Way back when, when I was a ‘young-un’, and taking courses for professional development, and yes, to move up in QECO, I took, among many courses, an Adult Education course. I really loved it. It really spoke to how I learned as an adult, and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a student in high school. I believe that adopting some adult education principles while I was teaching in a high school, helped me help students I might not have helped without the ideas.
Now, as I spend bits and pieces of my days reading insightful educational ideas on Twitter (now, if you told me two years ago, I would have written those words, I would have laughed, heartily!) I am seeing the explosion of ideas that help us all to meet student needs better. No longer is “DI” just an afterthought, but classrooms across North America are adopting ideas and strategies that really do better meet our students’ needs. Yes, we have so far to go. Teaching is a craft and a science and an art, but it is dealing with the most complex material possible, the human mind, the human condition, with all of its variables, both genetic and environmental. The fact that we ever think we “have it right” is a thought that has to be eradicated from our thinking. However, my thoughts around how we better tailor our schools and classrooms for learning have lead me to start thinking about, how, as a principal, and as a member of a board team, we deliver curriculum to our staff members? I have read some interesting tidbits on Twitter but have begun to think a little more about it.
An example I want to point to, is a conversation I was having a few weeks ago, about student transition to high school. Often a grade 9 class looks and operates much differently than a grade 8 classroom, yet the kids we are teaching are only two months older. Does that much change happen between June 29th and September 3rd in an adolescent brain, that we can justify, in some cases, a pretty significant change in how we do business? If how we are setting up our grade 8 classrooms is good, aligned with research and being reflected on, then how is it that the environment in grade 9, which is often different, is the right thing to do?
I am not suggesting that the change in grade 9 is better or worse than the grade 8 experience, but it is significantly different, and I am not sure we talk enough about it. Does the grade 9 class need to be more similar to the grade 8, or perhaps vice-versa? I am not sure. But that is not what I want to get to here, though, I am just using it as an example. Although, I suspect that examining this further may make for an interesting blog post down the road.
What I am getting at is this: We are gaining ground in realizing school systems need to make some changes to engage students in their learning. We are shedding the “one-size-fits-all” model all over the place and are replacing it with DI, choice, student voice and many other things, and the evidence of its success is slowly building. I ask then, if we are recognizing that this is what is good for our kids, within the framework of curriculum which has been given to us, and one of the main arguments is the increase in engagement, then why are still at a “one-size-fits-all” model for PD? Why do we have a really top down system of PD?
The question is somewhat rhetorical, because I know we have to have some degree and it needs to come from the ministry, and then through the boards. I understand the need for structure, just as I get that in a Canadian History course, we need to follow curriculum, and cannot frame the entire course around the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs (as inspiring as that would be), but if we are so hell bent on engaging our students by listening more to them, why are we not doing the same with our staff? Is their learning less important? Have they now moved to a place in their development where choice and personal needs no longer affect their engagement in learning? I can only speak for myself, but I find as I age (with grace, of course) I am even more dependent upon engagement to keep me learning. I used to be able to force stuff through my brain, but now, if I am not engaged in the material, I am done. And conversely, if I am engaged, I am even more engaged than I ever was as a teen, or a learner in my mid-twenties.
So, I leave you all with the thoughts that are swirling in my head around PD for teachers. How can meet ministry dictates, board initiatives, yet also speak to teacher engagement in their own learning, through their voices? I would suggest that teacher learning is crucial to student learning, and if we want to continue to move forward as a system, this is something we could be looking at as another way to increase learning in schools!