The changing nature of professional development for teachers… and it’s for the better!

On Friday evening, some 279 (or thereabouts) teachers, braved the inclement Sydney weather to attend a Teach Meet. The organisers hoped it would become a world record. In it’s purest form, a teach meet requires little organisation and is designed to encourage teachers to discuss their teaching and learning experiences. Encouraging teachers to articulate their personal pedagogy is something that I never tire of hearing. 

In keeping with my passion for pedagogy I attended the evening to listen and learn. I have presented at a teach meet in the past. I have presented to teachers in a number of forums, but I really wanted this to be an experience where I was listening, sharing and reflecting on teaching practice with my colleagues and peers.

I listened to a number of teachers talk about their experiences. I heard an English teacher talk about ways of enhancing poetry lessons through the integration of technology. I listened to a French teacher talk about he experience in using a learning management system to share resources with her students. I listened to a teacher talk about pastoral care of middle school students and an English teacher speak about and reflect on her experiences of Project Based Learning. 

If I was to summarise in a couple of words, the central tenet of the evening I would say –

PASSION. PEDAGOGY

It was clear that each teacher who presented were at different stages of their journeys. Some were very much at the start of their journey, and others were very much early adopters, experimenting with technology, learning spaces, pedagogy and paradigms in a number of new and exciting ways.

Each teacher presented something that was unique to their class. I saw teachers present who were initially nervous (it was a huge crowd of peers) but in each presentation, it was clear that the teacher knew their students and was adapting their teaching to meet then needs of their students. They did not need the bells and whistles to impart their reflections on their practice.

The best aspect of the Teach Meet is the opportunity to meet other teachers and discuss our passion for teaching and learning. I love sharing ideas and learning new ideas. It is refreshing! It is exciting and it is a model for professional development that I think is becoming much more valuable. 

It got me thinking about why a teach meet model has become such a good model for professional development. It is a model that has great merit because it is professional learning for teachers, by teachers, across a range of sectors, systems and geographical locations. Each teacher brings a whole lot of experiences and expectations to the conversation! I have helped to organise I couple of teach meets in the past and look forward to helping organise one for English teachers.

It is clear they are filling a void that has been growing larger in professional development opportunities for teachers for a while.

I think that teachers have become very good at talking the talk. Professional development, in the not too distant past, has been about bringing in an expert (often not a teacher) to tell teachers about new and innovative things they can do in the classroom. Often the experience is one-sided. The expert delivers the material with a whole lot of pithy catch phrases that you could hear repeated, over and over. Teachers may discuss it with their peers at lunch and talk about how much they’d like to implement it at their schools. They return to work. excited and passionate about the experience, only to get caught up in the day to day routine – and the notes and reflections of the PD are relegated to a department meeting, where it’s presented in about 20 minutes and nobody ever hears of it again. The problem lay in the fact that the PD didn’t come from a need to fill a gap – it was something else. An add on that at times, may or may not have bore any relevance to the practices at the school.

In my previous teaching experience, as English Coordinator, I was very much aware of offering professional development opportunities to my staff. I always sent my new scheme teachers to ETA Conferences (which they loved) and scheduled my department meetings to be primarily about professional development. Administrivia was something that I managed to do via email. I often asked teachers to present something at the meeting. We varied the PD in our department meetings. There would always be someone sharing an assessment task and someone sharing a learning activity. Other times, teachers would share something they had read or viewed (like a TED talk) and would share it. 

As time progressed I was very proud that the quality of assessment and teaching and learning had improved in English, across the school. I came to realise that creating an open dialogue, fostering and nurturing a real culture of learning and collaboration among teachers, and pushing them to be autonomous was the best thing for my department. I was leading a group of talented, engaged and passionate teachers who were experimenting with different teaching practices in the classroom and it was creating more intrinsically motivated students. I also realised that I needed to offer them more. 

I think the Teach Meets and PLN’s have been powerful in providing constant sources of inspiration. We would discuss and debate different paradigms. We didn’t always agree but at least each teacher could argue why she held a point of view. I found that when teachers were coming back from expensive, highly structured professional development, they would often say they enjoyed the day, but it was presenting practices and ideas they had already used. 

Essentially, the Teach Meets and PLN’s are great because the ‘early adopters’ and those who experiment with different paradigms in the classroom are the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Teachers are increasingly offered a plethora of professional learning experiences. Webinars with respected academics and educators can be purchased relatively cheaply and watched on demand. Hashtags on twitter are wonderful in constructing a narrative for different PLN’s. It is current, valuable and can be accessed on demand. 

Just as technology has become ubiquitous in the lives of teachers, so too has the value of a PLN. I know that I have become a better teacher because of what I have learn’t from my PLN. I love the fact that my PD is no longer limited to annual conferences once a year – or waiting for the next edition of a journal to be published. 

I think there is a place for different forms of PD. I am certainly not advocating that Teach Meets replace all forms of PD. There is a place for the structured days, the lectures etc. I love listening to someone who is going to challenge me to think differently about my practice. I enjoy listening to academics, theorists and other educators present their philosophy of education. I enjoy listening to new ideas and ways of thinking about teaching practice. I just love the fact that someone like me, who thinks about teaching and learning, well and truly after the final bell has rung for the school day, can engage in conversations about teaching and learning, can learn more and reflect more deeply when I want and where I want. 

I have attended informal sessions in coffee shops (aptly named Latte Learning) run sessions at my previous school and have found the relationships built through these experiences have encouraged greater collaboration. Such great opportunities should be encouraged and nurtured. Best of all, the experiences that I’ve described are largely free. 

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About acoure

English Coordinator and English teacher in Sydney. Believes in the power of education. Passionate about pedagogy, how students learn, curriculum design and learning spaces. I am keenly interested in finding out more about how teachers have adapted their pedagogy in a 1:1 environment. I am also eternally grateful for the inspirational educators I worked with in my formative years of teaching. They opened my eyes to the power of what a deep understanding of pedagogy can do to enhance the learning opportunities for students.
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