RE-Fresh Professional Learning: Finding Time, Energy and Enthusiasm in These Times

Nov 14, 2022

As leaders reestablish a culture of professional learning across schools and systems, they are overcoming the challenges of not enough supply teachers, not enough money, not enough time and a lack of appreciation of the importance of professional learning. 

Through the pandemic, many schools put professional learning on hold to focus on public health orders and safety. In the midst of those pressing needs, routines and habits that put professional learning at the centre faded.

Just as in our communities we are reestablishing social connections in new ways, schools and systems need to deliberately build new habits and routines that put learning at the centre.

A learning organization that truly serves today’s students must itself also be actively engaged in learning.

Yet, despite the challenges - a shortage of supply teachers, less money, students and educators away due to illness - there are opportunities.

This blog post is about the opportunities for professional learning that surround us and ways educators are embracing them. 

Opportunities include:

  • the energy and fresh perspective of many teachers new to the profession.
  • greater acceptance of the role of technology in building community, keeping us informed and supporting access to new ideas and learning.
  • access to fabulous online resources with classroom clips and practical ideas of current best practices, along with the knowledge-builders who are working in today’s classrooms and schools.
  • a growing body of research supporting the power of self-directed professional learning, the role of assessment for learning in supporting leaders of learning organizations, and the continued emphasis on evidence-based professional development and learning.

All together this gives us an amazing opportunity in our professional learning. We can move forward, redefining what it means to refresh and renew our practice.

Not sure how to get unstuck?

Let me share some of the successful first steps forward into this unknown future colleagues are taking:

  • Reclaim professional learning minutes.

We reclaim professional learning minutes when we infuse professional learning into every meeting, every gathering, and every conversation. This takes planning, persistence, and commonly available resources.

Example: Adopt a “for learning” structure for scheduled meetings. One school system begins every meeting with a 10-15 minute learning focus related to the district priorities. The schools in that system also begin faculty meetings with a ‘for learning’ related to the school’s learning priorities. This may involve reading excerpts from an article or book, viewing a video clip, or walking through a simple protocol. 

Example: One district consultant, with access to Connect2Learning’s online resources, has begun to select and recommend to school principals a video clip for elementary and another for secondary (link and time codes are provided) in support of their reporting policy initiatives. 

  • Acknowledge the primacy of the classroom as the core location for professional learning.

We acknowledge the primacy of the classroom and student learning when we locate professional learning in the classroom. This doesn’t have to require supply teachers. Just as teachers have learned new ways to teach through the pandemic, professional development leaders are relearning and rethinking. In a classroom beside a teacher is one of the best places to do that. AND it is the best place to get current, relevant classroom-based accounts of ways to teach today’s students.

Example: One school system is working with one of our Associates to support new teachers as they plan instruction based on the latest curriculum documents. Two teachers from each grade level are online every 45 minutes over the course of a day. They meet regularly every few weeks. This has been carefully planned and built into the schedule knowing there are limited supply teachers. Rather than simply telling new teachers what to do, they are working with them step-by-step. This collaboration builds capacity rather than frustration.

Example: One small, isolated school district in the far north with limited funds and few supply teachers has arranged for one of our associates, Brenda Augusta, to do a series of ‘virtual teaching demonstrations’ in classrooms to be followed by a week-long residency in the community. 

  • Harness the power of teachers WITH teachers

Teachers in conversation and sharing with teachers is powerful professional learning. When teachers do not have access to these ongoing, relevant conversations, they end up online finding resources to purchase that are out of alignment with Canadian curriculum expectations. We need to connect teachers with each other’s expertise.

Example: One school uses protocols like those by Catherine Glaude to structure the conversations so everyone can have a voice and share in a focused, supported way. Protocols can be a regular part of every meeting whether it is a district supported event or a grade level/department level meeting. Wherever teachers gather, they can be engaged in powerful conversations with a protocol. Personally, I love using the Success Protocol and the Sticky Issue Protocol. 

Example: When we connect teachers with the “expert” next door, we intentionally shift the conversation towards supporting learning and learners. One secondary school has deliberately engaged the community in extensive outreach in order to build a culture of school attendance and community engagement. They begin every faculty meeting with a student’s photograph and invite faculty to share information about the students interests and engagement. If little is known, then plans are made to reach out and make a connection. Tapping into a teacher’s professional knowledge in this way celebrates the ‘expert’ in each of us and builds both individual and collective capacity.

These big ideas and examples do not depend on lots of supply teachers, buckets of money, or large chunks of dedicated time. They depend upon leaders building in structures, rituals and habits that acknowledge, grow and extend the professional knowledge of teachers.

As leaders we Re-Fresh and Re-build professional learning and development with powerful, thoughtful, intentional small steps. 

Professional learning must  be supported in every possible way so that the knowing-doing gap - an unforeseen by-product/consequence of the pandemic -  is addressed and today’s teachers experience the kind of success today’s students deserve.