An effective model of professional learning…

Joining the cohort of teachers learning with @langwitches last week, when I could, I found them highly engaged and involved in their own learning. The approach was different from the last time Silvia visited our school. This time she worked with a group of teachers, each of whom elected to participate, a diverse group with varying needs and different entry points. This proved to be a successful model of professional learning that aligns with our learning principles, a set of beliefs about learning that apply as much to teachers as to students.

Despite (because of?) the diversity within the group,  a high level of trust and collaboration were evident. Teachers had ownership of what and how they explored and Silvia stressed that this was about being self-directed, self-motivated learners. New skills were mastered within a context and there were opportunities to apply them purposefully and reflect on how they will be transferred.


The evidence is visible in more than a dozen personal blog posts on our collaborative blog, many by teachers who rarely write about their learning, most by teachers who have never blogged before, all sharing thoughtful documentation of, for and as earning. Take a look at a few examples…

Am I literate? by Lesley

Help! I’m a digital citizen by Limor

Global literacy is a highway by Lauri

I’m on my way… by Nicole

Sharing my learning leads to learning from and with others by Linda

And some tweets that sum up the learning…

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Unleashing Learning…

Unleashing Learning… 

A conference by educators for educators -13/14 March 2016

Imagine and experience the powerful learning that happens when learners feel they are valued members of a learning community, empowered by ownership of their learning.

  • Be inspired by the personal messages of other educators in the field.
  • Participate in interactive, hands on workshops engaging with big ideas.
  • Choose your own learning from a broad range of options.
  • Connect with educators from other schools in Melbourne to exchange ideas.
  • Have an opportunity to reflect on your practice and share it with others.
  • Suggest ‘unconference’ topics for impromptu discussions with like-minded people.

Join our learning community in any of the following ways:

  • share ideas for and help organise the event in any way you can
  • attend our conference on 13 and/or 14 March 2016 as a participant
  • present an inspiring 5 minute talk, based on a personal learning experience or powerful message of your own.
  • present a 90 minute interactive workshop exploring an aspect of ‘unleashing learning’ – powerful learning that happens when learners feel they are valued members of a learning community, empowered by ownership of their learning.
  • facilitate a group reflection session.
  • if you’re coming from afar, spend a few more days at our school, observing, engaging and exchanging ideas.

Unleash the Learning here!  (expressions of interest)

What does ‘unleashing learning’ say to you?

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Thanks to #Learning2 for the inspiration.

Always building our learning community…

Do you wish you had more time for your own learning? Would you like to have time to explore new ideas and reflect on things you have learned?

Over the past few years, we’ve abandoned the one-size-fits-hardly-anyone approach to PD and experimented with a range of other approaches to professional learning. I’ve written before about focus groups, choosing our own people, teacher led inquiries, teachers directing their own learning etc

Now we are adding another layer. We already have regular twice a week after school sessions, which sometimes include whole staff requirements and, more often, year-level teams deciding for themselves how they need to spend their time, be it planning, reflecting, moderating student work or calling parents.

We are now setting aside two or three of these afternoons per term for personal learning groups. Teachers have the opportunity to choose an area of interest to explore independently or in groups. For many, the choice is something they’ve been meaning to look into but haven’t found the time for. New groups have formed and teachers are learning with people outside of their usual teams. Some have chosen to broaden their knowledge by exploring topics outside of their usual teaching areas.

The approach is less formal than it was the first time we experimented with self-organised professional learning. A rough list was created on a google doc so that people could find others with common interests and, for the rest, teachers are guiding their own learning, making decisions, gathering resources and selecting their chosen paths.

Last week’s sessions had teachers engaged in reading, discussing and thinking about the following:

  • Matt Glover’s approach to engaging young writers
  • How to enrich vocabulary
  • Using data to inform teaching and learning
  • Visible thinking
  • Open ended iPad apps to develop oral language
  • Effective school timetables
  • Student wellbeing
  • and more…

We’re always seeking ways to build our learning community. 

Isn’t that what school should be about?

Direct your own learning…

Direct your own learning…

It’s the title of my session at the Reform Symposium Conference and it’s the essence of the conference itself. 

Do you check your email or dream of being outside during professional development sessions provided by your school? Is content dictated from above and attendance compulsory? Is it usually the ‘one size fits all’ variety of PD that rarely fits anyone? 

Put together by teachers for teachers, the Reform Symposium Conference (#RSCON4) is a ‘global community initiative to transform teaching and learning.’ It’s an online conference, in which presenters and attendees will participate from around the globe.

It’s an opportunity to direct your own learning…

Choose which sessions to participate in. Connect with educators globally. Join the conversations and add your perspective. Share practice, hear about innovative approaches, learn… all from the comfort of your couch.


I believe that all teachers need to be learners first.

I’m glad I work in a school where teachers’ learning is valued as much as that of students. I often write about different approaches to professional learning and I’ve shared some of the innovations at my school, here, here and here.

So I appreciate the opportunity to share my experience at a conference like #RSCON4. And I appreciate the learning that will come out of attending sessions by other presenters. Most of all I appreciate the opportunity afforded me by the organisers, to suggest presenters for them to invite. I’ve recommended educators I know online and some I know in person, some better known, some lesser known, but all have inspired me in some way through their ideas and their work. I choose to learn from them and with them…

I direct my own learning.

Reform Symposium Conference – October 11-13

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…

10 principles of effective professional learning…


Apparently this random comment (my response to a tweet in last week’s #edchat) was well received!

This got me thinking (again) about the principles of effective professional learning for educators. In no particular order, the following points are based on my own experience.

Effective professional learning needs to be…

1. Conceptual

Effective learning for teachers is not always about things you can try tomorrow, but rather big ideas that shift your understanding of teaching and learning.

2. Self directed

Teachers need opportunities to set their own goals, choose their own learning and follow their own interests. (Sometimes the most effective medium to achieve that is social media.)

3. Inquiry driven

The most effective learning isn’t usually ‘delivered and received’. Teachers need to question, experiment, apply, find and solve problems, engage in action reasearch.

4. Collaborative

Learn with and from others. build a personal learning network. Create communities of practice in your own school, your neighbourhood, the world…

5. Creative

Think beyond one-size-fits-all PD delivered by ‘experts’ on special days set aside for the purpose. Create your own learning opportunities. Visit other classes. Start voluntary groups. Participate in Teachmeets. Engage via Twitter and blogs. Find your own people!

6. Personalised

How often are teachers compelled to attend one-size-fits-no-one sessions, not relevant to their current programs, practice, interests or experience? Even on school wide ‘PD days‘, teachers can have a choice.

7. Reflective

Too often, teachers are expected to shift rapidly from one ‘topic’ to the next (@lisaburman called it ‘Hit and run’). Effective learning includes sufficient time for reflection, application… and further reflection.

8. Active

Learning is often less effective when the expectation is for learners to listen passively. There need to be active participation and engagement, opportunities to interact, reflect and construct meaning.

9. Enjoyable
(I crowd sourced this one). Teachers like their professional learning to include humour and a sense of fun. It doesn’t need to be a boring chore!

10. Challenging

Professional learning (like any learning) can be messy. There should be tensions to work through and big ideas to connect. It goes beyond solutions and formulae and things to try out tomorrow… which takes us back to where we started!

Of course, all of this applies to any learners, not just teachers. Try replacing the word ‘teachers’ throughout the above post with ‘students’, or simply ‘learners’… which takes me back to a post I wrote a while ago about adult vs child learners. What are your thoughts on that?

What’s been your best professional learning experience? Did it fit the above criteria? What have a I missed?

Into the unknown…

How do you take blogging beyond the classroom? The brief for my session is to show teachers what’s possible in the hope of inspiring them to take their current practice further. It’s one in a series of sessions for the Global Education Project.  Some of the participants are new to blogging, others are further ahead… I like to encourage them, irrespective of where they are at, to take one small step forward and see where it leads.

Meet Lindsey Bates, Year 3 teacher at Serpell Primary

The starting point for any good inquiry learning is the known. It is all well and good to begin there, but if the known is where you end up, well, it’s not really learning. This is true of our students and it is true of us as teachers and learners.

I recently attended a Blogging Master Class by Edna Sackson. The afternoon was engaging and inspiring and she left us with a sense of adventure and a challenge: to take the next step in our blogging journey, whatever that might be. I had to go from the known, to the unknown.

I had run a class blog for four years, we attracted a few visitors from around the globe, and I had even made connections with classrooms overseas via twitter. But I hadn’t actually tweeted. My challenge was clear.

Having just completed a blog post about my grade’s newfound fascination with Commander Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station (ISS), I knew that the stars were aligning. I followed Edna’s clear ‘how-to’ guide about how to get noticed on twitter and @ed Commander Hadfield into my tweet. The 120 characters sat on my screen- trapped between laptop and cyberspace. What if I finally spoke up, put myself out there, and no one cared to listen? What then?

After much hesitation I clicked ‘tweet’ and off my words went. Seven minutes later a reply came through. Within minutes my blog post was racking up views. The world did care to listen.

My students now feel themselves to be close and personal friends of Commander Hadfield and are delighted and inspired by the idea of the world watching us learn. It has only been a few weeks, but our virtual audience and connections continue to grow. Who knows where these adventures might take us?

Once you experience the authenticity that comes from learning and reflecting within the globally connected environment that educational blogging can provide, there is no going back to the once cosy and comfortable four walls of your classroom. Learning might begin there, but one can never anticipate where it could end up.

What’s your next step into the unknown going to be?

Choose your own learning…

Who chooses your professional learning?

In our professional learning survey at the end of 2012, the vast majority of staff indicated that they would like to use the coming PD day to work on personal learning choices, individually or in small groups.

The guidelines given to staff across the three campuses of our primary school:

Bear in mind that it is a professional learning  day and hence should not be used for catching up on paper work!

Over to YOU…

  1. Consider your personal learning goals, passions, interests, areas you’d like to strengthen or things you’ve learned but haven’t had time to explore…
  2. Talk to your colleagues (not just your year level teams), Learning Team Leaders, Campus Heads and Coordinators.
  3. Decide on what you think you’d like your focus to be for the day.
  4. Note that you will be asked for your reflections on both process and achievements after the day.
  5. Please fill in this form.
  6. Please indicate if you’d like help forming a group with others who share your interests (cross campus).

Your reflection will include something along these lines.

  • What did you achieve on the day?
  • What did you learn?
  • What surprised you?
  • What are your challenges?
  • How will you continue forward?
  • What did you notice about yourself as a learner?

The plans so far…

  • A couple of teachers have decided to spend the day familiarising themselves and creating movies with iMovie, so that they can use it to capture their students’ learning in a meaningful way
  • A group of teachers will work through Making Thinking Visible, exploring the thinking routines and how to use them to develop a culture of thinking.
  • Several teachers have teamed together to explore ways to use maths manipulatives.
  • One group, comprising a teacher from each year level, will explore educational apps and how they might best support learning across the curriculum.
  • The Prep teachers are exploring Matt Glover’s approach to literacy. They have been reading his books and will use the day to share their learning and consider how to apply it in their classrooms.
  • A couple of teachers have chosen to visit the Apple Shop for one-on-one training with their new iPads.
  • A group of second language teachers will investigate language games that will assist in differentiating learning.

I’m a great fan of the work of Sugata Mitra, regarding self organised learning… for children. It’s quite interesting to note that, given a full day to organise and explore anything they like, there are some teachers who find themselves wondering what to do with their time…

As always, our professional learning day is based on the same learning principles on which we strive to base all teaching and learning in our school. 

Once you’re clear what you believe about learning, it’s easy to build learning opportunities and experiences for learners of all ages.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

Given a day like ours, what would you choose to do?

Teachers’ action research…

I sent this email to the teachers at my school…

Hi All

In the past we have had successful voluntary learning groups in areas such as visible thinking, differentiated learning, global education and integrating technology.

Teachers often feel that there are so many ‘things’, it is difficult to integrate everything. Some of us have talked before about ways to ‘connect the dots’. I think our learning principles can help pull things together.

I’d like to start a new voluntary group, based on the Inquiry Circle I saw in New York during the holidays… in our own style.

My vision of it looks like this:

(Open, of course, to ideas, suggestions, modifications, negotiations!)

Meet fortnightly for an hour before school and…

  • Revisit and unpack our learning principles.
  • Each teacher choose an area for their own ‘action research‘ based on one (or more) of the learning principles.
  • Create an ‘action research question’. This question usually develops and changes as the exploration unfolds.
  • Decide on a course of action and/or specific approaches you plan to try.
  • Feed back to the group and reflect individually and collaboratively on what you’ve tried and how you might proceed.
  • Possible readings to enhance and support learning.
  • Possible Skype ins from educators in other places exploring similar issues.
  • Group discussions to help ‘connect the dots’.
  • Optional shared reporting and reflection in an online space.

Example questions for action research…

#1 Question: How might we best arrange furniture and set up the classroom to promote learning?

Area of interest: Learning space

Learning principles:

  • Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.

#2 Question:

How can technology support differentiated learning opportunities?

Area of interest: Integrating technology

Learning principles:

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.

Simple Action Research model:

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Stephen Kemmis

Let me know if you’re interested in joining such an Inquiry Circle and we can take it from there…


I re-read the email before I sent it and had second thoughts… 

  • Maybe I don’t know enough about action research. In a recent Twitter chat, I got the impression it HAS to be done a certain way. (Who says?)
  • Maybe everyone’s busy and no-one will respond. (So what?)
  • Maybe an hour won’t be long enough? (Oh well.)

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Post Script:

Six people are in!

MY action research:

Question: How can we create new models of professional learning in our school that help build our learning community, while embedding our learning principles in our practice?

Area of interest: Teacher professional learning.

Learning principles: All!

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

Suggestions, tips and ideas invited!