As a facilitator, and as a PhD student of education, I spend quite a lot of time thinking about teacher professional learning and development. Wearing the first hat, I think about the content a principal or leader has asked me to convey, and I think about how best to do that – in particular what activities teachers could do to get them grappling with the content at hand themselves. Wearing the second hat, I think about conferences for teacher PLD, including how conferences are designed, and whether this matches with what we know about effective PLD and with what teachers are actually asked to do in their classrooms.
What I haven’t ever thought about, until now, is the ideas about how teachers learn that underpin my thinking, and the thinking of others who design and support teacher PLD. This is known as ‘teacher learning’, and research suggests that how leaders (facilitators, principals, administrators, etc.) believe teachers learn directly influences their leadership practices, their interpretation of policy, their allocation of resources, and their design of PLD for teachers (Coburn, 2005; Nelson, 1998; Spillane, 2000).
For example, Coburn (2005), examines the practices of two US principals who design, resource, and support teacher PLD in reading in light of reformed policy. One principal sees knowledge construction as the transfer of knowledge as ‘stuff’ from the head of an expert to the head of a teacher. Therefore she prioritises accessing external experts and expert materials and bringing these into her school for her teachers to learn from. Teachers are also given time, and are encouraged to try out the materials and techniques in their classrooms. The other principal sees knowledge construction as a social and collaborative activity: less about knowledge transference, and more about teachers thinking about their practice and what might need to shift. This leads to prioritising building professional learning communities and networks: making sure teachers have time to learn with and from one another.
This leads me to consider my own practices. What do I prioritise when designing professional learning experiences for teachers? I actively seek to talk from the front as little as possible. I prioritise activities that encourage and support teachers to explore ideas and reflect on what they currently know, and what they might need to find out next. I guess, to put a bit of a fancy label on it, I see teacher learning as being both individual and socially constructed (Borko, 2004).
And it makes me wonder. What do other facilitators, teachers, principals, policy makers, etc. base their PLD design on? What does their PLD programme suggest about how they understand teachers to learn?
Borko, H. (2004). Professional development and teacher learning: Mapping the terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3-15.
Coburn, C. E. (2005). Shaping teacher sensemaking: School leaders and the enactment of reading policy. Educational Policy, 19(3), 476-509. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/0895904805276143
Nelson, B. S. (1998). Lenses on learning: Administrators’ views on reform and the professional development of teachers. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 1(2), 191-215.
Spillane, J. P. (2000). District leaders’ perceptions of teacher learning. CPRE Occasional Paper Series.