Internationally, there is an attentiveness to developing, supporting and strengthening teachers and teaching. Teachers are the ones who create the conditions for students’ achievement, engagement and well-being.
A recent study (Campbell et.al., 2016) found three components and features of effective professional learning.
1. Quality Content
– Subject-specific and pedagogical content knowledge
– A balance of teacher voice and system coherence
2. Learning Design and Implementation
– Active and variable learning
– Collaborative learning experiences
– Job-embedded learning
3. Support and Sustainability
– Ongoing in duration
– Supportive and engaged leadership
Teachers involved with researchers, mentors and consultants in this study were immersed in professional learning that had all of the above features. This study found that the iterative, participatory nature of design-based research, along with the requirement that teachers be part of the research team, creates the conditions, components and features of what the researchers in this study named design-based professional learning.
In terms of teacher professional learning and development, an important finding in the Focus on Inquiry study was that the teachers developed the efficacy and confidence to lead other teachers’ learning. This study found that immersing teachers in a full year of professional development and learning, which required using evidence to attend to their practice, helped to create the conditions which led to their confidence and commitment to supporting and mentoring colleagues within their schools. They came to understand that student learning was more than just students’ ability to successfully complete a task, be that task a test, assignment or project. Not only did the teachers, and eventually students, attend to the object or outcome of the learning, but they also learned to attend to the ways in which a well-designed, worthwhile task was an opening into a much larger territory, enabling the students to enter into a place of deeper learning. As teachers supported students to learn to see beyond the outcome met by completing the learning task, the students’ came to see their learning as contributing to a better understanding of the world in which they lived and also a better understanding of themselves. The teachers, in turn, became adept at attending differently to the ways in which they designed learning and the conditions of learning for their students.
The need to continually bring artifacts of their own and their students’ learnings forward to a group of peers and researchers as evidence of learning, created an environment for an evolving, strengthened, dynamic, responsive teaching practice. It also created the conditions whereby the teachers could make explicit the types of designs and practices that they were developing, the supports that were required, and the ways in which strengthened practice emerged in response to their students’ learning. The teachers in turn used these new-found insights to lead other teachers’ learning.
Drawing on established research related to knowledge building (a key facet of inquiry), study participants were asked to keep four key dimensions in mind as they shared their work and their students’ work with colleagues during professional learning sessions. These four dimensions are proven to foster professional discourse and strengthen learning relationships:
Practicing a scholarship of teaching
- Developing a powerful and effective practice is a career-long endeavor, which ideally, teachers build and strengthen in the company of their peers. It means committing to share relevant work, with all participants treated as legitimate contributors who can advance the knowledge of the group.
- All ideas and artifacts of learning have the potential to improve. The work of improvable ideas, improvable practices is essential to gathering and weighing evidence, and ensuring that explanations cohere with all available evidence (Scardamalia, 2003).
- Allowing participants to express and gain quality feedback, discuss different points of view, identify shared problems and gaps in understanding provokes the kind of thinking and discourse that advances and elevates collective understanding.
- Strive to clarify understanding, thereby, creating a dynamic environment in which contracts, competing orientations and complementarity of ideas is evident. In this ways a trusting environment is creating in which new ideas emerge and evolve in new and stronger ideas.
- Asking specific questions using the evidence in order to gain greater insight into practices that lead to better outcomes for students.
In the following video watch how the Learning Leader in this school worked with teachers to sponsor evidence-informed conversations about student learning in math. They used this information to inform their next steps as teachers and to help students with their next steps as learners. The Learning Leader carefully structured the PLC sessions so that time was utilized effectively and efficiently. The primary focus of the PLC was to help build the collective knowledge of this group of teachers about ways to help students become more effective problem solvers in mathematics.
Campbell, C., Osmond-Johnson, P., Faubert, B., Zeichner, K., & Hobbs-Johnson, A. (with Brown, S., DaCosta, P., Hales, A., Kuehn, L., Sohn, J., & Steffensen, K.). (2016). The state of educators’ professional learning in Canada. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward.
Scardamalia, M. (2003). Going beyond best practice: Knowledge building principles and indicators. Presentation at Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology, Summer Institute, Toronto, ON.