Tuesday, February 10, 2009

how teachers learn

The February 2009 issue of Educational Leadership focuses on the theme "How Teachers Learn." Hmmm. It's timely stuff as we shift from developing our own technology integration chops to sharing knowledge and supporting colleagues' exploration. As you think about the specific challenges and opportunities facing teachers in your setting, and how you plan to approach them as a teacher-leader, you may find some practical gems and immediately-usable ideas from this issue's articles. Many of the articles from the print version are also available online.
Moving Beyond Talk by Debra Smith, Bruce Wilson, and Dick Corbett discusses professional learning communities as a model for teacher learning, and poses the question:
But it's easy for learning communities to become stalled at the stage of
collegial discussions about improving teaching practice. What spurs
communities to progress beyond talk to collective action that brings change
to schools?
They identified six conditions that continually cropped up in their interviews with learning community participants and facilitators. When most or all of these conditions were in place, the quality of adult learning improved, and teachers moved from talk to action:
  • a preexisting supportive culture
  • time to meet
  • satisfying processes
  • voluntary participation
  • support from principals
  • a cadre of trained facilitators

As you work with teachers in your school, how might these six conditions guide your planning?

Also, be sure to give a close reading to Bill Ferriter's article, Learning with Blogs and Wikis. Three passages popped out from the first section as being useful to teacher leaders (the second section, devoted to practical advice on getting started with blogs and wikis, will feel like more familiar ground but definitely still worth a read). Bill opens with a quote from Richard Elmore, professor of educational leadership at Harvard, about how school structures straightjacket adult learning:
As expectations for increased student performance mount and the measurement and publication of evidence about performance becomes part of the public discourse
about schools, there are few portals through which new knowledge about teaching
and learning can enter schools; few structures or processes in which teachers
and administrators can assimilate, adapt, and polish new ideas and practices;
and few sources of assistance for those who are struggling to understand the
connection between the academic performance of their students and the practices
in which they engage.

Then he offers two counterpoints updating Elmore's view, two ways in which times and tools are changing. First this:
Times have changed in two significant ways, however, since Elmore began
describing the hostile learning environments that have often held schools back.
First, there's a new emphasis on the importance of collaborative learning among
members of close-knit teams in schools. School leaders are beginning to believe
in the human capacity of their faculties and are structuring opportunities for
teachers to reflect on instruction together. These joint efforts are targeted
and specific, increasing educators' motivation and engagement.

And this:

Second, digital tools now help fulfill Elmore's desire for fresh "portals
through which new knowledge about teaching and learning can enter schools."
Specifically, thousands of accomplished educators are now writing blogs about
teaching and learning, bringing transparency to both the art and the science of
their practice. In every content area and grade level and in schools of varying
sizes and from different geographic locations, educators are actively reflecting
on instruction, challenging assumptions, questioning policies, offering advice,
designing solutions, and learning together. And all this collective knowledge is
readily available for free.

Bill also reflects on teaching and leadership at his excellent blog, The Tempered Radical. Visit him there for more keen insights.


Jim from MN said...


Thanks for posting this article. I read into Elmore's "hostile learning environments" as education, in general, has as it's unwitting and often unintended desire to STAY THE SAME. Schools don't change much and they certainly don't change quickly. As technology accelerates teaching and learning, perhaps the "hostile learning environments" in Elmore's (and our) world will become more receptive to deep, meaningful change. Kids are certainly "there" and "with it" in terms of what is real and authentic and they are seldom finding it in the classroom.

Ghost said...

I really enjoyed Bill Ferriter's article on Learning with Blogs and Wikis. I think that I've learned a lot from other bloggers and my experience mirrors his ideas. I've sat through entire days of staff development that had nothing to do with my teaching. My own personal real learning is happening online.