Teacher Professional Development – an inquiry approach

This is a hasty post to document an idea that developed in my head as I peeled boiled eggs for my son’s breakfast. It is an idea that has got me thinking about the nature of the professional development that I offered last year as a means to get teachers up-skilled for DER. The approach was – ironically – teacher-centred. A flaw in design learned through exposure to many teacher professional development experiences over six years of being a teacher. (Aside – I did alter this design in the second half of the year, to minimal success – for another post maybe.)

Project Based Learning has taught me that students perform well under pressure – if the pressure is to produce a product that has a very definite authentic audience and the project itself is real-world relevant.

If it works for students then it will work for teachers. How do I know? Because I have seen and been the teacher who is prompted to present at a conference in two weeks time and manages to create something wonderful that makes ripples. (I didn’t mean for the wonderful to be applied to me just there – ah false modesty, Orwell has taught me well. But truly, it is a thought experiment for you to indulge.).

Teachers are under pressure from all angles – but this pressure is often of the uninspired kind: ‘Must learn the new Syllabus for my subject’, ‘Must learn to perfect teaching essays’, ‘Must mark these 150 creative pieces by Wednesday’, ‘Must complete the Risk assessment for the excursion by Friday’. You know what I mean, right?! Where’s the glory in those things? Where’s the celebration of teacher achievement, or creative teacher practice, of successes in the classroom? Basically we have to wait until the end of the year until the NAPLAN, SC and HSC results come out. Maybe if you’re lucky your kids will have been able to produce in the exam and you get what a friend of mine coined as ‘the golden orb’ – the student gets the top ‘band’ and this golden hue reflects back on you as the ‘quality’ teacher that ‘produced’ this result. But, let’s remember that often individual teachers aren’t ‘acknowledged’ by the executive for these results in fear of alienating other teachers whose students didn’t ‘achieve’. Celebration of teachers here is not guaranteed – but interestingly it is one of the only opportunities given to individual teachers to get that ‘wow, you did something amazing’ moment. So, let’s calculate this – you get to possibly experience the celebration of your profession, your craft, your science maybe three times a year. And only if your craft garners results that are deemed ‘top quality’. (Aside – I am not discounting those moments where we take kids to competitions and they do well, or the school production/band etc performs well and we’re congratulated as individuals at staff meetings – oh, and the fact that our principals, head teachers, deputies say we’re working hard and thank us – these are brilliant and mean a great deal to us all.)

SO – let’s make an authentic audience for our teachers. Let’s force them to inquire into their practice. Not because an external body said teachers have to in order to receive that shiny tick which means they are a ‘quality teacher’ who can stay in the profession. Let’s get MORE of our colleagues EXCITED about what technology can bring to their craft, art, science (teaching) in order to enhance the student and teacher experience of education.

I have a small group of teachers who have offered to be DAGs (DER Action Group) at my school. I haven’t been a good leader when it comes to this group. I haven’t encouraged them to inquire into DER. I must make this up to them.

So here’s the vision:

Each teacher will be asked to create a driving question that relates directly to his/her specific KLA and technology. For example, ‘How can bringing technology into the classroom help my students to be better writers?’ (ENGLISH) or ‘How can having access to the internet in the classroom help my students become better researchers?’ (HISTORY) or ‘How can having access to a laptop help my students to understand the role of languages in the 21st century?’ (LOTE)
The teachers will be given approximately 5 weeks to inquire into this problem, complete at least 5 blog posts on their findings (including posing questions relating to the driving question on social networking sites like edmodo, yammer, twitter, facebook), implement some of the new strategies developed in his/her classroom and then present on these findings to the whole teacher-body at a specified staff meeting. (Yes, the product is hypocritical – it is teacher-centred, but let’s face it this is getting the ball-rolling, they are modelling inquiry-learning to other teachers, who hopefully will be inspired to take up their own projects!) Once the school presentation is done, each teacher will present at a Regional conference. How do I know this? Because if someone is doing something cool, has found out answers to an essential and difficult question relevant to teaching, then other people want to hear about that. Besides, this project necessitates the establishing of a Personal Learning Network powered by social networking (insert evil laugh here) and thus these teachers will have already connected to interested teachers – an authentic audience!

So that’s my plan. Teachers do crazily creative, awesome, beautiful, amazing things – we should celebrate these by sharing them with an authentic audience.

OK, I probably should go and insert some hyper-links and pretty pictures into this post. But my kids are asking for more food.

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8 thoughts on “Teacher Professional Development – an inquiry approach

  1. Oh, yes, inspired when cracking open some eggs. I guess males are often inspire on the toilet. I like the subject driven questions and the idea of a real audience, beyond standardised testing situation. i think you have found the answer to: How can we celebrate what we do?

    • Thanks Troy – I don’t know if I answered the question of ‘how’ fully, it’s a big issue for me and whenever I bring it up with people I feel as though I’m saying ‘I work hard and no one cares’ – but it’s not about me at all. I was sent a great article on the issue – I’ll find it and link to it at end of this post 🙂
      PS: I get inspired in the most stupid places!

  2. Hi Bianca,
    I’ve now subscribed to this awesome blog. Wow!
    I am retired from teaching – K-6 – was a principal till 2003, then part time teacher ESL 2004-2009.
    I have missed social and professional interaction since leaving the world of school!
    Twitter has brought me such reconnections through Jan Green and Pip Cleaves that I am re-energized intellectually.
    I have recently begun a blog where I hope teachers parents students can pop in and ask me questions to learn more about “how schools work” this is a completely non-aligned venture as I am not employed by DET.
    Yet, I do think that a simple and safe setting in which to ask “about whatever” is needed.
    I think that you, along with so many of the hard working and dedicated professionals I follow on Twitter, need to be congratulated for the great work you do, tough at times, bringing so many students and teachers along with you on the learning journey!

    • Great to hear from you Denise 🙂 Excellent to know that even if you’re not being paid to be a teacher, you’re still a teacher and a learner! Thanks for subscribing to my blog and good luck with your blogging adventures too!

  3. Another great post! I ike your professional learning model. You may like to learn more about the US National Writing Project (www.nwp.org). They use a similar and very effective model. Also check out the work of the Boise group http://bswproject.com/default.aspx

    Have a lovely week.

    • Thanks for you positive feedback, Melissa 🙂

      I haven’t had a chance as yet to implement my vision – but now that we have THREE year groups with the netbooks, I know how important it is to get the ball rolling!

      I’m habitually disorganised, so I’m going to write a short-term and long-term goal list and make these things happen!

      Thanks for the link – why don’t we have something like this in Australia? I guess ETA tries to do teacher-pd throughout the year, but it’s not of the inquiry-model. Food for thought.

  4. Yes, yes, yes…and this reminds me that I had settled on two ‘prongs’ to move forward with to try and energise change:
    http://kellimcgraw.com/2010/07/12/reframing-change/

    1. The idea of making it relevant to what the teacher saw as their bigger priority and
    2. Luring people into engagement through FUN (and after reading some more I can see the strong links to Games Based Learning in this second prong)

    In my Uni tutorials I think I have been succeeding, for the most part, with prong one. But now that you mention it, I haven’t been putting my money where my mouth is in regards to having more fun, or using PBL.

    Hehehe, next week is going to be interesting 😛
    I’m glad my students are overall good sports about me attacking this unit from multiple angles!

    • Your students are lucky to have you because you don’t stand up the front purporting to know the answer to being a ‘perfect teacher’ – makes it more fun! I once wrote a post about the view that you can never ‘Be’ and English teacher – you’re always ‘Becoming’ and English teacher. The thought that there is a stable, ideal end-point for humanity is so 1850s … we needn’t hold this view of teaching (or education) either … evolution baby – embrace it!

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