27 Dec Teacher Professional Development: Getting started with activated professional learning
As educators, we constantly strive to motivate, inspire, enthuse and expose our students to big ideas. We look for opportunities to give our students a voice, choice and a degree of ownership of the learning process. We personalise, group and create opportunities for self paced and self directed learning and we work with technology to connect, extend, mobilise, broaden and deepen the experience of every learner. Yet when faced with the challenge of moving our colleagues forward we often resort to ultra traditional forms of professional learning where one size is expected to fit all and where learning is linear, top down, out of context and imposed. Not only is this ineffective but it fails to model the potential learning experiences that we want for our students.
“Soft brain activity is virtually non-existent during lectures… even lower than when sleeping”
— Rosalind Picard, MIT
On a positive note, this traditional PD offers a valuable window into the world of our learners as teachers experience what it is to be on the receiving end of instruction that potentially lacks immediate relevance, seems disconnected from personal experience and is based on assumptions about individual learning needs. Rather than enthusing and fostering creativity and reflection, learning becomes a chore and often fails to leave the staff room of the school library at the end of the day.
“Students are more asleep in lectures than when they are in bed”
— Prof. Eric Mazur, Harvard University
A Professional Learning session in Denton ISD, Texas.
Activity based learning offers the same potential for professional learning as it does for our students. It offers unique visibility on the learning process and learner progress, allowing just in time analysis of learners’ needs, along with contextually appropriate analysis of what moves learning forward most effectively, allowing adaptation and refinement of planning. Using Verso to activate professional learning allows school leaders to expose staff to different viewpoints. Verso’s anonymity means that each response to any new learning is an authentic representation of each teacher’s ideas. It initiates debate and unfettered discussion where every teacher has a voice and where every idea is equally valued. Verso allows leaders to emerge from unexpected quarters, offering visibility on thinking and the capacity to organise staff into groups or teams in direct response to their learning needs. Teams and learning networks can be identified using the group functionality allowing a high degree of personalisation in face to face meetings and precious time spent on synthesis and discussion rather than the dissemination of new learning.
Introducing teachers to big ideas in advance of face to face sessions means that they come prepared, having engaged with the big ideas in advance, armed with questions, ideas and ready to meet new challenges head on.
Give it a go: Start Small
Organising your first activated in-school PD event
If you are ready to give this approach a try in your school we recommend a simple initial process as a starting point:
1. Find a video that introduces the big idea to your staff.
An example taken from a Professional Learning event in Denton, Texas
2. Create a Verso Class using the Big Idea as the class name.
Each area of learning has its own “class” and relevant teachers can be given the appropriate class code to join each community.
3. Give staff the class code approximately one week prior to the face to face meeting. (Note that teachers will need to be logged into Verso using a student account).
4. Consider the learning space where the face to face session is going to take place. Has it been set up for traditional delivery or is it primed and ready for flexible group work?
5. As staff begin to contribute to the discussion in Verso, make sure you use the teacher dashboard to see who has yet to join in. There are important lessons to be learned concerning timeliness of responses. All staff should respond in time for others to comment on their ideas. make sure staff are nudged to complete the assigned task at least 2 days prior to the event and get in there and comment yourself. It’s important to “be in the room”. This will give you time to adapt your planning in response to feedback in the app’.
6. Check participant data. You may be surprised about the teachers who are contributing most and those whose comments seem to be most highly valued. Be ready to uncover new leaders.
An example of participant data. Remember to check both the number of contributions and the number of “helpfuls” for each participant.
7. Review staff contributions and be prepared for surprises. GROUP participants based on what they are saying rather than who they are. Respond to their feedback and use this as your guide. Make a note of interesting contributions as these will be useful conversation starters on the day and should be incorporated into your session. Remember your teachers have discussed these ideas, and failing to share key elements of that discussion shows that you don’t value their contributions.
8. Use STUDENT VIEW when sharing ideas on screen so that the anonymity is maintained. Individual praise can be shared privately.
Student view will allow you to display the feedback on screen without revealing user names.
9. Ensure that all your face to face session is designed in direct response to data and feedback collected in Verso. Remember that you are modelling best practice and participation in the Verso discussion is critical to the design and user experience in the face to face event and not just an interesting prelude.
10. Leave participants with follow up discussions by adding additional activities to the Verso class group. These can include:
a. Offer additional challenge
b. Ask for review of lessons learned
c. Share additional ideas, perspectives from other sources for those that wish to follow up on readings or sources mentioned at the event.
d. Require participants to share examples of outcomes.
Make sure these activities are monitored for up to two weeks after to allow time for instructor feedback. This final approach is a great option for creating focused knowledge community for departments.
This example shows a post-workshop Verso community on activated learning. The activities contained examples of different KLAs, discussions around the use of traditional instructional content as opposed to challenges and provocative content from schools that have embraced activity based learning.