I have had a few sobering moments when scoping new schools for Learning with Digital Technology (LwDT). At one school, I was asked, “Is this where the IT training starts?” At another, the principal started counting the professional learning and development (PLD) initiatives on her fingers and proudly told me they got everything they asked for.
My experience with the LwDT project has shown me that good quality pedagogy and good quality professional inquiry help decide PLD and technology use, so you can see why my heart contracted when I had those conversations. I wondered what care and thought had gone into choosing appropriate PLD.
Effective, sustainable, professional learning and development is about change, about a culture shift, and as such requires quality thought, discussion, planning and implementation. Schools need to think about – ‘What is important for all our students to be like, to know, and to be able to do to help them become engaged, contributing and fulfilled citizens in a changing society?’ And then … ‘How do we do that?’ It is at this point that schools might identify PLD that will help them in their quest.
I can’t emphasise enough the absolute importance of discussion and communication with all stakeholders – school and community in this process. Have the conversations and involve everyone, it is after all and should be, whole school reform. The purpose is to bring about a positive difference for all students. ‘The moral and political purpose of whole-system reform is ensuring that everyone will be affected for the better starting on day one of implementing the strategy.’ Michael Fullan and Ben Levin.
If I was to write an open letter to principals thinking about engaging in external PLD, here are some questions and statements I might include:
Dear Principals …
- Have you spoken with your school and community to consider what PLD is necessary to bring about positive change for your particular students?
- Have you shared the ‘why’ – the rationale for the changes you are seeking to implement?
- Can you be sure the endpoint goals of the PLD are clearly stated and shared with all, so that everyone knows where they are headed?
- Choose just a few things and focus deeply and thoroughly on those goals. As Viviane Robinson in the Best Evidence Synthesis says – “You don’t achieve lasting improvementunless you are relentlessly focused on a few things.”
- Robust professional inquiry for everyone ensures that changes occur based on in-class research.
- Professional learning groups provide support for inquiry. Any roles within these groups need to be assigned transparently with all stakeholders and role expectations made clear to everyone. A high trust environment is important.
- Quality professional inquiry must have built into it time to allow everyone to reflect, challenge assumptions, critique findings and share research – have you factored this into your yearly schedule?
- At the heart of this is the opportunity for teachers to talk about learning, teaching, and assessment; student engagement, wellbeing, and achievement – it is a learning lever for all.
- These conversations help people hone their values and beliefs about how students learn best.
- The learning leader within the school is you, the principal. What is more important to focus on than the learning of your students? Devolving professional development to others to run and excusing yourself from the process lessens credibility and lowers the value of the PLD.
- Finally, PLD is about change so pick up on the good ideas that come out of these discussions and inquiries, use them to decide what your school will stop doing, what you could start doing, and what is worth retaining to support student learning.
For those unsure of the place of e-learning in schools, the diagram below shows higher order learning opportunities for students through effective use of technology. Rather than a goal of mastering IT, the power of technology lies in enabling students to collaborate, to create, to have learning personalised, and to participate to the fullest of their ability.
How e-learning supports student learning
EXPLANATION OF THE DIAGRAMME: HOW E-LEARNING SUPPORTS STUDENT LEARNING
Quality teaching learning and assessment supported by technology (e-learning) provides greater opportunity for:
- Productivity: leaner-created ‘repurposed’ content, Future-focussed innovation.
- Participation: anytime, anywhere, ubiquity, UDL, formative assessment.
- Personalisation: student voice, flexible learning environment (UDL), choice, culturally responsive practice.
- Partnership: teamwork, co-curated content, global and national connections, access to experts.
These produce the following outcomes:
- Participating and contributing
- Managing of self
- Relating to others
- Using language, symbols and text.
Education Week (July 13, 2015) The Fundamentals of Whole System Reform: A Case Study from Canada. Michael Fullan & Ben Levin. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/06/17/35fullan.h28.html
Education Counts (Nov 2009) School Leadership & Students Outcomes, Identifying What works and Why: Best Evidence Synthesis. By Viviane Robinson, Margie Hohepa, & Claire Lloyd.
Retrieved from: https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/series/2515/60169/60170
New Zealand Curriculum
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