Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Personalising professional learning

The #BFC630nz twitter chat (which I usually browse over as I eat my breakfast, because I don’t function properly at 6.30am) from this morning has really got me thinking about what I hoped would be an effective way to go about professional learning for our staff this year.
I saw a number of tweets from teachers wishing they had input into the content of staff meetings or some choice about them.I can relate.
Previous posts of mine talk about the hit and miss of most staff meetings I have attended or lead. In response to this and wanting to personalise the learning experience for my staff, we have run “Professional Learning Groups” rather than staff meetings each fortnight this year.
Each teacher has been asked to lead something and it was up to them to work out how much time they might need depending on what they wanted to achieve.
My thoughts were that a PLG might run for a term, or for a whole year. The frequency of those meetings would vary too. A PLG might meet 5 times across a term, or 5 times across a year. It would depend entirely on what the goal was.
I wanted all teachers (5 plus me) to experience that leadership role. It didn’t mean they had to be expert in something, but be prepared to facilitate. I left it open as to what staff might choose to lead. ( I need to point out, we’re all experienced teachers and have been together for a few years, so there is already a high level of relational trust)
At the start of the year, it was a bit like an Educamp, for those of you who have been. Staff pitched an idea to everyone else of a PLG they would be prepared to lead. (They also needed a second and third option too, just in case no-one was interested in the first idea or 2).
From memory, each teacher had their first idea generate enough interest to make it worthwhile.
I was away on sabbatical the first term when these new initiative was established, so I wonder if I’d been present that things may have unfolded differently.
I also surveyed the teachers using google forms to collect some initial thoughts about how they like to learn, what they wanted to achieve with their PLG and what potential barriers they foresaw.

So, what have I seen and what has happened so far?

I think there has only been one occasion when a staff member didn’t come to a PLG. Perhaps old habits die hard, or perhaps what’s being offered is meeting people’s needs. Either way, pretty much full attendance. There are 2 time slots. 3.15-4pm and 4-4.30pm. (We finish at 2.50pm, so teachers have 25 minutes before meetings start)Teachers book up on the shared doc in advance. I send out a short email prior to each PLG I lead to give  a heads up on what’s going to be the content, so people come along prepared, or could choose not to come.
Some PLGs have been one offs. This wasn’t my intention, but it met some needs. I think a PLG offered over time would probably have more long lasting effect and would offer better support. I haven’t made up my mind fully one way or the other about one offs.
Teachers do seem more interested and invested. I have no way of measuring that other than observation and from listening to people talk. It’s certainly been way more collaborative than it used to be.

Topics covered so far: Accelerating learning in Literacy, personalising learning, mask making for wearable arts, boys ed, Reading Eggs, Pond, eAsttle, Sign language, RTCs/Appraisal.
These are quite different to what I thought might be offered. My intention was to have PLGs based around identified learning goals from end of year appraisal meetings. When I look at the list above I can see that’s it’s been rather disjointed.

The #BFC630nz chat this morning had @karyngra tweet this - “Personalised Teacher PLD combined with whole staff vision building, definitely effective”.
This has prompted me in to thinking more deeply about the vision aspect and the importance of everyone having input into a collective vision.

I refer to the “Model for Managing Complex Change” adapted from Knoste, T (1991) to work out what piece might be missing if I see something not working when dealing with change:

Vision+Skills+Incentives+Resources+Action Plan = Success.

Some people have added Relationships to that as well. I wonder if our PLGs were just my idea and broadcast rather than investigating if this is the approach that staff actually wanted. (The survey results certainly supported the move however) Perhaps I didn’t do enough around the vision aspect initially. As far as Skills go, this is where coaching comes in. Some have asked for it, others I’ve approached to see if any was needed prior to the PLG. Perhaps action plans have been missing too. I developed one for my own PLG goal as it was part of something bigger across our school. Perhaps there needed to be the expectation that a PLG would have a minimum number of sessions.

Another tweet that caused “a stir” in my brain was this one - “Please don’t refer me to the charter brick I had no input in” - there’s a challenge for leadership! And well put too.

In learning more about taking a personalised approach, I read “Make Learning Personal” by Bray and McClaskey.
Their continuum of the expert learner (and this is what I want for the teachers in my school, to be, expert learners) looks like this:

Voice⇒Choice⇒Engagement⇒Motivation⇒Ownership⇒Purpose⇒Self regulation

“When learners include their voice and have opportunities for choice, this changes how they interact with the content, the teacher, and each other.”

This has significant implications for the way in which traditional approaches to PLD have been taken. Without authentic Voice there really isn’t Choice. I had to allow staff to generate their own ideas for PLGs, because if I’d made up the list based on school priorities and then got people to choose from there, they would potentially be choosing from a list they didn’t really want anyway. (much like my Mum saying I could have broccoli OR brussel sprouts - is that really a choice Mum?)

I promised an honest post. I will lay my cards on the table at this point. Another reason I have taken this approach to professional learning for staff, is that this is the way I see our classes running and I need to illustrate this for staff. I want to show the process I went through - collect voice, allow choice etc. I cannot and will not expect my teachers to implement change without being prepared to change my own ways of doing things.  It needs to be systemic and “unbundle” traditional approaches. (Thanks Rachel Bolstad for that term, I love it).

So, where to from here? What plans and thoughts do I have for next year?

I believe that a personalised approach is the way to go. When I see what is happening for learners in our classrooms I am blown away. Must dos and Can dos are the developing common language across the school. Staff certainly seem more invested and motivated around professional learning.
I should also add that I free up funds for each teacher to use to support their own professional learning and our teachers only day for the past couple of years have seen teachers going out to schools of their own choice to meet their own learning needs.
This has generally been well received and I have been in awe of the learning and action that has occurred after these visits. I think there is benefit in 2 teachers going to a school together, as the talk between people and ongoing support is important, but not at the expense of someone tacking along just to make that happen. Remember, Voice, then Choice, not just Choice.

I think we’ll carry on with this approach but perhaps couple it with some school wide stuff too. (Our school wide focus this year was being Year 2 in ALiL). But the school wide stuff would still need to be personalised. As long as each teacher can identify goals to work on, rather than all working towards one goal, then it can be personalised. A rubric can help with this showing development of skills and goals.

I have 5 staff to lead. I wonder if this approach can/could work in a big school. What would it look like? Is it possible? Would it be wanted?

Enough. I’m exhausted. Thanks for reading. Cannot wait to hear some responses.


  1. I love this line: "Remember, Voice, then Choice, not just Choice." I think you've hit it right on the head there. Just the same as in classrooms choices by themselves don't necessarily make effective learning. There needs to be a voice first and a purpose somewhere. Well done on getting this written Bede :)

  2. Wow, we're in synch today Bede, awesome reading, especially about choice and ownership of learning. As Karen Melhuish writes in her thesis, Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning [http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10289/8482/thesis.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y] "Traditionally, educators’ experiences of professional learning
    have been determined by the policy makers and school leadership, often constrained by operational budgets and priority foci. At times, professional learning has been imposed on, and out of the hands of, the individual adult 4 SOCIAL NETWORKING AND PROFESSIONAL LEARNING learner, despite decades of research that asserts the value of adult learners having agency and control over the process (Darling-Hammond, ChungWei,
    Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009; Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2011)."

    The way forward? Honoring professional and personal learning networks, finding a way to reflect on practice (Teacher as Inquiry) in a blended way - by accessing and engaging with synchronous and asynchronous online learning opportunities (both formal and informal). Karen also writes in her thesis, “Educators need to understand how to strategically integrate networks such as the VLN Groups into their professional inquiries, and
    schools need to explore more deeply what potential exists for teachers to be both strategic and self-driven, in an era when information and colleagues beyond school are easier to reach.” (p 181) I also posted about that today too :-) http://www.ethosconsultancynz.com/profiles/blogs/teachers-are-doing-it-for-themselves-pld-that-is

  3. Thanks for the comments. My post has provoked a conversation with one staff member who so far said he agrees that perhaps more discussion about the concept before initiation would have been beneficial. This was definitely my idea, supported by team leaders but told to other staff. There is some work to be done in future in this area about getting the collective vision right from the outset.
    However, he did say it was a brilliant idea to move away from the traditional and he also commented that when he looked through the list of what's been "covered" so far, he agrees, that it's been to disjointed as opposed to ongoing sustained professional learning. He gave an example of when 2 teachers approached a third to teach them guitar and every week for most of the year they met to practise together. Self selection was the key.
    He also commented about time constraints - how to give this the credit it deserves and how to prepare properly for a session that you are leading.
    I plan to survey staff now - get the feedback and allow plenty of time to consider what they're telling me before we go about planning our next step.

  4. Thanks so much for your honest reflection. Everywhere I look at the moment I see voice then choice.... and yes first was in the classroom with the kids. I went to a course recently that was saying that but unfortunately delivering in the complete opposite. We need to walk the talk. Thanks

  5. Thanks for showing me your link. I enjoyed the read, especially as you are a principal and looking at personlized learning in a different way than I am/was but now I can see how it absolutely benefits us teachers as learners as well! I love the way you have incorporated this into personalized professional development school wide. This blog challenge is my own way of personalising my PD for me :-) PS I've also commented on your comment on my blog!

  6. Wow, absolutely fantastic blog. I am very glad to have such useful information.



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