4 Easy Ways To Improve Professional Learning
Author: Steven W. Anderson
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Professional learning for educators comes in many flavors:
- Face-to-face, blended, online
- Content-driven, instructional practices, Edtech focused
- Faculty meeting, half-day, conference session
If we were all to think long enough we could come up with a list of the best professional learning we’ve participated in and what made it great. For me it was learning where I connected to the presenter and the presentation immediately. And where the presenter helped me make connections to what I was learning and why it was important.
We could probably make a much longer list of the professional learning that wasn’t so great and why that was. For me it was the times where I was forced to sit in a room with other educators who didn’t want to be there, learning something that was of little value, wasn’t aligned to anything we were aware of and where our experience wasn’t taken into consideration.
What separates good from great professional learning isn’t particular to one type of learning or one style of presenting. To improve professional learning I believe there are only four considerations anyone who delivers professional learning needs to focus on to improve.
Create Communities of Practice-Perhaps one of the strongest and most rewarding ways to improve professional learning is to move from the one-off, disjointed learning events and move towards creating communities of practice (CoP). CoP’s are formed when educators engage in a process of collective learning to improve their overall practice together. The purpose is to bring all voices to the table to learn and grow together. Everyone from educators to leaders to coaches should be participating as a collective unit. CoP’s align directly with collective teacher efficacy, which research and evidence shows is one of the best things educators can do to help students improve. Within the CoP members share and learn and grow together, defined by a shared outcome. Everything from identifying the goals of the CoP to the steps taken to meet those goals, to the evaluation of where to go next is done within the CoP.
Examine Relevancy-Thinking back to all the professional learning I did as a classroom teacher there were many times I sat in a room for hours on end wondering what I was doing there. The learning may have been valuable to some in the room but it was not obvious to me. What is often lacking with professional learning is clear relevance to the participants. Our minds crave understanding, especially when we are learning. What may be obvious to the presenter may not be to those in the room. And even more critical is the alignment of the learning to things like walkthroughs, school improvement plans, the goals of the Communities of Practice or other measurable outcomes. Therefore, not only should relevancy be driven by the needs of the participants but also the overall needs of the group.
Andragogy Isn’t Pedagogy-Modeling is an important aspect of professional learning. Certainly, if we are learning a new instructional practice or an enhanced way to teach specialized content, then engaging in modeling can be beneficial. However, much of the way that professional learning is taught is done so using skills rooted in pedagogy. And it makes sense, right? Much of professional learning is lead by educators. Pedagogy makes up the foundation of our skills. However, the teaching of adults, Andragogy, looks much different. Adult learning is rooted in the synthesis of knowledge rather than memorization of skills. Admittingly, there is overlap in pedagogy and andragogy. When we look at the 7 Principles of Adult Learning, there are some differences, such as learning is best in informal situations or how previous experiences shape our learning now. The takeaway is that understanding adult learning theory (andragogy) by those that delivery and participate in professional learning is as important as understanding student learning theory (pedagogy).
Reflection Is How We Grow-It’s easy to participate in professional learning and leave it behind when it’s over for both the participants and the presenter. When we do that we miss an opportunity to not only improve but to put into practice what we learn. Time for reflection must be built into professional learning, both guided an open-ended. These opportunities for reflection do two things. The first, reflection acts as a formative assessment for the presenter. Understanding where learners are in their learning and where we are in our teaching is just as important with students as it is as with adults. The second, when the presenter engages in deep reflection about what they have presented we discover, what worked, where we have been with our teaching and what areas are ripe for growth. What are we doing well and how will that lead us to improvement the next time around?
Professional Learning is an important part of our growth as educators, yet it is often overlooked for improvement. By focusing on building Communities of Practice, improving relevancy, understanding the needs of adult learners and building in deep reflection, those that deliver professional learning can create a culture that craves these opportunities for improvement.