A personal philosophy for professional development

So during a medium length car ride with my boss today (Hi Terry!) we got to chatting about how we could support learners in making transformational mindset shifts. Thinking of some specific examples, we tried to unpack what the heart of the dissonance was and then think of what experiences would be valuable in specific instances to move thinking forward.

This got me thinking about what was my “defining moment” where my beliefs about professional development came together, and if I even had one. If you’ve met me, you know I don’t dabble in such “fuzzy” thinking too often…

That said, there is a picture in my mind that is crystal clear where it all snapped together. In my sixth year of teaching I was given the opportunity to be a Learning Leader in my school. It was near the beginning of a new division initiative, before massive budget cuts hit the education sector and when we were provided with some pretty amazing professional development opportunities. It was also right in the thick of curriculum renewal, and the introduction of “outcomes” and “indicators” as new language.

Our team of three were sitting in the closet work room we shared with several other people and many dusty books, attempting to plan a professional development experience for our staff. I don’t know how many days into this particular planning piece we were, but there were diagrams, notes and scribbles all over the table and paper taped to all the walls. There was lots of arm waving and getting up and pointing, and shuffling of ideas and thoughts as we tried to process all our learning and understanding and put it into a context our teachers could consume in whatever tiny amount of time we had been given to “teach” them about assessment, outcomes and indicators.

Sometime near the end of the hour, and I can’t even remember who made the observation at this point, but one of us did. This. This is what our teachers need. They need the time and space to do what we get to do as a luxury of this position. They need to muck about in what they know, and the research and their curriculum. Teachers need time to think about what’s the same and what’s different and how those affect their classroom. They need time to problem solve. They need to dabble in the theoretical and to then figure out what that means in a practical way for tomorrow.

Teachers rarely need me to teach them anything. What I can do is listen to their needs (or try to anticipate them) and act as a filter for all the noise that’s out there and provide research, ideas, and problems that stand out as ideas worth spending time on given their needs. I can support their thinking by modelling learning processes that might be valuable for both them in their learning and their students as well. I can maybe bring some efficiency to their learning. I can ask questions, poke at not quite formed ideas. I can join them in learning.

Mostly this is what I do. I try to design really productive experiences for teachers to wade around in the muck. Then I hop right in and join them.



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