Thursday, June 27, 2013
Do You Enable or Ensure ADULT Learning?
When I attended professional development sessions as a teacher of biology and PE, I used to have a highly student-centered focus on how I would apply what I was learning to my classroom. Yet since I have been in administration, more often than not I find myself thinking about how I can apply the principles to my staff through the lens of adult learning, even if the session could be entirely focused on changing pedagogy for kids. Since becoming a Principal, I have held firm to the belief that a focus on engaging educators (teachers AND administrators) in their learning is as important as (and arguably MORE important than) a focus on engaging students in their learning. Without considering and expending notable amounts of time on the former, any efforts to the latter become much less effective.
Thanks to my colleague and friend Leeann Bartee (follow her, one of the most well-read and researched administrators that I have ever met) who introduced me to it, I have begun yet another educational read for the summer called "Instructional Rounds in Action", the sequel to "Instructional Rounds in Education" that I have written so much about over the last few months. Even though I am only a couple of dozen pages into the book, it already has me hooked because of the emphasis on the importance of the learning of the adults in education. From the Prologue, by Dr. Richard Elmore:
“The deepest irony of American education is that the institutions that are responsible for learning in our society do the worst job of enabling the learning of the people who work in them”
He also states that:
"School reform, if it works at all, works systematically by increasing the capacity of individuals and the organizations in which they work...students learn best when adults are working and learning at the outer edge of their own practice."
This made me think about what we do as a system to ensure that we are systematically increasing the capacity of the individuals in education. In our school's mission statement above, we emphasize the idea of ensuring student learning...so what about educator (teachers and administrators) learning? How about the structures that we have in place to enable the learning of the people that work in our organizations? What about the effectiveness of these structures? Are we ensuring that adult learning is actually occurring, and that this learning is transformed into the changes in practice and the changes in the tasks that we have students do to elicit the learning that each of us wants for our students?
This uncertainty is not a condemnation of those that work within the system, it is more a question about the system itself. Schools pride themselves on recognizing the differences in students as learners, differentiating instruction and assessment for them, and providing multiple and varied opportunities for their success within a blanket of wraparound support. Yet if educator learning is so critical to student learning, perhaps it's time for us to take a really good look at how we ensure that WE are the lead learners.
So how do we change this? Professional development days? Send people to conferences? Bring in guest speakers? Put time for collaboration within the timetable? Create peer coaches? Skyped-in mentorship? Adopt Google's 20% model? Have educators get connected and develop PLNs? Make faculty meetings about staff development rather than the technical managerial pieces of school operations?
Yes. Absolutely. Do some of these things. Do all of these things. In fact, most of us do some or all of these activities for and with our faculties already. More and more, however, I am starting to consider whether the things that we do to increase the capacity of ourselves as educators actually ensure learning rather than just enable the possibility of learning. My thinking right now is leaning far more towards the latter rather than the former. And I know that were we speaking about enabling rather than ensuring student learning, most educators would agree that such a premise would be less than acceptable.
Over the next few weeks, I want to design a model that ensures the learning of the educators in our school system. If you have any ideas about this, I would love to hear them!