Feature

Professional Learning with You at the Centre

Ruth Dawson, Anne Rodrigue, Johanna Brand

This issue of Voice is about the changing nature of  professional  learning.  Effective  professional learning is about you and your needs, and the needs of your students. It is learning you choose and direct for yourself, and it occurs every day in the course of your work.

We live in an information age, a time of rapid technological change and continual transformation of what we think we know to be true. Like everyone  else  in  today’s  society,  schools  and teachers struggle to keep pace.  Education must not only provide students with a body of facts; it must also give them the tools to solve problems creatively and  to  communicate their  thinking. Students must learn how to find the information they need,  and to synthesize, analyze, and critique it.

The  changing  expectations  of  and  increasing demands on  students fall  squarely on  the shoulders of teachers. Improvement in education depends on teachers, and change will not occur without changes in teacher  practice. Like their students, teachers need to be lifelong learners. They need to enhance their practice to increase their ability to meet students’ needs.

WHAT  KIND  OF  LEARNING  IS  MOST  EFFECTIVE? 

There are several different types of professional learning. Some training responds specifically to the priorities of  principals, school boards, and the Ministry of Education. ETFO believes that to be effective, professional  learning must also take into account teachers’ priorities and must be directed by teachers. Demanding that teachers change their practice or expecting them to copy and adopt new methods uncritically works only if  the  teachers have  determined that  the  new practices  are  more  effective  and  will  improve their students’ learning.

When teachers engage in professional learning that is voluntary and specific to their needs and those of their  students, educational change and systemwide  improvement  will  occur.  Change also comes about when teachers take what they have learned into the classroom and put it into context, into daily practice.

Professional  learning  as  defined,  supported, and encouraged by ETFO has you the teacher at its core. It is learning you choose based on your needs in the classroom. It is learning that motivates you to do something differently. At its very best, it changes you: your values, belief system, attitudes,  and  behaviours  combine with new knowledge and skills to change your teaching.

WHAT  MAKES  EFFECTIVE  PROFESSIONAL LEARNING?

In this issue of  Voice, you will read stories by teachers who took part in a variety of  professional learning  activities that inspired, excited, and changed them. The activities and programs they write about  are examples  of  the kind of professional learning that research has shown to be successful.1

Effective  professional  learning  respects  and incorporates  the  knowledge  that  you  already have in a wide  variety of areas: pedagogy, children’s emotional and physical development, and instructional approach. It allows you to incorporate new skills into your existing practice. It provides an effective mix of theoretical and practical knowledge that you can take into the classroom when you need it. It is the kind of learning you will  experience  as  a  participant  in  an  ETFO professional learning program. ETFO’s Summer Academy offers this kind of  approach, whether the topic is literacy, numeracy, arts education, or daily physical activity, as in Fanitsa Housdon’s article on page 38.

Effective professional learning involves inquiry and experimentation. You learn how to ask questions  about  your  classroom  practice,  how  to collect data, and how to determine if what you’re doing  is  improving  student   learning.  If  you determine that your practice is not enhancing student learning, you are offered effective programs that suggest possibilities for change. For example, Brian Harrison and a small team at his school have used  lesson study to ask questions about their teaching (page 49). In the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School

Board, teams of  classroom and special education resource teachers are working together and experimenting with integration as a way of enhancing student success (page 29).

Effective professional learning respects the adult learner. It adapts to all the ages and stages of teachers’ careers – including the needs of occasional teachers – and recognizes their many different roles. It allows you to choose what issues or topics best suit your needs at any particular stage of your career. ETFO’s Strategies for Surviving While Smiling (page 36) meets the needs of new and occasional teachers. PD on the Fly, (page 33) devised by the Greater Essex Occasional Teacher Local, allows teachers to learn on their own schedule. Rhea Perreira-Foyle, a participant and facilitator in ETFO’s Reflections on Practice program also shows how technology can assist in allowing you to learn with others outside of your school (page 31).

SHARING YOUR KNOWLEDGE

If we are to be accountable as a profession, then we must be able to explain what we do and why we do it to our colleagues, and to students, parents, school administrators, and the public.

Sharing our professional learning with each other is one of  the best means of creating new knowledge and of changing our practice to enhance student success. Collegial collaboration allows us to move from theory to practical application in ways that make sense in our classrooms. It allows us to fine-tune practice to achieve better outcomes. Collaboration can take the form of professional learning communities, as described by Pat Milot (page 22), or grade-team planning as illustrated by Deborah Pitblado and her colleagues (page 47). It can also take the form of small teams of teachers working at the same school, as illustrated by the book club at Armitage Village Public School facilitated by Joanne Myers (page 44).

Every teacher is a leader in her or his classroom. But leadership need not be confined to the classroom or to the more  traditional route of school administration. Sometimes, as Susan Drake and her colleagues found (page 12), leadership isn’t immediately recognized by those who engage in it. Leadership opportunities abound. Teachers can be leaders in their school working with colleagues. They can be leaders in ETFO in areas of professional development, professional relations, collective bargaining, and equity. Mini Dawar used the leadership skills she polished at ETFO programs to make a difference in her school (page 18). There are leadership opportunities in district school boards, at faculties of education, in the Ministry of Education, and at universities. Ruth Dawson and Jane Bennett share the stories of teachers who have taken on a variety of these leadership roles across the province (page 14). As Sukayna Dewji shows, there are leadership opportunities for teachers wanting to share their skills with colleagues around the world (page 26). Teachers who are developing and broadening their leadership skills provide the school and the education system with an important perspective that connects classroom teacher needs to training and resources.

YOU HAVE MANY CHOICES

Effective professional learning  offers  a  variety of  content,  styles,  and  formats.  In  this  issue, you  will  find  accounts  by  teachers  who  have broadened their horizons. All are professionals who took a risk, opened up their classrooms and their  practice, agreed to share their knowledge with colleagues, and have decided to share that process with you.

We thank the Ministry of Education for providing funding that helped make it possible for us to bring you their stories  and to encourage you to continue your lifelong journey of  professional learning. We hope you enjoy reading about their experiences.

1   Lynne Hannay, Ron Wideman, and Wayne Seller. Professional Learning to Reshape Teaching. Toronto: Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, 2007.