The Reflection Pool

What Should Professional Learning Look Like?

Jared Bennett precipitated a great discussion at Edcamp Hamilton about professional learning with this tagline:

Sit and Git, Spray and Pray, There’s Gotta Be a Better Way.”

He wondered aloud if it was possible to think about professional learning differently than the prescribed professional activity days or the once a month mandatory staff meetings. What followed was a lively discussion where a variety of edcampers shared good and bad experiences and thought about necessary operational training, running edcamp models in schools for half a day, and why presenters and facilitators create deadly boring sessions. We all agreed that whenever a presenter says “Don’t do this with your students, but I have 45 slides to show you…” or something similar, you know the presentation is going to be terrible!

I listened, fascinated to hear some well-considered opinions about how we can learn. Sometimes I wanted to defend our district practices, but wisely held my tongue. That’s not what the discussion was about. I needed to listen and think.  At the end of the session, I was left wondering what it meant for me as someone who designs and implements structures for professional learning.

Learning is hard work and does not necessarily come naturally. I subscribe to the definition shared by Steven Katz in Intentional Interruption that it is a change in thinking and behaviour. Learning is not sharing. It’s not even having a great discussion. Learning means changing your schema.

That does not mean that sharing ideas or resources (Eduslam or Smackdown, anyone?) or having a great discussions with colleagues isn’t useful. These are important steps in beginning to learn. The real sign of learning for me is when my behaviour begins to change.

There’s no one right model for professional learning. We need a variety for different reasons. For example, self-directed learning emerges from our current work and context. We identify areas where we feel our knowledge is lacking or where we have a passion to learn more. Structured learning time with a set agenda, time for thinking and discussion and then deeper understanding provides a framework.  Learning can emerge from that framework if we can disrupt our regular patterns of thinking. Job-embedded learning helps us evaluate and reflect on the effectiveness of our actions in the moment with support from our peers. Time for reflection and even blogging gives us opportunities to consider new ideas and new practices, assess how successful they were and adjust our schema as necessary.

There’s no magic bullet to professional learning. I need to continue to reflect and refine.  I am sure of one thing: sit and git is the worst.

Photo Credit: venspired via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: venspired via Compfight cc

6 thoughts on “What Should Professional Learning Look Like?

  1. The real sign of learning for me is when my behaviour begins to change.

    This is a big component for me. Part of it is the difference between “just-in-time” learning and “just-in-case” learning. “Just-in-time” learning is usually learning we seek out on our own, in order to answer a pressing question, or solve an emerging problem. The “Just-in-case” variety tends to be PD that is done to us. Someone else decides it’s timely for us to learn about a topic, regardless of whether it seems applicable. This is always done with good intentions, and the content may indeed be immediately helpful, but for a variety of reasons we don’t think we need it right now.

    I’m not sure what the answer is. Most of the professional learning that sticks is self directed — is based on a keen interest in the subject, and is something I need in the near future. Can we manufacture that? We are experts in delivering learning opportunities, and talk about learner engagement all the time. What are the provocations we can introduce within our learning opportunities to ignite and inspire that passion and pass on the keen interest we have in the subject to our learner audience.

    I delivered a PD session recently, and at the end of the session, was asked if I would be available at a later date to go over all of it again, because it’s something that they won’t be able to immediately apply. Clearly I neglected to inspire them to use what I’m offering tomorrow. My intent was to trigger a change in behaviour; but for them it was “just in case” learning: preparing them for a reality they don’t perceive as currently applicable.

    Clearly I think it’s currently applicable. I (humbly) think everyone can benefit from what I am presenting; but I fail to impart that imperative some days.

    There is no magic bullet, but as individuals responsible for planning PD, we need to attempt — when we stand in front of a group of learners — to deliver “just-in-time” learning: whether the participants initially think so, they need to leave believing it.

    1. I think professional learning that sticks is based on a real need – either identified by the individual or group. When teachers get excited about learning and wanting every student to be successful, they want to learn for themselves. Just in time meets that need. That’s why I think it’s important to identify those student and teacher learning needs.

  2. I read this post right before bed last night, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. There are many points that I could reply to, but it was your last sentence that really played on my mind. I agree with you that “sit and git” is the worst, but I wonder if this is what many educators still want. Does it continue because of this? Last year, I heard all the time about educators that wanted the after-school inservices from years before where somebody stood at the front of the room and talked about a program, tool, or service. I love PD sessions that get us involved in the conversation instead. I love the EdCamp model where we set our own PD (so to speak). I’d like to continue to see PD sessions that change from the traditional model to something new, but just like students that struggle with a change from teacher-directed learning to inquiry, are many educators also struggling? Maybe the people at EdCamp Hamilton were the minority. Sometimes I wonder. I’m curious to hear what others think.


    1. I guess it’s easier to sit and have someone tell you what to do. It’s not very satisfying, though. Or fun. I really don’t believe that’s what people prefer. I think it’s more complicated than that. One principal I know says “how can I help you opt in?” So great!

  3. Aviva was kind of reading my mind. I go a little bit bonkers when I plan sessions, and invite people to come with their own experiences, ready to share, and then very few do, despite me practically standing on my head in asking them to do so. I still go to workshops, and find people ready to sit in rows, and be taught to, because that’s our generation’s model of learning. I’m really still sitting with, and cogitating on…how do we teach it if we’re not doing it? How do we genuinely persuade people to help their students take an inquiry approach if they aren’t sure how to take an inquiry approach themselves? How do we continue to DI professional development so we’re meeting the needs of the learners in the room, and helping all of us get to the place that Sue’s talking about, where we are ready to change a learning stance.

    If you walk into a workshop room, and see someone madly re-arranging the space to try and create an environment for sharing and shaking things up, it’s probably me. 🙂 I want to create a space that says “all ideas welcome here”, and means it.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Lisa. I appreciate it! I’m glad to hear that you rearrange the room – no other way to do it. Can I ask – do you feel responsible for other educators’ learning?

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