As I have been engaging in research, collaboration, and learning regarding personal learning and school transformation for the past year, I have continually encountered an irony that keeps nudging at me.
We have discussed all the shifts in mindset that these changes will require. We have talked a lot about what will change for student learning. We have discussed at length and from many different perspectives all the changes that we will have to make as teachers in our classrooms to facilitate personal learning and proficiency-based graduation requirements. The vision for students is an autonomous, self-directed learning environment.
Interestingly, and here is the irony, there has been no discussion about how teacher professional development might need to become more personal, more autonomous, and more self-directed. In fact, very frequently, when questions come up about how we will be disseminating all this new information to teachers, the answers are to provide traditional inservice type presentations. I know this is efficient and we have a lot of work to do but we know that this type of instruction is contrary to any good learning theory. In addition, how is a teacher that has never been a self-directed learner before supposed to help their students become self-directed?
Some might argue that teachers are adults and are already self-directed but I don’t think that’s true. Teachers are used to following directions and being told what to do. Being self-directed is hard. It requires some serious motivation and our system doesn’t always provide the most motivating environment.
Daniel Pink argues that autonomy, mastery and purpose are keys to motivation. In general, schools do not provide these elements through traditional inservice. I think it is helpful to think about, not only what we know about learning but what we know about change. Teachers can’t teach what they don’t know and I can tell you from experience, it isn’t very successful when they are asked to teach something they are not yet comfortable with themselves.
The element of fear that this type of change strategy causes is a sure road to failure with any initiative (and we have all been through many of those). We need to be able to integrate new initiatives with what teachers are implementing in their classrooms so they can make meaning of it.
My first steps as a Rowland fellow have been to address this issue in our school. I have assembled a team of volunteer teachers who want to put some time in this summer learning about or preparing for the dynamic implementation of personal learning plans in our high school. They will have autonomy to create their own projects or they can choose to take a course to gain a more basic understanding of the concept. They will create a professional learning plan that includes goals. They will use technology to track their progress, get feedback, share resources, and show off their products. Now, more than ever, it is essential that teachers keep up with changes that are coming more rapidly than ever.
I’d love to hear how others are creating positive cultures of change and personalized professional development opportunities? Please leave comments if you are involved in this type of work.
Gabrielle’s goal as a Fellow is to develop a public school system for personalized learning that engages all students in meaningful learning. The intent is for systems, structures, and tools which will give all students (and teachers) the opportunity to be self-directed learners.
This post by Gabrielle Marquette can be found on her own blog Fearless Teachers and was first posted on April 24, 2015. Thank you to Gabrielle for her permission to republish it here on our Rowland site.