This week CTQ bloggers kicked off a two week exploration of the theme: How Do Teachers [Really] Learn? I have loved reading the blogs and the insights from such thoughtful educators. It has pushed me to reflect on what I have learned about what teachers want and the implications for designing professional learning.
Recently, I was working with a group of educators who were describing their successes and challenges, while creating more personalized learning experiences for their students. A 4th grade teacher noted that not all of her students knew how to personalize their learning yet and she had to teach them and guide them. She acknowledged it was definitely a work in progress. Then, a high school teacher shared a similar story about his students having devices and resources, but being timid and unclear about how to go about “personalizing” their own learning.
Throughout the conversation we talked about their learning goals, as educators, and the support they needed. Many of the teachers acknowledged that they didn’t have experience, or were unclear about how chart their own professional development, let alone how to set up and guide the personalized learning of others.
Often, learning experiences are planned and created for teachers to attend, learn, and implement rather than driven by teacher goals, student needs, and personalized learning opportunities. When teachers learn this way, they in turn, plan similar experiences for their students. As I have shared previously, if we want to change how students learn, we must change how teachers learn.
For me, this must begin with asking teachers how they want to learn, rather than assuming. In several focus groups in diverse districts I have asked teachers to share how they want to learn. Teachers overwhelmingly want learning experiences that are:
- Purposeful- Teachers want to engage in learning with clear purpose that is directly connected their needs and applicable to their classroom. Connect to “the why” teachers need to learn and change practice before anything!
- Productive- This sounds like a no-brainer but many teachers spend a lot of time in professional learning that they don’t feel is productive or valuable. Ensure that there are clear desired outcomes and the learning experience are strategically aligned to help teachers to meet them.
- Engaging – There is nothing worse than listening someone read slides on a powerpoint about how to engage learners without actually engaging learners. Learning experiences have to model desired learning experiences and provide time for teachers to connect, reflect and do something based on the learning objectives.
- Personalized- Teachers have different needs, strengths, and learning styles just like their students. Creating opportunities to learn in diverse contexts based on subject, choice, strengths, interests and barriers in their existing context help to support diverse teacher needs.
- Collaborative– It’s exciting to engage with others who are invested in solving similar problems and bring diverse perspectives. Learning with others who have shared mindsets, goals, challenges and are solution oriented can provide powerful learning opportunities and build teacher efficacy.
- Pathways– To focus and support learning goals, some prefer guidance or “rails” to help keep them focused, yet allow enough autonomy to learn in their own way. Pathways help teachers achieve their learning goals by incremental steps that build competence in certain areas but value diverse learning processes.
- Asynchronous- There are many resources for teachers to learn when and where it is convenient for them. Creating asynchronous modules can allow learners to move at their own pace, place, time and path to access resources on demand based on their need.
- Coaching & Feedback– Sometimes we create a lot of great “stuff” for people to learn and we enjoy the learning experience but we can miss the mark if we focus on the the even of professional development rather than the desired outcome– student learning. Teachers need ongoing feedback and coaching to apply the new learning that translates to better learning experiences for students.
- Job-embedded- I have always felt as a teacher and as a coach that If you value the learning, you have to make time for it. Creating time for teachers during their work day to connect, collaborate and learn is a critical element in powerful teacher development
- Observations- It’s is valuable talk about how to teach something and collaborate with others to plan, but getting teachers out of their classrooms to observe learning in other classrooms it opens up their mind to new possibilities and
How are you creating experiences for teachers that align with the desired characteristics? What is the impact on teacher efficacy and student outcomes? How do you know? I have some examples that I will share in some subsequent posts and I’d love to hear what is working for you!