Tag Archives: professional learning

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…

 

 

 

The Non Negotiables

Late last year I read with interest a post by Dorothy Burt titled eTools – As Basic as Breathing. This post described the the expectations of what new teachers at Pt England need to know:

But to function effortlessly in the 2010 environment we WILL presume the following:

All our teachers are able to:

  • check an email account daily and manage it efficiently
  • use a computer or laptop and trouble shoot basic functions ie on/off, connect to printer, connection to internet
  • use the internet to search, find information and to communicate
  • particpate in online environments eg blogs or forums or Nings or Trademe or Facebook etc
  • manage music files in software eg in iTunes
  • manage photo files using software
  • download photos from a camera
  • use a word processing document efficiently
  • store and retrieve data from a hard drive eg your computer
  • access Google Docs
  • edit a short video clip using simple software

Dorothy continues on with of a list of skills teachers would need to learn, with support, as quickly as possible. Included here are such things as using presentation software, administering a blog, using Google Apps… the list continues.

I would encourage you to read this post and apply it to your own situation in your school. What would your non negotiable elearning requirements be?

Soon after reading Dorothy’s post I read this one from Kim Cofino titled Making the Implicit Explicit. Kim (who is soon to begin a new position at Yokohama International School where I coincidentally used to work), describes skills that are often taken for granted but are incredibly important, yet as she mentions often unidentifiable:

  • knowing to hold your mouse over an icon or a link to see what it does.
  • understanding that the menus for any program are at the top of the screen, that they are usually very similar, and generally what you find within them (for example: “view” usually means how you see things on the screen and that menu is found in almost every program).
  • recognizing when something is lit up (or underlined) on a website, you can click on it.
  • knowing that the cursor changes when held over different parts of the screen and what that means (the little arrow turning into a hand over a weblink for example, or being able to stretch out a picture when it turns into the double-sided arrow).
  • using tab to move from cell to cell or box to box on forms or websites.
  • being able to recognize drop-down menus – and that they hold additional features.
  • understanding that right clicking on things brings up more options.

We don’t need a list of skills for each application, or checklist that ensures we have taught how to change the font in Word or add a transition in Powerpoint. What we need to be doing is to reinforce these elearning operational concepts. In other words, arm teachers and students with a transferable skill set that enables them to better navigate their way online and in applications to solve problems and perform tasks independently. I still have conversations with teachers who want checklist of what skills students should know at the end of a particular school year. I have always been opposed to a prescribed list of skills that end up dictating what is taught to students rather than the learning driving the use of the technology. I remember buying a computing skills checklist back in early 2000, developed by another school in NZ. I came across it just the other day, unused, but such an interesting read!

Jill Hammonds, one of my colleagues at CORE, often discusses the need to do aware with a lot of the how-to workshops that are often prevalent in ICT professional development. These instead are replaced with 2 or 3 sessions that teach the operational concepts/skills required in order for teachers and students to successfully explore, problem solve and teach themselves. It makes sense really and as Kim mentions in her initial list, menus in screens are very similar in all common software packages.

Having an hour long PD session on learning how to use an application or online tool is an overkill. I would be the first to admit that I have done this myself many times. Instead, giving taster sessions to teachers on various etools, showing them what can be possible, combined with the focused teaching of computer operational concepts and skills that are transferable across applications and platforms, is time better spent. Quality time can then be spent on the pedagogy required to integrate these tools effectively into teaching and learning.

For all those little tricky bits and time saving short cuts in applications, nothing beats the the notion of just-in-time learning and ongoing networking of ideas between the staff and in their PLNs.

The follwoing flowchart cartoon, embedded into Kim’s post, reinforces this notion beautifully.

Thanks Dorothy and Kim for both of your respective posts. The combination of the two will initiate many good discussion amongst the principals and facilitators I work with.

Checklist photo courtesy squeaky482 on flickr.

Summer Reading

If you are anything like me you have a folder on your laptop containing numerous readings, research reports and other publications just waiting for you to find the time to read them.

Here are some of the current contents of that folder, some summer reading for you before the new school year starts again.

eLearning/21st Century Learning:

The impact of digital technology: A review of the evidence of the impact of digital technologies on formal education. BECTA. “There is now a growing body of national and international evidence demonstrating the positive impact of digital technologies on measurable learning outcomes…”

The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. Cathy Davidson and David Goldberg. “Modes of learning have changed dramatically over the past two decades—our sources of information, the ways we exchange and interact with information, how information informs and shapes us. But our schools—how we teach, where we teach, who we teach, who teaches…”

The MILE Guide: Milestones for Improving Learning & Education. Partnership for 21st Century Skills. “The MILE Guide helps districts determine where they are on the spectrum of 21st century skills integration and then use that information to plan a path for future work that brings 21st century skills in their systems of learning.”

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning. US Dept. of Education. “Online learning—for students and for teachers—is one of the fastest growing trends in educational uses of technology.”

School libraries building capacity for student learning in 21C. Foley and Hay. “An effective school library contributes to the school’s program for integrating the development of information literacy and digital literacy…”

The Pedagogy Strategy – Learning in an online world. MCEETYA. “Pedagogies that integrate information and communication technologies can engage students in ways not previously possible, enhance achievement, create new learning possibilities and extend interaction with local and global communities.”

Equipping Every Learner for the 21st Century. CISCO. “Although the vision is global, the path to 21st century education requires a local journey; one that recognizes and responds to specific challenges and opportunities.”

mLearning:

iPod Touch Research Report. Department of Education, Early Childhood Development., Victoria. “Primary school children today use mobile portable devices as a matter of course in their lives outside school. While the gap between technology devices used in everyday life and those used in schools continues to widen, many schools have decided to trial mobile devices in an effort to keep pace with emerging technologies.”

Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning. Carly Shuler. “Pockets of Potential argues that despite legitimate public concern about the “disruptive track record” of mobile devices in schools, there is reason to be excited about their potential.”

Professional Learning:

Evaluating Professional Development. Thomas R Guskey. “Using five critical levels of evaluation, you can improve your school’s professional development program. But be sure to start with the desired result – improved student outcomes.”

Designing Powerful Professional Development for Teachers and Principals. Dennis Sparks. “This book has a simple three-part premise: First, quality teaching makes a difference in student learning. Second, the professional learning of teachers and principals is…”

School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why. Professor Vivianne M. J. Robinson. “This Best Evidence Synthesis identifies the leadership activities that make a greater difference for students. The findings of the BES provide direction for leaders about where they can most effectively invest their time.”

Teacher professional learning and development. Helen Timperley. “This particular booklet is based on a synthesis of research evidence produced for the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) Programme, which is designed to be a catalyst for systemic improvement and sustainable development in education.”

Managing Professional Learning and Development in Primary Schools. ERO. “Teaching is a complex and demanding profession. Teachers require high quality support and training throughout their careers to ensure they have the strategies and skills to meet the needs of learners…”

What else can you recommend?

Promoting Teacher Professional Learning and Development

ULearn09 Spotlight with Prof. Helen Timperley co author of the Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). The good news too is that this huge document has been synthesised into an brochure/pamphlet format to make it more accessible to educators, available here.

What are the kinds of teacher professional development and learning that leads to improved student learning?

Firstly, why do teachers need PD? Amongst other reasons, knowledge is changing and the way our students learn is becoming clearer as more research and information comes to light. Teachers learning from experience is not enough!

Four understandings about professional learning for improving student outcomes:

  1. Strongly influenced by what and how teachers teach
  2. PD cannot be an add on
  3. Effective PD responds to how teachers learn (too often we focus on how our students learn but not our teachers)
  4. Shaped by the context in which teachers practice. e.g. the environment, opportunities for PD and the students themselves.

What works?

Firstly formative assessment. Formative assessment works for teachers in the same way that it does for students. Teachers know why they are learning and what they are learning. They are in control of and monitor their own success. This is a key point as so often what we practice in the classroom is not mirrored in professional learning opportunities such as teacher only days or after school workshops. We need to adapt what we integrate into the classroom, and what we know works for our students, into our professional learning opportunities.

Secondly, effective professional learning is embedded in the teacher inquiry cycle (the following stages are adapted/revised from those in the BES).

>> What knowledge and skills do students needs? >> What knowledge do we as teachers need? >> Deepen professional knowledge and refine skills >> Engage in new learning experiences >> What has been the impact of our changed actions? >>

Principals of effective PD:

Focus on valued student outcomes: (matched to appropriate teaching activities or learning experiences). The success of any PD is determined by student outcomes NOT teacher skills.

Worthwhile content: known teaching knowledge and skills form the basis of effective PD, supported by research evidence.

Integration of knowledge and skill: essential to promote deep teacher learning. Deep knowledge of curriculum, how to teach effectively and how to assess. Integrating theory and practice.

Assessment for professional inquiry: a formative approach to what teachers need to know based on their analysis and information on student achievement.

Multiple opportunities to learn and apply: within a supportive and trusted and challenging environment.

Approaches are responsive to learning processes: different types of PD are required that relate to existing teacher beliefs. Teachers are as diverse as their students.

Opportunities to process new learning with others: teacher interaction, focused on student outcomes, helps teachers put new learning into their existing practice.

Knowledgeable expertise: to challenge assumptions and beliefs, develop new knowledge and skills.