Professional Learning for Educators

Learning is Required by Enokson, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Enokson 
This week my principal was fortunate to attend a technology conference in Regina where he was exposed to some great ideas around using technology in schools. When he returned from the conference he and I had a great discussion around the idea of technology usage and best practice for teachers in their classrooms. Let me start by saying that I have a tremendous respect for my principal as a leader – but I knew him as a wonderful teacher first. He was someone who consistently challenged students to stretch their thinking and encouraged students to seek alternative answers and questions. In this regard, he was certainly ahead of his time – I would suggest he was looking at inquiry based learning before it was “en vogue” in our division. The conversation we had centered on best practice for teachers and what part technology plays in it. Although our opinions about technology use are not the same – I do really appreciate the fact that he encourages our teachers to be critical of their own practices and how they are using technology in their classrooms. The conversation/debate we had was very healthy and informative for both of us.
As an aside he brought back two websites that are outstanding resources for students and teachers:

Revisiting my last blog post and reflecting on the idea of leader as learner I came across this blog linked from Twitter. Principal, Shawn Blankenship expands on the need to be learners first and to look at how we as teachers learn. A quotation he uses from Stephen Downes especially hit home for me, “Change how you learn first. Once you change, you won’t be able to go back to teaching the same old way.”
He also discusses ways that leaders can enter into great conversations with teachers around learning through the following methods:

  • Recognize what our teachers want to learn, as well as, what they need to learn. Then, make an effort to spark their curiosity.
  • Keep teachers in their uncomfort zone. Ask the right questions and want to hear their answers. “How” and “why” and “what if” questions will stretch the boundaries of their minds.
  • Assist teachers in looking at instructional challenges from a variety of angles. By discovering alternative ways of accomplishing the same problem, the teacher will learn a pool of possible solutions.Commend good mistakes when risks are taken, mistakes are made, and lessons are learned. Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Urge teachers to take the time to practice what they learn. Curiosity without initiative does not translate into results.
One of the ideas that it seems like I have come across a lot is the need to help create students who are independent thinkers. Alina Davis wrote a blog this week on exactly that topic entitled “How to Create Independent Thinkers,” and in it she focused on the work of Art Costa and the “Habits of Mind.” In her blog Davis outlines how Costa says these habits are “dispositions displayed by intelligent people in response to problems, dilemmas, and enigmas, the resolution of which are not immediately apparent.” In other words, they’re what you use when you don’t know the answer. These habits are nothing new, and you probably use many of them every day. But our students don’t have the awareness or vocabulary to express how they think, and may not know they are capable of using these dispositions. By activating and engaging habits of mind—like persistence, questioning and posing problems, thinking flexibly, finding humor, thinking interdependently, and taking responsible risks—our students become better problem solvers. I had never seen this list of habits and I think it will be something I revisit and examine how I developed these ideas in students when I was a classroom teacher. I often wonder if, as educators, we are doing enough to help students develop these “habits of mind” (this is a new term for me).
brains! by cloois, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  cloois 
What do you think about the idea of best practice and technology use? Do they go hand in hand? Are you being a learner? Are you engaged in taking yourself out of your comfort zone as a teacher and leader? Do you create independent thinkers in your classroom or staff?
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About mickpanko

New HS vice-principal...trying to figure it all out. I would like to wax poetic but it is more like leg waxing - I think.
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14 Responses to Professional Learning for Educators

  1. I say over and over, the best part about Grad studies is being present in the moment of a learner. Yes, teachers are always learning (hopefully), but being in a role labelled student is very powerful. I am a much more open and giving teacher when I see my professors modelling that exact type of behavior that I find so motivating. If Alec simply told me to “work harder” or “get my act together” or other vague and deflating comments then I would be hurt and hard-pressed to find the courage to continue to put myself in an uncomfortable zone. By allowing us these broad boundaries within which to create our projects and demonstrate our understanding, our professors are validating our identities and encouraging us to think beyond what we have already done before. I still need to work on figuring out (and taking the time to do so) how to organize my classrooms to provide a similar type of environment. This class is a perfect example of how choosing an area that isn’t necessarily within my comfort zone has motivated me the most to transform my practice. As soon as my technology requests are approved then the ground work can begin… 🙂

  2. kreuj says:

    I agree with you and Katie. I feel much more “in the zone” as a teacher when I am actively wrestling with learning new things myself. I enjoyed the “Habits of Mind” and will share them with my lab groups tomorrow afternoon as we head into the heaviest content of the term.

  3. I agree with Kathryn in that I feel it is much more “convenient” for teachers to be learners when they are simultaneously in a Grad program. Not only are we learners in the class and using these new techniques, but we are applying them in the classroom and learning how they really work authentically. I think that if teachers are unmotivated to be learners, then we should step up and show them the benefits of teachers also being learners that are highlighted in this blog post. I think what stood out in this blog post the most to me was:
    “Assist teachers in looking at instructional challenges from a variety of angles. By discovering alternative ways of accomplishing the same problem, the teacher will learn a pool of possible solutions.Commend good mistakes when risks are taken, mistakes are made, and lessons are learned. Thomas Edison said ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work’.”
    I think this is powerful because when you rely on only yourself and your own knowledge, you only see one possible solution, but when you collaborate your mind is opened up to many solutions. This is valuable because no two students are the same. What might work for one student might not work for another, and if we are to be truly effective educators, we should be doing everything we can to reach all students. I also like the emphasis on trying rather than worrying you will make a mistake. I know that personally, I am guilty of not trying something because I don’t want to make a mistake or “fail”, but the as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that one of the best ways to grow as an educator (or anything, really) is by learning from your mistakes.
    Thanks for your enlightening post!

    • mickpanko says:

      Many thanks for the comments – I am finding that, I too, am motivated feeling like a learner on my own time. This is my first class and I have found myself being far more critical and reflective of the things I have done in the past and the things I see daily at my school.

  4. lorenaleibel says:

    I definitely have taken myself out of my comfort zone as a teacher this semester. Although challenging, it is very rewarding! I have faced some resistance when it comes to encouraging critical thinkers. A quote last week from one of my students ” Can’t you just tell us what you want us to write?”

    Loved your blog post! The dynamic administration duo that you are fortunate enough to be apart of is going to accomplish amazing things!

    • mickpanko says:

      I love the ” Can’t you just tell us what you want us to write?” – you can just hear a student who knows how to do school but is not a learner…I am not sure that many would describe Jason and I as dynamic in a movement sense 🙂

  5. taylorm says:

    Those are two great websites that Jason came back with. I actually sat down and watched the khanacademy video about the Golden Ratio, a rule used to build and design building structures as well as furniture. Keep up the great work.

    • mickpanko says:

      I haven’t heard of the Golden ratio – I will look it up. Some of the resources on the internet are simply amazing and I think the more teachers aware of them – the sooner we change how we do school!

  6. tmemann says:

    As with everyone else commenting here, I feel working on my Master’s has really helped me tap into what it means to be a learner in an inquiry-based, open ended, dynamic environment. It validates so much for me in terms of what it feels like to be active in the learning process. I keep saying to people “It is like a section of my brain was asleep and now it is not only awake, it is vibrating.” I really believe this is how any learner of any age feels when their experiences are opened up, they are able to explore, pursue their passions and get messy with the learning. If it works for us, why not our students? I want everyone to feel this excitement for learning. I am sharing what I am learning with my colleagues and I am not holding back expressing my passion for what I am learning. I know not everyone will make the jump but if even one link or one idea or one question sparks one person to grab a challenge or go outside their comfort zone then it will hopefully spread. Thanks for your post, Mick! I am off to share the “ways to enter into conversations with teachers about learning”.

  7. mickpanko says:

    Like you – I am so excited about being a student again…learning is fun…we do need to uncover this passion for learning in our students.

  8. Love the notion of keeping ourselves in the “uncomfort” or “discomfort” zone. Is this not what we do with our students on a daily basis? Why should it be different for us as teachers? Great resources, Mick!

  9. mickpanko says:

    I agree Kelley – this is certainly what we need to do with students and ourselves – the best teachers are taking their students and themselves to this place on a regular basis. When this doesn’t happen in the classroom – learning is arguably not really happening.

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