There have been many days as an educator when I’ve lamented the culture of compliance we foster in schools. Yes, we aspire towards a culture of curiosity and creativity but, in reality, we also perpetuate a culture of
compliance with our learners. Is it inevitable? If there is an inevitability about such a culture with students, is the same to be said for teachers as learners? Do we build a system in which the default for adult learners is compliance? If we want kids to become enquirers and creative problem solvers, and independent learners, shouldn’t the same be true for teachers? In reality if teachers aren’t learning, then students aren’t learning.
Ken Robinson says that “curiosity is the engine of achievement”. Therefore, if we foster curiosity, motivation, and independent thinking, achievement will follow. This is true for students and adults.
How do we get the best learning out of the adults in our schools?
A few ideas to remember as a leader and facilitator of adult learning in schools include:
- Serve as a role model for learning. Demonstrating enthusiasm and role modeling as a learner is critical. Sharing articles, insights, and generating excitement around learning is contagious. Passionate and committed learners become learning leaders and role models for others!
- Accept that the continuum for adult learning is variable. Adults, as kids, are in various stages of development. Adults early in their professional lives may bring different skills and approaches to learning as opposed to a highly experienced professional. Differentiating opportunities and accepting the wide range of differences is important. Avoiding judgments is vital. We all learn at different rates and with different comfort levels.
- Recognize that some days (weeks, months) are better than others for learning. Teaching is stressful and some parts of a school year are better than others. The stress of responsibilities for grading, report writing, parent conference preparation, unit planning, holiday concerts, etc. There are certain dead zones when focused adult learning just isn’t really possible! But, there are other times when opportunities are ripe, and expectations should be set for adults to engage in learning. Full disclosure – I love my twitter feed but I didn’t check it for the last 4 weeks of the semester. Why? Because I couldn’t take in anything new as I was way too busy with closing out the semester!
- Make personal and professional learning a hobby. The hobby of learning requires regular action, ongoing thinking, and a commitment to self-improvement. Establishing one’s own Personal Learning Network (PLN) thorough online blogs, feeds, and communication with other educators enhances learning opportunities.
- Reflective skill improves with practice. Understand that engagement in collaboration and reflection with colleagues who share similar goals expands one’s capacity for reflection. Facilitating collaborative dialogue through structured protocols and processes is very helpful. Tinsley and Lebak (2009) identified the “Zone of Reflective Capacity”. This zone shares the theoretical attributes of the ZPD, but is a more specifically defined as a construct helpful in describing and understanding the way in which an adult’s capacity for reflection can expand when he or she collaborates over an extended period with other adults who have similar goals. Tinsley and Lebak found that, as adults shared their feedback, analysis, and evaluation of one another’s work during collaboration, their potential for critical reflection expanded. (Tinsley, R. & Lebak, K. (2009). Expanding the Zone of Reflective Capacity: Taking separate journeys together. Networks, 11 (2)).
- Scaffold adult learning. It has to be managed as manageable chunks. Focusing the attention is essential. The challenge is always to sustain the focus on your topic whether it’s unit planning, assessment, differentiation, or social/emotional learning. What are the few essential initiatives to drive professional learning for any particular year or period of time? What’s high leverage for student learning? The Secondary School at LCS is focusing upon working with our ELL population. How can we become better as teachers in supporting ELLs? As a start, we chose to focus upon how to do a good job with academic language targets. We are trying to embed this learning into our daily work, daily/weekly planning. Maintaining this focus for several months and doing it really well is the goal. Commitment of time, opportunities for collaborative reflection, and structured instruction are provided to move this learning initiative forward.
The adults I work with must want to learn. It is essential in fighting compliance. It is essential to maintaining curiosity, independence, and motivation. It is essential for achievement. We all want to be part of a winning team and, I believe, most people truly want to learn, grow, and improve. An atmosphere including individual and collaborative opportunities for reflection and growth supports a winning team. But, it’s easier said than done.