The topic of professional development can spark conversations that go on for hours (Trust me, I’ve sat through hundreds of planning meetings). You can spend one meeting after the next discussing how to approach professional development as a school: Who needs what? Should there be elements of compulsory training? And the most frightening and misguided question: Which tech should we be using? In all the schools I worked in during the first decade of my teaching career, these marathon meetings led to minimal success.
Even today, many teachers’ vision for how learning should look is based on their own school experiences. Some see professional development as a sporadic series of (often – disappointing) events that they choose to or are asked to attend. What is most sad to me is when I meet student-centered teachers who, when providing training to other staff, do not use their normal classroom techniques because they know the audience of teachers are expecting and comfortable with the stand-and-deliver format. It is certainly not a bad thing that the number of education conferences continues to grow. But the attendees at these events tend to be from the minority of teachers who have developed some type of growth mindset. The majority of teachers I’ve worked with in schools, both in the UK and here in New Zealand, have yet to attend such an event and many wouldn’t see much need to.
Remember, the New Zealand system is fantastic, but Kiwi teachers are still coming to terms with it. The question for any education system, then, is this: How do we make having a growth mindset the norm amongst educators? In truth, it takes time to develop a culture where growth is the expectation, but including a systematic approach to developing this mindset as part of your national curriculum document is a good first step.
A NATIONAL GROWTH MINDSET
It is with great pleasure I can tell you that New Zealand is systematically solving the issue of nationwide, authentic professional development. The solution comes from making every teacher accountable for designing and reporting a personal inquiry into their own classroom practice. This is done through an action research model we call Teaching as Inquiry (TAI). Asking teachers to challenge and reflect upon their teaching automatically makes it more relevant and personal than if they were following a mandated lesson plan—or even simply following their own lesson plans from the previous year.
This call for continual personal reflection and professional development is the opposite of any form of one-size-fits-all approach. The trick is to make teachers accountable for sharing their reflections with, at a minimum, others in their school and, more preferably, the world. The style of learning and area of growth targeted are chosen by each individual teacher and are expected to produce a measurable challenge to some aspect of their teaching. The purpose of TAI is to instill in teachers the belief that professional development is, and should be, instigated by the individual. It also promotes the idea that development and learning is continuous and not isolated to planned events.
LEARNING IS PERSONAL
The best professional development comes from reflecting on one’s own practice and applying measurable challenges to one’s own teaching. It is a practice that empowers teachers to keep and improve the good stuff whilst throwing out the things that don’t make a measurable difference to learning in their classroom or school. Teachers are then encouraged to share those measurable challenges or inquiries with other educators, be it in one-to-one meetings with a “critical” friend or on a blog, as a growing number of Kiwi teachers now do.
TAI is a practice that is successfully developing a culture amongst teachers in New Zealand for collaborative reflection and shared growth. This culture, in turn, helps to build trust within the system as teachers are more accountable and transparent in what they are doing and trying to achieve. The sharing of TAIs also provides a library of ideas and resources to any educator willing to tap into the blogs and wikis created by their fellow educators. I created this diagram of the SITTI model to show how the TAI process fits with schools’ professional development goals and creates a vision for learning that includes everyone.
Author: A Learner’s Paradise
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