The current PD model is familiar. Every teacher, every subject, all together. Early after-school dismissal, or late start. Exhausted after a full school day, or overwhelmed prepping for the day ahead. File into the cafeteria, library or auditorium. Sign in. Collect piles of handouts. The presenter reads aloud from a slide presentation, and you notice your handouts are dated sometime in the 20th century. Bell rings. Teachers file out, either to grade or plan. Few, if any, come away with anything they can realistically use. Either toss the handouts or hole-punch them and put them away in a binder. Never open the binder. Repeat. Indefinitely.
But how does this help innovative life-long learners who are passionate about professional growth?
Teachers learn pedagogy, the learning style, and the needs of children and young people. Pedagogy addresses a child’s needs as they acquire and build on skills according to stages of development. But adults do not have to learn like children. Because adults possess the foundational skills, they naturally move to a more complex style of learning. They are capable of inquiry learning. They ask questions or consider problems, then search for answers and solutions. They collaborate and share ideas. So PD ought to be structured to take adult learning into account. Adults should not be treated like children when it comes to their learning process. They should make choices about professional development that meets their needs as they meet unique student needs.
Adults do not need to be told what to learn. They acquire knowledge in a less linear way. A better way to address adult learning is with the concept of Rhizomatic Learning. Dave Cormier of Windsor, Canada developed this theory based on the metaphor of a plant stem, or rhizome, whose roots grow continuously in many different directions. Rhizomatic Learning recognizes that learning is not designed around content, but is instead a social process in which we learn with and from each other (Cormier 2010). The social process also has a non-linear, serendipitous quality. People from various backgrounds bring their ideas and perspectives together for a discussion that brings about unexpected learning results, even if there is no defined learning objective. Not unlike a stimulating dinner party!
This is the process of taking available time and getting quick answers to questions that will solve larger problems. Teachers form a professional learning community by following accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to get ideas on implementing lesson ideas, innovative testing structures, unique exercises and engaging discussion topics. Microlearning is the idea that you don’t have to use time and money to attend a conference or take a class to develop your teaching practice. You figure out the problem you want to solve in your classroom and find answers quickly, in an accessible format. Teachers also find ‘nuggets of inspiration’ quickly that they can implement and see results in real time. They share those nuggets on the platforms where they found them, and in many other venues.
Rather than arbitrary and artificial teacher groupings at a session of PD, or the ineffective PLC model constrained to a single school site, the VLC is driven by teacher need and teacher choice. Need an effective diagnostic tool for 5th grade students in math? How about suggestions for successfully teaching iambic pentameter to 8th graders? What about implementing technology in a meaningful way that gets results? If teachers at your school don’t have answers to these questions, and regular PD doesn’t cover it (which is likely), maybe an educator in another state does. Or maybe that educator is in South Africa or New Zealand. This type of network is organic, based on choice, and more collaborative–teachers can form teams that implement shared strategies and share the results. They find accountability and encouragement. Thanks to the internet and friendly social media platforms, the VLN connects teachers with educators and ideas around the globe that are working in similar situations.
Passionate educators are developing strategies to work around the tiresome current PD model. They are using their talents and their own knowledge to improve as teachers. They reach out to like-minded colleagues around the world for inspiration and implementation ideas. Professional development for educators is experiencing a revolution that will ultimately benefit students.
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