Who dares to teach…

I managed to participate in ten minutes of #edchat before going to teach this morning. When I am able to participate, I always find the conversation stimulating and thought provoking. This time the topic was best practice in teacher professional development.

My best PD in the past year has undoubtedly been through my online PLN (professional learning network). This includes writing my own blog, reading and commenting on other blogs and the worldwide teachers’ lounge that is Twitter. At any time of day, I can go in and engage with other educators, learn from them, be exposed to new ideas and tools, seek help, follow interesting links or be inspired by quotes.  I have made global connections with people who think the way I do and poeople who think differently than I do and people who push my thinking further. This is ongoing professional development at its best.

As far as ‘offline’ PD is concerned, here’s my thinking:

The least effective PD is the sort involving whole school, compulsory, one off sessions, with no follow-up. For PD to be effective, I think it works best in smallish groups, when people attend voluntarily with a common focus and it’s ongoing.

A few years ago at my school, we started a small voluntary group meeting every few weeks for an hour before school. We  discussed readings about current trends and best practice,  thought together about what and how to implement the things we had read, tried things out in our classes and came back to share our experiences.   At the start, we had outside facilitators who recommended readings and guided the sessions.  The initial focus was on questioning… how to improve our own questioning and how to get students to ask better questions. Later we moved on to creating a culture of thinking. Then  effective feedback and assessment. After a while,we didn’t need outside facilitators any longer. Little by little, we integrated all the parts into our whole understanding of how learning works best. Gradually other teachers wanted to join in too.

About a year ago, we started a second group introducing web 2.0 tools. At first the 2 groups alternated but after a while we realised that looking at the technology separately isn’t meaningful. The two groups have now merged.  Sometimes we discuss the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ sometimes we play around with the tools. Teachers who participate in other PD share their learning in this forum too. The focus is always on the learning, our own and that of our students.

Teachers who regularly participate in this group constantly  reflect on their practice. We’re open to new thinking and ready to learn from each other. We share ideas and discuss what works and what doesn’t. We have built up trust and we support each other. Our head attends nearly every session. I know I am incredibly lucky to be part of this community of learners.


8 thoughts on “Who dares to teach…

  1. First off, I love the idea that I’m learning from one of my PLN peers right now where it’s June 3 and I’m still in June 2 in Canada. That alone speaks to the power technology can give to professional learning.

    I agree that full group one off PD isn’t ideal and hear what you’re saying about getting groups of interested people together, and while I agree mostly with the, “Water the flowers, not the rocks” mentality, it’s sometimes okay to bring in whole groups where perhaps a principal (headmaster in Aus?) signed a whole staff up for a session. I read once that forcing teachers into some topics or PD they otherwise wouldn’t have chosen often results in them appreciating the PD by the end of the experience.

    If you are stuck with a full group PD experience, you might try a method I tried this year that worked very well. A principal asked me to ‘teach’ the staff about 21st century skills and also teach them to use Animoto.com video presentation tool, and I was told I had a half day. My response was that if we’re going to learn about 21st century skills we needed to live it in this PD session. Talking about student collaboration, problem solving, higher-order thinking, and technology productivity skills through a lecture presentation seemed completely wrong. What we did instead was:
    – grouped the staff into diverse 4-5 people groupings
    – introduced a 2-page document from Metiri.org which listed 23 different 21st century skills
    – told them each group needed to choose what they collectively felt were the most important 3 skills from the list of 23
    – told them they needed to use a digital camera and Animoto.com multimedia presentation tool to creatively share their chosen 3 skills and why they chose them
    – explained we would be sharing these short video clips in approximately 2-2.5 hours
    – gave them a VERY brief 10-minute tutorial about how to use Animoto – just enough to get them started
    – set them off to different places across the school to do their task

    In the end, they lived what it means to be a 21st century learner – a collaborative meaning maker and media maker. There were a lot of laughs, a lot of questions, consensus building, problem solving, creativity, and debate. They were proud to share and describe their videos during the presentation component at the end and they learned from each group’s presentation. They were interdependent and they had a model for learning they could transfer the next day with their own students. I’ve since replicated this model with other staffs, each time bringing in some content with some technology tool/skill that involved group problem solving and media creation, and it works well. Give it a go! Visit http://stdominic.edublogs.org to see a couple videos and instructions (page 1 and 2 on the blog).

    Ed, I’m interested in the questioning skills materials you spoke of. Where did you get them?

    Brilliant post as always Ed. Sorry for the long comment.


    1. Your PD sounds fantastic! Definitely going to try something like that, as soon as time permits!!
      For our discussion on questioning, we read chapters from Asking Better Questions by Morgan and Saxton and also Jamie McKenzie’s book on different types of questions . We used those as a starting point for our thinking and developed ideas to try from that point… From there we moved onto Ron Ritchhart’s Intellectual Character and Project Zero Thinking routines.


  2. Great post Edna. One size fits all PD is not that effective really, especially in technology. Different people are ready for different skills/tools. A teacher told me today that he wants to learn one thing and just work on that for 6 months – but wants all the other teachers in similar year levels to be doing that same thing so that they can support each other. Whilst I get where he’s coming from I just feel that you need to be ready to have a go at a variety of things, and that not everyone in the same area will want to be moving down the same pathway.

    Danny, I love the way you conducted your whole school PD – very practical but also a lot of fun by the sound of it.


    1. Pam- at that rate, you know how much will be missed by those teachers if they follow the 6th month plan?! And does that same teacher teach to everyone EXACTLY the same way? Definitely sounds like some differentiation needs to take place.


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