5 misconceptions about professional learning…

We have just experienced a week of professional learning with Sam Sherratt and Chad Walsh of ‘Time Space Education‘ and it couldn’t have been better. My first reflection here, relates to commonly held misconceptions about effective ‘PD’. I hope I can do the learning justice in further posts.

Misconception #1. Presenters should be known ‘experts’.

Find your own people.

We first got to know Sam through his personal and class blogs. His talent and creativity were evident, as was his deep understanding of learning. After his first workshop at our school last year, several teachers chose to visit his classroom in Bangkok in their own time to observe him in action. The effects of our interactions with Sam, virtual and real, have rippled through teaching and learning in our school over the past year, so it was a given that we would invite him to return.

This time he was accompanied by his colleague Chad, with whom we hadn’t worked before. A glowing recommendation by Sam, whom we trust, was enough for us to take the chance… and it paid off handsomely.

OK, so now they are known experts!

Misconceptions #2 and #3. Admin knows best. One size fits all.

Meet staff needs.

We asked the teachers. They made it abundantly clear that they did not need ‘another new thing’ in terms of professional learning. Many were looking for ways to feel less stressed while trying to fit in the many curriculum requirements. Some were feeling overwhelmed by the daily demands of teaching. Individual teachers’ goals included increasing student ownership of learning, catering for different needs, using their learning spaces more effectively and connecting the elements of the PYP

Our seemingly impossible brief to Sam and Chad was to ‘pull the pieces together‘.  And they did!

Misconception #4. Effective PD is delivered in day.

Learning takes time. Present, model, reflect.

I recently heard the term ‘hit and run PD’. Our mutual professional learning with Sam and Chad was as far removed from that as it gets! On Day 1, Sam and Chad met with curriculum team leaders, visited classes, got a feel for the school and refined their initial plans. On Day 2, they presented to teachers and then facilitated as we experimented with the ‘Bubble Up’ approach, which they developed to connect elements of the PYP and curriculum strands.

During the following days they taught in Years 3, 4, 5  and 6, observed by the relevant teachers and anyone else who wanted to come. The model lessons were followed by Year level debriefs, in which teachers unpacked what they had observed and analysed students’ thinking from the lessons. One lucky group even got to watch Sam and Chad model the ‘bubble up’ approach with a willing and articulate student. (See my ‘Storify’ for a taste of the learning.)

And then, because what they do is simply above and beyond expectation, Sam and Chad spent their last afternoon in Melbourne tidying up loose ends and gathering their thoughts on the previous few days so that they could leave us a document with well thought-out, personalised follow-up for each Year level.

Misconception #5. Effective PD is pre-planned and packaged.

Make teaching spontaneous and responsive.

Although we Skyped with Sam and Chad weeks in advance, and they put a great deal of effort into planning for their visit, the most impressive aspect of the week was their responsive approach to teaching. They constantly observed and listened. They noticed everything the learners were saying, doing and even thinking… and refined their plans accordingly. They were up late every night un-planning and re-planning, according to the needs of students and teachers alike.

Bradley, a student in Year 6 remarked, “I love Sam and Chad because they really listen”!

No wonder the school is abuzz with excitement…

19 thoughts on “5 misconceptions about professional learning…

  1. Great post with insight for all of us. Credit to those at your school who made the decision and supported bringing Sam (and Chad too) into your school. Your points are all, as usual, spot on. Consider me envious.


  2. Ahhh! Your learning environment for staff and students always sounds so amazing! I can only imagine the opportunities and conversations that can be soaked up. I am so glad you can “wring them out” for us to share and reflect upon. You certainly write very succinctly. I enjoy your posts. #gratitude


  3. Super post. Gets to the heart of effective learning and development, regardless of the age of learner! I feel that is a great deal to be gained from your 5 points and for me #1 is a key consideration. I love the idea of the ‘known’ expert. Quite often there is far too much attention paid to ‘experts’ peddling ideas and the fad-ish approach to school development. By identifying what you needed it clearly lead to greater engagement by the staff team.


  4. Reblogged this on Adventures in School Leadership and commented:
    A very good post about the value in focusing attention on CPD. Great professional learning is about identifying outcomes and engaging the right support to fulfil these. By utilising known and trusted people, who bring authenticity and reflection on their own experience, there is a greater opportunity to connect directly to the purpose of the training and a sustainability to what has been learned.


  5. Another great post Edna. I’ve got quite a few good ideas about how I can lead Genius Hour (or similar) in our school during the course of the year from your post and following up on Sam’s blog, http://timespaceeducation.wordpress.com

    I look forward to hearing about how things are going in your school in a few months once the staff had had the chance to implement and refine the things they gained during the PD days.

    Now that Sam is working in HCMC, he looks like another very good option for PD instead of just using PYP Workshop all of the time.


  6. Great post. I think this is why edcamps (unconferences) have become so popular. The participants suggest topics the day of the event and the schedule is made right there. Participants also volunteer to moderate the sessions – they are not necessarily experts, but they know enough about the topic to lead and generate discussions. Of all the conferences and PD I attended this summer, edcamp was by far my favorite!


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