Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teachers As Learners

My daughter Erin recently expressed a desire to learn how to play the piano. As every parent knows, the responsibility to help our children find their talent is a heavy burden, and we immediately signed her up for classes. I am enjoying watching her learn. She is ready and eager to leave for class with everything she needs with no nagging involved, except when she nags us for fear of being late to class! She listens intently during the lesson and as soon as she gets home she writes notes about what she learned and sets about practicing her new skills on the keyboard. She is currently working on mastering Twinkle Twinkle Little Star-a tune I'm sure many of you have heard slaughtered many times with pianos, violins, recorders, guitars etc.

It's her perseverance and independence that amazes me. With no direction whatsoever from us she happily spends hours tinkling away, frustrated when she fails but unfailing in her determination to succeed. Tackling math homework is a very different scenario! Getting started is a chore in itself, frustration leads to tears and independence is non-existent. I shouldn't be surprised, the answer to this mystery is easily solved when I consider myself as a learner.

In the last few weeks I've been involved in several very different forms of professional development. Most recently I've attended district mandated sessions. I was given choices on the workshops I could attend which was great as it meant I went willingly and keen to learn. The delivery of all of them however was the same-sit and get. I've discovered that I have the attention span of a goldfish, even when I am interested in the topic. I simply can't sit and listen for more than twenty minutes at a time. I listened to the best of my ability and walked away with some new knowledge but not much motivation to pursue the topics further once I'd left the room.

At the beginning of January I was involved in my first ever MoodleMeet, which was not mandated, I got no kind of credit for it and yet I was completely energized and excited by the possibilities it afforded me. What made the difference? For me it was the interaction. I consumed information, just as in my district PD but I was invited to respond, ask questions, connect with peers and continue the conversation after it was all over. I made new connections with teachers I've never met before such as Claire Thompson, and strengthened existing bonds with teachers like Phil Macoun. I learned so much because I was interested in the content, being online I was able to participate when it suited my schedule, and there were no expectations placed upon me other than to engage and enjoy.

I've read several Blog posts about Professional Development that have resonated with me. Most notably Should teachers own their own learning? by Dean Shareski, and Do teachers need to relearn how to learn? by Jonah Salsich. Both make excellent points about the need for Professonal Development to be more focused on the individual needs of teachers and I whole heartedly agree. Professional Development sessions are opportunities for teachers to reverse their usual roles and become learners and they would be more successful experiences if tailored to specific needs . I think the most common element to all PD experiences, good or bad, is that they provide teachers with opportunities to reflect upon the barriers to their own learning. What did we enjoy most about the session and why? What were our challenges and why? Just as I have learned much about myself as a learner , my aim is to have students learn just as much about themselves as learners. How powerful would it be if our students were given opportunities to identify and articulate clearly the barriers to their learning and the teaching styles that most appeal to them? Couldn't we then better serve their needs and help them to become more independent thinkers and learners?

As I wrap this up I can hear Twinkle Twinkle start up once again in the background. My very own little star learns best just like me-when she's interested, motivated, under no pressure of expectation and not afraid to fail. How do we as teachers transfer this type of learning to the classroom?


  1. The need to provide engagement and authentic motivation in learning is so central to what we aspire to every day.

    The more we can help our kids underhand their learning styles and intelligences, the more we can help them maximize their learning potential. Let's twinkle!

  2. THIS is exactly the question that my team has been grappling with all year--- who OWNS the learning? We have been experimenting with different PD models throughout the year, trying to find the right mix and measure to meet every learning style and need. It has been a daunting task. But, we are getting closer to the answer, which involves choice, engagement, connections, movement, inspiration, and authentic application. Technology allows us to provide a blended model of learning, too.

    So, for those of you like my dear friend, Pauline, please know that we are TRYING to shake loose the sit-n-git!

    1. Hey Joan, my intention was not to be critical of the delivery just to point out that as an adult I am able to reflect and articulate what styles work best for me.How many times do we ask our students to try and articulate what styles work best for them?If we can start having these conversations with our students then we really are embracing them as partners in learning, and as Rick said,then we can really start to twinkle! :) Look forward to attending your next PD session and thanks for opening up the conversation-lets keep it going!!

  3. Any connection to this video?

    1. I LOVE it! This is totally what I was trying to get at! I think of all the classes I teach Engage comes closest to achieving this kind of learning.
      I;m going to use this video with my kids to begin the conversation about who were are as learners
      Thank you Jordy!

  4. I agree wholeheartedly! Teachers must become owners of their own learning, and professional development opportunities must model the type of learning that we want our students to experience. Professional development should be personalized and allow teachers to experiment with new methods and/or ideas of teaching. Sparking interest in other teachers and my students is my goal every day I come to work. :)

  5. How do we encourage our students to own their learning I wonder? I read this today and think it's a great starting point for all learners:

    I know from experience that examining yourself, what you do and how you feel, can be one of the most challenging and frightening things you will ever face in this life. The journey into self-acceptance and self-love must begin with self-examination. Until you take the journey of self-reflection, it is almost impossible to grow or learn in life.

    By: Iyanla Vanzant