Reinvigorate Professional Learning Programs To Inspire Lifelong Learning!

picBy Bev Novak.
Exciting, stimulating and meaningful learning programs in schools are vital to entice teachers to become lifelong learners.

Apart from updating basic skills, teachers must constantly master new skills and new pedagogy that continue to evolve at an overwhelming rate in a fast-paced world. Rather than having to sit back and wait for learning opportunities to come to them in the form of staff meetings, curriculum days, workshops or conferences, teachers should be encouraged to embrace those many learning opportunities that constantly present themselves in both formal and informal settings. By developing independent learning skills, teachers will discover a wealth of learning opportunities they never knew existed.

By thinking outside the box, schools can develop alternate program delivery and incorporate resources which are presently underutilised to inspire and ignite a passion for learning, while at the same time developing a school environment in which teachers are eager to learn. In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools… Investing in professional development is not a cost. It is an investment.” (ow.ly/FXPB1)

So taking the time to stop, think and consider the format of learning programs and opportunities given to teachers is really a very worthwhile investment. Adopting even some of the following ideas will impact formal, school-wide professional learning programs significantly. After all, inspiring teachers to become lifelong learners is what it is really all about!

Creating Time
There is no doubt that with the enormous range of teaching and non-teaching tasks facing teachers on a daily basis, teachers are time poor. With so much to learn and so much to assimilate, it is unreasonable to expect teachers to engage and learn in their spare time or at the start or end of a busy day or at a conference of just one or two day’s duration. So the challenge for school administrators becomes one of finding time for teachers to play, learn and explore within the confines of the busy working week. Why not schedule learning opportunities into a teacher’s weekly timetable, or employ replacement teachers to provide regular time out for teachers or, more generously, implement term length sabbaticals for teachers to focus on a set of issues more effectively?

Learning on the Job
Some teachers have the ‘Alt/Tab’ mentality. In other words, a feeling of guilt overtakes them when a senior member of staff unexpectedly walks into their rooms and catches them playing with a new web tool just discovered or exploring how to create a group on Facebook; so much so that they suddenly click the Alt/Tab key to hide what it is they are really doing. Taking time to play, learn and explore while at school should be encouraged, not outlawed. Initiating formal opportunities for individual teachers or small groups keen to explore the same tools within the busy school week would do much to further knowledge and excite interest.

Professional Reading
Creating a culture whereby teachers develop an appreciation of how much they can learn by simply reading journals and magazines or digital resources such as blogs, websites and other online sources is long overdue. The importance of teachers staying abreast of educational literature cannot be overstated. Introducing reading opportunities and having an expectation that teachers will engage with professional literature can have an enormous impact on teaching and learning. Creating time within the day to read, as well as ensuring that teachers learn how to use tools such as RSS readers, curation, bookmarking and note taking tools needs to be addressed.

Social Networking
The sharing and collaboration occurring in cyberspace is phenomenal. Without a doubt, social networking is revolutionising how teachers interact with each other and how thoughts and ideas are shared. Teachers need to not only be skilled in using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, but must be able to see the incredible value they offer in sharing, problem solving, learning and collaborating with teachers across the globe. If social media is blocked by school networks, the message is clear: open access so that teachers can get on board. Senior teachers from principals down need to act as role models in the use of social media as a tool for professional growth and, in the process, instil an expectation that all teachers engage in professional interaction via social media.

Conference Attendance
Interesting and powerful in the capacity to engage and excite interest, the net value gained from conference attendance by both individual teachers and schools can be limited unless time is given for attendees to process, reflect and share new knowledge gained. To address these issues consider:

  • Group attendance: A minimum of two teachers should attend the same professional conference so they can share and discuss ideas presented and provide an impetus to each other to share acquired knowledge with a wider audience.
  • Feedback: Attendees should be required to give written feedback on conferences attended.
  • Presentation: Provide opportunities for teachers to share knowledge and insights gained with their colleagues at full staff, department or subject-based meetings. Explore how the popular concept of TeachMeets could be implemented in a school as a way of effectively sharing.
  • Time: When time release is given to attend a professional learning program, a block of time should also be designated for teachers to process and reflect on their new knowledge. Clearly, the length of time release would be determined by the nature of the session being attended.
  • Blogging: Being able to write about and reflect upon experiences had, knowledge gained and thoughts expanded by attendance at professional learning sessions is powerful. Publishing these reflections on a blog invites discussion and input from others. By creating a school professional learning blog, the amount of sharing by and with staff could be enormous.
  • Backchannel: Instead of stifling whispered conversations or notes exchanged during conference presentations, encourage participants to use a Twitter hashtag or TodaysMeet. Short, sharp messages are a powerful way to share ideas. At the end of the conference, a valuable ‘behind the scenes’ conversation will be available for further perusal.

Partnering with Students
Teachers need to let go of the belief that they know more than their students. Much is to be gained by acknowledging the skills and knowledge of students. By tapping into the verve and enthusiasm of tech savvy students, inspirational lessons could be created and provide an impetus to propel teachers along the path of lifelong learning. Consider:

  • Powerful professional learning for teachers could readily occur.
  • By deploying students as ‘teachers’, an incredibly cost-effective, professional learning program could be implemented.
  • With an abundance of potential ‘teachers’ from among the student population, one-on-one or small group learning is entirely possible.
  • Students demonstrating their knowledge as ‘experts’ could gain the respect of their teachers in a simple, powerful way.
  • As students realise they are not just learning, but are teaching, their self-esteem could grow.
  • Independent learning could be fostered among both teachers and students as both acquire new skills.
  • Engaging students as teachers could indeed be a win-win situation: teachers could learn and students would feel empowered.
  • Teachers learning from their students could become role models of the learning process to their students.
  • The inevitable ‘levelling’ between students and teachers could create a learning community in which all could confidently explore and experiment.
  • By engaging as ‘learners’, teachers could demonstrate, by example, the joy of lifelong learning.

Teacher Librarians
For a very long time, teacher librarians have been guiding, mentoring and educating staff and students in schools. The nature of a teacher librarian’s role is far greater than being custodians of school resources and ensuring that resources are well organised and easily locatable. A far more important role involves providing guidance and support to library patrons, be it locating resources, advising how resources can be incorporated into lessons or projects, or teaching how to use new resources and tools. As school experts in the use of both information literacy and digital literacy, teacher librarians regularly take a leading role demonstrating how technology can be embedded into the curriculum. Their dual qualifications as a teacher and as a librarian place teacher librarians in the unique position of being able to guide and advise which resources are most appropriate for a given teaching situation as well as instruction on how resources can be used.

Schools need to take advantage of this very powerful human resource. The experience, know-how and skill among the many talented teacher librarians in schools ensure that they are well placed to be mentors, instructors and leaders of a range of alternate professional learning opportunities, such as those outlined in the article Be Inspired: Become A Lifelong Learner (Novak, Education Technology Solutions, Issue #65 April/May 2015) which aims to guide and encourage teachers on the path of lifelong learning.

Conclusion

As determined effort is put in place to create vibrant learning programs that engage and excite the interest of all teachers, schools are encouraged to consider alternate program delivery that incorporates some of the concrete suggestions presented here and in the process reinvigorate the delivery of professional learning programs in which both students and teacher librarians can take on roles as instructors and leaders.

Learning is fulfilling, exciting and exhilarating, filling the learner with confidence to continue experimenting and discovering. Most of all, it is fun! 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 lifelong learning!

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Bev Novak has had extensive experience as a classroom teacher, specialist and Head of Library in a variety of school settings where she constantly aims to inspire a love of reading and ignite a joy of learning among students and teachers. Having published widely, Bev also authors two blogs, NovaNews and BevsBookBlog, in which she shares many tips, tools and experiences. In between exploring, discovering and experimenting, Bev actively encourages others to expand, embrace and enjoy their own journey of lifelong learning. Bev can be contacted via her blog novanews19.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @novanews19

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