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?

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2 Replies to “Envisioning Effective Professional Learning”

  1. I so enjoyed reading this reflection, Brenda. You have encouraged me to dig and find information on Viviane Robinson’s work. Her ideas have intrigued me and certainly speak to me as someone who wants so much to be a part of teacher’s learning. Having been out of the classroom for so long, I sometimes feel a little out of touch with how to apply current best practices. I am so fortunate that you are part of this course, Brenda. I am learning so much from you!

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  2. I’ve found that schools are like our favourite coffee shops, which provide great service, are friendly and efficient. Their staff might know us by name and definitely have impeccable manners. The shop has great coffee, maybe a little extra value added by way of a small cookie, fresh newspapers. Everything we enjoy about a coffee shop experience. Then, when we meet the owner, well, we see that his staff are just like him! My experience is that schools are also culturally driven, from the top. Leadership with clear goals based on the learning needs of its clientele, who then focuses on the most appropriate journey to meet those goals not only checks the evidence regularly but also does so by carefully bringing out the best in its staff. Schools are communities of human beings and human beings love being a part of something. The keyword must be ‘collaboration.’

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