Several times over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself in conversations with colleagues about the virtues of learning, exploring and discovering the new. Mostly the stimulus for these conversations was the impending PLN course run by SLV and SLAV which got underway in early May. I desperately wanted others to share in the enormity of learning I’ve enjoyed over the last year or so.
While I have successfully swept some along with my enthusiastic rambling, there are others who have literally struck me dumb with their carefully articulated responses. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to the range of time constraints faced by others, the challenges faced in fitting all of life’s demands into the one day and the abundance of other proffered excuses for delaying enrolment in any form of learning.
I’ve learned that there is only so much you can say to others to inspire them to change their ways, to travel a new road, to explore unchartered territory. This path, clearly, is not for everyone.
It was in the closing words of a conference I recently attended that a key word jumped out at me. When talking about our collective desire to affect change in our students, the conference convenor noted that there must be a desire to make that change. Sure ….. I know ….. it’s obvious….. but sometimes I think we forget the obvious when we are trying to alter the behaviour of those around us – be they staff or students.
I know only too well from my own life experience, that a flame of desire must be ignited within me before I make time in my busy life for new ventures. Once the desire is sparked, an insatiable hunger to learn and conquer new skills sprouts. And from there, a self perpetuating cycle is put in place. Success leads to more desire, which leads to a deeper hunger to learn and conquer new skills.
As I’ve commented in a previous post about my own learning- “Twittering to my heart’s content” – a key behaviour necessary for change is that of readiness:
Like the kids we teach, us adults, must be ready to learn new concepts.”
Kindling the fire, creating the passion and desire to want to learn, to want to tread different and new paths, to pursue new knowledge is what we – ‘the converted’ – should be aiming for. It is essential to engage the teacher before he/she can engage the class. To ensure engagement, teachers must see the relevance, value and application of program content.
While I’ve broached this subject previously, here is an attempt to list these thoughts in point form so that the ‘blockers’ facing so many of our work colleagues can be peeled back so that the sheer joy and excitement of ongoing learning can be achieved!
- Positive atmosphere: Fostering an atmosphere which rewards, recognizes and appreciates the efforts of individual staff works as a fabulous motivator creating a win-win situation for both individual staff members and the school as a whole.
- Make learning fun: Learning and developing new skills doesn’t have to be a drudgery. So much that is ‘out there’ to learn is fun and enjoyable. The learning sessions themselves should be a fun event in which staff will eagerly engage and participate.
- Debunk the myths: So many teachers come to web based learning thinking that it is all difficult, complex and way beyond their skill set. Show them how wrong they are by ensuring that initial tasks are well within the reach of everyone and that subsequent tasks build upon previously learned steps. Recognize that each of us have a ‘comfort zone’ from which we should be nudged slowly and gently. From this will come empowerment.
- Open communication channels: Enabling staff to pose questions, seek affirmation, or clarify processes via instant messaging platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Chat Groups and Texting is an important feature of a good learning environment.
- Remove the guilt: So often teachers feel guilty when they spend time pursuing their own learning during their busy working week. Re-defining what constitutes work is valid and necessary. Teachers should not feel guilty if they spend time ‘on the job’ figuring out how to use new tools, platforms or programs. The new skills developed will, after all, benefit the entire school.
- Making time: So often professional development sessions are held at the end of the day when teachers are understandably exhausted. Lateral thinking at the individual, department or school level can be employed to create better time slots for learning. A great example is at my own school in which once a week the students’ school day finishes a half hour earlier so that staff meetings can commence earlier. This considerate arrangement creates a win-win situation for individual staff members as well as the school as a whole.
- Celebrating achievement: Nothing is more appreciated by a staff member than a pat on the back! Such rewards can come from a Head of Department, a Head of Campus or the Principal him/herself. Congratulate staff in a meaningful way for milestones reached, new learning achieved or the demonstration of the application of new methods. Think up positive, fun ways of recognition that go beyond the basic pat on the back.
- Peer recognition: At the departmental/faculty level time could be set aside to allow individual members to share their new learning. Presenting to a small group is far less threatening or demanding than a full staff meeting.
- Small learning hubs: Exploring new programs, tools or methods as an individual can be frustrating for some. Creating a safe haven in which a small group of people can share their learning can not only be fun but can be a tool in itself to promote commitment to exploring the new. This concept is akin to a PLN, a small group in which you feel free to express ignorance or ask the most basic or complex questions of each other.
- Express appreciation: Teachers who spend time either within the school day or outside of the school day should know that their efforts are appreciated by the school as a whole. As teachers become more proficient in new skills the winners are the entire school community!