
  2. Builds on strengths and interests
  3. Allows for creativity and passion to drive diverse learning experiences
  4. Honours individuals and allows them to progress from where they are
  5. Models desired teaching and learning

If you have taken note of everything else above then you can see how easily the points here dovetail with the other influences on my thinking re professional learning. Additionally when you do look at the full 10 characteristics there are many other ideas that align with my thinking including; inquiry based, collaborative, personalised and purposeful. Also I am really interested in investigating further the Create Your Own Adventure approach – that appears to have great potential and value.

Whole staff → Group→ 1-1

My thinking in this area has been influenced strongly by my own involvement in smaller more intimate professional learning groups supported by 1-1 coaching. I know that this has a much greater impact on my personal development than attending a large group professional learning opportunity. Based on this premise then my belief is that staff will also greatly benefit from small group professional learning supported by 1-1 coaching.

Play Based

I have previously reflected on my thoughts in this area as it also compliments my current thinking in personalising PLD. Again, looking at the approach from a principal’s perspective as I attempt to create an environment where the professional learning is personalised for teachers.

So what now?

OK so that is a quick overview of what is influencing my thinking. I have a plan forming in my mind about what shape it might make which I will describe soon after I have talked it through with a couple of key people.

Learning Maps and Professional Inquiry

I have been a bit of a fan of Learning Maps ever since I was first introduced to the concept 4 or 5 years ago. They were introduced alongside the concept of student agency and putting the students in the driver’s seat of learning. I reflected on the use of the maps then and after recently attending a workshop with Infinity Learning, have appreciated how the concept has grown and developed over the years as teachers and Infinity have fine tuned the approach and worked on how to make them as effective as possible in contributing to the agentic learning we all strive for.

Attending the workshop also made me ponder how this could also be used with teachers and support their developing agency, as well support them to identify an area to work on in terms of an appraisal/professional inquiry goal. When using learning maps with the students we ask them to identify an area for change, what they will do to make these changes, and who will support them in this change. This is the very same process that teachers to go through as the initial part of their inquiry, after they have identified their target students.

So a plan was hatched and I asked teachers to create a learning map that was focused on how they meets the needs of their priority learners to help them identify what they do, what resources and tools they use, and who they seek out support from. Prior to them drawing the maps, teachers had already collected a range of assessment data to identify a group of target /priority learners. The process I used with teachers was the same as what we would use with students which is outlined via a link at the bottom of the post.

Here are some examples from teachers, complete with a few blurred out bits to make them as anonymous as possible. We used a template from Infinity which provides the prompts and scaffolds to support creating the maps and the conversation that need to be had.

The arrows are important to show the interactions between people, tools and places. After attending the workshop earlier in the year we starting using a new arrow, the zig zagging challenge arrow, which we also used when working with students. The challenge areas lead the way to identifying next steps and areas to work on. This is how we have encouraged the use of arrows to add more meaning to the maps.

A little bit of learning =
A lot of learning =
Learning comes in to me, and I give it back =
A challenge in my learning =  

Once the maps were created, they were shared with a colleague prompted by; What is the same? What is different? What are their challenges? before identifying an area for change.

  • What would you like to change to help you in your learning?
  • What would you want to do differently?

This is followed up by a conversations with me to clarify the area for change (not to change it as this takes away from the teacher owning the goal and the process). This in turn helps to identify the expected outcomes/indicators for their professional inquiry goal included in their appraisal.

I guess you could argue that it is quicker just to skip the map and go straight to the conversation to identify the goals and expected outcomes. However I think there is huge value in creating the maps; it puts the teacher in the driving seat, recording how they see their learning and the interactions, or lack of between all the different areas, and from that identifying areas for change. The visual nature of the process and outcome makes seeing gaps and successes straightforward. When two teachers/learners share their map and discuss the similarities and differences, and expand on their challenges together, the collaborative nature of inquiry is highlighted and utilised. The conversation with me just formalises the decisions that have already been made.

We have also used this process with the leadership team in terms of helping to clarify their leadership inquiry goal, although in our case, these had already been set with our external facilitator. The process for me was still worthwhile, it helped to clarify the people, networks and tools that currently supporting my learning in this area and most importantly reinforce what I new are the challenges – an ever growing list. I find the process of drawing very reflective in itself and once completed provides a great source for reflection and conversations. Here is my map, related to my goal of getting to know my learners.

So what next? Like with our students, we will revisit our maps and add to them throughout the year so they are a living record of how we progress and adapt to catering for our priority learners. These updates will again be shared and discussed with colleagues, referenced in our PLGs, and used as a resource for appraisal purposes.

For those who may be interested, here is the guide we developed when creating maps with our students, feel free to use as required, however I really do encourage you to go to a workshop or have one completed in your school by the gurus at Infinity Learning. It will provide you with all the missing theory and pedagogy behind the maps which has only been skimmed over here.