Professional learning in school communities is unquestionably a complex and challenging concept to attend to. Teachers, like all learners, are wide ranging in their interests, their developmental pathways, their learning styles, and their capacity to engage on any given day and in any given setting. There is no standard that works for everyone (at least I haven’t come across it).
Some adult learners require movement and interaction to stay connected while others prefer to stay put, listen, and take notes. Some want to generate thoughts and ideas through a process of individual and collaborative brainstorming, exploration, and critical thinking, while others prefer to have information delivered to them. Even so, dynamic lecturers can transform the traditional “sit and get” experience into vibrant and engaging opportunities for rich, meaningful, and connected learning, and effective group facilitators can draw enthusiastic participation out of the most reluctant collaborators.
As school administrators and professional learning teams consider reflective systems and structures such as Camburn’s three phase reflective process, Gladwell and DiCamillo’s professional dyads, and/or Purcell’s “post class reflective notes,” we must also consider connected and meaningful content. How do we get at learning that truly drives individual and collaborative progress and effectively impacts student wellbeing and achievement in authentically positive ways?
Of comprehensive school reform (CSR) programs, Camburn warns, “if we wish to develop a fuller understanding of how teachers’ work experiences support the development of their practice, it is useful to look beyond their participation in traditional staff development and consider a broader array of experiences” (p. 464). He further clarifies by suggesting, “knowledge about teaching that is acquired in teachers’ immediate work context (their classrooms and the larger school organization) may be more readily applied than knowledge acquired outside that context” (p. 466). A suggestion that connects directly to the “try it out, mull it over, and critically evaluate it” professional learning triangle he points to as scaffolding for genuine reflective progress.
Individual and/or collaborative reflective practices, employed in real-time and on location can influence professional learning a ways that provide teachers with the autonomy needed to connect in meaningfully with school reform or improvement initiatives, a valued voice along their own learning pathways, and a framework regarding how learning meets application for them and for their unique student population during any given moment in time.
Enlisting connected research and reflecting on outside scenarios and ideas has its place and should not be dismissed as worthwhile for professional learning in school communities. However, school leaders must also consider that the base of any truly connected progress specific to their school community is in fact real-time teaching and learning challenges and triumphs that are also specific to their school community, and that are concurrently transpiring along with the progress. Empowering classroom teachers to drive their own professional learning through reflection on their own experiences can be immensely powerful.
Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.
*The foundation of this “And I Quote” post is an article by Eric M. Camburn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “Embedded Teacher Learning Opportunities as a Site for Reflective Practice: An Exploratory Study,” published in 2010 in the American Journal of Education.