Proximity of influence

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Suzie Boss at Edutopia, posted a great article about ‘a back porch for teachers’, illustrating why it is important to create some time and space in the local community to talk about the business of learning and teaching. In this post I’d like to share how Suzie’s post aligns with some of the work I’m doing in the professional development of teachers.

Suzie reflects after meeting with teachers.

And although they took their work seriously, it was easy to see they were enjoying the extended time to talk through ideas and learn from each other. Such intensive, ongoing, and collaborative professional development is exactly what research shows to be most effective for improving both teachers’ practice and student learning. Yet for most teachers, this remains a rare experience.

How to minimise the cost and maximise the opportunity.

It seems unlikely that effective, enterprise level professional learning is about to flow into schools in proportion to the technology right now. It seems almost impossible to put a plan into enterprise action.

Professional learning:

  • has to be ‘on demand’ and fit their schedule. This means that you have to prepare resources that allow them to level up their knowledge in under 10 minutes in multiple formats.
  • text information has to be summised and digested in a minute, it has to lead to further action in one page or less. Video has to be 2-4 minutes, and each segment of interest (topic) no more than a minute and it has to play in their browser.
  • contextual development rules. They have to use the minute resources, watch the videos and take the action in close proximity to the mentor – the same room. They have to ask the questions, you have to listen not talk, and help them answer the questions.

Here are some rules I have:

  • you must be prepared to do 50% of their work for them, and in doing it, create independence sufficient for them to complete it – with you riding shot gun. Don’t do it for them.
  • you must expect that most people will have less than 10 minutes to learn something, and want to spend at least half that time ‘playing’. Observing them is key to teaching them.
  • If they walk out the room, and not applied what you taught them to a contextual situation (solving a real problem) – you will get a push back later and it won’t be adopted
  • you need to ride shot gun on their projects as a critical friend, by working though their students and not trying to ‘train’ the teacher directly about teaching.
  • iPhones are great tools – load the video – pass them the phone. People love to hold technology, not look at it. YouTube is your friend.
  • more is learned in 10 mins over coffee than at that fancy seminar. Seminars are critical however – they provide community connections.
  • limit the scope and tools: 2/3 tools is more than enough. Repeated bombing runs over 1 target is effective, aerobatics is just amusing.

Now forget all these rules; and re-write you own. Then break them. This is massive problem with quangos and committees; you have to re-write the rules often – but leave the under pinning theory in place for a very long time. That seems the opposite of what committees do much of the time.

You have to collect local data and information in vastly more quantities than ‘teach’ new things.

This collection can be the 10 minutes on the back porch. Just talking over coffee; pointing out things on a laptop and listening is so important in the professional development of teachers. They are after all professional talkers – and we are learning about listening. Finding ways to listen uses the same rules and ideas – no survey that takes more than a minute etc. Not only are we trying to teach new skills; we are trying to create new pedagogy – and that will not happen unless you find ways to spend very short amounts of time listening followed by similar amounts of time helping – them create. I don’t like ‘spoon feeding’, but do encourage you to put all your staff on a slow drip feed.

Put another way, we have to gain inches not miles, and corrupt people in minutes not hours. Why – because ‘traditional PD’ smells like ‘boring’; so we have to try to find alternative strategies, spaces and times to do it. As soon as it looks like ‘PD’, you’ll get a bolt for the door – but when it looks like I’m getting help – all about me! – I am interested.

Finally, give it TIME. Lots of time. Think in semesters not weeks or even terms. It’s easier to recover from the next ‘yeah but’ if you do.


5 thoughts on “Proximity of influence

  1. Tidy work tiger, good post!

    I read and keep nodding ‘yes, yes’ yes’.

    Heard of 70:20:10 rule of PD and organisational learning, the stuff we need to do our job (I think the bloke’s name was Charles Jennings, worked for Reuters)? 70% of what we need to do our job comes from trying to work things out ourselves, 20% from asking/working with others, 10% from formal occasions (lectures etc.). I’ve been admiring the accuracy since I heard it first 🙂

    Nice post, one to bookmark & keep.
    Take care

  2. Great outline Dean; I’ve already referred it a couple of times to PD folks here.

    I think the thing that needs to be added is the money. Show me the money, Dean!

    We need to figure out a way to measure teacher PD in such a way that it will enable the people who write checks, or authorize transfers, or deliver sacks of gold to do what they do.

    I think the key to that is the data collection piece you mentioned. If my school district could keep track of all of the things that I do that are evidence of me having developed professionally, then we can talk about how much each of those things are worth. We don’t necessarily have to put a price on each thing ahead of time either, in fact, I would discourage that. Instead, I’d like the new work to be more organic. Then when the district sees that that is actually paying off, they put a price on that on a yearly basis retroactively, currently and going forward.

    Keeping track of the things that I do shouldn’t be all that hard since most of the new things that I do with students is leaving some kind of electronic footprint.

    thanks for the push

    • Indeed, I have got rid of timesheets; as our group wiki is our evidence – which saves time in reporting, improves transparency and allows greater co-operation and self-regulation. The bad guy in much of this is the time-table and the obsession with rooming and fitting study patterns to lines of what is possible in physical space – not to mention the brain-power of the time-tabler. If you think most teachers spend 3/4 hours a week on tasks outside of their employment contract, a school of 50 staff is providing around half a million dollars worth of free labour – administrators know this, and don’t like to talk about it, let alone formally recognise it. Working in one space as a cohort evidences it. A school wiki is an absolute weapon in the discussion over how much work we are doing. Stop emailing, and start wiki-ing your conversations in the open.

  3. Hi Dean,
    Some terrific thinking here, particularly your advice about (re)learning to listen. And making PD personally useful (“when it looks like I’m getting help”), that’s the sweet spot when it comes to motivation.

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