I recently read an impassioned article by Geoff Eggins “Teacher Learners: Towards Realistic and Sustainable ICT Professional Development in Schools” in the journal Education Technology Solutions (Issue 41: April/May 2011). Unfortunately the article doesn’t appear online. One can only hope that this and many of the other interesting articles appearing in this publication, will eventually become available to a broader audience.
At the outset, Eggins poses a number of rhetorical questions:
Why [do] many schools ignore the lifelong learning goal for their teaching staff’s professional development? Has it been decided that teachers will not be in the profession long enough to warrant teaching them how to survive their future? Have we made the assumption that teachers have already learnt how to learn?
The thrust of his argument is that teachers need to be shown how to learn so that they can not only stay abreast of technological advances in a rapidly changing world, but become self-starters so that they can learn on their own rather than having to wait for the next time release to attend a staged professional learning course or program about a specific skill, tool or ways to embed tools into the curriculum. Sitting back, waiting to be told or directed by others, Eggins claims, is a model of professional learning that proliferates our schools. This kind of professional learning does not, he suggests, take into consideration the fact that “Many teachers were schooled at a time when teaching lifelong learning was not the focus.” Eggins passionately concludes:
ICT professional development should teach teachers how to learn, not just how to teach.”
Eggins presents some very general ideas as solutions for re-modelling professional learning programs. Utilizing the skills of high performance teachers to lead and act as role models as well as establishing team based approaches in which groups of teachers can brainstorm together, were his two main solutions. Alongside this, he proposes that teachers need to stay abreast of the latest tools and how they can be used in the classroom.
Generalities, however, have no place in discussions about inspiring our teachers to become lifelong learners. While I don’t disagree with Eggins’ advice, my thoughts on how the professional learning experience of teachers can be improved are deeply tinged by my own learning experience of the last couple of years. My suggestions come as actions that can be implemented today by teachers as individual professionals. These suggestions can also be adopted as the basis of formal school wide professional learning programs.
- Creating time: Teachers are time poor. How often do we need to hear each other say this before the issue is adequately addressed?! Being able to take time within the working week to learn, play and explore is essential. The need for teachers to keep up with technological advances in our rapidly changing world, as Eggins suggests, is essential. Expecting teachers to master new skills and figure out how to incorporate these new skills and approaches into their day-to-day teaching should not be something tagged onto the end of the day. Time needs to be created within the confines of the working week for teachers to develop new skills. How can teachers be inspired to be lifelong learners if learning is constantly tagged onto the end of a busy day or the end of a long week or snuggled away into days devoted to ‘Professional Development’. As teachers we know how learning occurs. It’s time for theories to be applied as equally to teachers as it is to our students!
- Developing Personal Learning Networks (PLNs): Learning from and with others is a most powerful learning experience. The value and importance of a PLN inspiring teachers to become lifelong learners cannot be overstated. Developing an understanding of what a PLN is and how a PLN can benefit the long term learning of teachers needs to become a goal for those of us who have already mastered this understanding.
- Social Networking: The sharing and collaboration occurring in cyberspace is phenomenal. Without a doubt, Social Networking is revolutionizing how teachers interact with each other and how thoughts and ideas are shared. Teachers need to not only be skilled in using Social Networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ but to see the incredible value they offer in sharing, problem solving, learning and collaborating with teachers across the globe. I was struck by the reality of a recent post by Mary Beth Hertz: Beyond the Teachers’ Lounge: The Emerging Communication Gap. Her words speak to me as they will to others who have a vibrant PLN and are active users of Social Networking.
- Partnering with students: In order to learn, teachers need to let go of the belief that they know more than their students. By acknowledging the skills and knowledge of their students, teachers can gain much. Tapping into the verve and enthusiasm of tech savvy students can provide powerful lessons to inspire lifelong learning. Developing a mutual respect for the knowledge of our students is an important path to explore. How better to inspire our own learning than to be infected by the knowledge and learning of our students.
- Reflecting: In addition to being exposed to new ideas, new tools and new ways of teaching with these tools, teachers need to have a time and place to reflect on their learning. Reflections could be in the form of regular face to face chats or be written reflections in a blog which can then be shared in either an open or closed professional group. Sharing thoughts is a powerful way to ignite a passion and love of learning.
- Professional Reading: Whether by magazines and journals or by digital resources such as blogs, websites or other online sources, teachers need to be encouraged to read on a daily basis. Whether by restructuring the day, or giving specific time release, teachers need to learn how important it is to stay abreast of what others are doing. By being given the opportunity to read and explore, then given the opportunity to share information gleaned from articles read, excitement will inspire and ignite passions, thinking and ideas triggering further action and experimentation.
- Online Conferences: Having the opportunity to participate in a conference is a fabulous experience. Soaking up the buzz, the excitement and the discovery of others is inspirational. Without a doubt, having the opportunity to participate in an online conference, is even more exhilarating! Just ask any of us who have enjoyed this luxury and you will hear a resounding acclamation: “Inspirational!” Understanding that online conferencing can be a powerful source of learning and sharing with other teachers is an important step on the path of lifelong learning.
- Online Learning: Discovering that one can learn anything, anytime and anywhere by participating in online learning programs is a fantastic boost to one’s feeling of mastering new knowledge and new skills at one’s own pace. With so many online learning programs available, many of them at no cost, teachers can freely learn what they like, when they like, at their own pace. Taking charge of one’s own learning means that a commitment has been made.
- Online Networking: Participation in a range of online professional networks is also a powerful way to learn, share and collaborate. While email formats such as listservs were a common format of the past, today thoughts and ideas are commonly shared in cyberspace via Nings, Blogs and Wikis. Familiarizing oneself with the format of these online ‘meeting places’ is not difficult. The personal rewards to be gained can be immense.
- Time to share: By providing opportunities for teachers to share with each other, standards can be raised, knowledge can be gained and inspiration can be spread. Creating a learning community which is fired by the enthusiasm of others is a powerful way to move a staff of teachers forward on the path of knowledge. It is important to ensure that all teachers know and feel that we are all learning. A two minute spruiking session titled “I recently learned …..” by teachers in a department, campus or wider staff meeting, could be a sensational way of igniting a flame in others.