Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Self guided learning...for everyone.

What I have realised about my own professional learning over the past 5 years as a Principal is that I have had the opportunity to be self-guiding. I have become a life long learner through this opportunity. No-one delivers my professional learning on a plate. I design my own learning based on what I see and hear happening at our school. It covers a wide range of areas from responding to student achievement information through to developing my leadership practice. I have to read widely and talk with others to develop my knowledge and my learning. I seek it. I find it.

This is what I want for my staff and I'm trying to "unbundle" existing practice. (Thanks Rachel Bolstad et al for that term) My take on this is one where the Principal decides what staff need and a plan is developed that will see all staff participate in a professional development programme over 12 months. Teaching as Inquiry has a strong emphasis on teachers developing knowledge and practice based on the learning needs of their learners. Even though a school wide need might be identified, because teachers all have different previous experiences and knowledge, they start in different places and therefore will finish in different places.Is it a bit naive to think that school wide PD is going to meet all these needs? I'm not a big fan of the "sheep drench" approach to PD. At best, these types of sessions are a 'spark' or a catalyst for them to experience and perhaps further persue. Expecting automatic pick up of a "one size fits all" approach is unrealistic at best and frustrating at worst.

I'm giving opportunities for staff to develop their own professional learning by making funds available that they can use for texts, for study, for travel, for what they need for their own learning. I'm encouraging them to get out there and see what's happening and what's possible. I want the teachers at our school to have a personalised experience. I want them to have choices about their professional learning so that their needs are better met. I want to provide them with the same opportunity I have had. To be self-guiding. I want to take this further. I'm considering optional meetings/workshops - come along if this interests you or if it might complement your current learning. I'm not sure if that approach would work or not. It's a big shift from our current set up.

I'm not exactly sure that I know how to proceed. I've asked staff for their ideas and input into how they like to learn and there certainly seems that opportunities for self-guiding professional learning is desirable. I'm considering how teaching as inquiry can guide us to personalise professional learning further. I'm reading a lot of material that relates to professional learning and creating "teacher agency" and clarifying my thoughts through this post. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome.


  1. I am really interested in your approach Bede, as I too agree that the 'seagull' PD experience does nothing to sustain any real changes in teacher practice. We actively encourage staff to lead their own learning, through our Professional (Appraisal) Learning system and as a leadership team we also endeavour to model this. I guess I have a couple of things that I would see as challenges with this approach and am keen to explore other peoples ideas about how to address these challenges.

    Firstly, how do we ensure that ALL staff, including the 'swamp dwellers' / late (non) adopters fully engage in professional learning and with teacher inquiry. I agree that creating 'teacher agency' is what we should be endeavoring to achieve, however how do we develop a school culture that fosters and strengthens individual responsibility regarding professional growth and learning.

    My second challenge, is how can we ensure that school-wide targets/ strategic goals are aligned and formulated, if every staff member is able to set their own goals, that may or may not be unrelated to one how do we keep the school moving forward in a cohesive manner?

    I am really keen to hear from others about these challenges.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. sorry it's taken me this long to see it and respond.
      I see school wide goals sitting above everything and then teacher goals related to this if necessary. What we've always done is focus on a deficit area, say Maths and enlist an external PD person to tell us how to teach maths. This ignores the teachers who may have excellent practice already etc etc.
      You ask about culture and I fully support this thinking - culture is critical. I operate on a high trust model. I look for the positives and keep the messages coming that we're moving. I've also recently changed our appraisal system that has far greater teacher input into providing evidence alongside each Professional standard. Most of these are taken care of through Teaching as Inquiry.


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