Thursday, November 28, 2013

Learning "From" Versus Learning "With"

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In his video "Self-driven and Classroom-based: Professional Development in the 21st Century," Konrad Glogowski makes a very important distinction between "learning from" and "learning with."

He points out that he does not learn with people in his Twitter feed, but learns from them, since connections in many social media spaces involve observations through reading or watching. Usually the material or people we interact with online would have little thought or consideration about our own particular teaching environment.

Additionally, Glogowski is critical of much of the professional development that can simply become trends or buzzwords since it is delivered in an approach that views educators as "implementors" of certain tasks or strategies. So while a teaching strategy or the integration of technology may have worked in one class, we have to ask ourselves, will it work for my students in my class?

So how do we engage in professional development that is learning "with" rather than learning "from"? In the age of professional learning days, digital connections, and a new acronym almost every month, Glogowski's suggestions may seem almost radical in their effective simplicity. First of all, our number one area of concern is with our learning environment, and we need to reflect on and assess what is going on in our classroom. But we do not do this in isolation; we need to choose two or three colleagues with whom we can reflect and engage and build knowledge.

This process is not only helpful in creating more effective and personalized professional development, but it also helps teachers to be better learners because they act as inquirers/researchers where they constantly reassess and experiment to see what works best for their students. Quoting Guy Claxton (2002), Glogowski states that what is of the utmost importance is for teachers "to help them [students] to become confident and competent designers and makers of their own tools as they go along."

Indeed, Glogowski argues students must be part of our professional growth. This would entail student involvement in the classroom development as students work with the teacher to develop learning goals and for students to have the opportunities to reflect and evaluate what instructional practices and learning experiences are most beneficial for them.

When I consider some of the disengagement I see with many of my students and what Glogowski discusses, I wonder if my first step in trying to engage my students is to encourage and build a greater partnership with them in "our" learning experience. I find by the time students hit high school, they have made so many assumptions and conclusions about what their educational experience will be like, and many times the views are far from positive. Just recently I read a line on Don Wettrick's blog Innovation in the Classroom that really struck me. It stated "create culture first, not rules." I would argue that Glogowski's observations are about creating a culture in our classrooms that can potentially challenge our students to help teachers "to break down assumptions on what we thought works best" - or what students just accept as mediocre and simply wait for the bell to ring.

When I have presented students with the opportunity to be "designers and makers," I am always amazed at what they accomplish, and how engaged they can be in the learning experience. I also am surprised at some of the feedback I get about some of the learning experiences. Sometimes as the teacher we miss the mark when it comes to what we think will engage or disengage students. Inviting and encouraging feedback from students helps us not only to improve the learning environment, but can also help us to determine areas where we could seek improvement in professional development.

In fact, Glogowski challenges us as teachers to "reflect on the goals and values that guide our classroom practice." I think this type of reflection can be much more uncomfortable than gathering feedback from students. It really is challenging us to dig deep and question and examine, as Glogowski describes it, our own set of values and beliefs. We do not teach in a vacuum, and we are not androids. Letting students know our biases and a bit about who we are, acknowledges that we are human. We are going to make mistakes and we are going to not always see eye to eye on everything. In other words, it allows us to create a culture where we accept the fact we all have limitations. When we recognize these limitations, we can grow and learn. In others words, we can work together to create an effective learning environment.

It is never easy to admit our weaknesses. But I think what is harder is to admit our weakness and then do something about it. In essence, I think this is Glogowski's message. As we improve in our teaching methods and create a healthy culture of learning in our classrooms, we need to constantly be reflecting and accepting feedback. But we also have to ensure we do not do this alone. Using connections in social media for professional development can be beneficial, but I agree with Glogowski's assertion that we need to look at our teaching practices from a variety of viewpoints.

We need the support of a core group of peers who can challenge, encourage and remind us we are always learning as we continue to enhance and improve our learning environments. We need "learn with" professional development experiences much more than we need "learn from" PD experiences. Just-in-case and one-size-fits-all professional development experiences are normally very ineffective. I think many departments and districts  have realized this and are making changes. But I also think that more growth in mutual trust between teachers and their employers is necessary so that employers can empower teachers to choose their own professional development that will help them be better teachers in their particular situations. If a department and/or district has decided to trust teachers to work with students and guide them in their education, does it not make sense that this same department/district would also trust teachers to engage in professional development that is particularly beneficial for them?

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