I still find conferences to be a valuable source of inspiration.
The key for those suffering from conference fatigue is to look at events not only outside of your subject discipline, but outside of education. But that’s not to say that conferences should be your main source of learning. Far from it. We know that learning is an active process that happens when you do something that matters. When you do something that is personally meaningful.
To combat a passive learning culture, at the beginning of last year we implemented the concept of a Learning Project at our College. The concept of the Learning Project is to move Professional Learning in a direction that is relevant to teaching staff’s individual interests, contexts and passions. Similar in concept to Google’s 20% time, each Tuesday afternoon, instead of traditional meetings, priority has been given for Professional Learning and Learning Projects. Each week during this time, a series of short workshops on a range of topics are offered by our staff that other staff can attend. These sessions are “opt-in” and are not compulsory, however if you don’t attend one of those sessions it is expected that you are engaged in either an individual or collaborative learning project.
Learning Projects in our context are defined as an embedded form of action research where staff strive to learn something new, deepen their knowledge base, stay current with new developments in learning or experiment with an innovation that aims to improve student outcomes. All Learning Projects are underpinned by a big idea or driving question that is relevant to the individual. Some examples from last year include:
- How does a Reggio Emilia approach influence a teacher’s perception of “best practice?”
- How do I make the library a more creative learning space?
- What are the effects on learning of regular mindfulness practice?
- What is 21st century assessment and how do we encourage a more diverse assessment portfolio?
- Working mathematically – moving beyond calculations?
- Is storytelling a new literacy?
- What methods are there for enhancing formative feedback?
The big idea or driving question is explored over the course of the year. Documentation collected as part of a staff members Learning Project varies in form from a research paper, a short video, a unit of work, data analysis that yields an interesting or unexpected result or it could be as simple as the sharing of a powerful “light bulb” moment. Staff then present their progress on their learning project during our staff learning day at the beginning of term four each year. Progress is the key point here. There are no hard deliverables as we understand that trust and the process are as important as the end result.
Any change initiative is always met with pockets of resistance, as anything new challenges the status quo and induces an anxiousness or fear response from the “amygdala hijack“. What this model of professional learning has achieved in a relatively short period of time is shift the dominant dialogue from low-level administrative matters to learning.
Staff have been invited to be active participants in their own learning. A large majority have risen to the challenge.