“What does professional development look like? Is sitting here professional development?”
After hearing the dates for FlipConNZ in June 2017 and FlipConAus in Sydney during October 2017, Professor Ken Bauer (@Ken_Bauer) took the stage to deliver his keynote.
Ken began by asking what professional development (PD) normally looks like and why it looks the way it does, questioning whether sitting in the theatre listening to him talk was really PD. Ken spoke about Personalised PD as written about by Jason Bretzmann (@jbretzmann) and Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), the basic premise of which is that teachers, like their students, are learners and therefore are all at different places with different needs. Jason and Dave began Patio PD, which was described to us as being teachers who get together on a patio to share practice. This sounded very similar to something that I heard about from Craig Kemp (@MrKempNZ), which is Pub PD.
The above question was posted by Ken, which is a challenging question. PD is a requirement in education. We need to ensure that we remain up to date with emerging pedagogies and technologies, however, we need to revisit the way in which PD is run. There are some good examples of useful, relevant and practical PD, however, anecdotally, I know that there are also still a large number of schools delivering PD via lecture or PD that is fun and engaging, but that will not actually change practice. As Greg Ashman (@Greg_Ashman) often comments, engagement is a poor proxy for learning.
I have of course attended a large number of PD sessions at schools and there have been very few occasions where I have actively thought to myself that it was a waste of time. or completely irrelevant There have been a significant number of occasions where I have thought to myself that the PD was fun/interesting/engaging. There have, however, been few instances of PD that I can point to and say that that PD changed my practice. Ken Bauer asks whose fault is it if we (teachers) do not like PD the way that it currently is. I believe that it has to be, at least, partially our own fault.
We are required to engage with PD, especially with the implementation of the NSW Department of Education (DoE) Performance and Development Framework which requires that all teachers (amongst other staff) are required to have in place a Professional Development Plan (PDP); and with the accreditation processes required under the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL).
Ken contends that school leaders, which is not just the designated Principal and other Executive staff, need to create a bold culture that encourages personalised PD as standardised PD often results on the disengagement of everyone they were trying to engage. This process should include a continual questioning of where you are now, where you want to be next year and how we are going to get [you] there. Anecdotally, this does not happen. It seems to be that teachers are expected to drive their own PD from within a specified set of options, whether it be set programs a school is running in literacy or numeracy or from a range of set options available through the NSW DoE (or the local equivalent).
As a temporary teacher, I feel that I have an advantage in this area. I can pick and choose what PD opportunities I wish to engage with. Last year and again this year, when we were told that the Executive were beginning the process of looking at staffing numbers for the following year, I have advised my supervisor of some specific PD opportunities and dates that I am committed to in various ways. I do so as I feel that it is only fair to let them know in advance what days I will be taking off to attend these opportunities and that if they choose to offer me another temporary contract, they do so with eyes wide open vis-a-vis my plans.
Ken continued by commenting that we need to give credit to and support those who share and that we should create more than we consume. Not only that, it is also important that we model saying thank you to others for resources and ideas so that we create a culture of positive shared and creative commons in our classroom. This is one of the things I love about the EduTweetOz twitter account (@EduTweetOz) and the associated blog, that each week an Australian educator takes the reins to share ideas, experiences & questions about education across Australia. Hosts come from all areas of education and it is a thoroughly worthwhile week. The underlying concept behind EduTweetOz, however, is to share ideas and experiences. Through interacting with various hosts of the account and hosting it myself for a week, I have been able to connect with a number of educators via EduTweetOz and have been exposed to ideas and viewpoints that I otherwise may not have been without that account.
This also goes to another point that Ken made, which is that what we do has value, even we do not see it ourselves, that we need to share and put ourselves out there with what we have to offer. There are a number of ways of doing that, through sharing resources (check here for mine), through writing blog articles containing reflections, ideas, outlining puzzles of practice you are struggling with and through engaging with online professional learning networks such as Twitter and other social media platforms. Ken reiterated the point that PD is about relationships and active learning, which by extrapolation, is also what education is about.
In 2001, Marc Prensky (@MarcPrensky) published an article titled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants in which he wrote the following:
Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach…Today’s students – K through college – represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives. Some refer to them as the N-[for Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-gen. But the most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet.
I remember the first time I came across the notion of digital natives and digital immigrants that I was nodding my head and agreeing that yes, my generation and onwards have grown up with technology around us, but now, a bit older and perhaps a bit less naive, I think that while that may be true from a certain perspective, that in many ways, the concept of digital natives does not hold true. While my generation and those after may have grown up with technology all around, that does not equate to an ability to use the technology. I know a great number of people my age and younger who are not comfortable with technology in some contexts, who profess to not being able to use a computer beyond the basics, who do not understand how to use a search engine properly, who do not understand what Twitter/Facebook/Instagram etc is or why people use them.
Ken spoke about the work that David White (@daveowhite) has done around reframing the discussions of digital natives and immigrants that have occurred since Marc Prensky’s seminal article. David contends that individuals engage with the internet and other technologies across a continuum of modes of engagement, visitor or resident, rather than two distinct categories. For a more complete explanation, please watch the short video below.
I think that this conception of digital use is a more appropriate fit for the way in which people engage with digital technologies than the native/immigrants language or even the more recent language around the technology adoption life-cycle and the associated Rogers’ Bell Curve and removes the potential stigma of being a digital immigrant or laggard. I think that this is particularly important in the education space given that anecdotally there appears to be a negative attitude and some sense of disdain for educators not utilising technology in the same way that some teachers do. As previously noted, we should be sharing and helping, not using and showing contempt for non-users.
Ken reminded us of the quote by Will Daggett; “school is a place where students often come to watch their teachers work,” and reminded us that learning should be an active process. We need to make sure that our students are not watching us work, and that they are in fact active participants in their learning. In our current society, this does involve teaching technology skills as part of the Technologies curriculum. Ken contends that it is ok to fail but that we need to persevere and learn from our mistakes. There are a vast array of options and Ken contends that we should choose an option to manage our tools and resources appropriate for our context within the requirements of our school.
Ken’s next point was one I had heard before, but he added an interesting twist to it. He posited that student-riven blogging creates a community of learning and sharing, especially when combined with openly published assignments. I was intrigued by this and fortunately, Ken expanded the thought. He encourages students to publish their answers to questions as part of creating an open sharing culture where students then learn from each other’s answers and can expand on them. The concept is interesting and sounds akin to what I observed whilst at Glenunga International High School that morning in the French lesson, where students were required to add to or correct a translation in a GDoc.
Part of Ken’s process is having students, at the end of the year, create a video for his students in the next year with their tips for being in Ken’s class. This includes understanding Ken himself, but also working in the classroom with the pedagogies that Ken utilises, which is a great idea. It gives students a chance to give feedback about Ken and the way he teaches and gives them the mantle of an expert for a while. Ken also spoke about how he has removed grading and deadlines from his class, which some students struggled with due to the difference to what they are used to in the game of school. Ken said that he encouraged students to learn the content rather than memorise for the test. This would necessitate a change in pedagogy and increased support as students adjust how they are able to demonstrate their understanding (one potential way may be using this form of non-questioning).
Ken was a passionate speaker and strong on the belief that knowledge should be shared, but also credited where borrowed, reminding the audience that learning is often messy, particularly in flipped learning. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to speak with Ken in more depth over dinner that evening, however, given the length of this article already, I will hold off on that. There is one more article to come, covering the final session which was led by Stephanie Kriewaldt (@stephkrie).
As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed any articles in this series from FlipCon Adelaide, please click here to view the full list.