How do teachers learn?

What does professional learning look like at your school?

Is it presented to you? Or with you? Or by you?

Ours used to look like this:

  • Administrators were responsible for staff professional development.
  • Compulsory, imposed whole staff sessions were not always relevant, interesting or effective.
  • PD sessions were always presented by ‘experts’, usually from outside the school.
  • Separate, unrelated topics often had little or no follow-up after the initial presentation.
  • Individual teachers were sent to PD that was deemed suitable for them by administrators.

Now it looks like this:

  • Teachers are responsible for their own learning.
  • Whole staff sessions are current, relevant, directly related to our learning principles and connected to ongoing developments.
  • Voluntary focus groups meet regularly to experiment with technology, read, think and learn together, share practice and exchange ideas.
  • Individual teachers select external professional learning opportunities in which they would like to participate. (within  guidelines of time and budget)
  • Teachers might choose to spend their PD time pursuing their own professional learning challenge or observing other teachers.
  • Expertise within the school is recognised and presentation is often by teachers for teachers.
  • Unit development is collaborative and includes the ICT facilitator, librarian and specialist teachers.

It still needs to look more like this:

  • Teachers and administrators engage in social media for educational purposes.
  • More active learning online, through virtual participation in webinars and conferences.
  • Global collaborations between teachers and classes everywhere.

For me personally, it looks like this: 10 ways to grow as an educator.

Just a teacher..By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

21 thoughts on “How do teachers learn?

  1. I’m going to say ‘yes’ to all of that Edna, though I don’t think we’re quite as far down the list as your school yet. The *key* point for me is that teachers are indeed responsible for their own learning … how can someone who dedicates their professional life to guiding the learning of others be anything else?


  2. thanks for the interesting post edna.
    thinking about when i do my learning, it’s often during the holidays getting together with ex-colleagues. we seem to have so much more to talk about now that we are in separate schools, systems and countries. it’s also often during school term after dinner, at home, online and with people i have never met. i realise that i have several pln’s. after all, we regularly change the membership of co-operative groups in my grade 2 classroom.
    now then, you are a leader in your school. is there a dilemma for leaders: encouraging colleagues to take responsibility for their own professional learning (democratic) and at the same time setting expectations that they will use ict tools in their professional learning (insistent)?
    i’m thinking of the value of social media that can help promote cohesiveness in a team. it’s nice to have cohesiveness when working in a team. some teachers don’t know about useful web2 tools for learning and virtual professional learning opportunities – yet. however, they might be facebook members or ipad scrabble players. can i connect with my school colleagues through these, get to know them better, lead them to other useful online tools, before we embark on any professional learning project together?


    1. Thanks Brette, interesting observations.
      Let me think about this… ‘ is there a dilemma for leaders: encouraging colleagues to take responsibility for their own professional learning (democratic) and at the same time setting expectations that they will use ict tools in their professional learning (insistent)?’… I think it’s another whole post 🙂
      I like your idea of connecting with your colleagues through familiar tools and leading them that way to other useful tools. Let me know if it works!


  3. In the Mäori Language the term Ako means both teaching and learning which I think is a concept that could be used not just in New Zealand. The relationship between teaching and learning, has and should be, interdependent.

    I haven’t been in PD yet, but I have sat through enough bad presentations to want to avoid the top-down style of learning you mention. Blogs and twittering is a great way to expand your ideas and strategies beyond the confines of your school, community and country. I did have a couple of buddies that I met on a teacher message board who used together once a month in starbucks to talk teaching strategies (I was social networking before the phrase was invented).

    Also blogging gives you a great portfolio to be able to show others when it comes time to account for your PD time which Brett mentions.


  4. This topic is so pertinent right now. It is unfortunate that there are teachers who do not hold any respect for fellow colleagues presenting a learning experience. It is a real challenge to get teachers to understand that there is so much rich learning out there. They come to staff meeting with all of the stress and baggage of their work. How can I help to make professional learning something that everyone talks about and looks forward to? When are we going to start acting like professional learners?


  5. Yes please! I love the ideas and the new cultural shift that is occurring when it comes to professional development. The first point you made about “teachers taking responsibility for their own learning” is perfect. There is most definitely a cultural divide between the educators who believe PD should be done and given to them, versus the educators who want to take control and charge of their own growth and development. I find that some educators are similar to students…it is easier for them to sit back and let someone do all the thinking and planning for them. They say, “just tell me what to learn and what I need to do…”

    Thank you for this great post Edna!


  6. Justin, that is the dilemma we have at our school. In fact, I brought that up at our first staff meeting of the year this week. For the past two years I’ve provided the ICT professional development and it has all been about what I choose to cover. I am trying to get our teachers to be a bit more proactive – have a look at what is out there and what other educators are doing and let’s individualise/personalise the training, so it isn’t all about what I’m telling them to try.

    Great post Edna!


  7. Edna, I always look forward to your posts! Again, insightful and thought provoking. I especially like how you use the “used to think” and “currently think” way of laying out how our educational systems have changed, and for the better. When I look at your “used to be” there is a lot of administrative influence. I agree with you that teachers are to be responsible for their learning and that will simply lead to more meaningful Pro-d, and more mastery at our own craft. Reading many blogs like yours is Pro-d! That is where I like your last section of where to go and how to continue.
    Thanks for another good read.


  8. When you said…
    Global collaborations between teachers and classes everywhere.
    I got so excited!

    Our website is hosting a FREE online PD class (discussion based) – it’s based on a book, but only those that are taking it for credit in the home district need to read it. A lot of 21st century learning. Look at the website if you are interested, and please pass it along!


  9. Thanks for helping me articualte some of the issues with CPD I’ve been having recently. In my workplace access to CPD is erratic, to say the least, and it’s become clear to me that I need to take greater responsibility for my own development. Over the past year I’ve used four strategies:
    -My own blog – effectively shared reflective practice, using the ‘net as my own echo chamber.
    -Setting myself a book budget for teaching-specific resources, and spending it.
    -Setting up an informal ‘ideas club’ with colleagues where we each bring something, one lunchtime a week, that’s worked well and something we want to improve. (It possibly says a lot that we’ve deliberately kept this under management’s radar.)
    -getting active on twitter to share ideas and find new directions.

    Thank you for providing one of those new resources – I found you through the #ukedchat Daily!


  10. I am Lisa Taylor in EDM310 at University of South Alabama.I really enjoyed the comparison of what professional learning looks like in the past,present,and hopefully in the future. I agree that social media is the future in professional learning .I think one of the best social media tools is Twitter.


  11. Hello Ed
    I wish that PD would like in the Mexican public university where I work looked like ‘today’ in your school. We are still on the force-feed pattern. Some tenured teachers must be forced into coming to even pre-semester staff meetings (cozy by some standards, with a delicious buffet of brunch goodies, and even then they are not enticed!) by the bylaws of the union. Others who must compete every semester for their positions come to PD sessions only for the paper to add to their dossier. Only five teachers out of almost 100 use blogs. We have a long way to go. I imagine we are like you were 20 years ago…

    I am a mere substitute in my university for now, but a valued team player,and I promise that I will work my hardest to make my school look like your school. For now, I am teaching teacher-trainee courses, and helping to form a different form of PD.

    I loved your post.


  12. I appreciate your post, and believe this is a problem area – from top to bottom! I think the reason is complex, but not new – too much to do, too little time to do it. However, I am an optimist, and believe that change must start from the top. If administrators and leaders in education will start presenting to teachers in the same way they want teachers to present to their students, we will see change. Students won’t “Sit & Get” and neither will teachers. Teachers need this modeling, and with patience and persistence I think change will occur.


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