Envisioning Effective Professional Learning

I’m currently taking a school leadership course and we have been encouraged to InspireSignpostSmalldream big about Professional Learning in our roles as School Level Leaders from the Ontario Leadership Framework.   Professional learning is a passion of mine, and one of the main reasons that I’m considering moving into a more formal role as an instructional leader in an elementary school.

I’ve been lucky to have had an opportunity to dabble in providing professional learning in a variety of formats:

  • face-to-face workshops
  • job-embedded, school-based coaching
  • online webinars
  • online communities of practice
  • action research projects
  • collaborative teacher inquiry
  • 12-week blended learning Additional Qualifications courses
  • PLCs

I’ve also had the chance to be a teacher-learner in these spaces as well, which I believe is an important perspective to keep in mind when creating the conditions for learning in a school community – PD can’t be something we ‘do’ to people – that’s just not the way effective learning works.  Although I’m not sure exactly how professional learning would look in my school, there are two big ideas that guide me based upon what I’ve learned about teacher learning:

Learning About Learning Needs To Be A Major Focus Of The School Culture

This begins with me, the school administrator.   We know that teachers have the biggest impact on student achievement and, therefore, choosing great teachers, and nurturing the ones we already have,  must become a primary goal.   The school needs to be a learning community, with the principal being the ‘lead learner’ who can model an interest in improving their own practice.   This includes setting goals, taking risks, admitting and being comfortable with ‘mistakes’ and articulating how a professional learns from those mistakes.   I’ve learned from Viviane Robinson’s  research that there is a huge impact on student achievement when principals promote and participate in teacher learning and development, both as learners and leaders.   It will be my responsibility as a school administrator to be active in the professional learning and development of teachers with a focus on being responsive to student needs.  What might this activity look like?  According to Robinson, here are some impactful examples:

  1. Involving staff in discussions of teaching, including its impact on students
  2. Working with staff to coordinate and review the curriculum
  3. Providing feedback to teachers, based on classroom observations
    that they report as useful in improving their teaching
  4. Systematic monitoring of student progress for the purpose of
    improvement at school department and class level

Professional learning is not one-size fits all

Just as students are varied in their needs, passions and interests, so are the teacher learners in the building! If I have an expectation that teachers will be meeting the needs of students in diverse ways, then it is also something that I need to model as an administrator when attempting to meet the varied needs of teachers.  Professional learning communities need to be focused on school goals and be teacher driven.  My background in inquiry-based teaching will continue as a model for professional learning communities in my school through teacher collaborative inquiries and it’s exciting to think about the learning that is in store for me as a principal learning along with my staff.    I like what Todd Whitaker says about “people before programs” and I’d like to be able to get to know my teachers (their strengths, needs, interests) so that I could help plan effective professional learning.  I feel comfortable in offering some virtual options as well as face-to-face approaches, but supporting teachers in a variety of individual, team, and whole-school approaches is critical,  just like it is for students in the classroom.   In my experience as a teacher, I appreciate the support, focus and monitoring that an administrator can bring to the table to enhance teacher learning and ultimately keep us all focused on making a positive impact on students.

Here is a clip summarizing some of Viviane Robinson’s synthesis of the research about leadership impact in education.  I have so much to learn about building a positive school culture and welcome your stories, tips and sharing of the resources that you find helpful!   In what ways do school administrators positively impact YOUR professional learning?

Thanking our Minds on Media Presenters!

Thanks to Facilitators for Excellent Minds On Media at ECOO12

We want to thank, and to celebrate, the facilitators at Educational Computing Organization of Ontario’s Minds On Media event held on Wednesday, October 24th.

This year we had a full house of 120 participants and 9 centres! It was a hive of activity and the energy was phenomenal.

We heard many wonderful comments throughout the day, but one we overheard was a teacher saying to her colleague, “I have learned more in the last three hours than I’ve learned in years!”

Another teacher was seen to be leaving the event after an hour, laptop in hand, and we were discouraged! But, she said to us, “Wow! I’ve learned so much I am going to find a quiet spot to put it into practice. I’ll be back!” And she did return – hungry for more!

What is Minds On Media?

Minds On Media (MOM) is a model of professional learning that respects the learner’s ‘desire to know’. Teachers come to learn and we respect their choices in how they wish to do that. We want them to take a ‘minds on’ approach.

Our Core Beliefs

We believe that:

    • the locus of control for learning should be in the hands of the learner
    • the facilitator must be aware of, and respond to, the learner’s desires, needs and expertise
    • the learner should leave empowered to learn further – beyond the MOM event
    • there are always experts among us

Facilitators at MOM sessions look forward to, not only teaching but, learning with others. They respect the knowledge and expertise that each person brings to the table.

2012 Facilitators and Their Resources:


Pedagogistas are there to ensure that we don’t get lost in the mechanics of the tools – but rather remind and support us to think deeply about the role of technology in learning and teaching.

Most sincerely,
Brenda Sherry
Peter Skillen

What I need to relearn

I’m reading The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall and one of the cool elements is the challenge to connect at the end of each chapter.  Chapter 3 was about what we need to learn, unlearn or relearn as a connected educator and the tool this chapter was Wallwisher.  If you’ve used wallwisher you already know that it’s a short and sweet kind of posting on a notice board, and if you know me you know that sometimes I’m just not that great at ‘short and sweet’ responses…especially when something is muddling around in my head.

Therefore, I’ve had to expand a bit here and I hope you’ll provide some push back or ideas for me.  In terms of being a connected educator, I think that conceptually and practically I’m good at allowing students to take charge and to support them in directing their own learning.  My experience is that this usually takes us to a place that exceeds formal curriculum expectations so I’m happy, parents are happy, and students are happy!  That’s great!

What I need to relearn, is how to effectively document and plan for this….or get over the fact that you really can’t!   I like to deviate from plans (always do!) but I also like having a plan and I’m going to confess that this is where I feel weakest in my classroom practice.   Part of this comes from not using pre-fab lesson plans (I just can’t teach the same thing over and over) not gravitating toward the stand and deliver style (PBL is my preference) and every year and every group of students means different ways to inquire about topics – it changes all the time.

I need to ask for some examples from my network to help in this area.  I should connect with people like Shelley Wright for some concrete examples of how she is making shifted control work in practice.  I loved her ideas about have students select 3/4 of their assignment for her to assess in order to encourage risk-taking and playing around with learning (page 53).   This reminded me of working with student portfolios in the past and it’s really doable.   I need to search out some other examples and put them into practice for my AQ course so that I can model these new approaches for planning and assessment.

What do you do?  How are you shifting and what are the practical implications for planning and assessment?

Heartfelt Thanks to the ECOO 2011 Community!

This post will also appear on the ECOO Website for a little while, but I couldn’t resist starting with my blog – it just seems like the right place! :)

To ECOO Volunteers, Participants, Presenters and Exhibitors – THANK YOU!

Wow! What a great few days of learning we’ve just had in Ontario at the ECOO Conference!

On behalf of the ECOO Conference Committee I’d like to thank you for your support of our recent conference, ECOO 2011: Inspire, Connect, Learn to Play – Play to Learn! In planning and organizing a conference such as this, it really is a team effort from a learning community that makes it happen!

photo courtesy of aforgrave on flickr

To the conference attendees, your participation, both in person and virtually, made this conference a great success! We really appreciated your patience when needed and your jumping in to have fun when we had hoped you would. Ontario teachers know how to have a good time!

To our keynote speakers, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, we thank you for modeling such great 21st Century practice, providing an interactive

photo courtesy of digitalnative on flickr

keynote, and getting us connected to share our learning. We love the fun you provided to get us connected and learning about and through social media, all the while having fun playing an alternative reality game to save Periwinkle the PLP Penguin.

To the presenters who spent countless hours preparing for the one-hour sessions or the full-day Minds on Media facilitation, we are so grateful to you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. Many of you provided links to resources and contact information that can be found here on the online planner or here on the Minds On Media Wiki so that your impact is on-going – we appreciate your generosity as we learn from you.

To our exhibitors, it’s because of your sponsorship that we are able to remain at such a nice venue. Thank you for designing interesting exhibits and prize draws that kept us engaged and chatting about new hardware and software.

Finally, to the wonderful members of the ECOO conference committee, thank you for 3 amazing years of learning and laughter! You provided me such awesome support as a newbie conference chair as we all tried to realize our vision of celebrating Ontario teachers, focusing on learning first and technology later, and growing a connected and networked group of Ontario educators! I know I speak for the ECOO Board of Directors when I express my gratitude to all of you for the time and energy you’ve put into these events!

photo courtesy of aforgrave on flickr

Alison Slack, the upcoming conference chair, is in for a treat as she meets many of the Ontario teachers that will help to make ECOO 2012 even better! Please stay connected to the ECOO community to continue learning and I’ll look forward to meeting again next year!

Brenda Sherry

Join Ontario’s Powerful Learning Practice

Upper Grand DSB is excited to be hosting Ontario’s 2011 – 2012 work with Powerful Learning Practice.  We have room for some more teams of educators who are interested in inquiring into their practice as they shift to becoming connected educators and we’d love you to join us!

I’ve been involved this year as a connected coach with PLP and I’ve seen how this approach to teacher learning is transforming teacher practice!  Led by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, educators from K-12 and beyond spend a year working f2f and within a virtual community to look deeply into teacher practice.  Contact me if you’d like more information, or join in one of the live information webinars and bring your questions to Sheryl and Will!

We’ll begin in October 2011 and finish up with a celebration of our work in May 2012.  Hope to see you!

Click twice to enlarge the flyer for better viewing or download a pdf version:  powerful-learning-practice

ISTE Learning 2011

I admire those folks who attend a conference and seem to get their reflections posted quickly and efficiently.  Seems I take a little longer, and by now you’ve heard all about the exciting events like the flash mob, (I just love teachers!)

the Karaoke night, the International Reception or the Canadian gathering hosted by MindShare Learning.  All of those things make the networking at ISTE spectacular and the learning exceptional.

I think I’ll focus on one session that was really impactful for my work of the upcoming school year and a topic that was just perfect for me right now…a bit of ‘just in time’ learning – gotta love it!

On the recommendation of @peterskillen (the guy seems to know EVERYONE!) my first session was about TPACK presented by Judith Harris from William and Mary University.  This was perfect timing for me, as we’ve been having some deep discussions in the PLPConnectU Community about the role of TPACK in teacher education.   I’ve read quite a bit about the framework itself, and felt the need for some more practical information about how to operationalize the concept with the teachers with whom I work, and with my new students in my AQ course this fall.

Judith gave us some great takeaways at her wiki that I intend to explore for the new school year, and the one that resonated the most with me was the idea that considering activity types can be helpful as teachers understand how to operationalize TPACK in reference to their classroom practice.

If you are exploring TPACK as you learn to integrate technology, pedagogy and content, you’ll want to check out the Activity Types Wiki and ETPD

Another great resource is the PLPNetwork’s TPACK Fridays with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach!

Taking the Plunge – Online Learning Communities

I’m enjoying getting started as a connected coach with a PLP ConnectU group from Australia this month. After listening to a wonderful Elluminate session as group leaders Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Will Richardson and Susan Carter Morgan got talking to folks about getting started on the Ning and on Twitter, I was reminded about that steep, but very gratifying, learning curve when I first began to participate in social media. I’m hoping to follow up on what they were saying with my top 3 tips for getting going in networked communities of educators.

Get on there!

Educators are the kind of people that value risk taking and shifts in thinking – especially those educators that you’ll find online. This is a supportive community that will teach you – don’t worry about making some mistakes! If you can try to make it a regular part of every day or so to check in online, you’ll soon realize that this is a place where you can ask questions, find resources, and get rich professional learning, virtually for free! You may find the people you are learning from will lead you in places you’d never dreamed you’d go – in a good way! You can find people who share similar interests and then bring back that knowledge to enrich your f2f school community.

Don’t worry about seeing everything!

Teachers are thorough. Teachers like to follow through on commitments. If they say they’ll do something it bothers them if they don’t do it. Being a member of a community like twitter or a Ning is a little different – and I’m recommending right now that you cut yourself some slack in this area. You needn’t worry about reading and responding to each and every piece that is posted. Instead, explore where your interests lie and let your passion for those topics enrich the community as a whole. Dive in when you need it, and contribute when you can! A quick check of the recently posted items will let you know if there is something that catches your attention.

Share your thinking online!

Tacit understanding is that unspoken knowledge that we acquire as teachers and boy, do we ever have a lot of it! So much of what we do is not made explicit in our daily work because it’s so complex and difficult to describe. Try asking a colleague what teaching strategies they used today and see how they answer! One of the amazing by-products of participating online, where you start to make thinking about your teaching practice explicit by writing or talking about it with others, is how much it helps you understand and increase the conviction and confidence in your own teaching practice and beliefs about learning. I think that’s been one of the most valuable parts of my relationships with people online – it’s like having a global staffroom of people who are interested in the best for students!

Talk – Are You Making the Most of an Innate Process?

Today I had the pleasure of attending a second session of professional learning that we call Literacy Hubs at Upper Grand DSB.  These sessions are focused around topics that arise from the feedback that our Curriculum Department has received from schools about new learning that they’d like to have.

For part of the day teachers brought student work to share and after collaboratively deconstructing these tasks in small groups we co-constructed some characteristics of rich tasks to guide our practice toward a deeper understanding of rich and relevant tasks.

Our next block of the day was reserved for a discussion about Accountable Talk and it’s importance in learning for people of all ages.  This incredible video was shared, demonstrating a conversation between a pair of twins who are, at such a young age, learning so much about language and communication.  I’ve always been so awed by the ability of our very youngest learners to have accomplished the task of learning to talk in such a natural way before they come to school.   If you have 2:08  to watch this video,  I’m sure that it will stay with you for some time – it’s priceless!

Professional Learning, Teacher Librarians, and the 21st Century!

This past week was a wonderful celebration of the work of over half (about 31) of our elementary teacher librarians who gathered to share the projects they’ve been working on since the fall.  I was lucky to be able to work with Michelle Campbell and Bill MacKenzie , who led Year One of this great project.  I’m already looking forward to being involved next year!

There is a lot of talk at our board about the benefits of on-going, job-embedded professional learning for teachers and this project seemed to be a successful example of how this approach can work.   In the fall,  TLs were given a laptop to use for the year and they initially came together for about 3 after school workshops in order to learn a variety of new 21st century approaches, the main focus being:

  • wikis
  • blogs
  • social bookmarking
  • google tools
  • voicethread
  • twitter

They were then asked to join teams based on their own particular passions or areas of interest, and they were given 2 days of release time to meet on their own and create artefacts of their work that could be shared with their own group and beyond.   You’ll find their projects here on the UGLiWiki under Tech Coach Projects and I think you’ll join me in appreciating this wonderful group of teachers who, in many cases, were beginners to 21st teaching and have taken some giant leaps forward in developing and using wonderful tools and resources!

Great contributions UGDSB Teacher Librarians!

Celebrating Teachers of the Arts

I’m pretty excited as I go back to school tomorrow, because one of the projects I’m helping with is a day for Arts teachers in our Board (drama, dance, visual art, music).  For a long time I’ve watched my husband Steve, (drama teacher extraordinaire), work his magic in his classes, production courses and extra-curricular events, and I believe there is so much that teachers of all other subjects can learn from our teachers of the Arts.

I’ve decided to start the day introducing the teachers to Pecha Kucha by creating one that celebrates their wonderful skills (they’ll like the creativity boost that comes with the economy of Pecha Kucha).  I am inspired by this quote from David Booth’s book entitled Story Drama:

“This is the drama teacher’s struggle:    listening, watching, setting up situations that will foreshadow the direction of the journey, knowing when to intervene, when to use a particular strategy to open up discussion, to move the students into action, to cause them to pause, to reflect, to rethink, and all this without predetermining the learning, the content, the meat of the lesson.”

What hit me is that this quote really typifies the kind of work we all ought to be doing in our classrooms.  The delicate dance of teaching involves watching, inspiring, coaching, providing choices, respecting, motivating and providing rich content experiences…such a complex task indeed!

What is so amazing to watch is how through drama, Steve promotes what we want in the best learning environments:

  • an understanding that knowledge is a private reflection until we give it social value by transforming it in some way so that it can be represented publicly
  • an understanding of the critical role of building community in an environment where all voices are valued and taking risks is safe
  • differentiating how meaning is conveyed to include word, image, sound or gesture
  • a balance of focus on process and product
  • including the teacher (co-learner) as an integral part of the learning, both inside and outside of the drama
  • exploring different perspectives,  promoting higher level thinking such as analyzing, evaluating, creating
  • how understanding the big picture allows students to demonstrate their ability to synthesize
  • turning assessment into something immediate, descriptive and supportive of the whole group
  • stepping inside the past (or an issue) giving a personal connection to the curriculum
  • that drama work is never quite finished and reflection is a constant part of the process

The teachers I’m spending the day with are wondering how technology might help them with their teaching in the arts.  These teachers have, of course, always been really good users of technology – it’s just been paint, masks, props, instruments, music etc.  It’s going to be wonderful to have such a strong pedagogy base to work with.  Our focus can now move to how digital technology and Web 2.0 tools might continue to enrich their programs, for starters:

  • finding authentic audiences beyond the classroom, school or community walls
  • archiving students’ work in easy to access ways
  • provide spaces for reflection and conversation in new ways
  • using new digital tools that allow the blend of images, sound and text to express meaning

Think about the arts teachers you know.  How are they embracing technology?  Please share any comments or examples you might have so that I can share with this group of teachers next month.  Thanks!

David Booth (2005)  Story Drama
Jonothan Neelands (1998) Role Influenced Writing (in Writing in Role)
Elliot Eisner (2003) The Arts and the Creative Mind
Kathleen Gallagher (2004) Imagining Theatre and the Arts