Should teachers own their learning?

Jan 10

What if school districts and school administrators trusted teachers to let them direct their own PD?

What if the ideas of personalized learning and students owning their learning was applied to teachers? 

These are questions I ask as I wonder about the ways in which schools and districts attempt to support teacher growth. In the same way schools have a hard time empowering students to own their learning, districts struggle with letting teachers own theirs. I'm not aware of any district that truly embraces the notion of personalized learning. Districts all seem to feel the need or push to set goals for schools and teachers. They tend to standardized professional development and in many ways replicate the industrial models of school. The underlying desire for accountability is largely the barrier to trust. 

 

What if their goal was to have teachers truly own their own learning? 

There seems to be a strong disconnect with the emphasis on differentiated instruction in the classroom and differentiated professional learning for teachers. Some teachers will encourage teachers to seek their own learning but only after they do what they're told or mandated. I've had enough experience working at the district level to understand the complexities and challenges of that branch of a learning organization but I've not seen any district brave enough to trust their teachers to do the "right work." Politics certainly play a role here but I have believe there are leaders who, if they truly trusted teachers and believed they could direct their own learning could make it happen. 

As most would agree, few if any teachers wake up in the morning with the intent of doing a crappy job. The more time I spend in schools, the more I believe that teachers are generally pretty awesome folks but are stuck in a bad system.

I think they need four things:

1. The time and opportunity to explore new ideas and possibilities. Of course time is an age old problem but unless we provide reprieve from the busyness of the classroom, we'll be hard pressed to see our teachers get better. 

…teachers must deal with constant daily disruptions, both within the classroom such as managing discipline and interpersonal conflicts, and from outside the classroom such as collecting money for school events,making announcements, dealing with the principal, parents, and central office staff; they must get through the daily grind; the rewards are having a few good days, covering the curriculum, getting a lesson across, having an impact on one or two individual students(success stories); and they constantly feel the critical shortage of time. (The New Meaning of Change, Michael Fullan, p. 31)

2. Autonomy. When schools and districts own the learning, teachers can't. Some teachers get this with their students and are making changes to reflect that belief. I'm not suggesting teachers currently have no autonomy but I don't know any that have full autonomy in their professional learning. As professionals, I think they should. I also think this might be the fastest way to improve morale. It costs nothing but sends a message of trust and appreciation that many of our teachers don't feel. 

3. The support to make it happen. The role of the district needs to be in providing teachers with new ideas as well as supports for current practice. Researchers, coaches and facilitators.

​4. The expectation to share. If you're worried about accountability, require every teacher to share their learning. While we give them autonomy, districts do pay their salary and require them to be good classroom teachers but also need them to share with one another. Whether they post their work online or not, I think they need to share what they learned. My pre-service teacher courses end with every student answering the question, "What did I learn?". Imagine if all teachers did that every year? 

I know Will Richardson is on the hunt for bold schools. While there aren't many, I know there are some.

I'm on the look out for districts who truly trust their teachers to guide their own learning. Do you work for one? I'd love to hear from you. Maybe you disagree, maybe you think districts need to mandate PD in some way. Either way, this is likely a conversation I'm going to be having for a while. 

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