The PLC. A catalyst for growing together, from the inside.

It is simply unbelievable how many educators think the best (and often the only) way for shifting pedagogical practice from 'here' to 'there', from what we are doing in the class today, to a place where we need to be tomorrow in order engage, inspire and motivate our students, is to 'call in the experts. To send individuals out to a place where someone tells our teachers what they should be doing and where we get a free lunch and a free pen! This crazy practise of education is only seconded by teachers who still think they are the ONLY source knowledge in the class, the type of teacher who likes the sound of their voice because it gives them comfort!

 

 

In ANY school, where growth, inspiration, motivation and engagement are considered important precursors to raised academic achievement, we should be looking at growing from within. A couple of years ago I first realised that in order to shift pedagogy I needed to have my teachers, who like all other teachers are professionals, needed to engage in meaningful conversation about teaching. So with the incentive of a heavily discounted iPad, we started our Professional Learning Community. Teachers who volunteered for the programme (to get the discounted iPad) were required to complete several tasks.

  1. Complete several professional readings of their choice
  2. Blog a summary and response to the readings (this was very important as it got teachers into the blogosphere/digital environment and the response needed to be a judgement call on the reading, I agree/disagree with this reading because...)
  3. Read other the papers from other staff members and the respond to their response in the comment section of the blog. This was also hugely important to the process as in order to delve deeper into our beliefs about educational practice we needed to have these deeper discussions.
  4. All members of the community needed to attend our eTools meetings twice a term. They were also required to share an eTool twice a term.

Each part of the process was deliberate.

  • I did not want to simply 'give' iPads to our staff because I wanted teachers to have some ownership on the iPads and to have to 'buy' into the professional learning community.
  • Teachers needed to 'blog' their reading summaries and responses so they would become familiar with an online learning environment.
  • Teachers needed to take a position with a paper formulate judgements in order to operate at a other thinking sphere.
  • They were then required to respond to another teachers position or response to a paper to deepen thinking and interaction even further. Obviously our school could only do this successfully through its already strong trust between staff.

Our eTools meetings last year were very much a 'stand and deliver' what you have done with an app, device, web2.0 tool or similar. The focus I had was really for teachers to see and be inspired by the amazing things the teacher next door is doing. The professional learning community is not about the 'expert' who has not taught in the class for twenty years. It was slab out the teacher next door and growing as a community together, from the inside. Towards the end of last year I noticed that the gap between those who could and those who could not, was growing. We were leaving some of our team behind! This is not the place we want to be in, so our focus for the eTool meetings have changed this year. I have adopted more of an 'un-conferecne' / 'camp fire' mentality. Before our twice trembly meetings we look to what teachers would like to know more about and set up several learning environments and ask some teachers who are a few steps ahead of others in their journey (not just the experts!) if they would facilitate the learning discussion for other teachers in one of the learning environments. Once again, all very deliberate. I am trying to model to teachers what is very possible in their own classes. It is not about me standing up and telling our staff what I think they need to know, it is about a shared approach and being given the opportunity to sit around a camp fire with someone a little further along the journey and to have that professional conversation.

More than anything we have done as a leadership this has been a catalyst for incredible growth in our teachers and as teachers grow, students benefit.

Obviously, it would be remiss to completely rule out the importance of involving external facilitators and 'traditional' forms of professional development, I am simply arguing the importance of growing from the inside first. It is cheaper, your teachers already understand your school culture and the 'go-to' person is now right they on staff!

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