The problem with professional learning

I love getting feedback. After each speaking engagement or facilitated workshop, I seek feedback from those who attended and from those who engaged me for the gig.

I enjoy receiving positive feedback (obviously) but it’s the feedback that suggests improvements, or points to flaws in my delivery that push me to be better at what I do.

Having said that…

I do tend to bristle at the types of feedback that are along the lines of:

Teachers want something they can take away and do first thing Monday morning.

For me, this mindset is the biggest problem with professional learning – particularly in education.

Let me explain why I think that. And by explain, I mean ask you some questions.

How many Professional Learning days have you attended in your career? How many had a take home message? How many can you remember? How many of those messages still resonate with you?Expert_01

I’d hazard a guess that for each of those questions the number got lower and lower right?

Here’s the thing. It’s not like I’m out there teaching people how to tie their shoe laces (great talk by the way!). In my sessions we’re discussing engagement, wellbeing & leadership. Three things that look quite different in your organisation compared to the organisation of the next person who reads this blog. I’ve never worked with you, your colleagues, your kids, your kids’ parents or your wider learning community. I’m not the expert- YOU ARE.

When I’m working with professionals, my goal is to stimulate discussion and thinking so as to empower those present to design strategies that will enhance the experiences of everyone in their school or organisation. I seek to recognise and build on the capacity of those in the room, and in turn, their colleagues when they return to their schools.

I believe that the First Thing Monday Morning Mindset is a product of the way teachers have been treated over the years. Continually told that we need smarter teachers or that the system’s failing; that the Uni’s aren’t preparing teachers properly or, “I don’t know what you’re complaining about, look at your holidays!”

Some teachers genuinely believe they need a guru to come in and give them a list of things to do with a class or staff body that the guru has never met. It’s quick, to the point and everyone can tick that box off the list of things to do that year.

It would be interesting to see what kind of bang for buck your school gets for this approach to professional learning. It would be interesting to ask each member of your staff the four questions I asked earlier. We know the answers of course, and yet we persist…

So, in an attempt to appease everyone, and at the same time stay true to my philosophy… here IS one thing you can do first thing Monday morning…

Suggest to your Principal that at the end of this term, or the next, your school holds an IDEASFest. I’m sure you’ve seen enough examples of this kind of thing through TED talks, FODI and the like to get the idea.

Open it up to any member of your learning community – parents, kids, teachers, maintenance staff – and hear what they have to say about the things that matter to them and your school. You could frame the talks to be around a certain theme, or be less prescriptive.

No big bucks for keynote speakers, no experts or gurus and I’d bet you’ll have to persuade some that this would even constitute professional learning… 

But I’d also bet that this kind of day would provide you and your staff with a take home message or two that might resonate the rest of your career, let alone just the weekend.

One Comment on “The problem with professional learning

  1. Great post. Schools and teachers often have an expectation of professional learning events providing a magic wand that will ‘fix’ a problem and bring a new way of doing things. There is an expectation to be ‘spoon fed’ and given the ‘answer’ as a result of attending professional learning. This culture inhibits the many authentic chances for robust discussion and genuine learning that can take place as the emphasis is so often on having something concrete to take away and use in class the next day.
    Fortunately there are plenty of people out there who don’t subscribe to these expectations. They are the ones who are on Twitter, writing blogs and connecting beyond formal professional learning events.

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