I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been in a conversation with a frustrated colleague who proclaims, “I’m just going to close the door to my class and do my own thing…”. So, is this the answer? Or, is there really a better approach?
I will not lie and say that I haven’t thought that very same thing before. But transforming learning in our schools won’t come from groups of teachers that “close the door”. Instead, we need to build collective capacity to improve teaching and learning for our students. While this approach is more difficult, it is important that we make the room for this kind of thinking and for the opportunity to grow and learn together–to sharpen our teaching practices.
In the book, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Hargreaves and Fullen (2012) underscore one of the many challenges related to building collective capacity in schools:
“Effective practices…cannot spread just by describing them or advocating for their use. They have to be observed, experienced, interpreted, inquired into, tried out and so on.” (Fullen, 2012)
If more schools could structure professional learning opportunities for teachers like this, more teachers might open their doors. Now, more than ever, we need leaders with the vision to help their staffs develop this “growth mindset” and support teachers as they learn along the way. We can only get better if we engage in real learning–the kind of learning in which you don’t always master it the first time. The kind of learning we insist on for our kids but then sometimes think is somehow too low of a standard for ourselves. George Couros talks about this in his post called, “Patience for Learning“. He posits that:
“Simply holding knowledge does not make you a great teacher, and… struggling while learning is a benefit to teachers, not a disadvantage”. (Couros, 2014)
Adding to the challenges of growing collective capacity, is that fact that even educators that are determined to improve professional practice may be at extremes in many schools. Those that are die-hard followers of best practice, are sometimes the individuals that are unrelenting in their ability to view the instructional experience as nuanced and greatly influenced by the teacher’s learning about what works well for her students. Knowing a list of evidence-based strategies will not get you far if you are unable to test what works with students, adapt instruction as needed, and discover new practices that are effective. In essence, “There needs to be a mix of committing to best practice…and having the freedom, space, and resources to create next practice.” (Hargreaves & Fullen, 2012)
I think now is the time to start those conversations about how we might re-imagine professional learning and set the stage for innovation and next practice.