Developing a professional learning plan.

I have to confess that I struggle to overcome the dilemma of professional learning. While some seem to tackle it with vigor, others avoid all contact with it. Yet both co-exist, often in side by side classrooms. How in a culture of opt-in do people develop their own plan, get recognition and then transfer that attainment to others. I’ve been tackling this at work and so this is in someway a reflection of understanding how to at least approach it.

Professional Learning does not happen by accident.

It has either intrinsic or extrinsic motivators. “I want to learn about blogging” vs “my department is using blogs in this unit, I need to learn it”.

Motivation plays a huge role in any incremental improvement, as to make it stick, the participant needs to be interested, willing and have the social capital to implement it. I’ve heard so many times from teachers frustrated with management chains over things they want to use but can’t – firewall policy,  sabotage by other staff members (who don’t want any change) or lack of time allocated to learn new methods etc.,

Winnicott (1965) uses it to describe the conditions under which potential growth can take place

  • The belief that the learning can be achieved
  • The pay-offs will be sufficient to justify it

Two simple, yet BIG statements that preempt professional learning at the individual and group level. If you don’t believe, then you are going to have a hard time getting motivated.

Individual Belief

If you don’t believe that you can do it, you are un-motivated. This maybe due to personal attainment – access to technology, time etc., or that the organization will permit it – let alone support it. The pay-offs need to be measureable. What is the benefit? All too often the innovation that classroom teachers do is difficult to ‘prove’ as ‘better’ – to others. Developing a professional learning plan has to address these things, in order to show increased performance – and increased fulfillment and life/work satisfaction. What do you believe you can do? even if it just one thing.

I like the idea of ‘storming, norming and performing’, but initially I found it hard to define characteristics for it. I it took me a while to get it.

Individual Hit Takers

I think that we are talking about change at an initial loss. There is no pretending that the challenges we face in education are otherwise. Many have chosen to take hit at the personal level – on emotional stress, family life and greater investment in their own professional learning. It is irksome that the institution rejects the idea they might need to.

We initially stormwhich is a de-stabilisation – as we declare that there is something new to learn. This leads to a time where we seek to ‘norm’ our learning. This is a period of disorientation. We have emotional responses to what we are doing. The moments of ‘elation’ are fewer than those of anger, frustration and depression. Finally, we enter the performing phase – which is a process of re-orientation. We turn innovation into integration. We add it to the new learning and into our overall belief systems. We eventually have to face the challenges and start delivering – showing results that mean something – not anecdotal stories.

These phases require individual strategies, as each requires quite different approaches. For example: Some things are hard to measure – such as ‘problem based learning’ . Boud (1991) ‘there is no universally agreed set of practices which must be found in problem based learning courses”. Others are simpler. “21 teachers attended an introduction to wikis workshop and 4 are now using them independently in 10 classes”.

The Scale Fail

This is not sustainable for the individual, the organization or the students. This remains the challenge educational systems. How do we develop effective professional learning frameworks – as the ‘skills’ are often buried inside ‘teachers’ who are atomistic in changing their classrooms.

Institutional Fuddling

To take this to any kind of ‘scale’ is not something that will occur outside ‘networks’, as it does inside them. The local network looks something like this. It is atomized fragile, based on email, faculty meetings, conversations in the staff room etc., Not all it’s parts like change and therefore it is almost impossible to operate effectively, let alone scale. The bigger the organization, the more links and more delicate the eco-balance becomes. One person can sabotage the work of several, as most people operate as individuals most of the time.

Strategic change to the incumbent curriculum and belief system, must be a simple, yet powerful vision – followed by an operational plan. Teachers lack the social capital at the local level that they often seem to hold in spades though their professional learning networks.

The Facilating Environment

It’s great to have a PLN, but imperative that you can unleash it’s potential to the local community. The reality is that sites and services are still banned, teachers harassed by mis-informed parents. (Yes parents your kids will post things online sooner or later … that is why we are teaching them early, before they cyberbully or get bullied).

Good leadership in a Web2.0 world means solving this dilemma, not orbiting it, or citing it as ‘the problem’. Teachers, I don’t think can’t carry the day – unless leaders develop pathways addressing increasing student dis-satisfaction with their environment and modes of learning. I may well take deliberate effort to de-stablilse the previous learning in order to begin the change process. Storming begins with developing a Facilitating Environment in which we can create conditions for this growth in learning and teaching. This is a strategic plan. Simple in design, easily understood and impactful, delivered in partnership with teachers and leaders.

Develop a powerful learning plan!

I can’t imagine that anyone who has a ‘leadership’ position is not aware of how ICTs are central to life long learning and knowledge is more than ever, socially constructed – by doing. Few cannot have heard of what is possible – yet students are still waiting for them to end the digital winter and open up classroom learning to it’s potential. I imagine a courier van. The driver has a hectic schedule and the drivers door won’t open so they have to climb in an out using the passenger door. There’s no time to fix the door and as the driver is still making deliveries, then unless the other door develops problems – there is no need to fix it. I am amazed at what teachers achieve in a deficit model, and can’t begin to imagine what would happen in a facilitative one.

The future of teaching will change

The dilemma here is that as individuals, we are developing personal learning plans, we are intrinsically motivated and drawn towards global solutions. I wonder what happens as their skills begin to be in high demand. Will the get tired of using the passenger car door and take their skills at least in part, online into virtual classrooms. There is significant research to suggest that this is not only viable, but profitable, both for the individual and the institution.

Factories have closed, and yet the machine that made the workers seems convinced that they will come back. Maybe it is just bullish behaviour and no one wants to make a phone call to the ‘factory floor’ to seek assistance.

Teachers: Develop a professional learning plan. Schools: Develop a professional learning plan to support teachers. [please]


David Boud, Grahame Feletti (1991) The challenges of problem based learning. Kogam Page, London (p.15)

Winnicott D W (1965) The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment London: Hogarth Press

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Infinate Learning

FI-ligature type in 12p Garamond.
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It is an exciting and challenging time for education. In the 20th century we perceived information as scarce while in the 21st century it is over abundant. Now students have the ability to search, work or publish at will, using text, audio, and video, or any combination these. The have un-precedented access to technologies previously cost prohibitive for schools, which are usually instant and often free. Learning and teaching has become a multimodal, multi-literate conversation – where participation is an everyday reality for teachers, librarians, administrators and students.

The opposing forces of ‘memory and forgetfulness’ no longer dominate learning. Since Gutenberg’s movable type in the mid 1400s, technology has allowed us to expand our creative and mental horizons, progressively chipping away at the need to ‘memorise’ and ‘recall’. Today more information is stored digitally than in all the libraries in the world combined. We simply don’t need to ‘remember’ everything. The output of ICTs exceeds the wildest dreams of nineteenth century industrialists, and alters our view of memory; forgetfulness; creativity and originality.  Schools need to extend their vision of learning beyond ‘memory-arts’. We are in a hyperdynamic world of connections, relationships, and adaptive tools that help us make sense of the information flooding about us. We are standing at the entry of an age of infinite recall and infinite memory, the lines between original works and derivatives is blurred because duplication is simple and storage cheap. The idea that students learn from single or even limited origins is naive. Originality and creativity is now an additive and transformative process. Students need to develop insight into how to navigate and select a pathway in the online world – and for that they need help – by creating better resources, developing better frameworks inside what schools call ‘information literacy’.

Students that score well on exams can also be strategic surface learners. They want and demand the ‘answers’. While there is pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘get results’, it seems that online learning is adapting and evolving regardless of what mainstream education thinks.

For example : The Florida Virtual High School – has a very different pedagogy, and very different approach to learning.

In two words? Personalized instruction. You want choices. You want to feel that you or your students are not just numbers. You want to work at your own pace. You’d like to study at home or from a library or coffee shop. You want some say in your education, and you want classes that hold your interest!

If these are the things you want for yourself or your students, you have come to the right place. We have built our school on these beliefs:

  • Every student is unique, so learning should be dynamic, flexible and engaging.
  • Studies should be integrated rather than isolated.
  • Students, parents, community members, and schools share responsibility for learning.
  • Students should have choices in how they learn and how they present what they know.
  • Students should be provided guidance with school and career planning.
  • Assessments should provide insights not only of student progress but also of instruction and curriculum

We are presented with infinite memory. We can store, retrieve infinitely more than our fragile memory. Our lives are not limited by local contemporaries or restrained by single sources of information. The internet wiped away that idea a long time ago. The next wave for education to deal with is the nature of schools and the mode of learning itself – in the global context. It is already happening. As Australia starts looking at the next phase of it’s ‘digital education revolution’ – I hope that it pays attention to schools like the FVS. I wonder what would happen if we had a HSC Virtual High School? – Now there’s an idea.

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