Teachers need to learn too
For the school to take on wholeheartedly the new roles and new paradigms that minute-to-minute and day-by-day build better learning requires far more than just a quick exposure to its principles and methods. Development of this magnitude asks a lot of teachers. They have to go through a process of un-knowing, re-learning, unpacking and re-adjusting.
When teachers want or need to develop it actually involves them in changing their teaching habits. It’s not just about knowing new stuff, it is about doing what you do differently. That’s much harder. It involves changes to;
- what you know – knowledge
- what you believe – feelings or attitudes
- what you can do – your skills
- what you actually do – putting it all into practice
So changing how you teach is a delicate, complex process … that’s why it’s hard! And the hardest thing isn’t getting new ideas into teachers’ heads it’s getting the old ones out … that’s why it takes time and effort. It takes time and practice to undo old habits and become graceful at new ones.
Cultures of enquiry for teachers
Developing cultures of enquiry for teachers might include; learning reviews; teacher learning communities; peer coaching; learning enquiries; appreciative enquiry and classroom observations. The most useful component of cultures of enquiry are teacher learning communities or Professional Learning Teams as we prefer to name them.
Changing or developing your working practices is hard and delicate work. It works best when practitioners can meet in a safe professional environment in which to explore and plan how they could change and then share and probe the triumphs, tribulations and outcomes of their classroom experiments. Research into teacher learning communities by Dylan Wiliam, of Assessment for Learning (AfL) fame, describes such teams as:
- a small group of teachers who meet together regularly
- to deepen their understanding of an approach,
- to commit to trying out new things,
- to reflect on and share their experiments with each other.
Teacher learning communities are the engines of teacher development. They work best with 6-8 teachers and, in secondary schools with similar subjects or age groups, who meet for about an hour regularly over a period of a couple of years
Professional Learning Teams, have the potential to provide teachers and support staff, with the information and support they need to develop their practice in deep and lasting ways. Furthermore these communities are designed to build school capacity to support individual and whole school change over time.
They provide a forum for supporting practitioners in converting information and research ideas into “lived” practices within specific subjects and classrooms. They provide a safe forum in which to;
- kick around ideas,
- unpack meaning when it’s unclear,
- consider what’s do-able and appropriate for students
- make plans for what and how to incorporate the ideas into practice
- share and unpack what has been tried in the classroom
- relate and share triumphs and tribulations
- reflect on what people might do differently
Because teacher learning communities are embedded in the day-to-day realities of classrooms they provide a time and place where you can hear real-life stories from colleagues that show the benefits of adopting these techniques in situations similar to your own. They provide local reassurances. As you adjust your practice, you are risking both disorder and less-than-accomplished performance on the part of your pupils and yourself. Being a member of a community of teacher-learners, engaged together in a change process, provides the support you need to take such risks.
A Professional Learning Team at work
Here’s a glimpse of a new learning team at work. It shows a short section of only the second monthly meeting of this Professional Learning Team. Here staff talk excitedly about how their pupils are responding to learning about how to persevere. The teachers are genuinely surprised about just how quickly and profoundly their young learners are responding, changing and improving. One story leads on to another.