The marks of effective teacher professional development

I had the privilege of attending the Assess to Learn Cluster celebration day in Wairoa today – with teachers from around the Wairoa region gathering together to share what they have learned over the period of time on this project. The format for the day was excellent, with the majority of time being devoted to short sessions with teachers sharing with other teachers the things they’d learned through presentations and static displays. I was invited to provide a short introductory talk to open the day, and then to provide a summary of my observations and reflections at the end of the day, after sitting in on some of the presentations. Here’s a summary of what I fed back to them:

What I observed

  • Learning journals – lots of reference to the use of learning journals by teachers and students to help track progress and provide meaningful reflection about how learning is occurring as well as what learning is taking place.
  • Importance of assessment for learning (AFL)  – big emphasis on formative assessment methodologies, and of student ownership and participation in the formative assessment processes.
  • Personalising learning- heavy emphasis on a range of strategies and techniques to promote learning tailored to student needs, and to promote high levels of participation and ownership in the learning by students.
  • E-portfolios – several examples of e-portfolio use, with a big emphasis on the nature and purpose of the portfolio process, and less on the technology being used.
  • E-buddies – some stunning examples peer feedback between learners in different schools, leading to very deep levels of understanding and responsiveness to feedback developing.
  • Student focus – overarching emphasis on participation by students in the learning process, and in determining the what and how of approaches taken.
  • Key competencies – an underpinning commitment to referencing the development of the key competencies across all programmes, with some insightful work being done in some of the Kura schools.

I heard reference to

  • Increased engagement – lots of evidence of increased engagement as a result of these now strategies were provided – this being a significant measure of success in a predominantly low-decile community where engaging students in school has been a difficulty.
  • Authentic activities – wonderful to hear stories of increased participation and interest among students as a result of planning focused on providing authentic contexts for learning.
  • Empowerment – meaningful empowerment of students coming from expressions of “I feel empowered” as opposed to “I want to empower you”.
  • Deeper understandings – depth of understanding of both process and product revealed through teacher and student reflective practices, leading to development of life-long learning dispositions.
  • Emotional buy-in – linked to the issue of engagement, evidence of participation being the result of emotional buy-in, not simply conformity and seeking to please.
  • Focus on learning, not performance – says it all – linked to the strong emphasis in this cluster on assessment for learning.

What I observed about the presenters

  • Passionate – presentations were lively and engaging, revealing the passion of these teachers for their students and the work they are doing with them.
  • Well prepared – these presentations were all of a quality worthy of being included in some of the larger conferences such as ULearn! Lots of attention to detail in terms of handouts, quality of slideshows and examples of student work.
  • Using student examples – this really brought the presentations to life for me, and illustrated just how connected these teachers are to the work of their students.
  • Involved students – some of the presentations included students presented – they were very well prepared and spoke extremely well and convincingly.
  • Modelled good practice – presenters had worked hard to make sure that their presentations modelled the principles of effective learning they were addressing in their classroom approaches.
  • Shared reflections – the honesty and un-masked sharing of their learning journeys made these teachers’ presentations really engaging for me.
  • Invited feedback – presenters allowed time for feedback in their workshops, unpacking key ideas and engaging in rich dialogue around the themes and topics of discussion.

Being a part of this day has confirmed for me (yet again) – of the value of teacher professional development that is characterised by…

  • teachers being engaged in sustained, in-depth inquiry into their classroom practice
  • time devoted in classrooms to implementing the new ideas and strategies that are introduced
  • the use of frameworks and strategies that support critical reflection and feedback in the PD process
  • a ‘community’ approach to PD – schools/clusters pursuing common/agreed goals and outcomes
  • appropriate use of evaluation measures that provide indicators of progress along the way
  • teachers sharing practice with other teachers
  • strategically timed celebration events where growth and development can be recognised, rewarded and celebrated!

Several times in this day I heard remarks along the lines of; “I hadn’t realised just how much we’d grown, or how much progress we’d made!” For me this sums up the value of such a day, and I applaud all of those involved in its organisation and all of those who participated in it.

3 thoughts on “The marks of effective teacher professional development

  1. Hi Derek,
    Interesting observations about professional development. This is a well timed article as I have been pondering several questions about eportfolios. I really like the idea about giving and receiving feedback. Particularly from peers. So thanks for the entry. Regards

  2. Hi Derek,
    Great post. Have flicked it on to AtoL folk here at LML. Always good to have the effective practices articulated and you have done so really clearly here. I think your point about ’emotional buy in’ is particularly interesting. One that is SO important, but rarely heard! 🙂
    Cheers, Karen

  3. Hi Derek,

    Thanks for your enthralling keynote at the AfL Expo. It sure has made me think about the futures of our pupils. (Quite scary stuff really!!) It was a great day and we have received heaps of positive feedback from it. It was lots of work, especislly for a holiday – but it made so much more worthwhile by sharing and listening to others’ journeys.
    Cheers, Tania

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